Monday, March 30, 2015

The Gunman

Alternate Title:  The Bourne Encephalopathy

One sentence synopsis:    An ex-PMC contractor for a mining consortium must go on the run when the company decides to clean up loose ends regarding an assassination in Kinshasa.

Things Havoc liked:  Sean Penn is a raving asshole. We all know this. But he's also a multi-academy-award-winning actor and filmmaker, and consequently when a movie of his comes out, it's only polite to pay attention. That holds true even when the movie in question looks like a completely generic MAEWISAMBAKEWTHW movie (once again everyone, that stands for Middle-Aged-Everyman-Who-Is-Secretly-A-Massive-Badass-And-Kills-Everyone-Who-Threatens-His-Women). This isn't exactly the genre that I normally associate with someone like Sean Penn, but then we are talking about the man who made both Shanghai Surprise and I Am Sam, so perhaps I shouldn't be so shocked. But what really attracted me to this film was the supporting cast, a murderer's row of favorite actors of mine including Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, and Ray Winstone. I would watch those three (plus Sean Penn) starring in a laundry commercial, and was reasonably confident I could stomach their take on the Taken/Equalizer/John Wick genre.

And yet, to my surprise, that's not what I was given. The trailers all pointed to another MAEWISAMBAKEWTHW entry (my third in six months), but instead, The Gunman takes its cue not from Taken but from international super-spy thrillers in the vein of movies much better than Taken such as The Bourne Identity or Hannah or the Daniel Craig-helmed 007 movies, movies in which elite special forces-trained agents comprised entirely of vivified asskickium travel the globe to strange and exotic locales to investigate secret goings on, evade the surveillance of hundreds of cameras, drones and satellites controlled by stern-looking headset-wearing men in dark, monitor-filled rooms, and occasionally stop in abandoned factories, old-world apartment buildings, or infrastructure tunnels beneath major landmarks so that they may beat the ever-loving piss out of one another using some cinematic combination of krav maga and ninjitsu. Of course at 54, Penn is older than the actors one typically sees in these sorts of movies, but has been aggressively working out to prepare for it, and plainly wants you to know about it. The upshot is that despite being atypical for the role in question, this is Sean Penn, and he does a fine job by twisting the role away from a fresh super-spy and into a retired one. Indeed, far from shying away from Penn's age, the filmmakers make it a central point of the movie, having him diagnosed with various sorts of chronic concussion-related syndromes that should be familiar to anyone who follows the NFL, the consequences of a life spent doing the sorts of things that heroes in these kinds of movies customarily do.

Pierre Morel, director of the original Taken and District 13, takes the helm here as director, and his intention is plainly to split the difference between Taken's MAEWISAMBAKEWTHW-ness and District 13's frenetic parkour-laden action. The result feels like an "adult" version of Taken's middle age power fantasies, with a nice helping of John leCarre-style real-world grit mixed in, thanks to a plot that centers around an assassination attempt on a member of the Congolese government at the behest of a PMC working for international mining cartels. Ray Winstone plays the same character Ray Winstone always plays (I say this with the utmost respect), a gravel-voiced looming indeterminate badass who does whatever he wishes despite the hero's (or villain's) opinions on the subject. Javier Bardem meanwhile, who has far more of a range, plays against the trailers by portraying a drunken asshole in the vein of his from Skyfall Bond Villain, a morose, bitter jackass who resents Penn for the mess they were all involved in in Central Africa and who is cognizant, moreso than most of the price to be paid. Great actors cover a great deal, as always, and it's a reasonable amount of fun just watching these guys gyrate around one another in a typical modern spy plot.

Things Havoc disliked:  Unfortunately, that's about all there is to be had in this movie, as beyond the idea of making a movie with Penn as Jason Bourne, the filmmakers did not seem to have any idea what they wanted to actually do here.

The Gunman is an extremely generic film. Not the one that was advertised in the trailer, mind you, but generic nonetheless, one that has little to say and no real idea of what they should actually do with what little they have. Only this level of bafflement could possibly explain why they would go through the trouble to hire Idris Elba, a bad man if ever there was one (I say this also with the utmost respect), feature him prominently in the promotional materials and the trailer, and then use him in a two-minute cameo role that effectively amounts to one scene in which a mysterious, unknown man sits down on a public bench next to our hero and tells him personal details about his own life as a way to hint that he may wish to take a certain course of action. How people keep misusing Idris Elba I will never understand, but if you are a fan, as I am, be forewarned that he is more or less not in this movie at all.

Nor is there anything to replace him with. Shakespearian veteran and reliable sleazeball (once more with utmost respect) Mark Rylance portrays the villain, such as it is, but the script is so poor of imagination that he cannot think of any plot to engage in other than the tired kidnap-the-woman-the-hero-loves routine, following which he meets with the hero in a cinematic location and dutifully sends his henchmen to kill him one by one in reverse order of previous screentime. His lengthy monologues on the rudiments of power and cynicism, however well delivered, are absolutely interminable, until we begin to wonder if he intends to bore the hero to death, as he is doing to us. The entire concussion angle, supposedly the very thing that separates the movie from its peers, is used for nothing but convenient weaknesses to apply to the hero at strategic moments, as Penn makes no visible effort to avoid getting hit in the head or blown through windows by concussion grenades, nor suffers any consequences from doing so save when the plot requires it. Meanwhile, the love interest, played by way-too-young-for-Sean-Penn Jasmine Trinca, has no purpose save the one I just mentioned. There is not even a tendentious effort to tie her into the plot, or to allow her to do anything but serve as a convenient hostage or prop during the obligatory action sequences. The entire process feels like a paint-by-numbers exercise, as if all of the actors involved just wanted an excuse to take a holiday in Spain for a while.

Final thoughts:   The Gunman is one of the most routine films I've ever seen, a movie that exists because it must, competently performing the required steps that movies like this involve before the lights come up and we can all go home. As an excuse to watch actors I like doing their thing alongside pretty cinematography and decent action, I suppose there are worse examples. But given Sean Penn, an actor whose obsession with good works and left-wing politics borders on the maniacal, I confess to complete confusion as to why it was made. This is the sort of movie that Liam Neeson has made a habit of making in recent years, a movie designed to showcase his ability to beat up and/or kill people as well as seduce women considerably younger than himself. Sean Penn's ego is planet-sized, but I cannot envision the same person who made Dead Man Walking and Mystic River feeling the need to show off like this. Perhaps I've managed to underestimate the man's ego, or perhaps he (and his co-stars) all needed paychecks, but the resulting film is almost aggressively ordinary, and contains nothing, however well done, that any moderate film fan hasn't seen a hundred times before.

Go see the Gunman if you're a hardcore Sean Penn addict, or if you absolutely have to see something this time of year (as I did). But if you're one of the many people free from either of these torments, then my suggestion would be to keep counting down the days before you can watch Avengers 2.

Final Score:  5.5/10

Next Time:  A decent into raving madness.  And a whole lot of vodka.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Alternate Title:  Robocop: The Existentialist Cut

One sentence synopsis:    An engineer at a South African robotics company tries to train an experimental sentient robot alongside a group of local gangsters.

Things Havoc liked:  Though there are weeks when the choice is obvious, it's usually something of a gamble picking movies for this little project. As I've mentioned many-a-time, I don't consult reviews, critics, or word of mouth (where possible), relying instead only on the trailers I see from previous films, and on gut intuition. Given that I am a man of great probity and judgment, this has led to nothing but great success, as movies such as Under the Skin, To Rome with Love, Red Tails, and The Odd Life of Timothy Green can attest to. Nevertheless, despite all these manifest successes, there are still moments, particularly in Doldrums Season, that could shatter the calm of lesser men. One such occasion presented itself this week, as the big release of the weekend was a film I had more cause than most to fear, for it was a film from South African sci-fi director Neill Blomkamp, whose early success with District Nine led me right into a bear trap when it came to 2013's worst movie of the year, a putrid exercise in shameless, color-coded moralizing called Elysium. Generally a director who produced something that bad would never be permitted to darken my evenings again, and yet I was encouraged by the fact that among the very few critics who had the gall to savage Elysium was Blomkamp himself, who gave interviews in which he described it as a failure of writing and script, a movie that "got away from him". And so with that in mind, when the trailers for his latest film began to appear, I decided ultimately to give Blomkamp one more shot, if only because each subsequent trailer seemed to be from a completely different film, and I wanted eventually to see whether Blomkamp was, as each one indicated, making a modern version of Robocop, of Short Circuit, or of Elysium itself.

The answer? All of the above.

Chappie is one of the strangest movies I've ever seen, and a quick glance through my back catalog should suffice to illustrate just what a statement that is. Part coming of age story, part sci fi action extravaganza, part transhumanist science fiction piece, it is a mishmash of a thousand disparate elements strung together by a director who seems to have had five different ideas for movies and smashed all of them together until they fit. On paper this is the sort of thing that disasters are made of, and yet the pieces Blomkamp is playing with are so hypnotically strange on their own, that the result is unlike almost anything I can recall.

What do I mean? Well let's start with the cast, not the established actors like Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, or Sigourney Weaver, all of whom are very good at what they're doing here, but none of whom are the point. The point are guys like Ninja, yes Ninja, a South African rapper and experimental musician who plays... well... himself in this movie, except it's some kind of alternate version of himself in a world where he became a machine-gun-toting gangster engaged in teaching a robot how to be cool. I have no idea who this guy is in reality, but the film version of him is cracked out as though he decided to complement the old stock character of the borderline-crazy gangster by actually being crazy. Sequences in which he teaches the robot in question to throw ninja stars, shoot guns "straight" (gangster-standards apply), or strut about in a 'cool' fashion really kind of defy description in terms of how they set the scene. Given that he's sharing the screen during these sequences with, alternately, Dev Patel's earnest sincerity (Dev Patel's trademark, it's increasingly apparent), a fourteen-foot armored death machine, and an animatronic police robot covered in bling who calls him daddy, Ninja's absurd presence in the film actually doesn't feel that out of place, and he renders the movie, if nothing else, highly interesting to watch whenever he's on the screen.

Not that Blomkamp has much trouble on that front though. Even when making crap like Elysium, Blomkamp's eye for cinematography, design, and effect are top notch, and they remain so in this go-round. Blomkamp's trademark is "futurist underclass", a philosophy similar to that of Paul Verhoeven (before he lost his mind and made Showgirls that is), showcasing the intersection of ultra-high-technology with a gritty, duct-tape-and-baling-wire sensibility from criminals and social outcasts living in the crumbling ruins of immense, crime-ridden cities. It's a style that demands incredibly convincing VFX work, and Chappie is, fortunately, the recipient of some of the best I've ever seen, from the overall look and feel of the many robots, humanoid or otherwise, that grace the screen, each of which is filled with wondrous detail and a sense of real weight and force behind their movements, to Chappie himself, motion-captured by long-time Blomkamp collaborator, Sharlto Copley, who also provides the voice for the titular robot. Chappie's integration into the film is so complete it makes Golum look like the the CGI from Catwoman, with visual effects so absolutely convincing, so utterly devoid of "showcase" moments to drag you out of the film, that despite all rational evidence to the contrary, I actually thought the robot was done animatronicly with practical effects, and only realized how impossible that was in retrospect based on what they have the thing actually do. The titleholder for Best Effects rotates frequently in movies, I know, but Chappie's are so good, and fit so well into the grungy, lived-in design of the world, that even with all the superhero, fantasy, and sci fi extravaganzas with which I am regularly presented, it stood out almost effortlessly. I'd make a joke here about how Weta Digital, the effects company created by Peter Jackson for the Lord of the Rings has finally been upstaged, but it turns out they were the ones responsible for Chappie as well.

Oh but there's more to the look of a film than the digital effects, and Blomkamp, who has always been a visual director, is at the top of his game here. Chappie is not a film entirely full of action, but like Robocop before it, the movie is capable of staggering, bloody violence at the drop of a hat, filmed in gorgeous, lush long-takes amply supplied with slow motion sequences at just the right moment. Several of the best sequences come (as is only reasonable) near the end of the film, done in unbroken, quasi-handheld shots that never veer into shakycam, but showcase the rampages of characters allowed, at last, to cut loose. Buttressing everything is a glorious choral-electric score, featuring the music of the aforementioned Ninja and his collaborators alongside more traditional fare from Hans Zimmer himself.

Things Havoc disliked:  So far so good, a far-out concept, actors who vary from the well-established to the utterly weird, a design that stands out, and effects that back it up. So where exactly do we run into problems? Well... let's talk about the script.

Elysium fell apart because it was generally terrible, but diving into the precise reasons, the issue was the script, a sanctimonious, bloviating, ignorant take on immigration policies in general, and my abiding fear from the trailers was that Blomkamp was going to do to Ferguson and the associated police scandals what he did in Elysium to the immigration question. Fortunately, that fear proved entirely unfounded, but less fortunately, the reason it was unfounded was that Chappie is not really about any one thing in particular, but about eighteen things smashed together to form a movie, from transhumanism to police militarization, to pedagogic theory, machine sentience, and brain digitization, all in a movie that's clearly also supposed to have time to be funny and touching. It's a tall order for any script, and the result is basically a complete mess, as the movie gyrates wildly from one concept, tone, and feel to another, dragging whiplashed characters along in its wake, until by the end we have things happening that have never once been established through means that make no sense within the context of the film. Among the many, many plot contrivances that come to mind, one of the few that does not involve a spoiler is a helmet, designed to allow direct brain interface with computer systems, an extrapolation of technologies existent today that allow a computer to literally read someone's mind. All well and good, but by the end of the movie we have the sentient robot itself using this system in an attempt to upload its own consciousness, apparently unaware (as are the filmmakers) that this sort of thing uses brainwaves to interpret the thoughts of the wearer, something a robot is unlikely to be producing in any quantity.

But it's not so much a matter of this nitpick or that one, and just a general sense of confusion that reigns throughout the film. Ninja's counterpart, both in this movie and in reality, is Yolandi Visser, who like Ninja basically plays herself, but unlike him, does not seem to have much of a character in the film beyond what's absolutely necessary at any given moment. At one point a hard-bitten gangster who casually suggests shooting Dev Patel's feet off if he doesn't help them hack the police robots, at another point a motherly nurturer who reads picture books to the newly-awakened robot and who teaches him to address her as "mommy" (a shiruken-flinging combat robot ripping walls and armored cars apart while screaming angry invective about "mommy" is only one of the many surreal things we get to see in this film). I don't object to a complex character with disparate qualities, the best characters in film are usually exactly that. But Yolanda is mired in a movie that whirlwinds about from concept to concept, which doesn't let us get any sense of her holistically. She simply is whatever the filmmakers want her to be at a given moment, with no sense that all of these attributes are coming from the same person. Other characters, including Ninja himself, Hugh Jackman's military-industrial schemer, and a skeeving crime boss played by South African television star Brandon Auret, all undergo similar gyrations, as the plot convulses around them, changing its mind mid-stream about what the movie is actually about, until by the end, we've seemingly lost track of the fact that we were originally talking about the invention of a sentient robot, a character we are presumably intended to identify with at least somewhat, but who, like everyone else in the film, is not allowed to establish itself for more than five minutes before becoming something else entirely. In the case of the robot, that's probably a plot point. In the case of the humans, I have to blame the script.

Final thoughts:   My greatest fear regarding Chappie was that it would resemble Elysium, and on that score, Blomkamp manages to pass with flying colors, as Chappie not only fails to resemble Blomkamp's previous picture, but also doesn't resemble damn near anything I've ever seen before. Indeed, so strange, so left-fieldish is this deceptively-simple movie that the closest point of comparison I have is the work of Darren Aronofsky, whose life's mission seems to be to take as many simple ideas as he can and produce as much surreal insanity as possible with them. Chappie's weirdness is not openly Feliniesque (as Aronofsky's often is), but more a matter of a director pushing the envelope until it falls off the table, and yet I'll be damned if there isn't something almost hypnotic about the result. The film makes little-to-no sense when sat down and thought about, but the experience of watching it is not something I'm at risk of forgetting soon, and like Aronofsky's 2014 version of Noah, it manages, whatever its flaws, to avoid being boring, predictable, or even sane.

Chappie, as it turns out, is presently being torn to pieces by the same critics who praised Elysium for being bold and daring, and it would be uncharitable of me to ascribe that to the fact that Chappie isn't as sanctimoniously preachy as Blomkamp's last effort. Their objections to the film's confusion, lack of consistent motivations, and overloading with too many plots (to say nothing of glaring product placement from Sony and Redbull) are similar enough to my own that I'm not going to object, and yet... if I'm being honest, the overall effect of Chappie is less trainwreck, and more awe. Chappie doesn't really work, but in failing it produces something quite unique, as if Blomkamp reached for the stars and only caught a satellite. Technically this wasn't what he was going for (I think), but it's still a fairly impressive achievement nonetheless. And if I'm being completely honest with myself, I have to say that for all the confusion and madness (or perhaps because of it), I enjoyed watching this movie, What else matters, really, besides that?

Ultimately, Chappie almost defies criticism, as the movie is plainly the work of a man who only knew what he was doing about two thirds of the time. One can like the result, or dislike it, but to argue that mistakes were made in producing it is kind of missing the point. The entire effort was a grand, glorious mistake. Take from it what you will.

Final Score:  7/10

Next Time:  Action of some form, be it old or new.  Or maybe it's time to visit Bollywood...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ballet 422

Alternate Title:  Watching the Watchers

One sentence synopsis:    A young ballet dancer at the New York City Ballet is given the opportunity to write, choreograph, and produce a new ballet in two months.

Things Havoc liked:  I do like catching the occasional documentary, even about subjects I care nothing about, and there are few subjects I care less about than ballet, a highly stylized art form whose artificiality has never appealed to me. Oh I have nothing against ballet, certainly, and I know plenty of people who speak highly of this or that troupe, show, or dancer. One thing I do know about ballet however is how exacting it is, how terribly hard everyone works, how cutthroat the competition is for every position at every level. I know this, of course, because I have seen movies such as Black Swan, and movies would never lie to me. And so it was that I decided to go see a documentary about this full contact sport and see what the process for making these things actually is.

Ballet 422 is about a young man named Justin Peck, one of the "choral" ballet dancers (the lowest rung on the totem pole) at the New York City Ballet company. Thanks to an in-house choreographer's course and a promotion put on by the company, Peck was given a chance to write and direct (to use the movie parlance) a new ballet, the four hundred and twenty second in the history of the company. The documentary is simply a record of the process of him doing so, working with the dancers, the costumers, the lighting technicians, the conductor and orchestra, all of the myriad people who must come together in order to produce any kind of live performance such as this. All of this seems like a huge opportunity for a fairly low-ranking member of the ballet's cast to be given, and I must assume that this is some sort of particular distinction that Mr. Peck was singled out for.

Things Havoc disliked:  Why must I assume this? Well there's a couple of reasons, but mostly it's because this documentary doesn't tell you anything at all about anything.

Ballet 422 is the least informative documentary in the history of documentaries, and if that's not literally true then I really don't want to know what ranks above it. It has nothing to say, not in any sense of the word, about Ballet, about the process of making it, about Justin Peck or his creative process, about anything whatsoever. It is a complete waste of time in the form of a 75 minute hole in your life. Not content with providing no narration to their supposed documentary, the filmmakers for Ballet 422 have decided in addition that there should be no interviews, no subtitles, no actual discussion with the subjects of their story, just silent observation, as the ballet dancers and crew go about the business of creating the ballet. You might think that even with all that, it would still manage to be an interesting viewpoint into a hidden world, but so averse are these filmmakers to elementary film-making conceits, to informing their audience at all, that we literally are given long stretches of the camera watching a person who is in turn watching a dancer offscreen perform a routine we do not know anything about. We literally stare into the eyes of someone watching something else for minutes at a time, and are somehow expected to derive meaning and importance from the subject thereby. This approach is so tremendously wrongheaded that it is almost farcical, a pastiche of overly-important arthouse-style "undocumentaries" that are fashionable among the stupid crowd.

Oh there's stuff in this film, certainly, dancers and costumers and musicians and the rest of it, but while we do see them rehearse, or plan, or block, or inscribe notes onto arcane pads and computers, we have no conception of what they are actually talking about. At best we're given a chance to see Peck himself critiquing the way one of the premier dancers performs, or having a conversation with the conductor of the orchestra as to whether he's allowed to address them before the premiere (the departments seem pretty protective of their turf in this company, though I suppose that's no surprise), but devoid of context or, all we're watching is what amounts to a home movie for insiders from the ballet company, a series of vignettes meant to stimulate people's memories of the process of putting the ballet together, not substitute for them for us uninitiated plebeians. We get no sense of the artistic intention behind this ballet, no idea why Peck wants things to be one way and not another, nor of what options he has thought of and discarded. The movie doesn't even manage to generate a sense of pressure or tension as he goes about trying to pull this ballet off. Isn't two months a bit short for creating a full on ballet? I have no idea, as the film treats the whole affair as a workaday event. As a result of all this, I left the theater without even any idea as to what the ballet is supposed to be about, what it was based on, or even what its title was. And as to the various people I saw over the course of the film, let's just say that I didn't realize that Peck was himself married to one of the lead ballerinas (something that drastically alters the dynamic going on here) until I happened upon the IMDB page for the film and noticed the names matched.

Final thoughts:   Ballet 422 is one of the worst documentaries I've ever seen, a film that fails not on an artistic level, but on the deeper, mechanistic level of actually getting across the subject matter to the audience. I can only assume this was intentional, as the film is so systematically devoid of contextual information that I can't envision this happening by accident. Someone decided, for whatever reason, to tell the audience nothing whatsoever, confident either in the thought that merely peering behind the curtain would be enough for us, or perhaps trying to make some artistic point about audiences being spoon-fed information. Either way, the result was a totally pointless exercise, a documentary that documents nothing but context-free footage of people doing things that we don't understand, for purposes we don't know, in the service of a vision we don't see, from a choreographer we never get to meet.

Hell, you want to know what kind of documentary this is? The poster for the film shows the main character on stage, staring off at the interior of the richly-furnished theater, no doubt dreaming of the world premiere he is about to stage before everyone at the New York City Ballet.

The theater he's "staring" at? It's the 180-year old Mikhailevsky Theater for Dance and Performing Arts. In St. Petersburg.  A place referenced by name, location, or even inference exactly zero times in the entire film.

Final Score:  3.5/10

Next Time:  Johnny Five alive?  And kicking ass?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What We Do In The Shadows

Alternate Title:  Hobbiton by Night

One sentence synopsis:    Documentarians film a group of vampires around Wellington for several months, learning about their lives and habits.

Things Havoc liked:  With as many movies as I watch, I don't get around to seeing a lot of television. As such, while I've certainly heard of New Zealand-based comedy group Flight of the Conchords, mostly thanks to their musical stylings, I have not seen a great deal of their work on screen at any point. Still, reputation is reputation in this sort of thing, and with the Doldrums still upon us, a small indie offering from Kiwiland about Vampires seemed as good an option as any. Words cannot describe the horrors that otherwise awaited.

So... Wellington, New Zealand: Southernmost capital city in the world. Quaintly picturesque town nestled on the straights between the North and South islands. Headquarters for the production of the Lord of the Rings. Overrun by vampires. But fear not, would-be visitors, a collection of fearless cameramen and documentarians have ventured forth to draw back the curtain from the dark world of these dwellers of the night. Finally the truth can be known.

What We do in the Shadows is a mockumentary in the style of Christopher Guest, centered around a group of four flatmate vampires living in one of the more boring cities on Earth, and engaging in their nightly routine of hunting, bloodsucking, and performing dark rites. Sort of. Explaining what actually happens over the course of this movie would sort of defeat the point, I feel, as that's the point of the jokes in the first place, all of which work better in context than they would here. So let's turn to the vampires themselves. Taika Waititi, a filmmaker I've barely heard of, plays Viago, a German transplant vampire who moved to New Zealand in pursuit of his lost love but got waylaid when his coffin was rejected for insufficient postage. Fluttering about the shared flat, he clashes alternately with Deacon (Johnathan Brugh), a douchebag who seems to have gone on with his douchebaggery in the afterlife, circumstances be damned, and Vladislav (Jermaine Clement), a morose sex-obsessed technophobe (initially), who may or may not be Vlad the Impaler, and who spends most of the movie shivering in terror at the mention of his arch-nemesis, "The Beast". As the filmmakers follow these three around, we meet all manner of other denizens of the Wellington underworld, from Peter, an eight-thousand-year-old Nosferatu-knockoff, to a local pack of new-age Werewolves, to Nick and Stu, a fledgeling vampire brought into the coven early on, and his human associate who helps the Vampires discover the wonders of such modern marvels as Facebook and selfies.

This all sounds dry, I know, but the humor in this film is very dry, in a sort of spur-of-the-moment style with references and in-jokes worthy of any mockumentary I can recall. From Deacon's familiar Jackie, pissed off that she hasn't been turned into a Vampire yet while being forced to run his errands and clean up after his "feeding" efforts, to Vladislav's... "skills" at hypnosis, to Nick's conception of subtlety when it comes to disguising his nature as a vampire, to how the Werewolves deal with their... condition... the entire affair is a welter of circumstantial comedy, none of which, I'm afraid, will play well here. The film also uses its indie-documentary style to send up found footage films, periodically turning in satire far worthier than anything the Scary Movie series has put out.

Things Havoc disliked:  You kind of have to like films like this, films that sort of wander around without a point to them, in order to get much out of this. There is no plot to the film, no arc, no narrative progression. Characters do have things happen to them, yes, some of which have been established before, but there is no real unifying theme to the movie beyond the characters existing and being followed by the camera crews. I realize that documentaries and the films that ape them work differently than feature films, but even fake-true stories are supposed to be stories, and there's no real equivalent to Waiting for Guffman's theatrical performance, or Best in Show's dog show, the central unifying event around which the movies were made, and which served as a sort of climax. Attempts are made with the undead masquerade ball that the characters are looking forward to for much of the film, but the ball itself doesn't really pay anything off and the characters go on thereafter as though it were simply another incident. Even when aping real life, it's possible to be a bit too meandering.

Final thoughts:   The difficulty with a movie like this is that there really isn't a lot to say here. You really are going to like the concept of this film or you are not. I saw the thing based on a single trailer at an indie showcase some weeks ago, and thought it was hilarious and fun. Someone else might take one look at this review's description and think it was the most boring thing on Earth. They would probably not be wrong. But the fact that the jokes, in fact the film itself, works only in context, makes it rather proof against any attempt to review it. Flight of the Conchords made a fake-documentary-comedy about New Zealand vampires living in a flat in Wellington. Whether you think this sounds like the sort of thing you would like or whether you think it doesn't, you're probably right.

Final Score:  7/10

Next Time:  Goddamned if I know.  Doldrums season strikes again.  Maybe Will Smith remaking Matchstick Men?

The General's Post Summer 2018 Roundup

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