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Monday, May 20, 2013

Morbid(2013): Party Crasher

Morbid 2013 Movie Poster Chuck ConryWritten and directed by Chuck Conry of Zombies Don’t Run fame, Morbid is a throwback to the Slasher films of yesteryear, focusing on a small town terrorized by a masked serial killer. Regardless of there being a psycho on the loose, the people of the community, police and all, are more concerned that the high school football team is about to play the biggest game of the season and the star quarterback, Sky Walker, is going to break some big record. Furthermore, a number of local teens forgo their fears of a masked killer and decide to throw a huge after-game party, which makes them all a prime target for a mass murderer. Who will survive the slaughter? The answer may be too MORBID for some of you to comprehend! Sorry.

Morbid opens with a scene featuring two horror fans debating how important Halloween is in the lexicon of horror, with the debate eventually moving to how Black Christmas came first (though, for the record, Silent Night, Bloody Night came before that) and used some of the ideas and techniques that were later made popular by Carpenter’s film. This is actually a fun scene due to the fact that Conry is poking fun at his own movie by also using ideas and techniques found in those films in this opening scene (killer POV, for example). The opening is also a clear indication as to the type of low-budget horror film you’re in for, which is one that is filled with humorously slanted self-referential dialogue made by people who obviously love horror films.

Morbid 2013 Movie Review Chuck Conry

This almost Kevin Smith/Scream inspired approach to the dialogue has some good moments, but seeing as this approach is so common in so many low-budget horror flicks, I can’t help but be a little less than enthusiastic about some of it. The overall humorous tone of Morbid also received a mixed reaction from me, as some of the jokes hit nicely, while a few jokes go on for far too long, especially some of the television spots involving the town sheriff who goes on-and-on about the murder and the big game.

Morbid also drags a bit in the second act, and that plays into some of the jokes that go on longer than they should; however, the ending is when Morbid really picks up the pace and becomes the type of movie I would want from a $500 Slasher flick. Whereas there are no deaths, or even much of a threat, in the second act, the party set finale is when the proverbial shit hits the fan and the slaughter begins, and for me, that’s where a movie of this budget resides most comfortably. The film’s killer ratchets up a number of cheesy but fun death scenes brought to life with enjoyably amateurish make-up effects, and there are even a few ‘very big’ surprises that, for me, are what a movie like Morbid should be.

Morbid 2013 Movie Review Chuck Conry 5

While the movie runs in at 70 minutes (60 min without credits), it feels longer than it needs to be at times. What would have served Morbid best would be if Conry trimmed the dialogue and tried to do a little more in terms of building some tension. The film needed a little bit of quiet time sprinkled in to balance it out, and again, it’s the middle section that could have benefited by a few POV shots from outside of the party as well as a few establishing shots. Even if they had come out a little hokey, I think it might have helped with the pacing and, for me, a little hokey is welcome.

Morbid is certainly what you’d expect from a movie made by a bunch of horror fans with an estimated budget of $500. I have to give props to Conry for making a film that looks pretty decent. I mean, it’s certainly rudimentary and cheap, which is part of the film’s style, but it does feature a sense of comprehension and competence on a level that many movies of it’s ilk do not posses.

Morbid 2013 Movie Review Chuck Conry 6

Morbid is likely a movie that some people will get a kick out of just as there will be some people who will hate it, but that’s pretty much the name of the game with this specific type of low-budget horror film. For me, personally, Morbid has its ups and downs, but I commend Conry and his gang of merry men and women for taking the risk and making a film of their own. I know how much work can go into making a horror movie, and one thing I hope that comes from Morbid is that it worked as a good learning process for Conry to make an even better film next time, which I assume would be Morbid 2?!

 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pietà (2013): Baby Mama Drama

Pieta movie poster Kim Ki-dukWritten and directed by Kim Ki-duk, Pieta is the South Korean filmmaker’s 18th directorial effort (something that is expressed in the opening credit sequence), which is pretty impressive considering he has only been making movies since 1996. The evocatively titled Pieta focuses on Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin), a loan shark who makes his living by crippling those who cannot afford to pay back their debts, then collects on their insurance. To call Kang-do vicious would be a great understatement, as he is the type of person who will ridicule and torture his victims in ways that are simply deplorable. He is a man to be feared, and all who come in contact with him are very aware of this fact.

Like most of Kim’s work, Pieta is not afraid to walk down dingy, unsafe alleyways and into taboo territory, and things become quite complicated for Kang-do when a woman who claims to be his mother (played fantastically by Cho Min-soo) shows up and tries to force her way back into his life. Unsurprisingly, Kang-do doesn’t believe the woman, who claims to have abandoned him as an infant due to being too young and stupid to understand what she was doing. But where things begin to take a turn for the two, and when Kang-do begins to believe her story, is where things begin to get a little, well, darker.

Kim Ki-duk Pieta Movie review 1

To prove to him that she is in fact his mother, Kang-do forces the woman to eat a piece of flesh from his thigh, which she hesitantly does. Kang-do then goes on to sexually force himself on her, claiming that if she is his real mother, she will let him go back inside the place where he once came from. While this is a shocking and certainly extreme way to have to prove oneself, this could be looked at as a moment where his mother can receive some of the pain and punishment that she placed upon Kang-do by abandoning him as a child, which indirectly turned him into the man he is today.  

Harsh violence and sexual deviancy are common traits in Kim’s movies, and as you can probably tell, this is no different with Pieta. Often the violence and sexual deviancy found in Kim’s work is provided by a character (often male) who is rarely considered a good person, let alone a decent one. However, that might be the brilliance of Kim Ki-duk’s oeuvre. He creates vile characters and walks them through some awful situations, then finds a way to almost ask for the audience’s sympathy, or at least give his audience the option to feel conflicted about the character. There is often a catalyst for this pseudo-sympathetic turn - an event that completely derails a character's path - and with Kang-do, it is finally being with his mother.  

Kim Ki-duk Pieta Movie review

Being reunited with the woman who gave him life, Kang-do finds himself acknowledging the emptiness that has plagued him throughout his life, thus causing him to grow up to be so unsympathetic. There is one particular scene that brilliantly plays on Kang-do’s lifelong emptiness, where he goes to collect a debt from a man who is a month away from having a child. The man, with a strange sort of glee, tells Kang-do that he looks forward to being crippled because it will give him the chance to give his future child the opportunity that he would not be capable of providing otherwise. Kang-do, who would normally show no sympathy, responds by telling him that he envies the man’s future child. Kang-do sees a man who is willing to sacrifice himself for his child in a way that no one has ever done for him, something that has a real effect on him.

Kim Ki-duk Pieta Movie review 2

Despite the fact that Kang-do begins to find solace - and even a touch of happiness - in being reunited with his mother, there is a darkness that constantly looms overhead. Everyone has to pay their dues for the wrong they do in life, especially men such as Kang-do. And despite his metaphorical rebirth, Kang-do has led a life where salvation is difficult to earn by his many victims as well as the audience. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about this character, though Kim Ki-duk gives us the opportunity to find a trace level of sympathy in this deplorable man; it’s just up to the viewer to decide whether or not they want to grant it to Kang-do. For me, I saw a character who, in the hands of a lesser storyteller, wouldn’t have been so challenging (though Lee deserves a nod for his strong performance), but this is indeed what makes Kim Ki-duk the fantastic filmmaker that he is.

Pieta is being given a limited theatrical release on May 17th by Drafthouse Films (a complete listing of theaters and showtimes are on the site); however, if the film isn’t playing near you, it is also available to rent On-Demand.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Pros of Con Air (1997)

Con air Poster

The Simon West directed, Jerry Bruckheimer produced 1997 action masterpiece Con Air is the definition of 90s action excess; an over-the-top, sweat-filled orgy of insane performances, sun-kissed cloudy blue skies, testosterone, and Nic Cage. This is a flick that boils over the brim with random acts of slow motion, excessive explosions and, well, excessive slow motion explosions, all of which are delivered in a fashion that can only be captured in a motion less than normal. Anyway, to celebrate the love I have for Con Air, I have put together this list of a few of my favorite things about the best film to feature Nicolas Cage saving a man from going into diabetic shock.

Cast Away:

For me, and likely most fans of Con Air, the cast is a major part of why the film is such a blast. Con Air features a wild mix of actors that cover a wide range that the craft has to offer, from comedic actors such as Dave Chappelle, whose character of Pinball offers some genuine laughs, to a multitude of tough guy/girl character actors such as M.C. Gainey, Rachel Ticotin and Danny Trejo. There’s also a fun, scene chewing turn from Colm Meaney, who plays an abusive, jerk-off DEA agent.

Of course, the real juice of Con Air comes from the impressive number of (mostly) well respected actors, some of whom have sat comfortably at or near the A-list. You have Ving Rhames and John Malkovich carrying a hefty amount of the bad guy workload, while Steve Buscemi shows up as the Hannibal Lecter inspired character, Garland "The Marietta Mangler" Greene. On the other end of the spectrum there’s John Cusack as U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin, who is a sort of good guy ying to Cameron Poe’s good guy yang. Oh, and speaking of Cameron Poe, he’s played by Nicolas Cage, who’s sort of an important piece in Con Air’s incredible puzzle.

How Do I Ask a Question Without a Question Mark:

Con Air opens AND closes with the touching sounds of Trisha Yearwood’s How Do I Live, a song that is literally the audio essence of Cameron Poe’s emotional state of mind. I mean, if love is in anyone’s heart, it’s in Poe’s, and despite the lack of a question mark, How Do I Live represents Poe’s passion as a husband, a father, and a man who decided that prison’s a good time to grow a mullet.  

I would never normally support a song such as How Do I Live, but how do I deny such a song when it means so much to the film’s lead character. The smile that will grace Poe’s face as he sees the sun of freedom can never be understood by anyone other than Trisha Yearwood. Well, her and LeAnn Rimes. And, well, a bunch of American Idol contestants and number chuckleheads who think they can sing.

John Malkovich Chewing a Hole in the Plane:

Con air 1

John Malkovich as Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom chews scenery like it’s a tough piece of beef jerky, giving a performance that’s about as over-the-top as his insane “ In my club, I will splash the pot whenever the fuck I please” portrayal of Russian mobster Teddy KGB in 1998s Rounders. It’s really incredible, and better yet, some of the dialogue he is given is climbing towards brilliance. No scene is left with out a few teeth marks when Malkovich is done, and that’s saying a lot considering he’s up there with Nic “The Animal” Cage.  

“Oh, nothing makes me sadder than the agent lost his bladder in the airplane!”

Nicolas Cage. Nicolas Cage. And Nicolas Cage:

Nicolas Cage as Cameron Poe in Con Air is so epic, the only way to encapsulate his wonder is with bullet points:

  • His southern accent

 

  • His hair

    Con air 5

  • His strength and conditioning

    Con air

  • His hair

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  • His origami skillz

    Con air

  • The many emotions he conveys

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After Nic Cage, there really is no more that one person can say, so I will leave you with this:

 

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