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Murder Week: Bernie by Jamie

I don’t know what it says about our culture that the first to movies I’m reviewing for Murder Week are comedies. Also not sure what the hell it says about me. Still, up on the docket today is another little known comedy which reunites “School of Rock” director Richard Linklater and star Jack Black by the name of “Bernie”. Now, there’s one thing that really kind stands out about this movie and that’s that it’s a comedy based on a real murder. And not a real life murder that happened two centuries ago as is the case with John Landis’ “Burke and Hare”. No, this was an actual murder that happened in 1996. Stranger still, the film contains testimonials featuring people from the town where the murder happened. So, yeah, I think it’s fair to say I’ve never really seen anything quite like this before. Now, there are spoilers ahead but it’s not really the kind of film that can be spoiled. The characters and how they react to the plot are far more important than the plot itself.

Bernie (Black) is the assistant funeral director in the small town of Carthage, Texas. His good and exceedingly giving nature has made him the most beloved member of the community, particularly the fact that he goes out of his way to ensure the well-being of the relatives of the departed. Due to this, he soon becomes the only friend of the recently widowed Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), someone who is pretty much reviled in Carthage. It isn’t long until Nugent is abusing Bernie’s insanely kind nature and soon the poor man’s seemingly infinite patience begins to run thin. In a fit of blind rage, Bernie picks up a gun and shoots Nugent four times in the back. He finds he can keep the crime hidden for some time because of Nugent’s unpopularity in town. He finds that few people ask questions about her and those that do quickly take his word for it. He also begins to use Nugent’s money to help out people in town and using pretty much none of it for himself.

Unfortunately for Bernie, there’s one person who isn’t satisfied with Bernie’s answers and that’s Nugent’s Stock Broker. He brings in the District Attorney, Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) who quickly uncovers Bernie crime. Davidson suddenly finds himself in a bit of a bind. He quickly discovers that, even though Bernie is clearly guilty and has confessed to the crime, none of the townsfolk will convict him if they are on the jury. In an unprecedented move, Davidson requested that the trial be moved to San Augustine, not because he felt that Bernie would be convicted unfairly but because it seemed as though conviction would be completely impossible for a conviction at all in Carthage.

So that’s pretty much the plot of the film, though I’ll leave the result of the trial out so there’s something there for you to find out for yourself. I’ve got to say, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Jack Black is playing a very different character from what he usually does and it’s a pleasant change indeed. He manages to pull off the loveable murderer brilliantly and for the most part, he plays it fairly straight with most of the humour from his character basically coming from just how unbelievably nice he is. Also worthy of note are MConaughey and MacLaine who are both excellent, particularly McConaughey as he becomes more and more frustrated with a town who has pretty much decided that they don’t care if Bernie has murdered someone.

The real star of this film and the main source of its humour, however, is the town of Carthage. The testimonials from the townspeople are just fantastic and the fact that Linklater decided to include them is truly a stroke of genius. It’s the gossip nature of this film that really sells it and the thing that really kept me watching what would otherwise be a serviceable if somewhat played out true crime film. You just cannot help but fall in love with these people as they express their love for Bernie. In particular there’s an older women who keeps on insulting Nugent whilst another woman just sits next to her laughing. It’s great.

So yeah, I would definitely recommend Bernie if you want to see a comedy about a true life murder. I’d recommend it if you want to see Jack Black do something different. And I’d definetly recommend it if you want to see something that you’ve probably never seen before. Four pints out of five. Laterz.

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Murder Week: Salvation Boulevard (2011) by Jamie

Quite by accident, I ended up watching a number of films that all seemed to revolve around the worst crime a human being can commit that doesn’t involve touching children in inappropriate ways. So I’ve decided that, hell, I might as well review ’em and make a theme week out of it. So yeah, murder. It’s something that humans are pretty good at. There are those out there that would say that humans are especially evil being the only species that kill their own kind. To that I’d say that Black Widow Spiders and Praying Mantises would have a number of arms to raise in objection to that. Hell, we’re not even the only species to go to war.

Still, there’s something which fascinates us about this darker side of human nature. The fascination with death is probably only second in the human psyche to our fascination with sex. It probably comes with being, as far as we know, the only species that is fully aware of our mortality. It’s why we created myths to ease the fear of death. The fact that we could comprehend that we were alive made it hard to accept that one day everything we were would come to an end, hence we came up with the idea of the afterlife. This idea was then taken by the ruling classes of several different societies and cultures in order to keep the peasants in line. Just work hard and do as you’re told in this life, and you’ll get rewarded in the next. Its Marx’s opiate of the masses, if you will. And so it is that we come to today’s film, Salivation Boulevard, a comedy-thriller-religious satire from 2011. Yeah, that’s right. All that build up was for the review of a little known comedy film. I’ll admit, the opening got away from me a bit there.

The most notable thing about this film is probably the cast. Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Marissa Tomei, Ed Harris, Jim Gaffigan, Ciarán Hinds. Hell, that’s a fairly impressive list of pretty solid people. So how was it that this thing slipped through the cracks and ended up with a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes?

Well, to be fair, it’s just not that great of a film. To be fair I don’t think it’s really 21% bad but it could have done so much more with the premise. The basic set-up is that Pierce Brosnan plays Pastor Dan Day, the head of a Mega Church in a small town in Western America. He’s beloved by the community, in particular former Deadhead turned Christian Carl Vandermeer (Kinnear) and his wife Gwen (Connelly). The Mega Church that every obedient follower of the Lord could want, including a daycare centre with colouring books featuring Pastor Dan’s smiling face. Yes, the people of the town pretty much worship Dan as much as they do a 2000 year old Jewish Carpenter Zombie and the film isn’t particularly subtle about it, at least at first.

After Dan engages in a spirited debate with atheist Dr Paul Blaylock (Harris), he and Carl head back to the professor’s office for a night cap. One thing leads to another and the Pastor accidentally shoots Blaylock in the head. Fearing that the shooting will put his plans for a new Christian community that he plans to build in jeopardy, he tries to pass off the shooting as an attempted suicide whilst also trying to silence Carl. “Hilarity” ensues and all manner of madcap mix-ups and misunderstandings occur.

The main problem with the film is that it never quite balances its genres. It feels like it could have been a decent enough comedy about a man wrongly accused of a crime or a decent religious satire but in trying to combine the two, the final product is a bit of an unsatisfying mess. It’s the religious satire aspect, in particular, that really seems to suffer. It just never seems to go beyond the fairly obvious. Also I was a little disappointed that Pastor Dan actually seems to believe in the product he’s selling. Yes, he’s using that belief to gain and profit for himself but it’s pretty clear that he’s a believer himself and he suffers a great deal of guilt over what he’s done. Not enough to come clean but still, it tortures his religious soul. Personally, I feel it would have been better from a satirical viewpoint to have Dan simply pay lip service to Christianity in order to get what he wants. Sure, that might have been obvious too but it could have been a little more biting.

Perhaps the oddest thing in the whole film is Pierce Brosnan’s accent. It starts of as one thing and ends up something like an Australian accent and I honestly have no idea why. Honestly, it’s just bizarre. Why not just have him using his normal, British accent if he’s not going to play an American anyway? It’s possible it’s inspired by Australian Ken Hamm, director of the Creation Museum and a man whose choice of facial hair leaves him looking far more like a product of an evolutionary process he insists didn’t happen.

This man certainly didn’t evolve from apes…

So yeah, I kinda had high hopes for this film. The subject matter put it firmly in my wheel house and I thought that maybe it might be a nice little treasure that I could appreciate even if the critics didn’t but sadly I was disappointed. There were a few moments where I did laugh out loud and Kinnear puts in a great, believable performance as poor put-upon Carl but as a whole the movie just leaves you wishing it had been so much more. Two pints out of five. Laterz.



Found Footage Friday: Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County by Jamie

After the horror that last week’s inaugural entry into this feature left me with, I decided I’d go back to a little film that I first saw in the early 2000s. It was a different time and I was a very different person. I was young, idealistic and a fucking idiot. Why do I cast such aspersions on young me? Well I used to believe in everything paranormal. Ghosts, bigfoot, chupacabra. You name it and I believed in it. Hell, the only thing that I didn’t believe in was God and it was only as I explored scepticism through the internet that I came to be the rational individual I am today. Much of this blind belief in the supernatural came from growing up in a very specific time when a cultural juggernaut dominated the air waves. That juggernaut was a show called ‘The X-Files’ and because of it an entire generation grew up to believe in all kinds of crazy bullshit. And the area that interested me the most was the subject that also made up the core of the shows over-arching major plot: alien abduction.

Because of the popularity of the X-Files, supposed “real life” aliens permeated the culture of the 90s. It seemed as though every other day there was a special about the Roswell incident or alien abduction. In 1998, a full year before the ‘Blair Witch Project’, a little show called ‘Alien Abduction: Incident In Lake County’(AKA Alien Abduction: The McPherson Tape) aired. It purported to show actual footage of a family Thanksgiving dinner interrupted and terrorised by visitors from another world. When it hit, there was major debate about whether or not the footage was actually real and apparently this discussion still goes on today in some dark corners of the internet despite the fact that it ends with credits which include a cast list and Emmanuelle Chriqui (who plays Renee) went on to some success including playing Adam Sandler’s romantic interest in ‘You Don’t Mess with the Zohan‘ and appearing in ‘Entourage‘. I will say for my own part that I never believed the tape was real even in my silly less sceptical days. Still, that didn’t mean that it didn’t creep young me the fuck out.

The film begins with a family sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner whilst Tommy (Kristian Ayre) films it all. Suddenly the family experience a power cut and so Tommy and his two elder brothers, Kurt and Brian, head out to investigate. From there, shit goes down. And that’s as much synopsis as you’re getting from this time because there’s a very special surprise for you at the end of this review. If you’re wondering if it’s the entire film, then well done, you’ve spoiled the surprise. Arsehole.

Anyway, let me just say before you go watch it that yes, the acting is bad. The special effects are awful and there’s a weird pixilation effect that comes up every time the aliens are on screen, I assume to try and obscure just how bad the costumes are. There are also these terrible talking interviews which pop up and are unintentionally hilarious such as when one guy ascertains that this is not a fake because the people are clearly not actors. It almost feels as though he’s critiquing the film for you. And then there’s this guy, the greatest guy in the history of found footage films relating to alien abduction:


 

My God. Amaze-Balls. So yeah, anyway, despite how bad almost every aspect of this film is, it still holds a special place in my heart. It reminds me of a simpler time when my world was full of mystery. Stupid, stupid mystery. So enjoy Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County and I’ll see you next week for more full found footage review. Not sure what it’ll be yet but I’m sure it’ll be horror related. Gives me the fear just thinking about it… D’you know what I mean?


 



Found Footage Friday: Cannibal Holocaust by Jamie

I recently watched ‘Paranormal Activity 4’ and went on a mini-rampage about how fucking sick I am of found footage films, going so far as to declare that if film makers can’t be bothered to hire professional camera men to make their “professional” films then I’m not going to bother watching them. After the rage subsided, I thought about some found footage films that I’d actually enjoyed and realised I probably shouldn’t tar an entire genre with the same brush.

So I decided that one way to try and come to terms with this style of film making, which is certainly not going to go away, was to watch as many of them as possible. I want to discover the gems hidden among the sea of shit that makes up the entire found footage movement. It’s going to be a long, hard slog but luckily I’m a glutton for punishment and it only seems fair to begin with the great granddaddy of the entire genre, the one that started it all. No, I’m not talking about ‘The Blair Witch Project’. Silly young people. No, to see what many consider the birth of found footage, we have to go all the way back to the year 1980 for a little film called ‘Cannibal Holocaust‘. Spoilers and possibility of drunken ramblings ahead.

Oh boy. I don’t even know where to begin. I guess Cannibal Holocaust is one of those movies which I’d always assumed I’d seen and forgotten most of. If you have any interest in film, particularly horror, then there’s a good chance that you’ll end up hearing and reading a lot about it and I guess that that’s where I’d gotten the idea that perhaps I had viewed it before. I just knew so much about it that I assumed at some point in my life I’d sat down and actually watched it. Trust me when I say that I’ve seen and forgotten more films than a lot of people have actually seen so it was an easy mistake for me to make. But as I was watching the film today, I realised that it was obvious that I’d never seen this film before because I wouldn’t be able to forget it and now I never will. Never.

So the basic story of the film is that a young documentary team from New York has gone to the Amazon rainforest in order to film the local tribes there and have gone missing. New York University anthropology professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) decides to head into the foreboding jungle to try and track them down. He and his guides come across several tribes and evidence of the crew along their travels. The tribes seem particularly wary of the men and the professor comes to the conclusion that the film crew must have done something in order to make them this way. Finally his worst fears are realized. He discovers the remains of the crew and finds that they have been cannibalised. After negotiating with a tribal chief he manages to procure the crew’s film and heads back to New York.

In New York, the Pan American Broadcast Company decides they want to air the footage but Monroe insists he take a look at the raw footage first. Ok, this is one major part of the plot that I had a problem with. Really? The TV company were just gonna broadcast the footage without reviewing it first? Footage of an expedition that they knew ended with the crew being killed and eaten? They didn’t think that there might be anything on there that they might wanna get a look at first? Really? Anyway, that’s kind of beside the point because it turns out that, surprise surprise, Monroe was right to review the footage as he uncovers that the so-called documentarians were actually staging scenarios in order to get footage for their film and they did it in pretty horrific ways. Such as rounding a tribe into a straw hut and setting said hut on fire. They also gleefully engage in a bit of the old enforced the old in-out, real savage. Oh and then they impale their rape victim on a big wooden stake and film it as if the tribe had done it to her in some kind of punishment ritual. So yes, through all the extreme violence and sexual assault there is a subtext, that subtext being who are the real savages? The tribal peoples or the fucked up Westerners? The film unfortunately decides to try and hammer this message home at the end with Monroe asking himself “I wonder who the real cannibals are?” Well professor, the word cannibal has a pretty strict definition.:

  1. A person who eats the flesh of other human beings: “cannibal tribes”.
  2. An animal that feeds on flesh of its own species.

So, yeah, given that I’m going to say that the real cannibals were the people who ate people. If you’d said savages instead of cannibals I’d have been completely on board with your point but you didn’t. Now you look like a fool. A fool professor! Anyway the last of the footage ends with the crew being killed and eaten (and in the case of the female member of the crew raped as well) which, whilst horrific, I suppose is kind of supposed to be justified by the actions of the crew earlier. Whilst I’m sure the film makers meant the film to suggest that it truly was the fucked up Westerners that were the real savages, I just came away from it thinking ‘Fuck. I guess everyone is a savage.’

Now this film is massively controversial for a number of reasons. The director, Ruggero Deodato, was even arrested and accused of murder as the courts believed that several people had actually been killed on camera for the film. Now whilst some of the staged acts of graphic violence is certainly a bit much, though incredibly realistic for the time it was filmed, that’s not exactly the stuff I have a problem with. No, it’s the actual acts of horrific violence that were done just for the camera. One of the reasons that this film remains controversial to this day is the fact that actual and unnecessarily brutal acts of animal cruelty were filmed, ostensibly for entertainment purposes. These scenes are some of the most difficult I’ve ever seen. Seven animals in total were killed during the making of the movie, six of which were included in the film. There’s a coati which is stabbed though the neck and butchered, a tarantula and a snake that are both hacked up with machetes, a pig that gets kicked around a few times before being shot in the head at close range with a shotgun. Then a squirrel monkey, squirming and screaming is held down whilst the top of its head is removed with a machete.

Please don’t chop my head off and eat my brains…
Image courtesy of Luc Viatour / http://www.Lucnix.be

Despite how horrific that is, it’s actually one of the least egregious killings because it was eaten by the tribal cast members who consider monkey brains a delicacy and it would be pretty hypocritical of me as a meat eater to criticise a different cultures methods of killing and eating their food. Still, it’s a difficult watch.

The most difficult scene, however, is the killing and butchering of a large turtle which is dragged out of the amazon. It’s quite a long piece of the film and it’s pretty fucking sickening. The joy with which the film crew decapitate the animal, hack off its still twitching limbs and remove it’s shell is truly, truly shocking. I actually yelled at the screen in disgust a number of times and found myself wishing it would just end. At times, it felt like it never would. It’s weird because I’d always wondered what a turtle looked like without it’s shell. Now I wish I didn’t know because it turns out it’s just a mess of organs.

So… yeah. That’s film one in this ongoing series about found footage films. I honestly don’t feel that I can covey the feelings that this film brought up in me. Despite all that and as much as it pains me to say it… The film is kinda good. Completely unenjoyable and deserving of having every remaining copy of it shot into the sun forever and ever but still worth at least one watch. I honestly can’t explain why. Maybe it’s because everything that this film spawned. Maybe it’s a morbid curiosity to find out what others think of it. Maybe it’s simply because despite everything that I should hate about this film, there’s something weirdly fascinating about it. It’s a film that I can neither recommend nor fully condemn. I’ll just say that if you have any interest in the history of cinema, horror particularly, it’s a film you should watch at least once. But be warned. It is not an easy or enjoyable experience.

And now, to lighten the mood, here’s Space Unicorn.



Review: Argo by Jamie

I’ve really been getting in to films based on historical events lately. I’ve watched a ton of them in the past couple of months alone including Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone”‘ which I enjoyed immensely. So I was pretty excited about the release of Affleck’s new film, “Argo”. Hell, throw in the fact that this also happens to be an historical event that has something to do with the film industry as well and it almost seems as though this damn film was made specifically to tickle my balls. Yes, it had everything that I could have asked for. So did I love it unapologetically like the movie/history geek that I am? Let’s find out.

The movie takes place during the Iran hostage crisis that stretched from late 1979 to early 1981 and deals with one specific event in particular, the so-called Canadian Caper because apparently missions where people risk their lives must have adorable nicknames. On the 4th of November, Iranian students took control of American embassy and took the staff hostage in order to protest the Americans given shelter to the former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ad have him returned to Iran to stand trial for crimes committed during his rule. Six hostages managed to escape and took shelter at the Canadian embassy and a plan was drawn up by the CIA and the Canadian government to try and get them safely out of the country. Tony Méndez, a disguise an exfiltration expert, came up with a plot to extract them. He employed the aid of John Chamber, a Hollywood make-up artist, to create a fake film production office. The cover story was that the six trapped in Iran were actually Canadians working on a film and they were in the country scouting for locations for a Star Wars-esque Sci-fi fantasy film, Argo.

And that’s about all I’m going to describer of the movie plot/actual events because to say much more would give away the plot. So, back to the original question: Did I love this film? Well, I cewrtainly enjoyed it but I did find it to be a bit slow going at points, particularly the moments where the trapped Americans are literally waiting around trying to get rescued. I suppose that this reflects the monotony of actually being trapped in a building for days on end and so in that regard I suppose it’s quite effective. Overall, however, this film was fucking awesome. Every time Ben Affleck directs something I’m always surprised by just how good he is. The pacing during some of the more intense sequences is impeccable. I was quite literally on the edge of my seat during some moments, so tense were some of the events that were playing out on screen.

There’s also a nice counterbalance to that intensity with quite a nice deal of humour provided by John Goodman as John Chambers and Alan Arkin as producer Lester Siegel. Not only are they great comic relief during some of the earlier scenes where they are trying to drum up publicity for a film that they know will be never filmed but that same humour actually comes to just rack things up later during one of the most tense scenes during the entire film.

If I have any complaint it’s that one I made earlier about some of the scenes just slowing things down a bit too much but really that’s a minor issue and about the only one I can really think of. I suppose it could be argued that the portrayal of Iranians is a bit one note, though I feel it delves deep enough into the politics behind their outrage that, whilst not outright justifying their actions, it certainly helps to explain them. So with all said and done, I’ll give Argo four and a half pints out of five. Now Argo fuck yourself and see it. Laterz.




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