Tag: joel david moore

Chillerama


Chillerama (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

A local drive-in is going to be demolished the next day so the owner, Cecil (Richard Riehle), decides to throw a last hurrah of gory, cheesy, sexy, raunchy B-movies. The line-up includes “Wadzilla,” “I Was a Teenage Werebear,” “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein” and “Zom-B-Movie,” directed by Adam Rifkin, Tim Sullivan, Adam Green, and Joe Lynch, respectively, the last one being a meta storyline involving the moviegoers at the drive-in.

The anthology starts strong. It is a classic creature-feature where Miles (Rifkin) is informed by a sperm bank doctor (Ray Wise) that his sperm count is very low. When Miles looks under a microscope, there is only one instead of millions of sperm. To remedy the problem, Dr. Weems gives Miles an experimental drug that is supposedly designed to make sperm stronger and so it will be able to swim to the egg cell with relative ease. Unbeknownst to them, the side effect involves the sperm growing exponentially bigger—so big that it becomes several stories high and capable of eating people whole. The segment works as a commentary on sexual dysfunction. “Wadzilla” has a great sense of humor and, despite being a comedy first and foremost, it achieves high peaks of suspense.

However, “I Was a Teenage Werebear” lacks intelligence and horror. While it dares to be a horror-musical, I was far from entertained by it. Ricky (Sean Paul Lockhart, famous in the gay community as Brent Corrigan) is a homosexual teen with an increasing urge to be with other men. When Ricky is bitten by Talon (Anton Troy), a werewolf, during a wrestling match, the transformation is emotional as it is physical. This segment’s running joke is the fact that every time skinny, boyish guys with werewolf blood transform, they turn into hairy burly men. I found it stupid, lazy, and mean-spirited. Are we supposed to laugh at gay men who are not considered stereotypically handsome?

It would have been a most wonderful surprise if, underneath a sub-moronic premise, it was about how it is really like to belong—or not belong—in a minority or counterculture despite the mainstream belief that all aspects LGBTQ is united. On the contrary, it remains to have a lot of internal prejudice. Instead, the segment rests on being shallow. The closest it gets to a good jolt is the convincing makeup each time a wolf slashes someone’s face.

“The Diary of Anne Frankenstein” suffers from similar problems. While it has more creativity, stylistically and script-wise, there is also one bad running joke: Hitler (Joel David Moore) being a complete imbecile. It is revealed that Anne Frank’s family is a descendant of Dr. Frankenstein, their name shortened in order to escape the shame of being associated with the madman. When Hitler finds the Franks’ hideout, he murders them, steals Anne’s diary (which contains instructions of how to turn the dead back to life), and orders his men to forge “sad things” as a substitute for what he has stolen. Hitler succeeds in creating a monster and teaching it how to kill.

This is the point where inspiration comes to a halt. The monster growls, grabs onto Nazis, and takes their lives. In the middle of my boredom, I could not help but wonder if the material would have been much stronger if the monster did not learn how to kill despite Hitler’s best attempts. It might have been an excellent commentary on the evil that the Nazis committed in World War II: if a monster designed to kill could not commit murder yet the Nazis were more than willing to, what does that say about them?

“Zom-B-Movie” is the most typical of the four. Zombies bite and infect others, but instead of being hungry for brains, they are hungry for sex. What a snooze.

“Chillerama” has some glimmer of inspiration but it feels misguided as a whole. While body parts are exposed and blood is unleashed, it all comes down to the screenplays being overshadowed by countless missed opportunities.

Hatchet


Hatchet (2006)
★★ / ★★★★

Ben (Joel David Moore) has recently broken up with by his girlfriend of eight years. To help keep his mind off her, Marcus (Deon Richmore), Ben’s best friend, decides that they should visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras. But the plan backfires: breasts, booze, and beads are not tempting enough to distract Ben from his heartache. Instead, the duo end up partaking in a $40 tour of a swamp to see ghostly lights. Soon, the suspicious boat driver (Parry Shen), Ben, Marcus and the remaining six passengers are picked off by Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), a gruesome, seemingly indestructible killer with a deformed face.

Written and directed by Adam Green, “Hatchet” is like watching a bunch of teenagers run around a corn maze to get scared out of their wits. And just like the characters in most teen flicks, the characters here are nothing but stereotypes. Ben is emo, Marcus is the clown, Marybeth (Tamara Feldman) is the quiet chick with secrets, Misty (Mercedes McNab) and Jenna (Joleigh Fioravanti) are the blonde and brunette nymphs, respectively, Doug (Joel Murray) is the pervert with the camera, while Jim and Shannon (Richard Riehle, Patrika Darbo) are the sugary sweet couple.

I was actually glad the writer-director does not force his characters to be more than cardboard cutouts because there are far too many of them. Most end up with severed limbs anyway. Once they are bloody and with body parts missing, they are nearly instantaneously forgotten.

The supporting actors are given very funny lines and they make the most of them. More often than not, the jokes and one-liners work in releasing some of the tension as the characters stroll around the creepy swamp. McNab gives an ace performance as the dumb blonde. She is a laugh riot because she straddles confusion and fear with, ironically, unique elegance. She gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Blondes have more fun!”

Much of the effort is dedicated to scenes that lead up to the killer coming out of the blue and executing the grizzly kills. Since the characters are left running around in an open space, I found myself into it and feeling paranoid that Victor, equipped with an intimidating stature, can appear at any time. When nothing can be heard but silence, it a surefire signal that something deadly is about to happen.

I liked the background story involving Victor Crowley as a child but it is as thin as Saran wrap. Since Victor is deformed, kids feared him and he was often bullied. No one loved him except for his father. I wish Green had found a way to incorporate Victor’s past to what he inevitably becomes. This is very undeveloped–which it should not have been if we are to ultimately believe that Victor Crowley belongs in the pantheon with Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger, its obvious inspirations.

And then there is the question of whether Victor is still a man or if he is poltergeist whose mortal body died very unhappily and full of rage. While he feels pain when struck by a weapon, it seems like he was unable to die. Leaving the issue open-ended gives way to a plethora of loopholes. The characters who we want to survive have less of a chance if they do not know exactly what they were up against.

Still, “Hatchet” may not serve as a prime inspiration for future lost-in-the-woods-with-a-serial-killer movies but it is goofy, gory and great fun if seen with the right company.

Shark Night


Shark Night (2011)
★ / ★★★★

A group of college students (Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Zylka, Sinqua Walls, Alyssa Diaz, Katharine McPhee, Joel David Moore) visited a lake house in Louisiana for some fun in the sun after finals. One of them, Sara (Paxton), was from the area but she left her hometown three years ago and never went back. Her friends thought it was strange how Sarah, in all the years they’ve known her, never became intimate or even hooked up with a guy. Meanwhile, the barely clothed undergraduates, gleefully playing in the lake, were unaware that the water was infested with sharks. “Shark Night,” based on the screenplay by Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg, lacked the courage to come off as completely ludicrous. If it had been more confident, it could have worked as a parody or even a satire. From its first scene involving a topless girl who had to search for her swimsuit in the water, it was obvious that the material wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. The shark attack lasted for about three seconds of choppy editing and it wasn’t scary in the least. While a handful death scenes, aided by CGI, were rather neat, the few seconds prior to the characters’ deaths felt almost like wasted time. There was no patience from behind the camera prior and during the attacks. The formula was this: The camera would go underwater and about five seconds later, someone screamed out of pain. Sometimes having a character just pulled from underwater by a very strong shark and its victim never having to scream for help could work just as effectively or even more so. Let the camera linger for about five seconds on the surface of the water. Doing so would give us a chance to observe waves created out of panic turn into utter quiescence–an illusion that a shark attack never happened. Moreover, the movie could have benefited from more extreme typecasting. For instance, Nick (Milligan) was supposed to be the geek who wanted to become a doctor. He had his MCAT coming up but the only reason he decided to come with was because he pined for Sara. They knew each other through other friends but he lacked bravado to ask her out on a simple date. He didn’t think he was good enough for her. Yet without his glasses, he looked like another jock who should have all the confidence in the world. How were we supposed to believe that he had something to prove? The one character I found most interesting was Blake (Zylka), the blonde Adonis obsessed with fake tanning. He wasn’t especially smart, even self-absorbed at times, but when tragedy struck, it turned out he was the most sensitive and relatable. Having a final girl, which inevitably just had to be Sara because it was her hometown, was anticlimactic and frustrating because the character wasn’t established as strongly as she should have been. As a rule of thumb, for horror movies that require a “final girl,” the protagonist has to be someone we will be behind no matter what. Sara wasn’t that person. Ironically, it was Blake. It could have been an excellent twist if the writers had been more aware of and fleshed out the inconsistencies in their screenplay. Directed by David R. Ellis, “Shark Night” was tame compared to other bloodfests like Alexandre Aja’s “Piranha.” It wasn’t even as fun.

Avatar


Avatar (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

James Cameron has always given us movies that are beyond anything we would expect whether it’s about an upcoming apocalypse (“The Terminator,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”), a rescue team plunging into an alien-colonized planet (“Aliens”), a secret agent finding out about his cheating wife (“True Lies”), a romantic interpretation of a tragedy (“Titanic”), or a real-life deep sea adventure (“Aliens of the Deep”). So when he releases a new movie with an extremely high budget and spent years and years shaping it, it saddens (and angers) me that people expect it to be downright disappointing. That lack of appreciation for a director who obviously loves his work and cares about his audiences just doesn’t fly with me. That group-think of hoping someone would fail is such an ugly quality and I don’t ever want to be a part of it. As I expected, “Avatar” exceeded expectations and I cannot help but rub its success on the faces of those people who judge a movie by its trailer (including the fools who claim “it sucks” without proper justification such as actually watching the film). Whatever happened to giving something the benefit of the doubt?

“Avatar” tells the story of humans–divided into researchers and the army–who go into another planet called Pandora in hopes of extracting the mineral Unobtainium to save Earth from an energy crisis. The catch is that the area where most of the element of interest is found underneath a giant tree that is inhabited by the Na’vi, the blue-colored, highly spiritual natives who do not get along with the humans despite efforts from the lead researchers (Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore) to get to know their culture and customs. After waking up from a coma and finding out about his twin brother’s demise, a paraplegic marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington–words cannot describe how much I love this guy) is hired by a colonel (Stephen Lang) to gain the natives’ trust (through transfering his mind into an avatar–a DNA hybrid of man and Na’vi) and double-crossing them in the end. In exchange, the colonel promises to give Jake the functionality of his legs by means of an expensive spine surgery. However, things quickly got more complicated when Jake falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and the fact that Jake finds it more liberating (or meaningful?) to be in a Na’vi than a human.

One of the many qualities I loved about this film was its ability to be about a lot of things (love, self-awareness, faith, discovery…) but never losing the wonder of meeting and interacting with an alien culture. Note that I use the word “culture” instead of “species” because we really got to know what they were about and why we ultimately root for them. Right when we plunged into the dangerous world of the Na’vi, I felt like I was experiencing something completely new. Like the lead character, everything was fascinating. I wanted to touch the strange-looking flowers and I wasn’t sure whether a certain creature was friendly or ready to attack. The theme of rebirth was consistently tackled throughout the picture in meaningful ways. Although some may see it as having a religious perspective, being not a religious person myself, I was moved by the possibilities and the interpretations made me feel more alive. I just wish that there were more metaphors and discussions regarding the science. I was interested in how they created an avatar. They did mention DNA hybridization but I’m sure that’s not the complete story. “DNA hybridization” may sound complicated to most people but once one has studied the basics (I have), it’s really a quite simple concept. Having set in the future, it could have really increased that “wow” factor by offering us unconventional explanations and poking fun of the limited technology we have now. (Since we think we’re so technologically advanced nowadays.)

I was very engaged when Weaver’s character was explaining the parallels between the neural connections in our brain and the Navi’s complex relationship with mother nature. That particular scene really supported my ethics and beliefs that a true scientist is sensitive to its subjects and not just all about the cold science. That message is really important to me because, from my experiences, every day I’m surrounded by a lot of people who are all about the brain but who are seriously lacking emotional intelligence. The director makes it apparent that this is about brains vs. brawns (scientists and Na’vis vs. the army) but I think it’s much more layered than that because there were scientists in the film that didn’t care about the natives and there were members of the army that did care (Michelle Rodriguez). Despite all the extended action sequences, I thought it had something more in its core and that’s why I couldn’t help but admire the picture. Admittedly, the story could have been much stronger but when I look back on it, the only way it could strengthen that aspect is to have another hour or so. I certainly wouldn’t cut a scene from the final version because I thought each one had something special to offer. It definitely had Pocahontas elements to it yet it’s different because it was able to offer a modern (or futuristic?) interpretation.

“Avatar” is an outstanding achievement in filmmaking, especially when it comes to its visual effects. I would not be surprised at all if it won every single technical awards in the Oscars or perhaps a Best Picture nomination. With a budget of over $300 million (from what I read from multiple sources), I thought the budget really translated onto film. Not only did the CGI images looked sharp by themselves but it was also amazing to see the CGI mesh so well with live action and the live actors. My experience was also magnified because I saw the movie in 3D. (I suggest you watch it in 3D as well.) With a behemoth of a running time that is 160 minutes (personally, I wish it ran longer), it may seem intimidating at first. But once all the action and imagination starts, you will not want to take a bathroom break. I can only hope others will have a chance to be absorbed in this world that Cameron has created for us. Most of all, I wish that people would stop hating on huge projects such as this one and show more appreciation and humility toward people who work so hard to offer us something new. It’s alright to express distaste after actually giving the final product a chance. But it’s important to still have some respect because what we project to the world is ultimately a reflection of us.