Mr. Jones (2013)
★ / ★★★★
To support her boyfriend’s career, Penny (Sarah Jones) agrees to to live in a cabin in the woods so Scott (Jon Foster) can film a nature documentary. While shooting on top of sizable boulders, Scott’s backpack is stolen by a hooded figure. Eventually, the two find the thief’s home. No one appears to be around so they go inside. They end up in the basement which is full of scarecrows, bizarre artifacts, and paraphernalia.
Penny knows exactly whose home they had broken into. She believes that they are in the domicile of Mr. Jones (Mark Steger), a person thought to be responsible for sending totems to random people all over the world. His work is so revered, but no one has actually met him. Scott’s project takes a little detour.
Written and directed by Karl Mueller, “Mr. Jones” inflicts an almost unbearable experience to those willing enough—or foolish enough—to sit through it. For a horror picture, it lacks the requisite scares and storyline that should inspire the viewers to ask questions or watch in careful anticipation. By the end, especially when it toys with the idea of dreams and reality, it is reduced to an incomprehensible mess: Although there are images on the screen, we watch a whole lot of nothing. To worsen the situation, it dares to confuse us.
The performers do an adequate job playing their roles but they are not given the chance to really make something of their talents. The screenplay lacks originality and inspiration and so we visit familiar set-ups like a person having to go to a place of obvious danger or arguing over what to do next. Combine such tired scenes with the camera shaking about plus headache-inducing rapid cuts and shrill or sudden noises, we realize that every ingredient from the How to Make a Bad Horror Movie recipe has been put in the pot.
It is a surprise to me that this is the writer-director’s first movie because it lacks passion. Usually, a filmmaker’s debut has so much energy—like he or she has something to prove. This one, however, comes across listless. I would rather watch a picture that is all over the place in terms of style, tone, or script but has a few good ideas on its sleeve than one that is barely alive, recycled from already recycled junk.
The one quality in bad horror movies that I find unforgivable is never giving the audience a chance to see, absorb, and appreciate the supposedly scary thing that the characters are reacting to. The camera moves so quickly that all we see is darkness and shards of glass flying when windows break. There is a difference between keeping a figure hidden for the time being and having nothing at all there. The picture stays with the latter throughout so the viewer feels robbed not only of the experience but also of his time.
As a habit of saying at least one good thing when it comes to bad movies, I will say this: I liked how the title of the movie neither appears in the opening nor the closing credits. That’s about it. I’m out of compliments.
★★★ / ★★★★
Pledges for Sigma Zeta Chi were about to be tested. Frank (Jon Foster), the fraternity leader, took his pledges for a ride around town and given them a task: to go into various convenience stores, hold the clerk at gunpoint, and steal $19.10. The pledges weren’t aware that the gun they held had no bullet and the clerks were in on the not-so-practical joke. When Frank dropped off Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci) to a wrong location, Kevin held a gun to the man in front of the register named Mike (Arlen Escarpeta), who happened to be a high school classmate of Adam (Trevor Morgan), one of the senior of members of the fraternity. When Kevin’s defenses were down, Mike shot him in the shoulder. Directed by Will Canon, “Brotherhood” had a critical eye on groupthink and what certain people were willing to sacrifice in order to feel like they belonged. Despite its thriller aspects, I thought the picture’s dramatic core was defined. The person we were supposed to sympathize with was Adam. I liked the way he started off as unlikable but something inside his mind clicked and tried to make the right decisions, not for the sake of the fraternity’s reputation but for the survival of a person who was bleeding to death. There was a power struggle between Adam and Frank. Frank, in a myriad circumstances, tried to correct a wrong with another wrong. We all know how those work out. He was a scary figure because he had a certain sense of self-entitlement that took precedence over genuinely caring a person. He saw leadership as avoiding punishment and not taking full responsibility for his actions. He had many chances to save Kevin, like calling an ambulance right away or taking him to a hospital, but he chose to keep the situation hidden. It was like watching someone using glue to patch up a dam that was about to break. He grew comfortable in the illusion that someone would “just get better” from a gunshot wound. I thought he was fascinating to watch because he was a leader detached from reality and he didn’t have a clear vision between what was right and what was wrong. I mentioned belongingness. I confess that wanting to be in a fraternity or sorority doesn’t make much sense to me. Maybe I was engaged in the film because I wanted to make sense of why so many young people do it. Providing proof that a bond between friends is strong, in my opinion, should come later in a relationship. It shouldn’t be forced. Otherwise, the so-called proof is superficial. Written by Canon and Doug Simon, “Brotherhood” was fast-paced, modern, and it made me think what I would have done given that I was in the same situation as its characters. I think it had a great message, too, especially for the youth. Sometimes it’s okay to accept that it’s not worth it, whatever it may be, and just walk away. It doesn’t mean you’re not brave. It doesn’t mean you don’t have a sense of camaraderie. It just means you’re in control of your life.
The Informers (2008)
★ / ★★★★
Set in the early 1980’s Los Angeles, “The Informers” based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, was about the emptiness of multiple characters who would rather try to escape their problems in hopes that they would eventually go away rather than tackling them head-on. Although there were five to six storylines, only about two or three worked for me. I wished that Gregor Jordan, the director, instead focused his energy on those three and really explored why the characters chose to make certain decisions. Kim Basinger, Billy Bob Thornton, Mickey Rourke and Winona Ryder are the big names who I thought would elevate this picture. However, their storylines were so uninteresting, they might as well not have appeared in it. What did work for me was Jon Foster as a rich twentysomething who seemingly had it all but he chose not to use his priviledges to his advantage. Instead, he decided to deal drugs and hang out with people who really did not care about him–people who only cared about drugs, sex and living the luxurious life. I was really engaged with his scenes because little by little he realized that he was just being used, especially how his girlfriend didn’t care about him as much as he cared for her. I also liked the dynamics between Foster and his sister and how they felt about their parents’ (Basinger and Thorton) decision to move in together after they’ve been separated. Unfortunately, that bit was very underdeveloped. Lastly, I thought the scenes in Hawaii with Chris Isaak and Lou Taylor Pucci–father and son, respectively–was pretty well-done. It was somewhat humorous to me because it was a classic desparate father-son bonding where everything pretty much went wrong. But it could also be seen through a dramatic lens because the son hid this true hatred toward his father since the father only cared about himself. I really believe that critical adjustments such as a different director, sharper and bolder writing, eliminating storylines and expanding others (like the rising unknown disease now known as AIDS), this movie could have become a totally worthwhile experience. After all, the material was based on the works of a writer a really enjoyed such as “American Psycho” and “The Rules of Attraction.” “The Informers” could have provided insight on how it was like to live life without any sort of internal locus on control and how that manner of living could drive us to the ultimate levels of boredom, unsatisfaction, and madness.