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Electrick Children (2012)
Great Idea for a Movie
This is an amazing job for a first feature film by a writer-director who was still in film school. A fine effort by a talented amateur with very little money on hand.
But, seriously, it's not a particularly good film overall. It starts strong--the scenes in the religious country home all ring true. I think that's because this is the part that the writer-director was actually familiar with in real life. Once Racheal gets to Vegas, however, the movie falls apart into random, loosely connected scenes that feature what seems to be very, very poorly improvised dialog. The poor actors just seem to be at a loss as to what they are supposed to be saying or doing. And the effect isn't "natural," it's just the opposite. You are totally aware that these are actors trying to think of what to say and do, not real people who just don't know what to say. Like a bad home movie or a the plot part of a porno. Incongruities abound as Racheal, who was so sheltered that she had never heard pop music, talked on a cell phone, and didn't even know what a tape recorder was all the sudden starts tossing around terms she would never have heard before like "rock and roll" and "cell phone." And the revelatory scene (can't tell you what it is)is implausible beyond belief. It, and many other parts of the Vegas section, was an interesting idea that the filmmaker apparently just didn't have time to work out in a way that worked.
The acting was pretty good, when dialog was scripted. Billy Zane as the religious nut dad was smooth and professional, but seemed way too nice and reasonable to be the relative heavy of the piece; a hint of darkness in dad would have made the whole movie a bit better. The woman who played the mom was very good too, in a limited role.
The guy who played Racheal's newly found boy friend was easily the most accomplished young performer in the movie, even handling his part in the pointless, rambling Vegas scenes as though he actually knew what was going on (I don't think anyone else did).
But I have to say that, when they were given written dialog, the other young performers were for the most part very appealing. The girl who played Racheal was quite charming. She drifted from sheltered religious cult girl to valley girl without warning, but she was very expressive and had a good presence.
But overall, what we have is a very good 20 minute short film about a girl in an isolated Mormon cult who discovers rock and roll. And that is followed by over an hour of what seems like a first draft of a story that the filmmaker hoped would come together as they went along.
And who knows? If she had been afforded the time and resources of even a low budget Hollywood film, maybe she could have brought it together at that. There is obvious talent there!
Tedious, Ponderous, Clichéd, Pretty Series
"Pretty" is the only positive comment I can think of after having just suffered through the first episode. The Scottish backdrop is gorgeous and the performers are predictably attractive. The plot is an incredibly cliché mix of young adult fantasy and harlequin romance. Now that combo could have worked, but unfortunately that possibility was killed by the poor pacing of the story. The...pace ... is ... GLACIAL. So slow. The first dull hour I watched only had enough story for twenty minutes of film at best. What's even more annoying is that much of the outrageous padding is due to the almost constant narration that stretches out every non-dialog scene. Its tedious and redundant, adding to nothing but the running time. The entire first episode could have easily been edited down to 20 minutes. Zzxxxxxxxxx zzzzzzzzzz
The Happy House (2013)
charming performances don't quite save it
D.W. Young's "The Happy House" is a mixed bag. The actors and performances are quite charming and several notches above those found in most super-low budget HD features like this (the female lead is especially effective). It is also well shot and the sound is good.
The story starts as a variation on Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" with some "Tucker and Dale vs Evil" overtones. However, Young's screenplay is all set up and no follow through and degenerates from quirky to sub-par dull about ¾ of the way through. IMDb shows that Young's previous films and videos have been shorts, and the construction of this story bears that outthere's only about 45 minutes of story crammed into this hour and a half.
It's not mentioned on IMDb, but I'd bet that the majority of Young's experience is in live theatre and not film. I say this because he obviously has a talent for working with actors and getting the best out of themthis is an area where low budget films are usually at their weakest, but it is HH's greatest strength. Young also seems uncomfortable with film editing, which makes much of the movie seem like an adapted stage play. He prefers very long, static shots, as though the camera was set up at the edge of a stage and just left to run while the actors stand or sit in one spot and talk. While this does often show off the skills of the actors-- who interact in these dialog-heavy sequences with a rhythm and naturalness that rarely rings false it doesn't allow the protracted scenes to be edited for pace and is undeniably boring from a visual standpoint. And when young does employ standard editingover the shoulder shots or povsthey are clumsily handled, as if he didn't really want to insert them, but felt he had no choice. Also, when locations shift between sequences, the screen simply fades to black and then back up again, like a curtain falling and rising. However this technique seems less like a stylistic choice and more like an "I'm doing it this way because I don't know another way to get from here to there."
Anyway, I don't want to sound like I'm ragging on the film. Young does many, many things right. As I said before, he gets very good performances out of his actors (and we all know that horrible acting is usually a low budget film's major weakness).
This movie was just a third of a screenplay and one professional editor away from being a classic indie comedy-horror flick along the lines of Ti West's "The Innkeepers." I look forward to more from all the folks involved in "The Happy House."
Good action, 20 minutes too long
This would have been a much better action-crime drama if it had been 20 minutes shorter. No crime action flick needs to top an hour and forty minutes. This one had loooooong stretches of nothing going on. And I don't mean just "not action." I mean, there were sequences full of cars pulling into driveways, people prepping for future events in uninteresting ways, repetitive dialog--just wasted storytelling time, etc. Stuff that should've been left on the cutting room floor. Did Hackford not use an editor?
Also, why did they waste Jennifer Lopez in the female lead? The way they used her, that part could've been played by any competent Hollywood actress who was good looking and the right age. Lopez was natural in the part, and very good looking, of course. But she was given practically nothing to do. Come on! If you're going to cast J Lo, make her character interesting. And bring her in earlier! And while you're at it give her some personality other than being attractive. They should have either hired a lesser actress and made the part much smaller, or written a decent part for Lopez and beefed her part up. As it is, I kept asking myself-- why is Jennifer Lopez in this at all?
Bad screenplay and weak editing.
This Is the End (2013)
Good Concept, Some Good Jokes, But Not Really a Movie.
This is the End plays less like a real movie and more like the longest video ever featured on Funny or Die. Imagine if Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd had played themselves in Ghostbusters, add in a TON of dick jokes, toss in the inspired Danny McBride, remove virtually all plot, reduce the maturity and intellectual levels of the all-male thirty-something cast to that of 15 year old virgins--and you've got this movie.
There are a lot of good ideas here, but this is strictly first draft stuff. Rogan and company should have worked with a REAL screenwriter who could give the movie a real story and help to flesh the characters out a bit (I mean, are we really to believe that not ONE of these successful GROWN UP male comic actors has a wife or girlfriend? That THEIR ONLY relationships are with each other, like they are all 15?). This is the rare occasion when at least SOME studio intervention would have helped, as Rogan is apparently too inexperienced a story teller to know what to keep and what to toss.
The middle sags especially, with one disconnected, overlong improvisation after another doing little more than filling time. Only Danny McBride really excels at this type of thing, and he's kind of the "Richard Pryor in Silver Streak" element in this--not really the star, but easily the most memorable player).
The offhand comments by Rogan and Craig Robinson are funny, but are better used to complement actual dialog, not replace it. And the over-reliance on this kind of dick-joke mumblecore is what almost kills the movie.
But if you're a huge fan of even half of these guys, the movie is worth it. I watched many a bad flick back in the old days just because it starred John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Cheech and Chong or one of the Monty Python gang. But this should have really gone the direct-to-video fans only route.
I saw them shooting this one in Fort Worth.
I was working in downtown Fort Worth when they were filming this. I was working in a nearby office building and we could see them shooting part at the end when Gross sees Hexina's eyes in his rear view mirror, but it's really just a poster on a city bus, and then he wrecks the car (well, they were shooting the car/bus part--I assume the close ups were shot separately). They did that all day. They were still out there the next day. I was just working temp, so I took off to check out the shoot (don't worry, I didn't claim the hours). I watched them filming the ending scene, after the bus incident that wrecked the car. They wrecked the car a couple of more times, but it didn't look wrecked enough for the director, Spencer, so he had some guys smack it with a bat (I think it was a bat, maybe a hammer?). Then they filmed the last scene where the dude jumps out of the wrecked car and attacks Arye Gross. Over and over again. The actor was improving it each time, egged on by the director. Then the camera, which was on a crane, craned up to the big billboard. Once Spencer got what he wanted (or close to it, I guess) he put his hands up in the air and the crew cheered. At the time I didn't know it was the last scene of the movie. Perhaps they filmed the movie in sequence and that shot wrapped it. I remember that director Spencer seemed to be a naturally funny guy; he was kind of performing for the crew and small crowd, I think. It was a fun intro into how movies were actually made. I saw the movie during it's kind of limited theatrical release and was a bit disappointed. (maybe I saw a preview). I remember thinking at the time that watching the director make the movie was funnier than the actual movie was. But I just re-watched it and liked it a lot better. I read that the studio downgraded this movie from a major production budget and schedule to very low budget just a month before they shot it, so it's really pretty amazing Spencer got it done at all. Probably would have been really great if he'd been able to do it as planned.
Is there anyone else out there who saw the shoot in FTW, or perhaps acted in the film or was an extra? What are your memories?
Sap ji sang ciu (2012)
Classic late-Chan, today!
This is a classic late-period style Jackie Chan Chinese action-adventure. Not quite as good as the Operation Condor/Armour of God movies it's supposed to be a sequel to (nor as good as Supercop/Police Story films) but every bit as good as The Accidental Spy, Who Am I?, and The Myth. And I thought all of those were quite enjoyable.
This movie shares all the great features and all of the flaws of Chan's self produced and/or directed films. They have a great sense of humor and the stunt/action sequences are quite inventive. But they are also quite cartoony--the acting is VERY broad--and there's quite a bit in it that defies any common sense. But who really cares, right? This is Chan unfiltered.
The only REAL flaw to the film is the clumsy way Chan keeps inserting his moral messages. He has characters tell us what's right and wrong in very stilted dialog instead of creating situations that demonstrate his points. (not to mention that a few of his morals seem to have been government imposed--"we are not to interfere with the social structure in any way" a protest leader incongruously says as Chan nods wisely and says "That's right!") But I think this will make a fine home video release for the US audience, once they edit out some of the more China-centric chit chat, re-dub the dialog (or at least all the English, which is horribly spoken by the international cast) and replace a couple of oddly inappropriate pop tunes).
I'll be buying it for my JC collection!
The Innkeepers (2011)
Great setup, lame payoff
"The Innkeepers" has a great, if overlong, set up. The characters are engaging and are well played by very talented actors--especially Sarah Paxton. The film is almost a comedy, but there is also a well-constructed sense of suspense. Unfortunately, both the affection that the filmmaker Ti West is able to make us feel for the characters and the slow-boil suspense that he builds are wasted on an extremely pedestrian climax. I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say that no one can blame the obviously clever Mr.West of getting "too clever" with his film's conclusion. I can't help but say that if West had come up with a better ending "The Innkeepers" would have been a classic. As it is, though, you can have fun with this movie if you go into the attitude that the journey is more important than the destination (it's not really more important, but that's the attitude you'll have to have not to feel ripped off).
Tiny Furniture (2010)
Well made, but I don't get it
First, let me say that, technically, this was a very well-made film. It is amazing to me that a first time filmmaker could create something this professional with only $50k. It looked and sounded like a real movie, and the acting ranged from OK (as in the lead actress/director/writer) to excellent (Jemima Kirke as the wacky friend). An excellent effort for a first timer.
So, with that caveat out of the way, let me say this: I just don't like films about spoiled, whiny, wealthy white kids who can't figure out what to do after college. It's a world I (a) don't "get" and (b) don't care to "get." I mean, maybe the pointlessness of that kind of life was the point of the filmbut I can't honestly say for sure because the movie seems to be as listless as its main character. There are a few funny moments (all from Ms. Kirke), but there's also an awful lot of staring into space.
Mystery Team (2009)
Fun Indie Comedy Missing Only One Thing
I enjoyed the ultra-low budget "Mystery Team" a whole lot, just like I enjoyed the equally low budget comedy "The Foot Fist Way." The concept is a great one--three grown men who used to be a locally famous mystery solving team when they were kids (like Mystery Incorporated or the Hardy Boys) but who never grew out of it. The jokes and the story are funny, but the premise isn't set up early enough in the story. It seems to me like a whole opening segment is missing--one that showed the Mystery Team as children solving at least one kiddie mystery and becoming famous for it. The refer to this history quite frequently, but it's never explicitly shown or explained. If you didn't already know (by reading a synopsis or the box) then you might be a bit lost the first half hour or so.
But still, a pretty amazing job for a zero-budget comedy.
UPDATE: I just watched the DVD with the commentary and learned that just such an opening sequence as I described above was filmed--one that showed the Mystery Team as kids, wearing the same clothes and everything. The Derrik people explained that "it just didn't work." Now I'm even more disappointed! It's even worse that this CRUCIAL SEQUENCE did indeed exist, and they actually edited it out! That's right--they purposely edited out the set-up to the high-concept joke that is the basis for the entire story! It's tantamount to editing out the first 30 minutes of "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" because you don't think it's all that important to show the audience that he was a wacky guy who time traveled from the sixties. (he's still funny, right?)
Mystery Team would have made TWICE as much money ($10k?) if they had included the set up to their hour and a half joke. Coulda been a "10" instead of a "7." What an f up!