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Toad Road (2012)
"there's no time, no pain, just a great, giant, black void"
So I finally found myself with absolutely nothing to do on a Sunday morning & decided to give this indie a go. I kept putting it on the back burner as I was expecting another appalling hipster piece of trash. Given some poor public reviews, there seemed only two real motivations for watching this film: 1) a connection to York & the Toad Road mythology every young teen on acid pursues in this town & 2) the eerie, macabre foreshadowing of actress Sara Anne Jones' heroin overdose at age 24 shortly after finishing this film. Having said that, it is otherwise not at all a bad effort for writer/director/cinematographer Jason Banker.
The cinematography is, in my opinion, a strength to the film's credit. Keep in mind there was no Panavision Panaflex Platinum here. No budget attempts to film rural Pennsylvania have usually produced cheap, unimpressive, under-saturated stock. The outdoor photography here is adequate if not crisp, yet gritty & grainy when needed to convey tone. Also, the shots of Sara Anne Jones could have been pulled from an Urban Outfitter's catalog. The key strength of the film however is in it's editing. The hodgepodge of documentary style footage could have been amassed into a trainwreck, but the film maintains a fluidity from beginning to end fusing scenes together with ambient sound. Haunting but never lingering too long. It held my attention throughout & at no time did I find myself thinking, "is this over yet?" or "I know I have something better to watch," which unfortunately happens with sophomore artistic endeavors.
Now for the misconceptions. I would classify this film as an experimental docudrama. It is not a horror film in that Picnic at Hanging Rock is not a horror film. The only horror element is some brief blood toward the end & a supernatural buzz in the air. Also it is more improv than acted. It has been reported that the drugs are real & a lot of the dialog is stream of consciousness. If you take the premise of the descent into hell at face value as a horror premise, you will be disappointed. The legend of toad road as it's relayed here,whether intended or not, plays out as a metaphor for the downward spiral of addiction. Sara starts her descent by innocently experimenting socially & with outwardly noble intentions; that of transcendence or enlightenment. She wants to pursue psychedelics to grasp something profound. She makes it clear she doesn't want to just take acid and "stare at walls." She is in search of elusive answers unaware that the end result will leave her lost in the wilderness, in this case the term "lost in the wilderness" being literal & not biblical. So what happened to Sara? It doesn't matter, she is gone. She opened a door she couldn't close and now she's gone. It's sad to say that without Sara Anne Jones' death I do not think this film would have gotten any attention aside from dialog amongst the film fest & art-house crowd.
In closing, I think the film does work, and it does work well, but is perhaps best viewed in memory of Sara Anne Jones, the way, say, Synecdoche, New York can be viewed in memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
A solid, surreal experience
Going into this film I had no idea what to expect, the only hint as to it's nature I had was the visual of the bunny costume. I expected something "Donnie Darko"-esque scripted to it's nation's culture, however sitting through this Indonesian horror I couldn't help but allude to what I felt were other American influences. The overall mostly surreal tone seemed very Lynchian, the scenes in the theater had a Mulholland Dr vibe & the foreboding rickety old lady reminded me dearly of the Log Lady in Twin Peaks. The script seemed, to me, to draw some influence from Shutter Island & that's all I'll say about that. Of course these ideas & artistic direction could have developed completely independently, regardless, as a fan of what I just referenced, this film left me pretty satisfied. Definitely worth the time IMO.
God Bless America (2011)
"No one has any shame anymore, and we're supposed to celebrate it."
Bobcat Goldthwait's latest feature as writer & director is a hilarious & articulately written black comedy commentary on contemporary American culture, or lack thereof. Yes, mass media's influence on the devolution of society has been tackled before (Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers & Euros Lyn's Fifteen Million Merits, for example) and the script has it's issues (which are plausibility/suspension of disbelief related IMO) but the dialogue does have monologues & diatribes that I think really do shine. The acting is FTW, and the whole small budget meets meaningful repartee feel of the piece threw me back to Mark Osbourne's 2000 film "Dropping Out". Most definitely catch it if you can! 8D
dare I say it ... BREATHTAKING
I had the privilege of consuming this beast twice within 36 hours & I think I can honestly say I haven't seen a film that dug it's claws into my heart and wrung raw emotion from my soul like that since maybe The Virgin Suicides (yeah, it's been awhile, I've been jaded). Lars von Trier has a penchant for tragedy, for despair (Medea being a hauntingly perfect allegory of such) but this is so so much deeper than simply a surface display of emotion set-dressed in von Trierian style & cinematography. The fact that the majority of the movie doesn't even center on the imminent omnivorous title is part of it's genius. We start with a girl on her wedding day going through the motions but inside questioning everything & we click, we know her, we see who & what she is & we FEEL her, then over the next two hours as her interpersonal relationships play out we experience the film as two acts, the two sisters, Justine & Claire, but it is not two chapters, it is one relationship, at its core it might even be EVERY relationship. Kirsten got Best Actress @ Cannes for this, but its not enough ... I wish the crew the best of luck this coming awards season (and pack some meat on the blu-ray please!)
Never Let Me Go (2010)
we have to let go in the face of never letting go
Never Let Me Go is a tight little film exploring the human condition that runs through a gamut of emotions including love, jealousy, anger, hope, frustration, compassion, disappointment, and despair. The fact that it is set in a somewhat dystopian reality is extremely subtle and not overtly scifi. Instead, the science fiction element plays out more along the lines of films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, keeping the focus of the film on the three main characters and the emotional highs and lows they experience as their fates unfold before them. The core of this drama could be deconstructed and reconstructed at any period in history; past, present, future, real, or fictitious. It is essentially a story about humanity and the experience of grasping one's own mortality and the mortality of those we love throughout our lives. It reminds us that we are lucky to be here now, and feel what we feel. An excellent piece of work by the entire cast and crew, this is definitely one of the better films to emerge from 2010.
30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010)
Resident Evil meets Aliens meets 30 Days of Night
Unlike the original, which relied on a tense, cunning, isolated, claustrophobic atmosphere which threw me back to that feeling of hopelessness conveyed in John Carpenter's The Thing, this shoot 'em up sequel focuses more on strobe lighting, gun play, and pop out scares to convey it's tone. The acting is on par with a STV sequel, but I won't even begin to touch upon the scripts many weaknesses. The many shaky cam shots running down dark corridors could have been lifted out of The Blair Witch Project. The trigger happy heroine in this sequel could have been lifted straight from the Resident Evil franchise. All-in-all not a bad vampire movie on it's own, but not a great one either. Worth a rent in the genre for you could do much worse, but if you are a fan of the original and expecting more of the same ... well, drop all expectations and wipe your brain blank once you press play.
Dark Floors (2008)
A weak hodgepodge of Cube 2 & Silent Hill
Given this film's budget and premise there could have been something worthwhile to be had, but due to a weak script that consisted mainly of elements from Cube 2: Hypercube and Silent Hill thrown in a blender without being puréed, we are ultimately left with something more along the lines of weak sauce. If you want a fairly intelligent treatment of a time paradox in which effect can precipitate cause, rent Cube 2. If you want a world where darkness and light exist on separate planes of reality, rent Silent Hill. You will receive a higher entertainment value watching and contemplating these two movies on their own. If you do decide to rent Dark Floors, pack up a bong and put your brain on snooze because apparently that's what the writers did when assembling this mess.
I always have high hopes for anything based on Poe's work or that of Lovecraft, yet always seem let down. If Dario Argento or any worthwhile Italian Director would have handled this poorly drafted script, it would have probably gotten the treatment it needed. I had to watch it in two parts because I fell asleep. Slow paced, wooden NPC style acting, and predictable character development and plot twists that are better suited for an adventure or RPG video game than a feature film.
But I did give it a few stars! One for beautiful art direction and locations. Another one for the actresses, they were all beautiful and pleasant to watch even during their worst acting moments. Another one for the cinematography and special effects used aptly within the budget, although the style of the film is predominantly visual and better suited for a music video production or in-game cut scenes. Tighter editing and either a revised or shortened script would have helped this film immensely. And finally one for the perpetual references to Absinthe, as it is one of my fondest libations.
To sum it up, it's worth a watch if you can catch it on cable at like a 2am time slot or perhaps a red box rental, but nothing to go out of your way to see.