“My life is full because I know I am loved.”
– John Merrick, The Elephant Man
Rest in peace, Mr. Hurt. You have touched us all.
– Nick, Editor of CinemAbysmal
Death Race 2050 (2017) – Action
Directed by: G.J. Echternkamp
Starring: Manu Bennett and Malcom McDowell
How I Watched: Netflix
Review by: Eric Scot Lemons
Death Race 2000 is a campy political satire car racing film from 1975 directed by Paul Bartel and produced by Roger Corman. In 2008, Paul W.S. Anderson directed a gritty remake called Death Race starring Jason Statham, which spawned two sequels that were probably shit-sack city, but who knows because nobody fucking cares. In 2017, which is the year I am writing this and possibly you are reading this, G.J. Echternkamp directed the once-again-Corman-produced sequel/reboot Death Race 2050, which brings back the camp and dark humor of the original but in the dawn of the digital garbage heap of the Trump-era.
And despite being released three days before Trump’s inauguration, this film is a satire on the kind of dystopic/despotic vision associated with our benevolent mango-skinned leader. Malcolm McDowell, the Chairman of the United Corporations of America, has inexplicable hair and a complete disrespect for woman, often seen amidst nude women of color whom have no lines and seemingly received no direction other than to let their titties fly. He loves power and hates his constituents, feeding into their bloodlust in an almost condescending manner. But really, this is just a caricature of any dictator; unhinged and unrelatable. And frankly, doesn’t look or act much different than Mr. President as played by Sandy McCallum in the original. And that, like many other flaws, is what makes Death Race 2050 a poor follow-up to the 1975 cult classic.
Let’s fucking talk about style, because as a man with a drawer full of cargo shorts, I know style is everything. This was honestly one of the worst attributes, given that it has no cohesive look. The show within the movie looks like a proof of concept for Speed Racer, by the Wachowski Sisters. You know, that “everything in front of a green screen then pasted together like a moving collage” feel you get from faux-meta-camp films like Kung Fury. From a personal point, I fucking love this style. It is erratic and never complacent, bright colors and fast-moving images that could either give you a seizure or your sperm autism. If the entire film was like this, I’d give it 200 units of review, but alas, nope. No review units for you, you silly fucks. Many of the action scenes were mapped out like the worst episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess, feeling boringly staged and purposefully lazy. The car races looked like shit, but they felt like an homage to the cars (plastic atop go-kart frames) from the original, so that was fun. Scenes inside felt empty and poorly-lit. It was too the point that I actually checked the credits to see if this was some team-effort with direction, but fuck no.
The acting was the same kind of disconnect in quality. Manu Bennett plays the hero, and while he is handsome as a Gerard Butler knock-off that I was sure was a wrestler-turned-thespian, he doesn’t really hit the comedic points, although there are times he looks right into the camera and is a believable badass. The love interest is Marci Something, and she kinda looks like a girl I knew in high school who now works at a hardware store. She was actually pretty good when the scene gave her something to work on, however, a lot of the plotting had her visibly struggling with how to read the lines. The main rival is a character named Jed Perfectus, played by Burt Grinstead, and he, besides Malcolm McDowell, was the only actor to nail the tone in all his scenes. Being a strong man with severe insecurity, he eventually devolves into a zombie-looking display of desperation with killer abs and gold speedo. His mental breakdowns are equal parts hilarious and fucked.
It is so hard to call this film a sequel because the plot is almost exactly the same as the original film, yet it clearly takes place after the events of the original. The third act either caught me in a haze of marijuana smoke I had underestimated, or was just fucking stupid weird. There’s a rebellion but the leader of the rebellion, played by a haggard and creepy Yancy Butler, is in cahoots with The Chairman, which is only revealed in the most awkward and unerotic sex scene devoted to whatever iMovie computer module they had on set. The ending is strange and yet fascinating, and I don’t know if I gleaned the right message, but I saw it as “Kill each other instead of having the government do it.” Because after a speech by Manu Bennett, everyone just starts beating each other up and the two love interests kiss as the world combusts in the background. Roll credits, mofos.
Look, I get it, camp is hard to nail. There are moments in the film that are truly hilarious, like the only conversation between two females takes place in a hotel saloon called Bechdel’s Bar. But overall, the satire felt sophomoric and it lacked the main ingredient devoted to screen by Corman in the past; fun. Make a fun fucking movie, people.
La La Land (2016) – Musical | Comedy | Drama
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone
How I Watched: Theatres
Best Line: “Alright, I was an asshole. I can admit that! But requesting “I Ran” from a serious musician? Too far!”
Anyone that has truly spent time with me probably knows my lifelong disdain for filmed musicals. When it comes down to it, I don’t even really have a concrete reason for this. My usual explanation involves the practicality of a group of people suddenly smiling like a bunch of stoned clowns and dancing like they’re thrashing in the middle of a choreographed fire, all while attempting to outdo each other so they can beat out the opposing blonde to be an extra in the next run of an off-Broadway Rent. “THAT ISN’T A REAL THING! NO ONE DOES THAT!”
OK, Nick. Let’s get real. Flash Mobs are a thing now, as much as you hate it. And you love horror and sci-fi films, so why can’t you just sit back and appreciate the eccentricities of musicals? Am I softening on musicals? Or was this just a good movie, in spite of the musical elements? Well, after giving it some time, I think my opinion is that this was just a pretty damn good movie.
Anyone that saw director Damien Chazelle’s absolutely spectacular Whiplash knows that they’re probably in for some sort of cinematic treat with La La Land. JK Simmons received an Oscar and Miles Teller damn well should have for the 2014 film. The thrashing of drums and human emotions throughout, while the camera rushes around like a sprinkler that’s lost control, highlight one of the most exciting and in my opinion, underrated films of this decade. Naturally, I was excited for Chazelle’s follow-up. When I learned it was a musical though, I was a bit let down.
Chazelle obviously digs on jazz. Pretty hard. Teller’s character in Whiplash is an aspiring jazz drummer and is dead-set on becoming the next Buddy Rich. For those that have not seen it, the film is a love letter to the mechanics and intricate work it takes to become good enough to play real jazz. Simmons plays his teacher way too excellently and the movie is just too perfect. Well, in La La Land, jazz is back in a big way (so is Simmons, for a bit). In fact, if the movie was not filmed in and about Hollywood, I’d say this whole film is a love letter to, as well as a confirmation that the golden age of jazz is dead. Gosling plays a struggling pianist whose biggest goal in life is to open a jazz club in L.A. to keep even a trace of that age of jazz alive.
Stone plays an aspiring actress that works on a Hollywood lot as a barista, happening accidentally upon Gosling playing a piano in a nearby bar one night. What follows is an often-complicated relationship over the next year, much that we’re privy to as the couple individually navigates their career paths. I won’t give any more than that away as far as the story is concerned, but I personally felt like I do at the end of any mid-70’s Woody Allen movie, in which the characters are presented with adult choices and must make real life decisions. This portion of the film was real and heartfelt, and I appreciated that, even among the smattering of musical bits in which they smiled and danced around like morons.
OK, Nick, calm down. Get back on track.
Listen, my mind has not really changed on musicals. I just don’t appreciate the big numbers or the choreography, and quite often, not even the intricate sets. I know how much work goes into this (Mandy Moore did the choreography for this, by the way – what?), but it just can’t really keep my interest. This movie is pretty cool, though. The “uninterrupted-cut” cinematography is excellent, Stone and Gosling are pretty great, and the storyline is relatable, even when discounting the outlandish musical bits. Will it win Best Picture? I don’t know yet, I haven’t seen enough of the potential contenders; but yeah, probably. It’s about Hollywood and it’s a musical – a deadly Oscar combination.
Final Score: 3/4
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)
Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris and Patrick Warburton
How I Watched: Netflix
Review by: Holly Hill
Looks like we can finally wipe the 2004 A Series of Unfortunate Events movie from our minds. Netflix has revived the book series by Lemony Snicket, and Daniel Handler (the real Lemony Snicket) has written eight beautiful episodes for the series, giving it the whimsical outlandish adaptation it deserves.
The first season has eight episodes that cover the first four books of the thirteen book series. This allows for an hour and a half to be dedicated to each book, with a Part One and a Part Two. For anyone who has read the books, you will appreciate that the creators have been able to capture the absurdity of the situations the Baudelaire orphans are put in.
Let’s start with the opening credits. “Look away, Look Away”, is the song that greets us as we go through a map of all the unfortunate events that are about to take place. It echoes what Lemony is always telling the reader in the book: unless you want to feel miserable, stop reading. The song is performed by Neil Patrick Harris (more on him later), and each new episode has a more detailed version of what fate awaits the orphans each episode. Simply put, it’s brilliant.
Onto the sets and costumes. The entire thing felt like I’d walked into a Wes Anderson film. The sets were gorgeous. The entire look of the series also has an Addams Family feel as well, which is appropriate seeing as the director for the 1991 film also directs five of the episodes. The sets are so fully realized, it’s hard to not be impressed. Uncle Monty’s gardens, Count Olaf’s decrepit home, and even Briny Beach where the story really begins. No detail is too small.
The acting. Neil. Patrick. Harris. Is there anything he can’t do? I love that we get to see a different character from him every single episode. He’s trying to be Count Olaf, but he’s also Stephano. He’s a sailor, but he’s trying to kill the children. No matter what it is, NPH pulls it off. No surprises there. The musical number in the first episode had me dying. The children are all casted wonderfully and I have no major complaints, even though Sunny’s CGI actions kind of creep me out. Olaf’s theatre troupe is everything a book reader could ask for, and Mr. Poe is obviously the best worst character.
Throughout the books, Lemony Snicket will stop the reader to explain that he is very serious, this will not be a happy ending. Or he will explain a phrase that most kids don’t understand, or a word. Have they cut this from the show? Absolutely not. Lemony Snicket acts as the viewer’s narrator, and he is played by Patrick Warburton.
There are also a plethora of subtle nods to the books while adding in some new fun plot lines as well. Count Olaf saying, “Except I can’t seem to find the sugar bowl.” I mean, come on. Will Arnett and Cobie Smulders are playing [what we assume to be] the Baudelaire’s parents, and it looks like they will be up to some pretty interesting things in the series trying to reconnect with their children.
In the end, what makes people want to watch more A Series of Unfortunate Events? Well, all of the above mentioned things are a start, but I think what really has people coming back is that the show is just like the books. It is the purest adaptation I’ve seen quiet possibly ever.
While waiting for Season Two, remember that if you need help, don’t call the regular fire department, check the sugar bowl, and look for clues in acrostic poems. I am looking forward to learning more about VFD, the fate of the parents, The Quagmire Triplets, Esme Squalor and Carmelita Spats. If you feel like you can’t wait for Season Two, I’d go back and do a frame by frame rewatch of the series. There are clues EVERYWHERE.