Director: Michael A. Simpson
Sleepaway Camp is a campy classic, a b-movie legend, but it’s not even in keeping with the eventual genre standard, which is where Sleepaway Camp II takes a step in the right direction. The original film is pretty problematic; the entire theme centers on a man dressed as a woman being a psychopath, which may float J.K. Rowling’s boat, but would probably keep the rest of us at bay, were it to come out today. They reference this in this sequel, but it’s not a real plot point; the majority of the action is a crazy, holier-than-thou lady who kills people because they “deserve it”. There is plenty of blood, plenty of boobs, it slides right into the genre as we now expect it, and in those ways outshines even its predecessor.
A few years ago, Angela Baker terrorized a summer camp, killing a bunch of people, but that was a while back, and that was a few miles away from Camp Rolling Hills; that probably won’t happen again. But, yeah, she’s not in a facility any more, there’s a girl named Angela on the camp staff, and any kid who does anything the least bit immoral disappears mysteriously, with Angela claiming she sent them home; I don’t think the happy campers will be happy for too much longer. Molly & Sean, while starting to have feelings for each other, are also starting to feel a little unsafe, and better watch their backs; the Angel of Death might be closer than they think.
This is camp done right, while also succeeding in being so very wrong. There are killing and co-eds galore, with all the right pieces to make us feel right at home; camp songs, panty raids, power drills, human barbecues, nature walks, swimming. It’s a good time had by all, except for those being killed for smoking a joint or for doing a boy, but hey. Sleepaway Camp II is entertaining, terribly-acted, gratuitous, and gruesome, which is exactly what we have come to expect from this genre, so I say job well done. Springsteen is Bruce’s sister, Estevez is Emilio & Charlie’s sister, and holy cow is Hartman hot, though she never would go on to do anything else except for one Cheers episode and one soft core porn. This is a pretty bizarre franchise, #2 is the epitome of that, but it’s still fun to watch and experience, mostly because it checks all the bonkers boxes.
It’s going to be hard to call the match between The Holy Grail and The Meaning of Life; they are Monty Python’s best, they are very different, and they both delight me to this day. The other two, And Now For Something Completely Different and Life of Brian, are great as well, don’t get me wrong, but if you want a story Holy Grail is the way to go, and if you want sketches you can’t go wrong with Meaning of Life. Somehow, this wacky troupe puts on a ridiculous show containing a series of stupid skits, but also explores the secrets of the universe, asking us what the meaning of our lives is, while displaying an insane irreverence for anything serious at all; silly sods.
What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What’s out there around us? What’s the whole point? Well, Monty Python is on the case, if they can stay on task long enough to come to some, acceptable solution. Knowing them though, they’ll probably veer off track sooner rather than later, but then again, that might be fun too. Along the way, we’ll examine the phases of the human life, enjoy the comedy inherent to each, and maybe learn a thing or two: the miracle of birth, the difficulty of raising children, sex education, middle age, and, of course, eventually, death. With patented Monty Python humor, we explore humanity’s weirdest coming-of-age moments, in this larger-than-life quest to find the truth.
I forget how many great sketches are in Meaning of Life: Crimson Permanent Assurance, the machine that goes PING, every sperm is sacred, the tiger in Africa, the philosophy conversation, the liver donor, Galaxy Song, Mr. Creosote, the Grim Reaper. It’s not a sketch comedy or a best-hits vehicle like ANFSCD, but it’s presented in that same way, no real story or plot, just a lot of fun while maybe actually trying to figure something out. Or maybe not, maybe they were just being stupid, but it all works out the same in the end. These are some of the best Monty Python moments ever captured, and it was their final film; you can tell that they’ve matured their comedy a little along the way. Again, or maybe not, because there is a scene where topless women wearing bicycle helmets chase a man to a death he chose for himself, so there’s that. But if you’re a fan, this is about as good as it gets, so remember to check back often throughout the years to re-enjoy this classic comedy, a movie that matters just as much as it makes a giant mess.
Director: Lee Unkrich
I didn’t love Toy Story 3 the first time I saw it; parents were bawling their eyes out, and I just didn’t get it. I rated it down around the middle with Toy Story 2, though a step above, since it was obviously better than the weakest the franchise had to offer, but not nearly as good as the original. Well, that was 10 year ago; I was a little-kid parent, not a growing-up-kid parent, and apparently that makes all the difference. I don’t know how those who don’t have children approaching teen years or college years could love this film, since that’s the audience it’s speaking to, but I can say now that I understand and will adjust my rating: Toy Story 3 has a message that I finally hear, and I’m glad I gave it that extra chance.
Andy is getting older, and doesn’t need his toys like he used to. He still loves them, but from now on he’s gonna love them while they’re in the attic; does this mean that they’re still Andy’s pals, does he still need them, should they wait for him, or will he soon forget? He isn’t abandoning Woody, no, Woody is his favorite, Woody is going to collage, and so the other toys make a decision; they hop into a donation box headed for the local daycare, thinking that they’ll get played with a ton at a daycare, what could go wrong at a daycare? It turns out, a lot, and they probably should have stayed in Andy’s attic. The head toy at Sunnyside is Lotso, an angry bear who doesn’t believe in loyalty to an owner. He sends all the new toys into the little kids room where they are played with too roughly, while he and his crew live the sweet life in the older kids room. Woody better come back and save his friends from this prison, before they are pulled apart one plastic piece at a time, or before they forget just how good it feels to have a child who loves you.
I had adults telling me to prepare myself before seeing this movie; they were floored by the heart of the message, and just assumed everyone would feel the same. Well, at the time I had a young daughter, a son would soon be on the way, but I wasn’t picturing kids going off to college; that’s simply not where I was. Now that I’m closer, I think I understand, I just wish that huge, emotional feel moment had come with a little more support, because the film as a whole is only good, not great. Now that I get it, I get the hype, and I liked watching this second time accordingly. The animation was so much better in #3, the new character spotlights (Ken & Barbie, mainly) were so fun, and I did fall into the Bonnie/Andy tearjerker trap, so I can’t say I didn’t appreciate what I watched. Still, this installment isn’t as good as the first, nor would it be as good as the last, two films that really step it up in quality and deeper meaning. Toy Story 3 stills deserves a bit of my apology; I’ll just never love it the way some people do.
Director: Antonio Campos
From the relatively unknown director of Christine comes a film of broader scope, but of the same deep, dark, troubling emotional intensity; The Devil All the Time. In a year when movie fans aren’t being given as much original content as they’ve become accustomed to (especially not from big names, big stars, big budgets, and potential Oscar hopefuls), Devil All the Time fills a void that we didn’t even realize we were experiencing; the raw, epic, often despairing, surprisingly humorous story of the human condition, one that we long to hear, if only because it makes us feel a little less small. This time, the tale is specific to a location and to a time period, but the players on the stage could be anyone from anywhere, and we might even see a bit of ourselves mixed into even the blackest hearts of the cruelest characters. This film is like comfort food that has a slap you didn’t see coming, and for which you love it all the more.
Though we might need to jump back and forth to understand all the pieces of the puzzle that make up the story of a life, existence marches on linearly, and refuses to pause to give us time to accept even the worst events that befall us over the course of our lives. This is the story of Arvin Russell, but it doesn’t start or end with him; Arvin is only the smallest speck of nothing in the grand universe, a drop of water in a fast-moving river that carries us all along. If it has a beginning at all, it started with his father Willard Russell experiencing the unimaginable overseas in WWII, and then coming home to fall in love and start a family, tainted by the blood not of the lamb, but of mankind. Tragedy followed the family, visited other families, until Arvin was an orphan in the care of his grandmother, with connections between Ohio and West Virginia, and between so many various wonderful and evil characters, who were all tied together through basic need and paralyzing evil. As the years rolled past, Arvin would become both refugee and fugitive, taking each day’s choices as they came, dealing out violence only when it was necessary, though, boy, did it seem to be necessary far too often.
Devil All the Time reminds me of the book Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson; a story about a time and a place and a people, where individual lives lose their inherent meanings under the weight of fear and sex and death. Winesburg stuck with me over the years for its bleak look at normalcy, how what’s going on under the surface is anything but, and I feel like this film could have that same impact me, remembering it a long time from now. It’s like a Coen Bros movie combined with an Anderson book, haunted by a music and a mood that completely ensnared my attention. It’s not exactly a typical slow burn, it’s more a continuous burn, with narration by the author of the novel that feels perfectly in place, and paces the plot extremely well. And we haven’t even touched on the acting yet, which is superb, especially by Holland, Keough, and Pattinson, who led this ensemble cast with frightening intensity and a devotion to the moment that you don’t often see. Devil All the Time is, by far, my favorite film of the year up to now, with, admittedly, not much competition, since it’s been such a bizarre movie season. But it’s simply so strong, so driven, so captivating, with a musical score that gets into your brain and pulls you into the insanity of the action. Campos has something to be very proud of here, a commentary on humanity and religion, that’s at the same time eye-opening and confirming; we knew life could be this brutal and this strange, but it still affects us greatly when we see it right before our eyes. I know I will be affected by the film for some time; I hope it speaks to you the same way.
Category : Book Review
Author: Stephen King
Cycle of the Werewolf is more a novella than a novel, more a *graphic* novel than a novel, and not exactly novel in its originality; so maybe we don’t call this one a novel any more. That doesn’t mean it’s not readable (or look-able?), I just think it’s important to clarify what kind of work it really is, so that you don’t go to read it expecting The Stand. King was busy in 1983 anyway, with Christine and Pet Sematary, so he didn’t really have enough time for another full book, but Cycle of the Werewolf isn’t half bad, for a consolation prize.
Over the course of one year, a werewolf stalks the small town of Tarker’s Mills, Maine, taking one victim a month, leaving behind a mystery each time for the townsfolk to ponder over for another 30 days. At first they believe that a serial killer has chosen their home for his monthly ritual. Then, the tall tales start to grow, and people begin to believe that the moon murderer may really be a dangerous animal, who is a peaceful man on all other calendar days. When a boy named Marty, who is bound to a wheelchair, experiences the werewolf first hand, he survives to tell a story no one believes, though he may be the only one who can discover the truth.
The story is very short, and it seems like half of it is illustrations, either introductions to each month or a drawing of the werewolf’s latest attack. The artwork is very cool, very scary, but the rest of the book goes by so fast it’s hard to really get a lock on it before it’s gone. I don’t read particularly quickly, but I finished the whole thing in maybe an hour; you may even feel afterward that you didn’t get your money’s worth. Still, the tale is gruesome, gory, entertaining, enjoyable enough, for a fleeting moment anyway. Don’t expect typical King magic; this isn’t he strongest work, it’s almost a side project, mainly for those fans who already love him and simply want to get their hands on more.
Director: Terry Jones
Monty Python simultaneously poked fun at James Bond, Star Wars, communism, and religion in general in Life of Brian; how they had time for musical numbers and Graham Chapman’s penis is beyond me. Suffice it to say, these men are geniuses, and they can simply work ridiculous magic whenever they choose to, emphasis on ‘ridiculous’. This film is another step forward in creating a real narrative, after And Now For Something Completely Different, which was skits, and The Holy Grail, which was loosely tied together. Life of Brian is an actual story, and a clever one at that, filled with patented Monty Python hijinks, of course, and although perhaps not as quote-worthy as some others in their repertoire, still a marvelously entertaining time.
Brian was at first confused with Jesus, and his mom was happy for the presents, until the wise men realized their mistake and found the real son-of-god-lying-in-a-manger-filled-with-hay the next barn over. And, really, that’s the story of Brian’s life; always second best, always looked over, never having his dreams realized. All he wants is for his over-bearing mother to leave him alone, for people to take him seriously, and for someone to have sex with him; is that too much to ask?! When Brian joins the People’s Front of Judea, a revolutionary movement against the Romans, his chance to shine has finally come, but when he is accidentally mistake for The Messiah (again!) he might find that fame has some serious drawbacks.
Finally, a true, story-based movie from Monty Python, but don’t worry; they didn’t leave their ludicrous ideas behind. Instead, they blended their outrageous comedy with real commentary, on religion, freedom, rebellion, false prophets, and false idols. There is, shockingly, a lot being said here, under the surface, but the surface is usually so goofy and enjoyable that you don’t even notice the subtle jabs, and even the not-so-subtle right hooks. And although Life of Brian isn’t as famous as some others, it still carries a ton of iconic scenes: the stoning, the ex-leper, Biggus Dickus, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. It’s a film that is, at times, frivolous, but is also funny in the familiar way you’ve come to expect, if perhaps slightly more subtly than you’re used to. Still, can’t go wrong with a half-Jew named Brian Cohen being mistaken for a prophet and then serenaded on the cross; you wonder how this film would be received if it were to come out today, while at the same time just appreciating that it came out at all.
Director: John Hillcoat
I watched The Proposition what’s fast becoming many years ago, and, although I didn’t know that it would stick with me, I seem to reference it a lot, so I figured it was high time I watched it with a critical eye and gave it a proper review. But if you’re pressed for time, I could give you the short version: it’s fucking great. Well, only if you love gritty, dirty, bloody, raw, Australian Westerns, because that’s exactly what this film is, a brutal look at a brutal country at a time when brutality was the only language spoken. That genre, the Outback Outlaw, might not be for everyone, but if it’s your cup of tea, as it is mine, then The Proposition should rattle your windows a bit, and will perhaps stick with with you as well.
Three Irish brothers, along with their comrades, make up the Burns Gang, of which Arthur Burns is the leader. They terrorize the Australian countryside near a town called Banyan, where a local British officer named Stanley is in charge of keeping the peace, and has vowed to bring the brothers to justice. When Arthur goes one step too far, with the murder of an entire family, one step too close to absolute ruthlessness and pure evil, his younger brother Charlie leaves the group, taking the youngest, dimwitted Mikey, along with him. Captured by Stanley, Charlie Burns is given a proposition; kill his brother Arthur with his own hands before Christmas Day, or his beloved Mikey will be hanged, the crimes of all laid only at his feet.
This is John Hillcoat’s best film by far: The Proposition, The Road, Lawless, Triple Nine. In it, he channels the style that I have grown to love; death in the Wild South. Australia was basically England’s frontier land, while Americans had the West, and those eras in those places mirrored each other greatly. The native people, the harsh environment, the sins of expansion, the terrors of criminality; Hillcoat captures it all so well. With an incredible soundtrack to drive the mood, The Proposition is half melancholy and half murderous, with excellent performances from its leads and from its side characters as well: Pearce, Winstone, Watson, John Hurt, Danny Huston, David Wenham, and David Gulpilil (who is an amazing Aboriginal Australian actor: Crocodile Dundee, Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Tracker, The Proposition, Australia, Goldstone, Cargo). This movie is artistic enough, realistic enough, presents multiple viewpoints, never bores, often shocks; all the genre has to offer, on display right here.
Director: Charlie Kaufman
I would have said that Charlie Kaufman had directed more movies, but he’s only been at the helm for three: Synecdoche New York, Anomalisa, and I’m Thinking of Ending Things. He’s written more, of course: Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Eternal Sunshine. Synecdoche might be my favorite of the bunch, but that’s because Philip Seymour Hoffman was a master, and Being John Malkovich would be next, but that’s because Spike Jonze is a genius. I guess what I’m getting at is the idea that, although I’ve called him ‘brilliant’ many times, Kaufman may not be brilliant in *every* way, maybe only in specific ways, which hardly qualifies as an insult. Ending Things just happens to be Kaufman-patented absurdity given to us from an angle that I simply didn’t like, and perhaps from which he simply isn’t supremely talented.
About six or seven weeks into a relationship, a young woman agrees to meet her boyfriend Jake’s parents at their home, a farm quite a drive from the city. But she is full of anxiety about both the visit and about being his girlfriend. He’s nice, he’s smart, he’s curious about her, and she likes him just fine, but she doesn’t see a future together, and is pretty sure that the end is coming. At the farm, things get more muddled; Jake’s parents are very odd, Jake calls her by different names, she’s unsure of what it real and what isn’t, as the dinner turns into some bizarre theatrical production, far more than a standard American meal. Driving home after, connections with reality start breaking free from their ports, and all will come into question, from mundane pit stops to the very meaning of life.
I guess what I want to put across is not that I dislike Kaufman; not at all, in fact I’ve been fascinated by a number of his films, whether he wrote them or directed them. But perhaps I dislike his mind set to this task, like he didn’t match up well with his own idea, and I wish his brain had told him to hire a different director. As it is, we’re “stuck” with him, and he begins things so well, but just can’t finish then. Halfway through I was hooked; the nameless woman’s conversations with Jake, and later their interaction with his parents, were so bizarre, so fun, so entertaining, but also dark & dangerous, that I was sucked into this world that made no sense and in which there wouldn’t be any real answers. It was almost like Synecdoche meets Hereditary meets Mother!, but less scary then those last two, just a wild, uncomfortable, meaningless blur of atmosphere and melancholy that I thoroughly enjoyed. But that was only the first half; after the dinner, on the couple’s way home, we somehow lost touch with any semblance of reality, and Kaufman lost track of what it was he was trying to say. The last hour was boring, bonkers-in-a-bad-way, scattered, overly-manipulated, and couldn’t hold my attention or interest; it was as if he had a wonderful idea for a short film, had skill enough to direct that, but pushed the project and himself too hard, until the entire thing blew up in his face. Ending Things will stick with me as a film that taunted me with possibilities, only to disappoint me with results, a movie that had an intelligent mind behind it but lacked an editor who could keep it here on the ground where we could force it to make some sort of sense.