Cinema Psycho

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Archive for June, 2005

Seed of Chucky (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on June 28, 2005

Directed and written by Don Mancini/starring Jennifer Tilly, Redman, Hannah Spearritt, John Waters, and the voices of Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Billy Boyd/Universal Home Video

Killer dolls Chucky and Tiffany are resurrected by their gender-confused offspring and proceed to menace actress Jennifer Tilly.

There’s really only so much you can do with a killer doll. Don Mancini knows this all too well, as the screenwriter of all of the previous Chucky movies. Of course, this revered (by some) series began with the genuinely tense Child’s Play and continued with two lackluster direct sequels. Realizing that Chucky was no longer particularly scary and was quickly lapsing into self-parody, Mancini wisely went for pure horror-comedy with Bride of Chucky, which turned out to be surprisingly entertaining.

Now Mancini has taken the logical next step with Seed of Chucky, also his directorial debut. This fifth Chucky movie attempts to be the ne plus ultra of Chucky cinema, a self-reflexive smorgasbord that combines the usual mayhem and bloodshed with wicked showbiz satire that sends up the Chucky films themselves and the people who make them. Unfortunately, it’s only intermittently successful at this, resulting in a film that’s merely a sporadically fun romp, if a slightly baffling one at times.

Seed finds Chucky and bride Tiffany serving as props for a movie based on their “real” exploits, which stars Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Tilly (who of course also provides the voice of Tiffany). Their offspring Glen (voiced by Lord of the Rings co-star Boyd), has been serving as the dummy in a British ventriloquist act called “Psychs & Shitface” (guess which one Glen is) – how exactly he got to England isn’t really explained, and I’m probably the only one who would care. When Glen sees a “behind the scenes” item on the making of the movie-within-a-movie, he realizes that Chucky and Tiffany are his parents and heads off to Hollywood to find them.

Once Glen manages to unwittingly resurrect dear old Mom and Dad, he’s a bit upset to find that they’re actually serial killers in doll form (guess he didn’t pay close enough attention to that news item), as he’s a sweet-natured pacifist. He’s also a bit confused about his gender identity, given that he was born without genitals, resulting in an alter ego named Glenda (wink wink). It’s all a bit needlessly convoluted, which is one of the things that keep the movie from being as much fun as it should be.

Tiffany turns out to be a big Jennifer Tilly fan (who isn’t?), and decides that the zaftig, bubbly-voiced actress would be a perfect host for her soul. Tilly is a little busy with her career and personal life – attempting to seduce rapper Redman to land a part as the Virgin Mary in his biblical epic and messing around with her lovestruck chauffeur – to notice that there are killer dolls running around her house. There are more subplots involving a nasty paparazzi (played to the hilt by Waters) and Tilly’s young assistant (Spearritt), but they don’t go anywhere particularly interesting. They’re secondary characters in a Chucky movie – you can guess what happens to them.

As you can probably tell from the above three paragraphs, part of the problem with Seed is its complete lack of focus. For such a short movie (88 minutes), Mancini tries to pack in a lot of stuff, and the movie careens wildly from subplot to subplot with what seems to be the barest of narrative thread connecting everything. Not that a Chucky movie needs to be a model of coherent storytelling, but it seems like they’re throwing a lot of stuff at the wall here and not much of it sticks.

It would’ve helped if the Hollywood satire were a bit sharper. Some of this material is just head-scratchingly bizarre – since when do rappers get to direct movies, and who would let one make a biblical epic? That’s just odd. Your average film geek could write funnier and more accurate parody than that. The movie is full of fairly obvious visual references to movies like Psycho, Halloween and The Shining – nothing particularly inspired there.

The funniest bits are the ones in which Tilly gamely sends up her image, her career and her status as a B-level celebrity. The highlights are all hit on here, including her Oscar nomination and the cult sensation Bound (which provides the best line in the movie), as well as her notorious cleavage (prominently displayed throughout) and of course that breathy gun-moll-on-helium voice. The idea that she’s so willing to portray herself as a narcissistic, vain, oversexed diva paradoxically reminds us how funny, likable and genuinely sexy Tilly can be. Somebody give her a worthy vehicle already!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Glen, who somehow manages to be even less interesting a character than his plastic parents. Of course Chuck and Tiff are homicidal maniacs in doll form – they’re little ids running around loose, and that’s their main appeal. Mancini tries to invert the joke by making Glen a passive, effeminate, messed-up little freak, but the sad result is that he’s incredibly annoying and seriously unappealing. Every moment he’s on screen is like the proverbial fingernails on a chalkboard, and his gender-confusion issues don’t exactly make for gripping drama. You can’t help but feel like the whole character was horribly misconceived from the start, and that Glen would’ve been a lot funnier as, say, an equally homicidal “chip off the old block” who kept screwing up his kills due to youthful inexperience and needed Chucky to give him tips on following through. Sometimes the most obvious path is the best.

In fact, what’s curious about the whole affair is how little comic mileage Mancini gets out of Chucky himself and the whole family dynamic, which is supposed to be the whole point of this thing. Chucky’s one outrageous scene here comes when he masturbates in front of a window, which I’m not sure anybody really needed to see (I won’t even try to speculate on how a plastic doll can possibly generate sperm). Tiffany’s attempt to quit murder “cold turkey” doesn’t go anywhere particularly interesting either. They’re only really interesting here when they’re killing people, which admittedly is the only reason that their fans watch these movies anyway.

It’s not that there isn’t fun to be had with Seed of Chucky; it’s just that the movie as a whole is far too scattershot to be truly effective as a comedy. Of course the die-hard Chucky fans are going to see this anyway, but I can’t imagine that this is the movie they really wanted. If the series continues (and we all know it probably will, at some point), maybe it’s time for Chucky to get back to basics. Horror comedies are a bit passé at this point anyway – these days, it’s all about the serious, hardcore stuff. Maybe the next one should be called Divorce of Chucky. Now that would be scary.

**1/2 6/28/05

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He’s Back…and This Time It’s Personal; plus, a plea for George’s Land

Posted by CinemaPsycho on June 15, 2005

Yes, I know it’s been awhile. I’m sure the three misguided people out there who read this site on a regular basis have been wondering what’s up. So let me fill you in, and make an attempt to catch up a little bit.

I recently began a new work situation, and naturally my schedule is completely different than it was before. Plus there are other obligations to family and friends (old and new) that take up a bit of my time as well. So I’ve been trying to adjust (and mostly succeeding) to a somewhat different lifestyle than I was previously living, which is good. However, it hasn’t left me much time to write for the site. I’m sorry about this and I do apologize to any regular readers who’ve been checking the site and finding nothing new.

Keep in mind, this is a hobby for me (with delusions of grandeur), one that I’m not always going to have as much time for as I’d like. I don’t get paid for this stuff, so one has to prioritize. Daddy’s gotta pay the bills, right?

However, I’m determined to find the time to keep writing reviews and columns as much as possible. As soon as things settle down a bit in my professional and personal lives, I’m going to find a way to make it work. I’m still getting DVD screeners on a regular basis and feel obligated to review as many of them as I can. In the meantime, I’d like to try filling in the gaps by writing semi-regular “catch-up columns” here to cover, at least superficially, the films I’ve seen theatrically recently but haven’t had time to write full reviews for. Plus I want to throw in some short little pieces with observations about movies, the industry, whatever strikes my fancy that wouldn’t necessarily merit a full column. So it’ll be a little different than before, a grab bag of random and probably disorganized stuff. Almost like a blog, but not exactly. This may be updated once a week, every other week, maybe even once a month. Not sure at this point. (The only reason I’m finding time to write this now is because my plans for the day were shot when my car wouldn’t start. That’s just the way life works sometimes, right?)

But please keep checking back on a regular basis. I promise there will be more to read soon. And if anyone feels like responding to something I’ve written, don’t hesitate to hit that Contact button. I don’t bite…anymore.

Let’s start with a roundup of movies I’ve seen that I haven’t been able to review, but I think are worth discussion:

House of Wax: I know, this was on my list of films I wanted to avoid this year, but simple curiosity got the better of me. It’s not the atrocity I expected, though anyone with a fondness for the Vincent Price original might want to pick up the recent Warner DVD instead. Two completely different beasts here. The so-called remake is an OK cheesy drive-in teen splatter flick. For what it is, it’s surprisingly not bad. Not great, but if you’re looking for cheap thrills (and there’s nothing wrong with that), you could do a lot worse. Elisha Cuthbert is a very watchable heroine (if only they’d thrown in a grizzly bear), and Paris Hilton…well, she couldn’t possibly embarrass herself any more than she already has, could she? It’s not a part that requires her to act, and watching her screen demise is shockingly cathartic. William Castle would be proud. It’s basically Texas Chainsaw lite, and if you can deal with that (and a plot that makes no sense whatsoever), it’s a kick. **1/2

Unleashed: Jet Li mixes his chocolate with Luc Besson’s peanut butter once again and comes out with the weirdest action movie of the year. Morgan Freeman as a blind American piano tuner? Bob Hoskins as an over-the-top British gangster? And they’re all in Scotland? It’s completely insane, but somehow it works. Easily Jet’s best American vehicle (and this is coming from someone who actually liked Kiss of the Dragon and The One) – Li is the thinking man’s action hero (sounds like an oxymoron, but still true). If only more thinking men would actually show up and see his movies… ***

Cinderella Man: Ron Howard may not be my favorite filmmaker in the world (didn’t it strike anyone else that Apollo 13 was essentially about a failure?), but every few years he comes out swinging, and this flick is hugely underrated in my book. Crowe is great, Giamatti is fantastic, Renee Zellweger…well she does a good Olive Oyl imitation. I normally like Renee fine, but lately her character work has gotten on my nerves. Maybe Braddock’s wife really was entirely too sensitive to be married to a boxer, but that doesn’t make the portrayal any less annoying. I kept wanting to scream, “Jesus Christ woman, he’s trying to feed you and your kids! Just let him fight already!” For God’s sake…otherwise, I think it’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Howard’s depiction of the Depression really unnerved me. It’s a good reminder of what unions and social programs have done for us in the years since, and why we need to keep them (whether that was the intention or not). Just because Crowe got pissed off and threw a phone at somebody doesn’t mean the movie isn’t worth seeing, OK? Just get over it and see the damn movie. ****

High Tension: I remember reading the TV Guide movie listings’ description of I Know What You Did Last Summer as a “dripping gorefest”. Phffft…please, OK? THIS is a dripping gorefest. It’s pretty amazing that Lions Gate actually thought this brutal, nasty, disturbing as hell French horror film could compete against the summer blockbusters – it’s just way too hardcore for the “mainstream” audience to handle. I can’t remember the last time I saw something this violent and unsettling on the big screen (no, Saw doesn’t even come close). This is that rare horror movie that’s genuinely horrific – the intention isn’t to entertain you, it’s to scar you for life. The controversial twist ending doesn’t make logical sense at all, and it’s not supposed to. It makes emotional sense, if you’re paying attention to what the main character says and does throughout the film. We’re being told the story from her point of view, and she’s as unreliable a narrator as it gets. The graphic and creative bloodshed will please the gorehounds (it was cut down from an NC-17 version, but you sure wouldn’t know it), but it’s that ending that sticks with you, love it or hate it. I saw it on a Saturday afternoon, and there were only 2 other people in the theater. More’s the pity. Next time some art snob goes on about how Hollywood movies are all violent crap and foreign films are all wonderful, poignant works of art, mention this film and they’ll shut up real fast. I hope. I wouldn’t say it’s a classic of the genre, but there’s certainly nothing else like it out there. ***1/2

Mr. and Mrs. Smith: The kind of star power-driven movie you almost hate yourself for enjoying. Almost. Nothing in the entire movie makes any sense at all (these assassins work for organizations that know everything about everyone, but they don’t know that two of their employees are married to each other? For six years? Come on…), but it’s so much damn fun that you just don’t care. This is not a serious film, folks, it’s a comedy. Some critics don’t seem to grasp that (yes, I mean you, Mr. Wells), and they’re denying themselves the pure insane pleasure of it all. Pitt and Jolie have so much chemistry that if they’re really not fucking, they damn well oughta be. I can’t recall Angelina ever being so funny and likable on screen (not to mention GORGEOUS) – that chill she used to project in her action roles is totally gone, and it’s a glorious thing to see. Suddenly she’s a movie star again! Look, this isn’t a Hitchcock movie, it’s not a smart spy thriller like The Bourne Identity, it’s not even True Lies. It’s a movie about two charming stars mixing it up on screen, and that’s as old-school Hollywood as it gets. A great movie? No. Entertaining as hell? Absolutely. ***

All right, that about covers it for recent theatrical releases. I’d love to cover more foreign and independent stuff, but unfortunately those movies don’t come to my neck of the woods too often. The nearest art house to me is 45 minutes away, and they usually get movies just before they hit DVD, so there’s not much point in making the trip. Oh well. You do the best you can with what you have to work with, right?

Rob Zombie recently told Fangoria.com that he wants his latest movie, The Devil’s Rejects, to “crush Lindsay Lohan!!!” That’s all well and good (I still have yet to actually see a Lohan movie), but there’s one problem with that. Zombie’s film opens on July 22nd, while Lohan’s Herbie: Fully Loaded opens on…JUNE 22nd. Dude…buy a calendar.

If anything should “crush Lindsay Lohan”, it really ought to be George Romero’s Land of the Dead, which opens on June 24th. Now, I normally just give my opinion and don’t campaign for movies this way, but I really believe that Universal is dropping the ball on this one. Sure, the trailers and clips are all over the Internet, but that’s just not enough to get the non-hardcore fans in. The TV ads are OK, but I rarely see them – the film opens in nine days, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen an ad for it. And I watch quite a bit of TV, so I can only imagine that the average person probably hasn’t seen any.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t think that’s going to cut it. This is a very competitive summer season, and the movie is opening against two heavily hyped “family-friendly” pictures, Bewitched and Herbie. Not to mention the gargantuan War of the Worlds is coming out a mere 5 days later, another big event for genre fans. It’s very easy to imagine Land getting lost in the shuffle, and that would be a real shame. I mean, this is only the biggest horror-movie event of the year (and possibly the decade, at least for hardcore fans). A major studio giving an old-school master like Romero a shot at continuing his legendary series is nothing less than a momentous occasion. Romero fans have been anticipating this film for years, just like the hardcore Star Wars fans anticipated Revenge of the Sith. For a lot of people, this is a very, very big deal. Considering that it’s been 20 years since his last Dead movie, and almost 15 years since one of his movies got a theatrical release, I’d say that no one genuinely deserves a break more than Mr. George A. Romero.

So if you’re a Romero fan, a general horror fan, or even a casual film geek, I want to urge you to check out Land of the Dead on opening weekend. Obviously I haven’t seen the movie yet (I wish), but I can pretty much guarantee it’ll be worth your time and money. If you like modern horror films, well, George Romero was one of the handful of guys who defined the modern horror film. I say let’s welcome the man back with open arms. Let’s show Universal that their investment was well-spent, and their faith in Romero was well-earned. We all know that Hollywood executives only understand one thing: money. And there’s been a long-held belief in Hollywood that “Romero films don’t make money”. It’s time for the fans to step up and prove that to be a lie. I’m not expecting it to be the #1 movie of the weekend, or anything like that. But a solid opening weekend would show Hollywood that we want more Romero movies, and that there’s still a large audience out there who love the great horror filmmakers.

There are millions of fans out there who admire the man and his work. This is the movie we’ve all been waiting for. So let’s go out there and see it! You don’t have to do anything other than go see a good zombie movie. Let’s show up for George Romero!

That about covers it for now. Talk to you soon (promise).

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White Noise (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on June 3, 2005

Directed by Geoffrey Sax/written by Niall Johnson/starring Michael Keaton, Deborah Kara Unger, Chandra West, Ian McNeice/Universal Home Video

A widower attempts to make contact with his dead wife through something called Electronic Voice Phenomenon.

I missed this one during its recent theatrical release in early January – that’s Oscar catch-up time, after all, and I’m pretty suspicious of anything the studios dump in the dead of winter. Surprisingly, this movie actually did decent business, and after catching up with it on DVD…I really don’t understand why. Maybe people were desperate for some quick escapism after the onslaught of “important” films. Maybe they were tricked by that admittedly cool trailer (which isn’t included on the DVD for some odd reason) that explained the concept of EVP while showing very little of the actual movie.

Whatever it was that lured audiences to this, I’m willing to bet that the majority of those poor suckers were disappointed at best. Unless they really enjoy pronounced mediocrity, that is. White Noise is both completely ridiculous and as dull to sit through as 98 minutes of TV static. (You thought I was going to say “as dull as 98 minutes of white noise”? Come on, I’m not that obvious, am I?)

The progressively idiotic story involves Jonathan Rivers (Keaton), an architect living one of those “perfect lives” that are only bestowed upon people in movies like this. His hot wife (West), who’s gotta be at least 15 years younger than him, is apparently a somewhat famous author of the kind of books that you always see on the bestseller lists but few people actually read. They’ve got a huge house, a couple of generically perfect kids (who mysteriously disappear during the course of the movie – or maybe I just slept through the explanation) and things are just all around peachy keen.

Of course, in the movies perfect lives must be torn apart (I guess no one wants to see a movie about someone living a great life that gets even better), and so something awful must happen. Jonathan’s hot author wife disappears and after a brief search, they seem to give up looking for her. Further evidence that this movie isn’t set in the real world – whenever a reasonably attractive young woman disappears, we all know that the cable news channels consider it a national emergency, right? Plus being a bestselling author, you’d think there would be more of an effort to find her. In fact, that might have made for a more interesting movie.

So then Jonathan meets this person (McNeice) who tells him that his dead wife has been trying to contact him through EVP. How the guy knew she was Jonathan’s wife, I’m not sure – maybe he read her books or saw her story on MSNBC or something. Of course Jonathan doesn’t believe him at first, but eventually he just misses his hot author wife so much that he decides to give it a shot. Things get weirder, and dumber, from there, as Jonathan becomes obsessed with EVP and uses it to uncover a serial killer and badly rendered CGI ghosts.

I’ll be honest – I had serious trouble staying awake through this thing. I fell asleep several times and when I went back to watch what I had missed, it seemed like nothing in particular had happened in those scenes. The somber tone of the material borders on funereal, and about half the movie is spent with Jonathan brooding over his missing hot author wife. Yet there’s very little genuine emotion being expressed – it may be meant to be internal anguish, but it barely seems to register on Keaton, a good actor who is simply out of his element here. Stripped of his trademark smart-aleck charm and manic energy, and given nothing in the character to replace them with, Keaton just isn’t very interesting to watch in this. Jonathan comes off more like a guy who’s mildly irritated by misplacing his keys than a man grieving over the loss of his beloved wife.

Meanwhile, the plot is just bizarrely ludicrous. It’s explained that EVP is basically the spirits of the dead communicating through the background noise on audio recordings. As if that wasn’t silly enough, somehow Jonathan and his EVP buddies can also see images of the dead on video recordings as well. Apparently they thought that just playing back audio recordings wasn’t cinematic enough, but the images don’t really add much to the movie (other than providing some obvious clues) and they just make the whole thing seem less creepy somehow. The whole point was that we were hearing voices from “the other side” – aural representations of disembodied spirits that are somehow breaking through the barriers of conventional reality. Seeing them dilutes the impact of that concept.

The painfully slow and drawn-out proceedings lead to a comically overedited finale that seems designed either to finally wake the audience up or the hide the shoddy CGI work done on the ghosts. It’s as if someone let Michael Bay run wild in the editing room. Not only does it seem to come from a completely different movie, it seems to come from a completely different, equally awful movie.

Worst of all is that White Noise was shot in Vancouver, and unfortunately looks it. Not that I have anything against the Canadian film industry, but Hollywood tends to shoot movies there for one reason only – to save money. This is why most Hollywood movies shot there look cheap and bland, and this one looks the cheapest and the blandest. If I had found out after watching it that all of the sets were made of cardboard and Styrofoam and all of the locations were on some low-rent studio backlot, it wouldn’t have shocked me. Seriously, this movie looks like shit, and even the wonders of DVD don’t do much to enhance the viewing experience. It’s not much of a surprise to discover that director Sax has a legion of TV-movie credits to his name, because that’s exactly the way this plays. The real disappointment is that most TV-movies actually look better than this feature film does, and are probably more interesting to watch.

If there’s any reason at all to rent White Noise (and I’m not convinced that there is), it would be to see the hilariously overblown extras involving the supposedly true phenomenon of EVP. Hosted by former CNN Showbiz Today reporter Jim Moret (if that gives you any idea of their credibility), these featurettes are curiously fascinating in a cheesy, hokey faux-documentary fashion. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear this was all an elaborate put-on staged by the producers, like the Curse of the Blair Witch TV special. Or pretty much any bad reality show. It all plays like an inside joke that everybody’s in on, but no one bothers to laugh.

However, there’s every indication that EVP is for real – or at least these particular people think it is. I believe that they believe it. Which, of course, doesn’t make it true. There’s no real scientific explanation given for exactly how this phenomenon could possibly happen – as in the movie, we’re just supposed to take it on faith that it does. The fact that every occurrence we hear is a vaguely deciphered, barely discernable one-or-two-word “message” ought to immediately give one pause – we never hear full sentences or even declarative statements like in that misleading trailer. Even more bizarre is the short “Recording the Afterlife at Home” in which we are encouraged to use a simple tape recorder to capture the magic of EVP for ourselves. Gee, so what’s the point of calling on those “experts” with their expensive equipment then? Whether or not there’s any truth to EVP at all, it’s clear that some people are just desperate enough to believe in something that they can interpret virtually anything as a “sign”. The fact that Universal is using these poor souls to sell DVDs is pretty sad.

What’s even sadder is how many people are apparently taking the bait. Instead of actually suffering through White Noise, consider popping in a blank audio tape, closing your eyes and listening to whatever background noise is generated from it. That would be about as much fun as actually seeing the movie. And you might even get in a good nap or two.

* 6/3/05

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