VEGAS VACATION is a standout in the VACATION franchise saga in that it’s the only one that doesn’t have a NATIONAL LAMPOON’S in the title. I don’t know if they sued to get it off of there, like Stephen King did with STEPHEN KING’S THE LAWNMOWER MAN, or if National Lampoon said “VACATION is old hat, we decided to be strictly in the VAN WILDER business now,” or if it’s just an acknowledgment from Hollywood that by 1997 nobody who didn’t go to Harvard in the ‘70s gave a shit about that magazine or was even totally clear what exactly it was. Whatever the reason, the name wasn’t on this one, the brand showed weakness, and before long if I’m not mistaken National Lampoon was forced to change its name to American Pie Presents Magazine.
I can’t claim to be an aficionado of the VACATION mythos, but after watching NATIONALLY AVAILABLE SPIN-OFF OF THE HARVARD CAMPUS COMEDY MAGAZINE’S EUROPEAN VACATION for the Summer of 1985 series I decided to be a completist and watch the only one about a vacation I’ve actually taken. I first went to Las Vegas with some friends who, like Clark and Ellen in the movie, went to renew their vows. I honestly have no interest in gambling, but it’s interesting to watch for a little bit and then walk around taking in all the people, the art on the slot machines, the crass opulence everywhere, enjoying food and alcoholic slurpies and a zipline and late hours and walking past outdoor stages with ‘80s cover bands and realizing the unifying power of Bon Jovi. Seriously, I never liked Bon Jovi growing up, but you hear those songs and somehow everyone seems to know them and want to sing along and it’s weirdly inspiring.
I can completely understand having an aversion to the place, especially if you don’t drink (a little day drinking is part of the fun for me), but I enjoy it there, I find it interesting. So I have a soft spot for Vegas and I like seeing movies filmed at places I’ve seen in real life. I’m easy that way.
I really dug WHIPLASH and LA LA LAND so I was gonna see any new movie from director Damien Chazzelle. When I saw the trailer for FIRST MAN, his new one starring Ryan Gosling (FRANKENSTEIN AND ME) as Neil Armstrong, it looked like it was shot in an unorthodox way, but I still wondered why we would need another astronaut history moon movie. Haven’t we seen every variation of this? Clean cut, crew-cut, cut-from-a-different-cloth heroes like they don’t make anymore. Courage and adventure and boy scouts and all that. Is there anything new to say about it?
Well, it is in fact a totally different take. In fact, I don’t see anyone saying this, but it seems to me like kind of a subversion or at least a deconstruction of that ideal of heroism.
Sure, you also have all the stuff about what a preposterous feat it was to figure out you can shoot some guys on a fuckin rocket, have them get out and walk around on the moon, and then come back and land on earth safely. I mean, how the fuck? The filmatism really concentrates on rockets as rickety, iffy propositions. We’re crammed in there with him in the test flights, or with the crew on the real launches. Always claustrophobic. We hear all the roaring, vibrating, clattering, rattling and mysterious straining metal groans from somewhere in the machine. The dials and buttons click and look so impossibly low-tech today. Even when they were the state of the art they couldn’t have felt all that safe. (read the rest of this shit…)
1) I think it’s one of those ones with some kind of satan/heavy metal theme and
2) I’ve been meaning to see it because it’s the second movie from Sean Byrne, the Australian writer-director of THE LOVED ONES.
That’s why it took me a bit to figure out that this is taking place in America, and that the big Pruitt Taylor Vince looking dude is in fact the genuine item, and most of all that the muscly, tattooed, long-haired, bushy-bearded Matthew McConaghey looking lead was CAN’T HARDLY WAIT‘s Ethan Embry. I only realized it like 2/3 of the way in when I checked IMDb for somebody else in the cast. And I’ve even seen him in grown up roles like CHEAP THRILLS and LATE PHASES. So this is quite a transformation for him.
Embry (Masters of Horror: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road) plays Jesse Hellman, an edgy painter who is able to move his family from a small apartment to a roomy house thanks to a combination of soul-grinding sell-out commissions and a two-people-died-here discount. But, as I personally have noticed sometimes happens in movies, there seems to be something demonic or haunted or cursed or evil or unlucky or fucked up or at least just super, super uncool about the place. I mean, we already saw in the opening that Ray Smilie (Vince, K-9, CONSTANTINE), the adult and seemingly developmentally disabled son of the previous owners, heard whispers telling him to kill. His method of shutting up the voices is to play his electric guitar loud, but his mom makes him stop. It’s like George Wendt and Macaulay Culkin at the beginning of the “Black or White” video, but with more deadly results. (read the rest of this shit…)
I don’t consider DISTURBING BEHAVIOR a very good movie, and I’m not aware of anybody it’s meaningful to, but in a certain way it’s a decent time capsule of where we were at in 1998. The gloomy drizzle and ferries made me wonder if fictional Cradle Bay, filmed in Vancouver, B.C., was meant to evoke Washington state. It would be fitting, because it sort of plays like the disaffection of the so-called grunge scene trickling out in late ’90s teen sci-fi, like chemicals that were spilled into a sewer, overflowed into the Sound, made their way into the plants growing along the shore and were eaten and shat out by animals.
Steve (James Marsden, ACCIDENTAL LOVE) is the new kid in school, moved into town eight months after the trauma of his brother (Ethan Embry from CAN’T HARDLY WAIT)’s suicide. In the cafeteria, stoner outcast Gavin (Nick Stahl, MIRRORS 2) appoints himself rope-show-er and gives him an elaborate take on that time honored teen movie trope, the explanation of all the school’s cliques. Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg (BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, CON AIR, ARMAGEDDON, HIGHWAY, PAIN & GAIN) seems to be going for a cross between Shakespeare and Daniel Waters, in my opinion missing the mark on both. He uses a structured format where Gavin lists the awkwardly named groups (“Blue Ribbons,” “Micro Geeks”), describes them, says their “drug of choice,” and then his spaced out sidekick U.V. (Chad Donella, FINAL DESTINATION, TAKEN 3) makes a rhyme about what kind freak they are: “freaks who fix leaks,” “freaks who squeak,” “freaks in sneaks.”
CAN’T HARDLY WAIT is a summer of ’98 teen comedy that seems to mean something to people who were the right age then. I’m too old, but for some reason I saw it back then and it didn’t work on me. And now I gave it another shot.
It’s a one-day-right-after-graduation story in the tradition of AMERICAN GRAFFITI or DAZED AND CONFUSED or BLADE, centering around a party where Preston (Ethan Embry, LATE PHASES) is trying to get up the guts to talk to his secret crush Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, GARFIELD) because he heard she broke up with her jock asshole boyfriend Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli, TWILIGHT). Preston thinks he can win her over by giving her a love letter he’s been revising for four years. Good luck with that one, pal. He drags along his cynical best friend Denise (Lauren Ambrose, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE), who I was relieved to realize does not have an unrequited crush on him (in fact they laugh about having briefly dated in middle school). She’s very unhappy and ignored at the party, which obviously means she’ll have her rocky heart softened by an unexpected love connection or some shit, but she’s the most charming and relatable character, the one who seems like she probly wouldn’t like this movie, and I’m sure the main reason why some people do. (read the rest of this shit…)
I know this has been said before, but LATE PHASES is kinda like GRAN TORINO with werewolves. By that I don’t mean there’s an old guy who’s racist against werewolves but befriends a young werewolf neighbor, although that would also be cool. What I mean is he’s a grouchy old war vet who is not so happy where age is leading him, has trouble getting along with his kid and is cynical about everything and gets to know the local pastor even though he doesn’t like religion. With werewolves.
He’s a ‘Nam vet instead of Korea, and he came back blind. His name is Ambrose McKinley, and he’s played by my new favorite actor Nick Damici (MULBERRY STREET, STAKE LAND I & II, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, COLD IN JULY), looking kind of like Fred Ward and talking kind of like DeNiro. His son (Ethan Embry, CHEAP THRILLS) and more patient daughter-in-law (Erin Cummings, BITCH SLAP) help move him into a duplex in the retirement community of Crescent Bay. That very night a fuckin werewolf busts in and mauls his next door neighbor (Karen Lynn Gorney, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER) and his guide dog Shadow. The police just tell him it’s from living near the woods, wild animals kill people all the time, be sure to keep your doors locked.
First I gotta give you that dreaded warning that more than the usual amount of fun in this one comes from not knowing what type of movie it’s gonna be. Not like it’s some crazy rollercoaster or mindblowing, rug-pulling shocker of a twist or anything, but it mixes up genres a little bit and I’m glad I didn’t know where it was going. So you might want to do what I did and just know it’s from the director and writer of YOU’RE NEXT and give it a shot. That worked well for me. But if you want to read my review beforehand anyway, be my guest.
Dan Stevens, who you know from playing the libidinous chandelier designer Lord Downington Abernathy on Downton Abbey, but who I know from playing the douchey soul-patched heroin trafficker in the other new movie I watched the day before this, plays a soldier called David Collins who shows up on Mrs. Peterson (Sheila Kelley)’s doorstep one day. He knew her son Caleb, who died in Afghanistan, says he promised to come check on the family for him and tell them he loved them right to the end. This brings up alot of emotions of course but she invites him in (like a fucking vampire) and he befriends her drinking, Henry-Winkler-esque husband Spencer (Leland Orser, SEVEN), her cool 20-year-old waitress daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) and her put-upon high school son Luke (Brendan Meyer, SPOOKY BUDDIES). So he ends up sticking around for a while. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE REUNION is another entertaining and kinda unexpected release from the prestigious WWE Studios. Even more than INSIDE OUT it doesn’t really follow THE MARINE’S approach of just sticking one of their wrestlers into the lead of a formula action movie. This one’s an ensemble crime comedy with only one wrestler, WWE Heavyweight Champion of the World or whatever John Cena, as Sam, one of three estranged brothers forced to work together in a family business to earn a big-ass inheritance. The other two brothers are Leo (Ethan Embry), a fast-talking fuckup bail bondsman, and Douglas (Boyd Holbrook), a James Dean type leather-jacket wearing, brooding, fresh-out-of-lockup half brother they didn’t even know about ’cause he grew up in youth homes. Embry wears an I’m-quirky-and-sort-of-retro hat like Michael Rapaport in INSIDE OUT or like a less boneheaded Matt Dillon in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. (read the rest of this shit…)
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