Friday, September 30, 2011

Worth Mentioning - Don't Forget About Death

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.


This week, Cody celebrates Cinema Wasteland weekend with The Horror Convention Massacre, then talks up Oscar contender Moneyball and another Lauren Schneider movie. Jay participates in a short film competition and checks out Birdemic.


THE HORROR CONVENTION MASSACRE (2006)

Aaron is having a very bad day. The hotel he works at is hosting a horror convention, so his boss calls in extra staff - including Aaron, on what was supposed to be his day off. He has to call his girlfriend to let her know that he can't go to the concert they were planning on attending that night, and during the call figures out that she's been cheating on him. All this and the insanity of trying to work during the convention builds Aaron up to the breaking point.

To make things even worse, a mysterious killer is stalking the hotel and picking victims at random. Potheads, cokeheads, lesbian lovers, maids, a dickweed critic/blogger, guests, models at a photo shoot, the gospel duo that has inexplicably been booked to play at the convention and are not happy about having to perform to a "gaggle of devil worshippers"... no one is safe.

This movie is a lot of fun. The characters are entertaining and well played by the actors - including Bryan Jalovec as the put-upon Aaron, Ted Wodoslawsky as his chain smoking boss, Alicia Kenney as B-horror actress Miss Jezebel, "Hot Carl" Ferrera as a Subway Jared-type gone bad, and Uncle Scratch's Gospel Revival as themselves. The kills are cool, featuring guitar impalement, a screwdriver through a head, and an especially effective moment involving some serious eye damage.

Writer/director Joe Ostrica and his cast and crew knocked out most of this movie over one weekend at an actual running convention.

For that reason, this movie is special to me, because the convention it was filmed at was also the first horror convention that I ever attended, the spring 2006 Cinema Wasteland. I didn't witness any of the filming and I don't appear in the background during the movie, but it's cool to have a record like this of my first Wasteland. Some of the guests who were there even have speaking cameos in the movie, including Ari Lehman (little Jason in the original Friday the 13th), Lloyd Kaufman, and Lew Temple (The Devil's Rejects, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning).


When I found out about the movie and the fact that it was going to be screening at the fall 2006 Cinema Wasteland, I contacted Ostrica and interviewed him for the website Pit of Horror. I introduced myself to Ostrica after the screening and he gave me a free copy of the movie for the publicity aid. He asked me to write a review of the movie as well, but I was reluctant. I didn't consider myself a reviewer, I didn't think I could write it up well enough. I felt bad about that, especially since the aforementioned dickweed critic in the movie prides himself on ripping people off, taking free copies and not reviewing them.

So finally, five years later, here's my write-up of The Horror Convention Massacre. I still don't consider myself a reviewer, but this is better than nothing, right?

Copies of The Horror Convention Massacre can still be purchased directly from the filmmaker at Old School Sinema. Two sequels have followed. I haven't seen them yet, but I can recommend part 1 as a very enjoyable, fun and funny ultra-low budget slasher and an admirable example of independent, guerilla filmmaking.

The DVD includes a "making of" featurette and some deleted scenes, one of which features Aaron interacting with a friend of the blog, horror host Count Gore De Vol.



MONEYBALL (2011)

The end of the 2001 baseball season delivers a crushing blow to Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A's. Not only does the team lose to the Yankees in the ALDS playoffs, but afterwards the A's also lose their three star players to other teams.

Beane is left to figure out how to assemble a new group of winning players with a budget that pales in comparison to most other teams'. His board discusses players based on things varying from how hard they hit to how attractive their girlfriends are - if a man has an ugly girlfriend, it shows he lacks confidence. The answer to Beane's problem comes not from the experts but from young economics major Peter Brand, who believes that a showy field performance means nothing, all that matters is stats, specifically how often a player gets on base. The A's can't afford star players, they don't need them. They can assemble plenty of cheaper talent who have the ability to get on base. The experts are not receptive to Brand's ideas at all, they totally disagree with the player picks, but Beane takes the chance.

This is a great film. I know nothing about number crunching and less than zero about baseball, yet was still completely engrossed in the story and the characters.

Director Bennett Miller and cinematographer Wally Pfister approach the film in a very naturalistic, documentary sort of way. The games themselves are hardly ever shown, we mostly just get glimpses of them on T.V. When the camera actually does get down on the field during a game, the style changes. It's an important game and with lighting and sound design, the tension is turned up so high that it feels like it's a matter of life or death. Of course, if I paid any attention to baseball I might have already known what was going to happen, but I didn't at any point.

The performances are great, led by Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill as Beane and Brand. Philip Seymour Hoffman has a nice supporting role as hardheaded A's Manager Art Howe, and Chris Pratt is very likeable as player Scott Hatteberg. There are also some good scenes between Beane and Kerris Dorsey as his musically-inclined daughter Casey, who performs a fun little song that will get stuck in your head.

The screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin is fantastic, and might get Sorkin back-to-back Oscar nominations after last year's The Social Network (which he won for).

I can definitely see Moneyball getting a Best Picture nomination as well. At this point, my own nominations would be The Tree of Life, Warrior, and Moneyball.



THE REST OF YOUR LIFE (2005)

Following an unsuccessful stay in New York and a break-up, Alex is forced by circumstances to move back in with her widower father in Charlotte, North Carolina. While her father is a good, supportive guy, Alex is not happy at all with her situation, her stress and anxiety manifesting physically in the form of chest pains and panic attacks. Catching up with old and new friends, Alex eventually gets involved with troubled artist Justin.

Lauren Schneider stars as Alex and with her performance continues to keep her place as one of my new favorites. She got to film in her homeland of North Carolina for this one, and she was actually friends with writer/director Will Clegg in middle school. The budget for The Rest of Your Life - $104,471 according to IMDb - was substantially larger than the previously mentioned Among Brothers and Wrestling, so while those were shot on standard DV, Life has the benefit of being HD, shot with the Panasonic AJ-HDC27F Varicam. It looks great.

The Rest of Your Life is, like Wrestling, a good true-to-life drama. I can even relate to Alex and Justin in some ways. For example, Alex's approach to writing - she looks forward to finishing the novel that she can't get around to starting to write. And the "can't catch your breath" panic attacks she has, I've had those myself.


 


Jay's mentions:


THE THIRD SATURDAY IN OCTOBER (2011 - Short)

This past weekend, my group of filmmaking friends took place in a 48 hour short film competition put on by the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, AL. The short was horror themed and could be no longer than five minutes. I've always heard about scrambles but until last weekend had never participated. They are really educational for all involved, as you see what your team can come up with over a very short amount of time. Here we only had 48 hours to write, direct, and edit. We knew going in that we wanted to try and do something on a large scale, and in many ways it worked against us. We did a zombie short, and while I am proud of what we pulled off, the scope may have backfired. What we turned in is very, very rough, but I am still proud of our effort. The group really came together and everyone sacrificed a lot to get it in the can. It was rewarding seeing some old faces back together again and this was definitely one of the more enjoyable shoots I've worked on lately. I'm going to do a complete recap of the madness soon.



BIRDEMIC (2010)

Directed by James Nguyen
Starring Whitney Moore and Alan Bagh

When I heard that Birdemic was on the same level of THE ROOM, only based around ridiculous 3D animations of bloodthirsty birds, I knew I had to see it. It's been a long time since I got the initial word on the film, but finally got to see it thanks to Netflix Instant Streaming.


Birdemic, for those who dont know, is a romantic thriller. In fact, the first 45 minutes or so make up the "romantic" portion, in which our two leads meet and fall hopelessly in love with one another. The night they decide to sleep together, however, ends up to be the night that killer birds attack. The two band together with two others of the same age and hit the road in hopes of... doing something. They mainly just get in trouble and stumble upon characters who only exist to explain how we are destroying the environment.

 

This is definitely a bad movie, and I can't say I enjoyed it as much as I did The Room. In fact, The Room is head and shoulders above Birdemic in almost every way. Even the technical aspects of Room trump anything seen here in Biredmic. That's mainly why this movie has gotten the attention that it has. It's bad, and people like that. I found some parts to be very amusing, and the birds make it worth watching based solely on their appearance.


I give director James Nguyen credit. He claims to be a lover of film and worked around his day job to become a director and get this film completed. After completion, Biredmic was turned down by all the major film festivals, but Nguyen didn't give up. Instead he showed up at Sundance anyway and started promoting the film to anyone that would listen. Apparently, he caught the eye of Severin Films, and that's why this movie is available to us now. So, way to go James Nguyen. You did it! A lot of people interested in film should take note here. Nguyen made a bad movie, but he seems to really love what he does, and it worked out for him.

Interesting Tidbit: Actress Whitney Moore did the special effect makeup for this film and due to her role here, also pops up in A Horrible Way to Die as a bartender.

2 comments:

  1. Looks like they showed some awesome movies. I heard of Birdemic, wanted to check it out but was unsure....maybe I won't.

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  2. Birdemic is good if you love bad movies..which I do! Just make sure you watch it with someone that can laugh along with you! - Jay

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