Friday, June 22, 2018

Worth Mentioning - What's Cooler Than Cool?

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.


Cody starts July a little early with superheroes, laughs, thrills, and the apocalypse.


COLD IN JULY (2014)

Directed by Jim Mickle and based on a novel by Bubba Ho-Tep writer Joe R. Lansdale, Cold in July is a southern noir along the lines of the Coen brothers' Blood Simple - and while the Coens' film was shot in Texas during the '80s, this one is set in Texas during the '80s. 1989, to be exact. And it has the synth score to go along with that setting. Sometimes it's a bit John Carpenter, at other times it's vaguely reminiscent of Carter Burwell's Blood Simple score.

The film begins with the terrifying scenario of family man Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) being awoken in the middle of the night by his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw), who fears someone is in their house. To protect his wife and young son, Richard grabs a gun and goes to check things out... and there is indeed someone in their living room. The intruder is unarmed, but Richard is startled into shooting them. Killing them.

The dead man is identified as a wanted criminal named Freddy Russell, and Richard is given a pass for killing him. To his credit, he is clearly troubled by what he has done and even drives near the man's funeral. Seeing the man's father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), who just got out of prison himself, Richard offers his condolences. And Ben gives him a subtle threat in return, implying that he's thinking of taking Richard's son away from him like Richard has taken his son Freddy away.

So at first Cold in July seems like it's going to be a thriller about Ben terrorizing the Dane family. That is what it is for a while, and Ben proves to be a capable threat, even managing to lurk inside the Dane house while it's being watched by several police officers. Including one in the house with him. I was all set to watch this story play out, I was captivated... And then the film totally threw me for a loop and went off in a completely different direction. One that deepened the plot and widened the scope while still remaining very intriguing. Having not read the book, I did not expect the next hour of this film at all.

Scripted by Mickle and Nick Damici, Cold in July is a solid crime flick that was more than I expected. Along the way it even involves Don Johnson as a slick private investigator named Jim Bob Luke, which adds some more points to its score. Johnson has had some great roles lately, in projects like Machete, Django Unchained, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, Eastbound & Down, and Brawl in Cell Block 99, and this is another great one.



JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)

I have not been overly enthusiastic about the films in the DC comic book movie universe up to this point. I liked Man of Steel, despite having some issues with the amount of destruction Superman allowed to happen, an element of the film that led directly into the events of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I didn't find much to enjoy at all in that film, or in the villain team-up Suicide Squad. Just when I was giving up on these films, Wonder Woman came along with a significant boost in quality and a higher level of entertainment.

After the seeds were planted in Batman v. Superman, the franchise now reaches its big hero team-up film, the DC equivalent of Marvel's The Avengers. I didn't have high hopes for this film, since it was being directed by Zack Snyder - I don't tend to like his movies very much in the first place, and I thought he had handled Dawn of Justice terribly. My hesitance about this film was increased when it turned out to be a very troubled, compromised production. Snyder had to leave the project in post-production after suffering an unimaginable personal tragedy and Warner Bros. handed it over to a filmmaker with hero team-up experience, The Avengers director Joss Whedon. Whedon proceeded to put the film through costly reshoots, which the credits consider another draft of the script, and then had to cut this amalgamation of his and Snyder's visions into a film with a running time under 120 minutes. A studio mandate.

The result was not especially well received, and made much less at the box office than you would expect an event film starring Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and The Flash (plus the lesser known Cyborg) would make.


To my surprise, though, I actually enjoyed it. The behind-the-scenes issues are evident in the finished product, which feels rushed, awkward, and inconsequential, but there is some entertainment to be had in watching the titular group of superheroes come together and save the world from a CG monstrosity of a villain called Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) through cartoony action sequences.

Gal Gadot continues to be great in the role of Wonder Woman, Ezra Miller is fun as The Flesh, Jason Momoa plays a cool surfer dude version of Aquaman, Ben Affleck almost seems like he's being wasted in the role of Batman this time around, and Ray Fisher's Cyborg... well, he was just sort of there, as far as I was concerned. I'm not familiar with Cyborg, and this movie didn't make me a fan.

Superman died at the end of Dawn of Justice, and Justice League keeps him dead for most of the film. Over an hour in, his fellow heroes come up with a way to bring him back to life to help them take on Steppenwolf. It's a resurrection that doesn't go quite as expected, allowing for a great Pet Sematary reference. You just don't expect to hear The Flash talking about Pet Sematary. And despite being brought back in a grumpy mood at first, Superman is still less dour here than he was in Dawn of Justice.

Steppenwolf is seeking to reshape the planet with the use of three powerful objects called Mother Boxes. He's aided in this endeavor by an army of creatures called parademons, and maybe the coolest thing about this movie is the fact that it gives you the chance to see Batman fighting a bunch of otherworldly creatures. That's not ground Batman films have covered in the past (aside from his dealings with Superman and Doomsday in his previous screen appearance), and it's nice to get something so out-there after the Christopher Nolan trilogy was so down-to-earth.

I wouldn't say Justice League is good, but I had a good time with it.



ONE CRAZY SUMMER (1986)

Writer/director Savage Steve Holland's 1986 comedy One Crazy Summer is one of those movies that seemed to be omnipresent on cable when I was a kid. I watched this movie countless times over the years, taking in viewings with my brother, my maternal grandmother, even my father - and he tended to dislike comedies, but I clearly remember him laughing at the sight of Bobcat Goldthwait wreaking havoc while trapped in a Godzilla costume he found in a movie prop truck, and at the way Bobcat would deliver his lines.

The film stars John Cusack as lovesick cartoonist Hoops McCann, whose name is ironic because the guy is always missing the shots he takes when shooting hoops. Newly graduated from Generic High School, Hoops decides to spend the summer in Nantucket with his pals George Calamari (Joel Murray), Clay Stork (Tom Villard), Egg Stork (Bobcat Goldthwait), and Ack Ack Raymond (Curtis Armstrong), as well as George's oddball sister Squid (Kristen Goelz).


This being an '80s movie, Hoops and his friends end up having to do something that's beyond their discernible abilities in an effort to raise funds to save a beloved landmark. In this case, our heroes have to compete in a boat race to save the family home of Hoops's love interest, Demi Moore as local musician Cassandra Eldridge, which is in danger of being razed by land developers.

Of course, land developer Aquilla Beckerstead (Mark Metcalf) is a total maniac, and his son Teddy (Matt Mulhern) is the blonde jock bully who dedicates himself to making the lives of Hoops and his friends a living hell even beyond his family's nefarious real estate deals. Teddy's targets aren't push-overs, though, and they do their best to fight back... even when that means dumping a bunch of lobsters into Teddy's home swimming pool, a scene that has never been far from my mind over the decades.


One Crazy Summer is a really fun and amusing movie, with an off-the-wall and frequently over-the-top sense of humor. Bobcat Goldthwait is a riot in it, and his Godzilla rampage is classic. That scene, the lobster in the pool scene, George's Uncle Frank (Bruce Wagner) desperately trying to win a radio show giveaway, Hoops's cartoons, George's near fatal experiences on the beach, Teddy's car, Dow, the boat race, Cassandra's song "Don't Look Back", the rabid dolphin movie that's being filmed in Nantucket over the summer... There are so many things about this film that are permanently embedded in my brain thanks to all of those childhood viewings, and revisiting it all the time later is a wonderful blast of nostalgia.



SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE (2015)

There are a lot of zombie movies out there, many of which take a comedic approach to the concept of the living dead walking around and munching flesh, but rarely do these horror comedy zombie movies ever come close to the standard set by Return of the Living Dead Part 2, let alone the first Return of the Living Dead. But occasionally you do come across one that may not be ROTLD/ROTLD 2 level, but would at least stand up as being a servicable sequel to those films. Dance of the Dead is one of those movies that I could see being a satisfying Return of the Living Dead sequel, and director Christopher Landon's Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is another.

Scripted by Landon, Carrie Evans, Emi Mochizuki, and Lona Williams, the story of Scouts Guide is basically a mash-up of the first two ROTLD films: something that causes the dead to return to life is accidentally released into a town, that town is evacuated, and the military is going to bomb the place to wipe out the zombies flooding the streets. Problem is, there are still people in the town that missed out on the evacuation, and they have to fight their way through the zombies to protect their loved ones and save themselves from getting blown to oblivion. As I watched a new batch of characters make their way through such a familiar scenario, it sort of warmed my heart. The more the film reminded me of Return and Return 2, the more I liked it.


The characters of the film are a fun bunch to hang out with. At the center of it all are a trio of teenage boy scouts - Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller), and Augie (Joey Morgan) - who seem to be the only boy scouts in Deer Field, California, because their Dolly Parton-obsessed leader (David Koechner) has had a terrible time trying to recruit more scouts. When the zombie outbreak hits their town, these scouts have to use their skills to survive and escape. They're aided in this endeavor by shotgun-toting strip club cocktail waitress Denise (Sarah Dumont), and before they can get out of town they have to locate a secret high school party being attended by Ben's love interest / Carter's sister Kendall (Halston Sage) so they can save the partiers from the incoming bomb.

It's kind of odd that our heroes are so concerned about saving the people at this party while expressing no concern for the well-being of their parents, but I guess they're just confident that their parents were evacuated.


Whatever, I can't let that nitpick have too much of an effect on my enjoyment when this film is hitting me with a non-stop onslaught of amusing, action packed scenes that offer up such sights as zombie cats, zombie breasts, and a live-saving zombie penis.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse didn't do well at the box office, and I can't shame anyone who didn't rush out to see it since it took me over two years to get around to watching it myself. Now that I have watched it, I found that it's a film that deserves to get a lot more attention than it has gotten. It's a really fun zombie comedy that's totally worth checking out.

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