Friday, May 29, 2020

Worth Mentioning - Are We Gonna Have a Fight?

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. 


Club horror, crime at school and down on the farm.




PARTY HARD, DIE YOUNG (2018)

I have seen director Dominik Hartl's Austrian slasher movie Party Hard, Die Young catch a lot of criticism for featuring too many clichés of the slasher sub-genre, but for me that's not a problem. Occasionally it's fun when a slasher movie does something different from the norm, but for the most part when I put on a slasher movie I'm hoping to see something very familiar. Something that will take me back to the days of watching the '80s slasher classics when I was a kid. And while Party Hard, Die Young is certainly a very modern movie, it was still familiar enough to warm my slasher-loving heart.

The setting for this one is a place that seems like a nightmare to me before the killing even starts; an island where five thousand teenagers who have just graduated from high school have gathered for a week-long club party experience called X-Jam. It's a loud, alcohol-soaked party all day and all night for a week, with thousands of teenagers getting wasted. Even when I was a teenager, I wouldn't have gone anywhere near something like this. But it's a good setting for the movie, and adds a lot of production value. I was very impressed that Hartl was able to get so many large crowd scenes for his movie.


Amidst the thousands of partiers, the story written by Robert Buchschwenter and Karin Lomot centers on one group of Austrian teens in particular, a bunch of kids who went to school together. There are the popular mean girls, the dude-bros, the hopeless virgin, the reasonable fellow. One of my favorite characters was Carmen (IMDb lists two names for the actress, Chantal Zitzenbacher and Chantal Pausch), the girl who gets picked on for weighing a little more than her peers but manages to turn a prank situation into something positive. And there's our final girl Julia (Elisabeth Wabitsch), who leads us through the film. Julia is the first one to realize that something strange is going on at the X-Jam event. Someone is targeting members of her class and picking them off one-by-one.

Some slasher fans may be let down that this movie doesn't have a high body count, but there are a couple good deaths in there... and some non-fatal brutality. While I don't always like it when a slasher captures their prey and does something torturous to them before killing them - I prefer when a slasher just takes out their prey Jason Voorhees-style - I could go along with the fact that the killer in this movie likes to capture people. In fact, there are moments when it seems like the slasher isn't actually trying to kill their victims at all. The standout deaths appear to be accidental, the victims weren't meant to die yet in that moment.

The identity of the slasher isn't revealed until the climax, so this is a whodunit where we watch Julia try to figure out the mystery. I was invested in finding out who was behind the slasher's smiley face mask, and did some suspect pondering myself. In the end, I was satisfied with the answer to the mystery, and was glad that the slasher had an old school motivation. It all has to do with something that happened during a game of "spin the bottle" at camp a couple years earlier.

This slasher fan had a good time watching Party Hard, Die Young.



BAD EDUCATION (2019) 

When the opportunity to watch Bad Education was placed in front of me, I can't say I was hyped to check it out. I read the Wikipedia line explaining that the film is "based on the true story of the largest public school embezzlement in American history", and that was not something that drew me in. But the movie stars Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, and Geraldine Viswanathan, so I thought it still had the chance to be interesting to sit through. And after sitting through it, I was very glad that I gave it a chance.

"Public school embezzlement" doesn't sound like an interesting subject to me, but once the film began and I found that the description meant watching the downfall of school district superintendent Frank Tassone (Jackman) and assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin (Janney) because they have financed their lives by charging outrageous sums of money on the school account, meaning the local taxpayers funded their high roller tastes, I became captivated. Gluckin is caught when her dimwitted son charges thousands of dollars on the school account for a home improvement project, and the low estimate for the amount of money stolen from taxpayers is $250,000. We'll come to find out that the actual amount was much higher than that, because Gluckin was only following Tassone's lead, and he had some staggeringly high expenditures himself.

Jackman and Janney are reliably great in their roles, and it's good to see Jackman moving on from his Wolverine days by bringing to life this intriguing, flawed character.

Viswanathan's character is high schooler Rachel, who starts off writing a puff piece about an upcoming addition to the school for the school paper but ends up doing some serious investigative journalism. I'm used to seeing Viswanathan in comedies, but here she proves that she's just as capable of handling a straightforward dramatic role as she is of bringing the laughs to comedic stories.

Directed by Cory Finley from a screenplay by Mike Makowsky, which was based on the book The Bad Superintendent by Robert Kolker, Bad Education was surprisingly engrossing.



KANSAS (1988)

An '80s thriller starring Matt Dillon and Andrew McCarthy sounds like something that would have caught on enough that it would get referenced more often than 1988's Kansas does, but I can kind of see why this one doesn't get talked about. There's not much here that would get viewers buzzing about it. Still, it is worth mentioning.

McCarthy plays Wade Corey, who hops onto a freight train after his car breaks down during a cross-country road trip to his best friend's wedding, then finds that the boxcar he's in is already inhabited by another guy taking a free ride, Dillon as Doyle Kennedy, who has just been released from prison. Wade and Doyle get off the train in a small Kansas town, and Wade happily goes along with Doyle when he breaks into an empty house to raid the fridge. To his credit, he does leave $20 for the homeowner on the kitchen counter. Wade is less enthusiastic when he walks into the local bank with Doyle and suddenly has a gun shoved in his face as Doyle forces him to help rob the place.

The alarm is set off, and Wade and Doyle are forced to split up - with the sacks of money in Wade's possession. He stashes the cash under a bridge at the same moment it happens to be the site of a car crash that sends a vehicle containing the governor's young daughter into the water below. Wade saves the little girl, then runs off before anyone other than newspaper reporter Nelson Nordquist (Alan Toy) gets a glimpse of him. But that turns out to be one person too many, because Nordquist will be lingering around to stir up Wade's life later on in the film. That's because he, for some reason, doesn't leave town. Instead of meeting up with Doyle like they were supposed to or just continuing on to his friend's wedding, Wade decides to take a job working on a farm - where farmer's daughter Lori Bayles (Leslie Hope) catches his eye.

While Wade pursues a relationship with Lori, Doyle is wandering around Kansas, getting angrier and angrier because he thinks Wade has ripped him off. It's not clear if Wade is a good guy, a bad guy, the world's biggest flake, or what's going on with him. He's an odd, flawed character, and I guess we owe the filmmakers kudos for not making him easy to understand.

Kansas was directed by David Stevens from a screenplay by Spencer Eastman (who sadly passed away from lung cancer at a young age months before the film reached theatres), and even though it doesn't have a lot of moments that are likely to stick with viewers and doesn't have a lead character who's easy to root for, it's a good movie that held my attention for the 108 minutes that it lasted. The more frustrated Doyle got with Wade, the more interesting it got.

My favorite thing about this movie was the scenery. It was actually filmed in Kansas, and I loved seeing the countryside in the backgrounds of shots. Open fields, interesting structures in the distance, not a whole lot of houses, dirt roads, those are the sights I like to see. I always appreciate it when movies bring small country towns to the screen, and for that reason Kansas was eye candy to me.



INTO THE DARK: MY VALENTINE (2020)

Like many entries in the Hulu / Blumhouse anthology series Into the Dark, My Valentine tells a story that takes place primarily in one location and features a very small cast. Britt Baron takes the lead here as musician Valentine Fawkes, who is attempting a comeback after recovering from the abusive (mentally and physically) relationship she was in with her ex Royal (Benedict Samuel). Unfortunately, Valentine's first gig in years is crashed by Royal, who shows up at the nightclub she's performing at with his new girlfriend Trezzure (Anna Lore) - a musician who Royal has moulded into Valentine's doppelgänger. She has the same colorful hair, the same singing voice, she performs the same songs... and Trezzure's fans are convinced that Valentine stole her songs, even though the truth is it's the other way around.

The club clears out after Valentine's set, leaving only a handful of people - a trio of Trezzure fans, the duo that performed before Valentine, the bartender, Valentine's friend Julie (Anna Akana) - around to witness as Royal confronts Valentine to try to dissuade her from mounting a comeback. And to maybe convince her to help write Trezzure's new album. But Royal is a maniac, so things soon get violent and bloody.

My Valentine consists almost entirely of people arguing and lashing out at each other in the nightclub, which could have gotten old even with the film's short 79 minute running time. Thankfully, writer/director Maggie Levin keeps things interesting with some stylish choices. This is a movie where sparkles may start popping up on the screen while someone dances to music. The nightclub scenes are very colorful, and Levin livens things up with the use of a lot of split screens and some flashy wipes to transition from one shot to another. Making things even more fun is the inclusion of songs performed by both Valentine and Trezzure; very catchy pop songs that were stuck in my head for days after watching the movie. These songs were put together by Dresage, who did a great job.

But for me, the MVP of the whole thing was Benedict Samuel, who is delightfully douchey as Royal. I always appreciate a really good douchebag performance, and Samuel made Royal a captivating, love-to-hate him character. Levin unleashed Samuel in this movie, and it looked like he was having as much fun bringing Royal to life as I had watching him.

My Valentine was Levin's feature debut, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what she'll do in the future.

Interesting side note: this movie was executive produced by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, the director/writer duo behind Sinister and Doctor Strange.

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