Friday, March 6, 2015

Worth Mentioning - Obscene and Harmful

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 watches a trio of punishing films.


In April of 2013, substitute teacher Sheila Kearns was assigned to teach Spanish class at East High School in Columbus, Ohio. Since Kearns didn't know how to speak Spanish herself, she decided to show the fourteen to eighteen year old students in her class a movie that featured scenes in Spanish (as well as English, Japanese, German, French, and Korean.)

Her choice of film has earned her felony charges and jail time for disseminating matter harmful to minors.

The film was The ABCs of Death, co-produced by Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League and directed by twenty-six different filmmakers from fifteen different countries. Each director was assigned a letter of the alphabet and given free reign to create a death-themed short inspired by a word beginning with that letter.

The concept is awesome, but the result is a very mixed bag. Some directors just went for brutality, some made a joke of it, some made inventive works of art or displays of pure insanity, some delivered nonsense, some made shorts that feel lazy and uninspired.

With such a wide variety of creative minds at work, the odds are probably not in favor of a viewer liking each of the twenty-six shorts. One that appeals directly to your sensibilities can be followed by one that isn't for you at all. Myself, I can't even say that I enjoy most of the shorts that comprise The ABCs of Death's two hour running time. Opinions will certainly vary, and there's something in there to offend and/or disgust nearly everyone.

Showing The ABCs of Death in a scholastic setting was absolutely not appropriate, and Kearns was very irresponsible in showing it to not just one but five classes. She says she didn't watch the movie while it was on, even though she was in the room that whole time. If she had been watching, it would only take a few seconds into "A is for Apocalypse" before a teacher should realize they should shut it off. Of course, the title alone should have been enough to tell someone it's not a movie to show in school.

Still, the sentence Kearns has received seems disturbingly extreme to me. In addition to three years of probation, she will be serving 90 days in jail. Simply for showing a widely available horror movie, which is currently streaming on Netflix, to some teenagers.

CUT! (2014)

Director/producer/co-writer/editor David Rountree also stars in his movie as Travis Simon, an aspiring filmmaker who works in a film equipment warehouse, stuck delivering things to film sets when what he wants to be doing is calling the shots on them.

Inspired by the success of movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, Travis decides it's time to kickstart his film career by shooting something with a cheap digital camera. Unfortunately, Travis makes some really bad mistakes right up front. For one thing, he embarks on a movie project having little idea what the movie he's making will be, he thinks maybe he'll just film real people getting scared. The worst mistake he makes is to involve his violent, abrasive, ex-con co-worker Lane Hayes (co-writer David Banks) in this endeavor.

Travis and Lane start making what would surely be one of the worst movies ever, just filming while driving around the ghetto and attempting to scare prostitutes while recording them with a hidden camera. Then, figuring it will really scare the prostitutes and put their movie over the top if they have a slasher-type character in the scenes, they hire a homeless man (Sam Scarber) to be their on screen serial killer... As it turns out, this guy really has homicidal tendencies, and suddenly they've made a snuff film.

Twists, turns, betrayals, and more murders ensue as the situation continues to spiral further and further out of control.

Rountree and Banks deliver solid, convincing performances, the tone is dark and the subject matter is troubling, but I found it very hard to keep my attention on Cut!

At nearly 102 minutes, it's too long, and I felt it starting to drag very early on. A deliberate pace isn't always a bad thing, but in this case it was for me because I just couldn't connect with anything that was going on. This is largely due to the stupidity of the characters and the baffling idea that they could have at any point believed what they were making could be a commercially viable product. It completely took me out of it. It all seemed ridiculous.

A third act twist attempts to redeem the dumb choices that have preceded it, and to suggest that Travis might have actually had some kind of vision for his movie after all, but the continuing twists cause the story to crumble more and more.

Cut! really wasn't for me, but the movie is notable in that it features Susan Lanier of the original The Hills Have Eyes, who has been largely absent from film and television for the last thirty years, in a small role as herself, alongside an under-used Gabrielle Stone, daughter of genre regular Dee Wallace.


After his country was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2010, Chilean director Nicolás López, who to this point was known for making comedies, was inspired to team with genre filmmaker Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) to make a horror/thriller/disaster movie loosely based on the true event.

López and Roth co-wrote the screenplay with Guillermo Amoedo and the film went into production with López directing and Roth producing and starring as a character called Gringo, a recently divorced American who goes on vacation to Chile to visit his friends Pollo (Nicolás Martinez) and Ariel (Ariel Levy).

The first third of Aftershock plays like a López comedy as it follows the three men through most of a week that is spent primarily on drinking, going to clubs, and hitting on girls. Pollo is a prankster womanizer who thinks he can buy himself out of any situation, Gringo is trying to bumble his way back into the dating scene, Ariel is obsessing over his ex. As days go on, their party paths cross with Russian model Irina (Natasha Yarovenko), responsible Hungarian girl Monica (Andrea Osvárt), and Monica's American-raised, party-hungry half-sister Kylie (Lorenza Izzo).

34 minutes into the film, the two trios are in an underground nightclub in Valparaiso when an earthquake hits and things switch into Rothian horror mode, full of destruction, gore, lost limbs, and death. Surviving the quake and escaping from the club is just the beginning for the characters - making their way through the ruins of the city, they're forced to deal with not only crumbling structures, aftershocks, and the threat of a tsunami, but also human threats in the forms of rioters and convicts the earthquake has enabled to escape from the local prison.

Tense and disturbing, Aftershock has a lot of very unpleasant things to show the audience. At times it's appalling, at others it can be absolutely heart wrenching. The more likeable a character is, the more empathy they evoke, the better chance they have of suffering a horrific fate. Those 50 minutes post-quake are what viewers have put the movie on to see, but they're not a fun experience.

It's technically a good movie and worth checking out if it sounds appealing to you, but it is relentlessly bleak and so emotionally effective that it's not something I will feel like revisiting very often.

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