Monday, May 31, 2010

"Survival of the Dead" Review

George Romero has totally lost it. In fact, his latest zombie opera, “Survival of the Dead,” is so bad that I’m beginning to doubt he ever really had it. Romero, like everybody’s other least-favorite George, has been tainted by his early success, and is now every bit the cluelessly misguided, ineffectual storyteller Lucas is.

It’s actually astounding that “Survival of the Dead” comes from someone who’s been in the business for forty years, because it positively reeks of amateurism. The writing is dense and talky, with stilted, masturbatory dialogue, and some of the laziest attempts at horror I’ve ever seen. Not only is “Survival” not scary, it’s not entertaining, and for all its attempts at social commentary, it’s not even insightful.

It’s like Romero spent the last few decades reading essays on “Night” and “Dawn of the Dead,” endlessly stroking his own ego as both a Master of Horror and a respected sociological voice. But where his early “Dead” films were dedicated zombie pieces with a muted social backdrop, “Diary” and “Survival of the Dead” are full-blown, pretentious soapbox films that just so happen to star the walking deceased. In fact, the big zombie sequences this time around are used more to artificially herd our protagonists than they are to exhilarate audiences. Romero’s first film, “Night of the Living Dead,” is unsettling because the threat of attack is omnipresent, and growing exponentially direr. Now, zombies show up seemingly at random, and even by the admission of the characters, pose little threat. The action itself is also horribly cut, and panders to those for whom the zenith of entertainment is a creative zombie death.

But even the most over-the-top kill is rendered meaningless when it’s executed at the hands of such uninspired characters. Romero’s cast is comprised of uniformly cartoony, stereotypical surrogates for human beings that prove not only that Romero doesn’t know his craft, but also that he doesn’t particularly understand people. It might not be so embarrassing if he wasn’t desperate to stay relevant, but he jams in a superfluous teenager who says things like, “Low tech? This is no tech,” and can’t wait to show everyone his iPhone. You’re 70, George. Get over it.

Ultimately, these complaints are just the limp appendages on Romero’s rotting carcass of a career. The man simply cannot write and relate a coherent story anymore. It’s tough to even summarize “Survival of the Dead.” I mean, cell phone kid and a ragtag team of ex-military something-or-others clash with two feuding Irish families on an island off the coast of Delaware (???), a place apparently so far removed from modern society that they settle their disputes with 19th century rifles. What? It’s all just tacky garnishment around Romero’s big question, which is whether or not euthanizing the living dead is a humane practice. It’s an intriguing premise, but one that doesn’t have any real world application. Plus, he posits that a zombie can learn, but also that it’s no less hungry for flesh. Hypothetically, if they’re real, they’re dead, and they want to eat us, I’m not sure it really matters that they have some miniscule capacity for intelligence.

When you get right down to it, there’s nothing in this film that works. “Survival of the Dead” goes beyond a forgivable exercise in over-thinking—It’s so sloppily conceived and ineptly executed that it casts doubt on any talent I once thought Romero had. Like with Lucas and his later “Star Wars” films, the director has, at best, faded into a distant echo of the artist he once was. At worst, his audience is forced to consider that maybe he was never the genius we hailed him as. Now there’s a scary thought.


FARCE/FILM Episode 46: Survival of the Dead, Shrek Forever After

--> Episode 46: 05/30/10 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford, Jon Mauer, Suman Allakki

Intro – 00:00
Top 5 - 01:15
Shrek 4 – 04:26
Survival of the Dead (spoilers) – 11:54
Dead/Alive – 31:01
WMD – 37:31
(Vicky Christina Barcelona, The Girlfriend Experience, Community)
Events and Outro – 43:47

"Shrek Forever After"

"Survival of the Dead"


--Weekly Discussion Question--

This week, Colin calls out George Romero as a Lucas figure, or a director whose initial promise has all but evaporated. Do you agree? Who are some other directors that should have quit while they were ahead?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Exit Through the Gift Shop" Review

“Exit Through the Gift Shop,” directed by UK graffiti and urban installation artist Banksy, isn’t a documentary I had much inherent interest in—Maybe because I burned out on the street art scene at the tender age of nine.

It was a sepia-toned 1996 when, unsupervised, a neighbor’s son and I spray-painted our names on the face of the barn behind his family’s house. Upon discovery hours later, we were severely reprimanded, yet our sloppy signatures remained up for years afterward.

My conception of the street art movement, and certainly my participation in it, never blossomed beyond that hasty experiment. Over the subsequent decade and a half, I’ve often admired the work of anonymous graffiti artists from afar, but I hadn’t given the culture or cultivation of the form a second thought. And it turns out that’s pretty much the perfect place to come into “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” which begins as a rose-tinted overview of the medium, including interviews with some of its key players, including “Space Invader,” who pastes mosaics of Atari video game sprites in Paris and throughout the world, and Shepard Fairey, who made a huge name for himself during the 2008 US presidential campaign for his now iconic portrait of Barack Obama.

But behind the somewhat plodding framework of the first thirty minutes, Banksy, who cloaks himself in a black, underlit hoodie and speaks with voice mask on camera, lays the foundation for the real protagonist, and consequently, the real film that “Exit Through the Gift Shop” becomes. “The film is the story of what happened when this guy tried to make a documentary about me, but he was actually a lot more interesting than I am,” he explains.

That guy is Thierry Guetta, cousin to the aforementioned “Space Invader.” Thierry is a compulsive videographer, and through his cousin, develops a romance with the world of street art that becomes a natural engine for the documentary, with some fascinating and unexpected developments later on. I absolutely don’t want to spoil where it goes, suffice it to say that the story becomes at once more intimate and simultaneously more involving, while the intellectual scope funnels out into a broader examination of art itself.

The latter forty-five minutes are so good that I’m inclined to forgive the former its lack of innovation, but especially by comparison, the beginning feels a little overly-plump. Banksy is spot-on in his assertion that Thierry is an interesting subject, and perhaps the greatest flaw of the film is that he’s behind the camera for too much of it. His footage is hemmed together with interview segments and archival snippets, compiled with a decidedly DYI attitude that lends the film an unobtrusive authenticity.

There are a hundred self-serving documentaries released each year that may be internally enjoyed by a specific demographic, and only a couple that manage to extrapolate an esoteric topic into something universal, and “Gift Shop” is the rare exception as a terrific and often very funny look at the human perception of art—That is, once the formality of defining and contextualizing the movement is out of the way.

So you don’t need any inherent interest in graffiti or street art to appreciate Banksy's film, but you do need to be willing to consider the possibility that beyond the legal ramifications of defacing public property, there is a potential for beauty. The film is as much a love-letter to the lifestyle as it is a discourse on creativity and commerce, and your personal definition of art will weigh heavily on your interpretation of the lingering questions the director leaves you with.

But above all, the upbeat pace and vivid protagonist are the reasons "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is such a satisfying experience. Forget art, it's fun.


Monday, May 24, 2010

FARCE/FILM Episode 45: Exit Through the Gift Shop

-->Episode 45: 05/24/10<--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford, Sonic Kim, Maggie Ruder

Intro – 00:00
Top 5 - 02:24
Exit Through the Gift Shop – 14:12
WMD – 40:46
(The Hangover, The Happening, A Beautiful Mind, Winter’s Bone, Lawrence of Arabia, “Firefly”, The Player, The Human Centipede)
Events and Outro – 01:00:06

"Exit Through the Gift Shop"

--Weekly Discussion Question--

This week, Colin and co. hypothesize as to why SNL sketch film "MacGruber" performed so poorly at the box office. Why do you think it solicited so little patronage and what can we learn from a bomb?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Whoops! Trip to NOLA spells NO PODCAST this Week

Who dat!

With Producer Laura and I traveling to 'Nawlins this past weekend, we just couldn't get a preemptive podcast together in time before the trip. Our bad.

Look forward to a super-show this weekend, including reviews of "Robin Hood," "Exit Through the Gift Shop," and MORE.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Iron Man 2" Review

I was among many surprised by the first “Iron Man” film—Though not at the quality of its content, but rather by the hyperbolic praise it inspired.

Two years later, I approached its sequel with adjusted expectations. I don’t hold the original in high enough regard to register disappointment here, but this follow-up choreographs a demented dance from the collective missteps of its predecessor. The sloppy superhero storytelling that seized the reins around the midpoint of ye olde “Iron Man One” is in full control of this galloping horse and buggy, and it’s a long, stupid ride.

The nucleus of the problem is that our hero’s alter ego, played winningly by Robert Downey Jr., is infinitely more compelling than that guy from the title. Everything interesting about Iron Man is on the interior of the suit, and Tony Stark, the eccentric billionaire, disappears inside of it.

Superman, Batman, and Spiderman—the undisputed triple-A heroes—all have distinct personas once they get into character; they’re more distilled versions of themselves. Maybe there’s something else to be said with a man whose true identity is anything but secret, but when Stark changes wardrobe, he leaves his soul on the vanity. Not only does he look like a robot as Iron Man, but he behaves like a children’s action figure with limited functionality—You know, six points of articulation, few to no action phrases, batteries not included—Screenwriter Justin Theroux appears to identify this weakness, minimizing Stark’s in-suit exploits, but heaping on extraneous subplot in its place.

And those are the swirling protons and neutrons in the tempest of troubles Iron Man battles between the lines. Never mind that we have a great villain and a terrific performance by Mickey Rourke, let’s have Iron Man fight a slew of robots—Or, I’m sorry, ‘drones.’ By the way, is there a duller word in the English language than ‘drone?’

Then add a throwaway ‘didn’t know my daddy’ motif; the meddling foundation of the upcoming “Avengers” film; the egotistical self-casting of director Jon Favreau as a disposable but oddly recurrent bodyguard (who also just so happens to have a fight scene alongside Scarlett Johansson); Stark’s diminishing health; and his floundering friendship with buddy Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), and you have a film pulled in more directions than it has the means to navigate.

The result is an impossible staircase of sloppily intersecting ideas and characters, with plotlines too thick to funnel into a single cohesive narrative, and too underdeveloped to be independently compelling. That “Iron Man 2” survives at all is really a miracle, and great performances where they count are largely to thank.

And yet I find myself once again in the confounded minority, bewildered by the wave of support the “Iron Man” franchise garners. When it comes to this sequel, I can count the memorable moments on one hand, and I’m pretty sure they were all in the trailer. The space between is caulked with contrivance and overstuffed with plot elements that dilute what meager strengths it has.

“Iron Man 2” isn’t a disappointment; it’s an undercooked, overblown cautionary tale of blockbuster filmmaking at its most mediocre. Adjust your expectations accordingly.


Monday, May 10, 2010

FARCE/FILM Episode 44: Iron Man 2, Babies

--> Episode 44: 05/10/10 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford, Sonic Kim, Kevin Mauer, Maggie Ruder, Suman Allakki, Laura Rachfalski

Intro - 00:00
Top 5 – 01:52
Iron Man 2 - 06:03
Babies - 36:19
Weekly Movie Diary – 49:00
(Confessions of a Superhero, Hungry Hungry Nazi, Observe and Report, Precious, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Meet Dave)
Events and Outro - 01:06:51

"Iron Man 2"


-- Weekly Discussion Question --
This week, Sonic argues that "secret" scenes that play after the closing credits of films are ruined nowadays by the Internet. Do you agree or does Hollywood still have ways of surprising us?

-- -- e-mail us your thoughts at -- --

Friday, May 7, 2010

"A Nightmare on Elm Street" Review

‘Charm’ probably isn’t the first word that springs to mind in appraisal of the slasher genre, but Wes Craven’s original “Nightmare on Elm Street” has charm.

It might be its unexpected sense of humor, the inventiveness of its effects, or the pronounced kitschy eighties-ness of the entire production, but there’s something almost wholesome about it now—I mean, once you get past the buckets of blood and sexual subtext.

By comparison, the new “Nightmare” (Not Craven’s interesting experiment “New Nightmare,” but the Platinum Dunes remake of the 1984 progenitor) is completely soulless. Knife-fingers or no, Freddy Krueger just ain’t cutting it with a 21st century mentality.

It’s one thing to strip the plot and retool it for a new audience; that’s a trick the remake of “Death at a Funeral” could have benefitted from. But 2010’s “Nightmare” takes a match to the 25-year history of its central villain, not only abandoning Robert Englund and his iconic performance, but more disappointingly, leaving his critical sense of humor a singed afterthought.

I can honestly say I never found Freddy Krueger frightening, but having seen every “Nightmare on Elm Street” film, he was always the draw—Not because he was scary, but because he was entertaining. Jackie Earle Haley (“Little Children,” “The Watchmen”) dons the fedora and striped-sweatshirt this time around, and in essence, that’s where the similarities end. He’s got some of the same cheesy one-liners that the Freddy of old might have quipped, but Haley, in his practiced Rorschach growl, can’t quite make those punch lines sing.

The character is presented more one-dimensionally sinister and less talky than the earlier incarnation, which forces an odd dichotomy when he’s trying to make us laugh. It’s not that the idea of offing the humor that drove the older “Elm Street” films is inherently a bad one—A hard-edged “Nightmare” film could really work—But screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer have no idea how to make the character frightening.

Director Samuel Bayer, who comes from a background in music video, doesn’t seem to have a clue either. Nearly every one of his anti-atmospheric dream sequences culminates with one grisly slash and a loud sound effect—I’d label him a one-trick-pony if I even thought that qualified as a trick anymore. And to top it off, despite the modernist take on the narrative, the script still falls back on carbon copies of the original’s most memorable sequences and imagery, lazily recreated with unconvincing CGI.

On paper, the theory was clearly to reinvent “Nightmare” as a darker horror franchise—But with that tonal shift comes a responsibility for fearless storytelling that Bayer and co. don’t have the guts to follow through on.

In a way, the franchising of horror during the eighties' blockbuster boom (of which Wes Craven’s “Nightmare on Elm Street” and its six sequels were a direct result) is partially to blame for the remake sucking 25 years later. They collectively comprised a bankable textbook on horror, which has time and again provided a financially secure filmmaking model, but one whose original purpose—To scare—Has been diluted to virtual transparency.

And in that respect, 2010’s “Nightmare” isn’t awful so much as it is endlessly unsatisfying. It keeps Krueger’s jokiness in check, but its scares don’t go the extra mile to compensate. While the end result is a lot of things, charming sure ain’t one of ‘em.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"The Losers" Review

“The Losers” playfully posits an ironic title, but under release by Dark Castle Entertainment, it became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Their marketing for this comic-book action throwback was sparse at best, and internet enthusiasm walked the line of virtual nonexistence despite a trailer no more corny than that of the wildly-anticipated new Iron Man film.

But without the advertising oomph of a superhero sequel, moviegoers were quick to hypocritically label “The Losers” ‘stupid,’ while salivating over Sylvester Stallone’s upcoming “Expendables.” Like that film, “The Losers” embraces the disposable entertainment it was inspired by, and all of the popcorn fun and narrative pitfalls that entails. Title cards splash flamboyantly across the opening scene, introducing us to our protagonists via nickname and destructive area of expertise. These colorful freeze-frames are perfect snapshots of the one-dimensional cartoon characters the film is populated by; in thirty seconds we understand their clichéd team dynamic, and the lame plot wheelbarrows forward.

And you know what? I kind of like it that way. I’ll gladly take ‘stupid’ over pretentious, and “The Losers” doesn’t get hung up on whether or not it’s going to inspire conversation on the ride home. Instead, it sets up a premise and executes it point blank: the story is your typical connect-the-dots of entertaining but unremarkable action sequences, whose best quality is probably legibility. Thank your deity of choice that they’re not cut like “Transformers 2,” which is maybe a necessity of shooting at an eighth of Michael Bay’s budget, but even with a comparative shoestring and seldom a spark of originality, “The Losers” wins hands down in the comprehensibility department—And it’s a movie where motorcycles can and will fly into airplane turbines.

It’s actually the comic-book stuff—The flourishes “The Losers” hopes to distinguish itself by—That come off feeling superfluous and out of place in the heat of the action. I know it’s based on a graphic novel (even though I’d hitherto never heard of it), but I gotta tell ya, Ang Lee’s “Hulk,” isn’t the best style manual for making the jump to the big screen. Freeze frames, artificial zooms, and drawing on the image is ugly and distracting.

Fortunately, that stuff really isn’t a huge issue. I’ll cope because the most important aspect of the film—Its cast—Is fun to watch play off each other. They share a convincing rapport that transcends how surface-level gimmicky their roles are; you have the tough-as-nails leader (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the romantically-challenged computer nerd (Chris Evans), the beefy black guy (Idris Elba), and the token sex appeal (Zoe Saldana). They breathe life into otherwise decomposing archetypes, and have a great time doing it.

The bottom line is that though “The Losers” fails to distinguish itself in all the important ways, stapled to a hopelessly generic plot with nary an innovative action set-piece or idea, it actually excels at the status quo. It isn’t crippled by its clichés, it wears them as semi-ironic badges of honor. After all, when else will you see a caricatural evil genius (Jason Patric) taken to the comedic absurd of blowing a hole in the head of his parasol-toting assistant for letting his shade wander?

A more pronounced tongue-in-cheek sensibility might have taken the film to another level, but as it stands, director Sylvain White polishes this very surface film to a fine gleam. It’s just a shame that some imaginary line’s been drawn between it and the undisputed summer heavyweights, because a quick glance back at what made money last year makes abundantly clear that “The Losers” is rarely one-upped in intellect.

It may be ‘stupid,’ but it's more than that. "The Losers" is stupid fun.


Monday, May 3, 2010

FARCE/FILM Episode 43: Nightmare on Elm Street

--> Episode 43: 05/02/10 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford, Sonic Kim

Intro – 00:00
Top 5 - 02:07
Nightmare on Elm Street – 05:41
Movie Round-Up - 35:40
(The Dark Knight, Monsters Inc, Master and Commander, A Few Good Men, Top Gun, The Enigma of Kasper Hauser)
Events and Outro - 50:05

"Nightmare on Elm Street"

-- Weekly Discussion Question --
Colin argues this week that, as with the "Nightmare" remake, a lack of new and surprising ideas has made the horror genre stale. Do you agree? What does the genre still do right and what can make it better?

-- -- e-mail us your thoughts at -- --