Archives for posts with tag: nerd

The Rewrite

Hugh Grant, never an actor this critic particularly liked, has become more palatable with age – tarnished, less handsome, and hence more accessible. These qualities are on fine display in The Rewrite, which reunites the leading man with Music and Lyrics writer-director Marc Lawrence. Grant is Keith Michaels, a has-been screenwriter who, failing to find new work, takes a job as a writer-in-residence at an unglamorous public university.

Irreverent and a womanizer, Keith finds a capable foil in snooty and arch Austen scholar Professor Weldon (sexy over-the-hill performer Allison Janney), who does what she can to bring his sojourn at the school to an end. Complicating Keith’s private life are amorous coed Karen (Bella Heathcote) and single mother Holly, the latter part enlivened by an astonishingly well-preserved Marisa Tomei, who exhibits wonderful chemistry with Grant.

Certain supporting characters, particularly among the students, may be too broadly drawn for all tastes, but each serves a purpose and is more or less amusing. Whiplash’s monstrous J.K. Simmons demonstrates his remarkable range here by essaying the instantly lovable role of Dr. Lerner, the avuncular head of the English department, while still-boyish Get a Life clown Chris Elliott turns in the expectedly funny turn as the university’s dweeby Shakespeare specialist.

A touching and sharp romantic comedy that transcends the ghetto of its genre, The Rewrite ought to appeal with equal charm to discriminating men and women moviegoers alike. Consistently interesting and rewatch-worthy, this one is highly recommended.

Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) regales Dr. Weldon (Allison Janney) and Dr. Lerner (J.K. Simmons) with his unorthodox take on the merits of Jane Austen's body of work, drawing the scandalized glares of bystanders in the process.

Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) regales Dr. Weldon (Allison Janney) and Dr. Lerner (J.K. Simmons) with his unorthodox take on the merits of Jane Austen’s body of work, drawing the scandalized glares of bystanders in the process.

5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Rewrite is:

10. Drug-ambivalent. Weed seems to be okay – with Keith, if not with Dr. Lerner – but the film’s attitude toward alcohol is more nuanced. Proving true the adage “in vino veritas”, Keith is overly frank in unfriendly company, and Holly feels obligated to drive him home in another instance. He is described as “trying to fill a spiritual vacancy with alcohol.” Fraternity hazing leads to the hospitalization of sci-fi nerd Billy Frazier (Andrew Keenan-Bolger). Notwithstanding all of this, a tipsy Hugh Grant remains very charming.

9. Pro-gay. “Are you a lesbian?” Keith asks Holly. “I wish,” she responds.

8. Anti-gun. “I was hoping you were pro gun control,” Keith says to Dr. Lerner.

7. Irreligious. Heaven is “a fairy tale designed to make a five-year-old boy go to sleep.”

6. Anti-slut. Keith’s brief fling with sexually experienced student Karen leads to disaster.

5. Anti-Semitic! 9/11 criminal Michael Chertoff’s body scanners, Keith suggests, are merely “cancer-causing cash conduits”.

4. Family-ambivalent. His wife, Keith says, was “smart enough to divorce me”. Karen hates her father. Balancing the story’s failed relationships, however, is Dr. Lerner’s lachrymose domestic bliss with his wife and several daughters.

3. Egalitarian. At stake is Keith’s initial conviction that talent cannot be taught – an assertion that the people-loving Holly intends to challenge. Falling on the side of nurture as opposed to nature, The Rewrite to this extent lends itself to the programs of leftist social engineers.

2. Pro-miscegenation. Keith, tasked with selecting his students based on the strength of their screenplay submissions, instead looks at their online profiles and stocks his roster with a bevy of multicolored cuties including an Asian, two negresses, and a Jewess. The viewer is given to understand at the end that an unexpected Jew-congoid hookup is imminent.

1. Sexist! Dr. Lerner diagnoses icy bitch Professor Weldon as “elitist, lonely, [and] miserable.” Keith, meanwhile, earns major Nazi shitlord points with this drunken faculty cocktail party rant:

Forgive me, but I’m just a little bit tired of female empowerment. […] Well, just, honestly, though, everything seems to be about female empowerment nowadays, you know. Any meeting I go to in Hollywood, someone says, “You know what we need? A kick-ass girl, that’d be a great twist.” Except every movie has a kick-ass girl, you know, some martial arts CGI slow motion woman who kicks the crap out of every man in her path. Can I tell you what would be truly innovative? A movie without a kick-ass girl, or better yet, a movie where a woman gets her ass kicked.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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The Jar

The Jar (1984) ***

Paul (Gary Wallace) is a dull, bearded man who will spend most of The Jar wandering through nightmares and staring at his surroundings with irritable angst after experiencing a fateful auto accident. The other driver, a strange old man (Les Miller), is shaken and uncommunicative, so Paul takes him home with him to his apartment. The elderly gentleman soon disappears, but leaves behind him a jar wrapped in a paper sack. Inside the jar is a little blue demon, and before very long Paul is suffering visions of his bathtub filling with blood and his shower head emitting rays of otherworldly light that transport him into a dark, rocky pit. Crystal (Karin Sjoberg), a beautiful, bright-eyed brunette with a dimpled chin, for some reason takes an interest in Paul, wants to date him, and attempts to drag this drab, unfriendly nutcase out of his madness and increasing isolation.

An offbeat, minimalist horror obscurity that will try and annoy all but the most open-minded seekers after the arcane, The Jar is a film that flouts conventions, refusing to conform to the expectations of genre buffs. People who rented the video based on the cover image of what the box describes as “a repulsive, embryonic creature” and hoped for another Gremlins (1984) or Ghoulies (1985) must have been sorely disappointed, as the thing only appears onscreen for a second or two at a time and is almost totally inanimate, to boot. Unremittingly weird and yet frequently boring, The Jar‘s most unforgivable fault is that next to nothing happens for the duration of its draggy 85 minutes.

On the plus side, The Jar has quite a few eerie moments and shows how scuzzy production values and a cast of non-professional actors can sometimes evoke more menace and atmosphere than high-dollar horror. The Jar, in a Vietnam flashback scene, also contains the most maddening helicopter noise ever heard in a film, the electronic sound design doing much to sustain viewer interest for much of this rather frustrating movie. Unsurprisingly, this was writer George Bradley’s and director Bruce Toscano’s only film.

3 out of 5 stars.

 

Getting Lucky

Getting Lucky (1990) ****

Bill (Steven Cooke) is a nerdy, liberal weenie and recycling enthusiast being bullied by the jocks at school when he fortuitously finds a recovering alcoholic leprechaun (Garry Kluger) in a beer bottle. Granted three wishes, Bill naturally wants a shot at hot cheerleader Krissi (Lezlie Z. McCraw), which brings him into intensified conflict with sadistic stud Tony (Rick McDowell), who also wants to get his paws on her. The hit-and-miss Irish magic results in such memorable moments as Bill being turned into a cat, Tony’s tennis racket coming to life and giving him a whacking, and Bill shrinking to mite size, riding a naked vixen’s bar of soap as she lathers herself, and bouncing around in Krissi’s panties and holding on for dear life in the perilous jungle of her pubes. Throw in a few quaint soft rock songs, and Getting Lucky has the makings of an 80s classic.

Admittedly, Getting Lucky, sporting its 1990 copyright, is not technically an 80s movie, but it does demonstrate nicely how the early 90s were in many instances a holdover, a culmination, or a last gasp of the 80s – and so it narrowly squeezes in as an 80s Oddities Month pick. Something of a straggler within its genre, Getting Lucky is essentially a throwback to the early-to-mid-80s variety of teen raunch comedy, a genre which had lost steam over the course of the decade, with the charming likes of Screwballs (1983) and Hot Moves (1984) having given way to lamely tame youth fare like The Allnighter (1987) and How I Got into College (1989). At the same time, Getting Lucky‘s imaginative nastiness is tempered by a sweetness and innocence that at times recalls The Virgin Queen of St. Francis High (1987).

4 out of 5 stars. Recommended to fans of films of this type.

 

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24exposures

Prolific director Joe Swanberg, who had a supporting role as the philistine jerk brother in You’re Next, reunites with that film’s writer-director team of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard in 24 Exposures, a low-budget postmodern murder mystery set in the world of fetish photography. Barrett plays Michael Bamfeaux, a depressed police detective investigating murders of models that mirror the gory photo shoots of artsy smut peddler Billy, effortlessly brought to life by Wingard.

Meanwhile, Billy’s bisexual live-in girlfriend Alex (photographer Caroline White) begins to be jealous of his professional interest in waitress Rebecca (Helen Rogers). Is Billy’s preoccupation with murder more than an aesthetic affinity? And what about Rebecca’s erratic and violently jealous nerd boyfriend? Could he be the fetishistic killer, or is it somebody else altogether?

24 Exposures is sexually explicit, with multiple topless photo shoots and even one girl-girl-guy interlude; but the approach to the exploitative content is so matter-of-fact as to drain most of the erotic potential from the images of degeneracy. Scenes such as Rebecca’s first lesbian experience are extremely easy on the eyes, however. Highlights or lowlights, depending upon the viewer’s taste, are a stylish opening credits series of images paying tribute to vintage pulp artwork; various actresses’ asses and breasts, sometimes pressing against each other; and also some pretty convincing gore makeup for the photo sessions.

Unfortunately, none of the characters are particularly sympathetic, with perhaps the mild exception of unusually uncharismatic cop Bamfeaux, whose appearance onscreen is sometimes accompanied by an inexplicably tough-sounding theme. Swanberg, in a cameo as aspiring memoirist Bamfeaux’s literary agent, gives him a disapproving critique that ironically touches upon some of the reasons why 24 Exposures is ultimately a bit of a disappointment if judged as a murder mystery. The resolution, if it can be called that, simply fails to deliver on the potential promised by such a dramatic and ominous buildup, leaving the viewer unsatisfied as the credits follow an unexpectedly abrupt ending. But, imperfections aside, 24 Exposures is worth seeing if only because it is never boring.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that 24 Exposures is:

5. Pro-drug. Billy and his bevy of bimbos smoke dope.

4. Pro-castration. Small-bearded, bracelet-wearing weenie Billy cooks breakfast for two women after he bangs them.

3. Pro-gay. Callie (Anna Kendrick lookalike Sophia Takal) tells the story of how her first-ever orgasm was with another girl. Alex is bisexual.

2. Pro-police. Bamfeaux, who at one point considers suicide, offers a pathetic example of what serving and protecting the public can do to a man. But he mans up and rises to the occasion when a (more or less) innocent damsel is in distress.

1. Pro-slut. There is something in 24 Exposures, thankfully not emphasized or made overly obnoxious, of the tired shtick about sexually conservative or conventional people being psychologically unhealthy or repressed, while the carefree, sexually adventurous types like Billy are better-adjusted. Fortunately for Detective Bamfeaux, hipster Billy is willing to take him under his wing and initiate him into the simple pleasures of smiling, relaxing once in a while, and bagging trashy, tattooed chicks who take off their clothes for money.

Witchtrap

Witchtrap (1989) ****  Writer-director Kevin Tenney’s follow-up of sorts to his 1986 masterpiece Witchboard, this 1989 effort is, as a disclaimer on the back of the VHS box warns, nonetheless “not a sequel to WITCHBOARD.”  However, like its predecessor, it does concern the depredations of an evil spirit lingering in the world of the living and is concerned, as is Witchboard, with the existence or not of God and of the supernatural.  Similar plotwise to Puppet Master 2Witchtrap is the story of a team of paranormal investigators who move into a reputedly haunted house with high-tech equipment which, they hope, will document the spooky phenomena and help rid the place of its unsavory vibes.  Unfortunately, where Witchboard succeeds through fine-tuned tension, controlled atmosphere, and an air of pervading menace, Witchtrap is totally hokey and more liable to elicit laughs than to tingle spines; but the corniness and questionable acting do at least make Witchtrap a consistently enjoyable watch and an instant inductee into the glorious 80s camp classics pantheon of horror.

Kevin Tenney’s screenplay is full of fun, by turns quick with crude and hilarious one-liners and headscratchingly odd dialogue and events.  James Quinn, returning from Witchboard, has Witchtrap‘s best role as the sarcastic, wisecracking private dick brought in to provide reluctant security for the team of paranormal investigators.  Among the latter are Rob Zapple, who turns in a serviceably nerdy wimp performance as a medium, playing possession to zany and over-the-top perfection; two interesting-looking but frankly terrible actresses, Judy Tatum and Kathleen Bailey (who played a police detective to similarly underwhelming effect in the same year’s horror comedy Night Visitor); and – appearing long enough to please her fans and get undressed – Linnea Quigley, who so enlivened Tenney’s other masterpiece Night of the Demons.  Hal Havins, another Night of the Demons alumnus, contributes funny overweight villainy as the haunted house’s caretaker, and Tenney himself, in what is easily Witchtrap‘s worst, most deadpan performance, plays the owner who hopes to turn the place into a profitable bed and breakfast.  Not a very scary movie, but guaranteed to entertain the chintzy synth horror set.   4 out of 5 stars on the funk scale.

Bikini Drive-In

Bikini Drive-In (1995) ****1/2  One of the quintessential Fred Olen Ray classics, Bikini Drive-In features all of the traits his fans have come to expect over the years: campy acting from a mix of has-beens and shapely young performers, genuine American trash culture nostalgia, a man in a monster suit, broad humor, and heaping helpings of big, bare breasts!  Or the world’s cheapest special effect, as Ray might put it.  The plot, a variation on the old motley-crew-of-underdogs-bands-together-to-raise-money-to-save-the-[insert school, summer camp, or recreation venue] Roller Boogie or Screwball Hotel type, finds beach babe Ashlie Rhey inheriting a decrepit drive-in theater and having to fight to save it from real estate gangster David Friedman.

Thousands of dollars have to be raised in one weekend – what to do?  Fortunately, the mogul’s son, the adorably dorky Richard Gabai, has the hots for Ashlie and comes to her rescue with the idea of turning the family-friendly but deadsville drive-in into a bacchanalian gonzo bikini-infested party headquarters and showing exploitation films like Ray’s own Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.  All of this, of course, is a fine excuse to show scantily clad floozies cleaning up the drive-in montage-style in preparation for the gala opening (and turning the hoses on each other, naturally).  What then follows during the film’s final act is one of the greatest party/riot/saturnalia sequences in memory – maybe not quite as happening as Animal House or Bachelor Party, but pretty mightily crazy and loose.

The cast is a real bonanza for fans of the Wynorski-Ray-DeCoteau-Sloane heyday of low-budget L.A. cinema.  Michelle Bauer appears to sizzling effect as a sultry scream queen duped into appearing at the gala re-opening; seedy Ross Hagen is one of Friedman’s henchmen; Tane McClure, renowned stripper Nikki Fritz, and porn actress Sarah Bellomo (aka Roxanne Blaze) are among the film’s many bimbos; and Becky LeBeau (so memorable as the nearsighted stripper in Not of This Earth), in addition to performing some of Bikini Drive-In‘s pleasantly cheesy soft rock songs, plays a stripper recruited to seduce cocky disc jockey Fred Olen Ray.  Other cameos include Gordon Mitchell, Forrest Ackerman, Jim Wynorski, and (posthumously, via photograph) even John Carradine.  Bikini Drive-In is essential viewing for any fan of Ray, Gabai, big breasts, or drive-in movies, and the interior sets are a treasure trove of posters for vintage exploitation films like Death Curse of Tartu, Sting of Death, Cannibal Girls, and Wild, Free, and Hungry.  4.5 of 5 possible stars.  Recommended.

Assault Nerds 2

Assault of the Party Nerds II: The Heavy Petting Detective (1995) ****  First of all, any nerd movie or cheap trash aficionado who is not yet an admirer of the redoubtable Richard Gabai and has not yet watched the incomparable Assault of the Party Nerds needs to do so immediately.  Gabai, an actor who better than any other strikes a captivating balance between accessibly handsome and hopelessly if charmingly dweeby and made a semi-star of sorts of himself in that 1989 Revenge of the Nerds-inspired opus, returns as writer-director-star of its sequel, The Heavy Petting Detective, which, clearly designed with the intention of pleasing fans of the original, has also reunited several members of its cast, including Christopher Dempsey and Robert Dorfmann as secretly gay jocks Bud and Chip; scream queens Michelle Bauer and Linnea Quigley as airheads Muffin and Bambi; and even, in a cameo, hairy Richard Rifkin as the World’s Oldest Living Active.  New and welcome additions to the Party Nerds coterie include Laugh-In‘s Arte Johnson; Batman‘s Burt Ward; USA Up All Night‘s Rhonda Shear (sporting some outrageous hair and kooky outfits that have to be seen); Tane McClure as Dempsey’s seductive secretary; and Tony Scaduto, Spridle Esponda, and Steve Rosenbaum as a trio of next-generation party nerds.

Long since having graduated, Gabai’s alter ego Ritchie Spencer is currently working as a private detective and finds himself mixed up in a wacky imbroglio involving his old greek life acquaintances and rivals when Burt Ward hires him to investigate his son-in-law, who just happens to be the narcissistic and villainous Bud, now married to Muffin and working as an executive at her father’s company.  Bud, having discovered that Muffin has actually inherited the business, concocts a fiendish scheme to sow discord between his wife and her family and so get her to sign the company over to him.  In the course of his investigation, which has to compete for Spencer’s time with a concurrent case involving an elusive potato chip truck driver, Spencer also catches up with Bambi, who, while still somewhat ditzy, has become a cynical, sexually jaded golddigger.  Also complicating matters is the fact that the nerds’ fraternity has fallen on hard times and that the jocks, it turns out, own the deed on the property and are threatening to evict the brothers.  Can the nerds save their frat house?  Will Muffin ever win her husband’s affection again?  Will Spencer ever grow up?  Will the new generation of party nerds rise to the occasion like their forebears and manage to lose their virginity before they graduate?  Naturally, and in the venerable Party Nerds tradition, everything comes to a head at a zany fraternity party.

Though not quite as classic as Assault of the Party Nerds, The Heavy Petting Detective is in some ways superior and offers a lot to recommend it.  In addition to the over-the-top commitment of its entirely colorful cast, the film is fast-paced and never slows down long enough to be boring, even when the humor is occasionally (or usually) lame.  Gabai’s pop ‘n’ roll band, the Checks, provides several upbeat songs (some also featured in Bikini Drive-In) that contribute to the movie’s tempo and harmless, friendly feeling for the viewer.  A few gags are repeated from Assault of the Party Nerds, which, depending on individual taste and affection for the original, could be a plus or a minus.  In the end, however, what probably matters most for partisans of independent VHS glory days, is that The Heavy Petting Detective brings Michelle Bauer, Richard Gabai, and Linnea Quigley together again to do their things, and what, in all honesty, could be better than that?  4 of 5 possible checks.

gut poster

Gut is a study of two friends, nondescript Tom (Jason Vail) and nerdy Dan (Nicholas Wilder), who have known each other from adolescence and now work together in stultifying office jobs.  Tom has graduated to conventional domesticity, with an attractive wife (Sarah Schoofs) and child, while Dan appears to be charmingly stuck in goofy immaturity, more interested in consuming horror movies and junk food than in making anything identifiably adult out of his life.  When Tom develops an enigmatic case of ennui that threatens to drive a further wedge between the two men, who have clearly lost a previous closeness, Dan makes the seemingly harmless but actually momentous suggestion that Tom should visit his home to watch an unusual DVD he has received in the mail.

Is the content of the disc, with what appears to be footage of an actual murder, real or merely a simulated snuff film?  Whatever its source, the (disturbingly graphic) imagery haunts and fascinates Tom, who has nightmares and is uncomfortable with what he and Dan have discovered, both on the internet and in themselves as more films arrive in the mail.  The stakes and danger, furthermore, are more than simply psychological when it becomes apparent that the party responsible for the snuff DVDs is active where they live.  Gut is not torture porn itself, but ponders the genre’s sources and ramifications; squeamish viewers are, however, advised to approach Gut with extreme caution.

Gut demonstrates an intimate knowledge of cubicle-bound despair and succeeds in giving the horror genre its Office Space, with perhaps a bitter tincture of In the Company of Men.  As is true of the music for the latter, Chvad SB’s minimalist score for Gut, which builds from subtle, bare, and repetitive to unnervingly abrasive as the film progresses, forms a compelling and integral component of Gut‘s personality and is indispensible to its storytelling.  The story told, tastefully if tenebrously lensed, is not an uplifting one, and if Gut can be called a horror film, it is, like last year’s Sinister, something of an odd, self-loathing example, with horror and porn the gateway drugs that lead to other, darker preoccupations and initiations.

Gut earns 4.5 stars and is highly recommended, with Nicholas Wilder one of the year’s most interesting faces and “Elias” a definite directorial talent to watch.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that this film is:

3. Un-p.c./state-skeptical.  Dan claims his regular mail carrier has been replaced by a mentally retarded man – affirmative action gone postal and run utterly amuck!

2. Family/marriage-ambivalent.  With emotional and genetic investment in humanity comes not just affection, but responsibility, insecurity, boredom, and, for men, diminished home entertainment sovereignty.

1. Effectively anti-feminist.  Tom and especially Dan are representative of the catastrophe wrought in American society by women’s liberation.  Dan personifies the national epidemic of unmanned men more interested in pop culture distraction, nostalgia, and mischievous male camaraderie than in honest work or mature relationships with women.  He finds, therefore, a less grim sociological cousin in Ed, Nick Frost’s character in Shaun of the Dead.

Dan dwells on the drawbacks of Tom’s family life and calls him a “pussy-whipped motherfucker”.  Lending potential credence to this assessment and to his characterization of Tom’s balls as AWOL is a scene of an inwardly smoldering Tom doing the woman’s work of washing dishes.  Tom approvingly describes his wife as “old-fashioned”; but later, when he becomes rough with her, she straddles and slaps him until he relents and apologizes to her, indicating that their relationship is not as “old-fashioned” as he has perhaps convinced himself.  Earlier, he is irritated when his wife takes the sexual initiative.  “So, what, I’m supposed to flip whenever you want me to?” he objects.  Television, as in Poltergeist, serves as an occasional babysitter.

Torture porn appears to be Dan’s principal sexual outlet.  The snuff films that captivate him are meaningfully misogynistic, with women’s bellies – the center of traditional womanhood in its reproductive capacity – targeted for mutilation and vivisection.  Motherhood is incompatible with women’s chosen roles as professionals and/or shamelessly pierced and tattooed fornicators.  Although a friendly waitress, Sally (Angie Bullaro), obviously likes him, a brief exchange with a chilly coworker suggests how women are probably more likely to respond to Dan.  The typical unavailability of the women he desires has fostered in him a deep resentment that sublimates as horror fandom but finds a more direct expression in his enjoyment of torture porn and snuff films.

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