Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: October 14, 2011

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr gets ready to celebrate Halloween in style with some horror releases… and he’s not just thinking of Footloose.

Unhappy with his life, he follows the bucket list path of Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black, traveling to the bottom of the world where he finds himself in a small Antarctic town that has outlawed dancing. So Kevin takes it upon himself to help the people get their groove on only to discover they’ve been taken over an alien species that duplicate human form. Later, he takes a trip back to the heartland where he finds a feral woman chained in a cellar… pretty standard for some of the towns he’s been to. Finally, not being able to find a theater that is still playing Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence), he checks it out On Demand and promptly throws up.

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Click here to listen as FSR’s own Editor-at-Large Robert Fure storms into the Magical Studio in the Sky to chat new movies with Kevin.

Studio: Paramount

Rated: PG-13 for some teen drug and alcohol use, sexual content, violence and language

Starring: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid and Miles Teller

Directed by: Craig Brewer

What it’s about: In this remake of the 1984 classic, Kenny Wormald stars as a scrappy teenager who moves to a small town in Georgia where underage dancing has been outlawed, along with smoking, drinking and having a good time. After falling for the preacher’s wayward daughter, he decides to take on the city council to repeal the law and bring funk back into the town.

What I liked: At first, I thought a remake of Footloose was stupid. After all, there’s nothing in this film that couldn’t have been shot – and was shot – 27 years ago. But then I saw the reaction of the audience and realized that the target demographic of teenagers would turn their nose up at the original because some old guy was dancing to pop 80s music.

So, Footloose is what a remake really should be. It’s been updated in style, actors and music to connect with a new audience who thinks the world revolves around them. The story is virtually the same, beat by beat, though director Craig Brewer handles things with enough finesse that it’s not boring. Like a good pop song, Footloose has a beat, and you can dance to it.

What I didn’t: While not awful, Footloose is far from a great movie. I doubt it has enough freshness to live past its shelf life on DVD. Julianne Hough, as nice of a caboose as she has, just doesn’t have the “it factor” to carry a film. Her voice channels Jennifer Tilly, and while pretty, she just isn’t that compelling.

Who is gonna like this movie: Young whippersnappers.

Grade: B-

Studio: Universal

Rated: R for strong creature violence and gore, disturbing images, and language

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Joel Edgerton and Ulrich Thomsen

Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.

What it’s about: This prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic tells the story of the doomed Norwegian camp in Antarctica that finds an ancient alien ship buried in the ice. They dig an occupant out of the ice and bring it home to thaw, only to discover that it’s one pissed-off alien that can absorb them and imitate them perfectly. Terrified, the crew tries to determine who is still human and how to keep this Thing from reaching civilization.

What I liked: For as much bellyaching as critics and fanboys are doing over this movie, there are some good things about this film. First, it’s not a remake or a reboot. It’s an honest-to-god prequel, and it’s one that works from a story perspective. After all, who of us didn’t see the John Carpenter film and want to see what the hell happened at that Norwegian camp. Unlike many sequels and prequels that are forced to work, this one actually has a good set-up.

The film has some nice moments and an eerie atmosphere filled with dread that we saw in the earlier movie. For the most part, the filmmakers used the opportunity to explain how certain things came to be in the ’82 film, and there are nice tips of the hat to fans of the film, like myself. In the end, there are some scary moments and effective scenes. It’s not fantastic, but this movie could have been a lot worse.

And it’s nice to see some horror movies that aren’t Saw or Paranormal Activity in October for a change. That’s worth something in my book.

What I didn’t: Even though there are elements of this film that worked, there are many problems with it as well. First, let’s get the effects out of the way. Rob Bottin’s creature work in the John Carpenter film was astounding, even by today’s standards. It’s gory and terrifying, and unlike other films that shoot in shadows and only show partial monsters, the original film shoved the effects in your face and dared you to stare. They still hold up, for the most part.

This is why the CGI work in this film is so depressing. Sure, it works in some sequences, but other times, it’s overblown and uninspired. We don’t see the genuine monstrosity we saw in the ’82 film, and that’s a shame. I’m not saying that the choice of CGI was necessarily bad, but rather that the creature effects were just a bit flat overall.

Then there’s the characters. While Mary Elizabeth Winstead is easy on the eyes, she looked like a deer in the headlights in this movie. She’s no Kurt Russell, that’s for sure. The cast on the whole was a bit flat and forgettable, unlike John Carpenter’s gallery, which had some real character to it.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who aren’t tied too tightly to the 1982 film.

Grade: B-

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Rated: PG for language and some sensuality

Starring: Jack Black, Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Rashida Jones and Rosamund Pike

Directed by: David Frankel

What it’s about: Three different bird enthusiasts compete against each other for the Big Year, which is an annual attempt to see and record the largest number of bird species in North America.

What I liked: Aside from the fact that this is about an obsessive subculture that is only a fraction of the human population, this can be a sweet movie. Even Jack Black isn’t too annoying, playing the underdog. In fact, the three leads – Black along with Steve Martin and Owen Wilson – mesh together rather well.

The Big Year is a sweet, unassuming film with some beautiful locations and photography. I could give a hoot about the birds, but it’s a pleasant film, one that you could take your grandmother to. Like What’s Your Number? a couple weeks ago, this film lives and dies by its leads, and they’re pretty good together. If only they could team up for a film that’s a little more interesting to me.

What I didn’t: This is one of those films that I marvel at how it ever got green-lit, let alone funded and made. It’s about birding, after all. (And yeah, I’m bowing to the politically correct term over “bird-watching,” even if the argument to use the more accepted “birding” is as silly as the Trekkie/Trekker debate.) Imagine if Trainspotting were actually about trainspotting and not heroin use, and you’ll get the picture.

As charming as Black, Martin and Wilson are, I found no interest in the subject matter. And the obsessive nature of the characters just made it kind of a pointless movie. Plus, the secondary cast (and primarily Rosamund Pike, who plays Wilson’s estranged wife) leaves a lot to be desired.

Who is gonna like this movie: Birders.

Grade: C+

Studio: Bloody Disgusting Films

Rated: R for strong bloody violence, torture, a rape, disturbing behavior, some graphic nudity, and language

Starring: Angela Bettis, Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers, Marcia Bennett and Carlee Baker

Directed by: Lucky McKee

What it’s about: A seemingly normal family living in middle America has plenty of dark, grim secrets. One of them is a mysterious feral woman that the father found in the woods and has chained in the cellar. Calling it a “family project,” the man is determined to make the woman civilized, which sets in motion a sequence of events to reveal other perversions in his life.

What I liked: I’ve never been much of one for torture porn or extreme, brutal horror… at least not if it’s purposeless. However, Lucky McKee’s The Woman is far from purposeless. Like his other movies, this film examines the extremely dark side of humanity hidden in a very normal setting. The Woman is not a comfortable film to watch, but it is an interesting one, contemplating whether humanity is civilized at all.

What works in The Woman, all Sundance walk-outs aside, is the fact that a vast majority of the film isn’t threatening. Only ten percent or so goes over the edge, which differentiates it from wall-to-wall desensitizing splatter horror. McKee has a method and purpose to his madness, even if it is to make you face the ugly nature of ourselves.

What I didn’t: The only times the film really falters is when it breaks the otherwise well-constructed character actions. The family itself is expertly acted, but there’s a side-story with a teacher at school that doesn’t quite fit in the grand scheme of things. The teacher serves as a plot device, but one that doesn’t seem well thought-out or executed. It is in this character’s moments that the film ceases being smart and turns into your average CW-minded horror flick.

Who is gonna like this movie: Horror fans who want to be challenged.

Grade: B+

Studio: IFC Films

Rated: R for pretty much everything

Starring: Laurence Harvey and Ashlynn Yennie

Directed by: Tom Six

What it’s about: Director Tom Six has a bit of a temper tantrum and demands to show us how horrible his first film could be in the hands of the wrong person. Martin Lomax (Laurence Harvey) is a weird and possibly mute man who is obsessed with Human Centipede (First Sequence). He watches the movie on a continuous loop and plans his own way of kidnapping twelve victims so he can sew them ass-to-mouth, causing them to share a single (sort of) gastric system. Oh, and he masturbates with sandpaper.

What I liked: Like the first Human Centipede, this film gets points for its original vision. After all, no matter how awful these movies turn out, there will always be an audience who will watch them with great anticipation for the inevitable. Similarly, I do give a very minimal nod to Six for listening to his fans and delivering a movie that tops the first in gross-out moments.

But where Human Centipede 2 really works is as a comedy. I’m pretty sure that Six didn’t intend it that way, but his sloppy and amateurish direction packs no punch for thrills or victim empathy. Six simply tries to puke on screen a laundry list of gross and shocking moments. They don’t work in the context of a horror movie, but they are downright hilarious. Play this movie at double speed with an organ grinder beat behind it, and I’m sure it’s comedy gold.

What I didn’t: This movie is as sloppy and slovenly as its main character. There are logic gaps abound, and it has an ending that insults the viewer. I could never put the criticism to this film as eloquently as Dr. Cole Abaius did in his Fantastic Fest review, so I’m not going to try.

To his credit, Six plus this film as being “100% Medically Inaccurate,” and he’s 100% accurate about that. Of course, that’s assuming that the first film was even remotely possible in reality. Six bides his time for the shit storm that inevitably comes in the end (or rather out one end and into the… well, you get the pun). But by the time he gets there, he doesn’t know what to do, revealing his general incompetence as a director.

Think of the money shots of this film as a horny teenage boy who gets his hand up a girl’s shirt for the first time in his life. No matter how gorgeous that pair of breasts is, the boy will flounder around, slapping and yanking like a dying trout, and the girl will likely be more annoyed and in pain than turned on. Such is Six’s audience, left rolling their eyes and laughing at the extreme moments rather than actually being emotionally or physically moved by them. In the hands of a better director, this movie would have been chilling. In Six’s hands, it’s just silly.

Who is gonna like this movie: Anyone who didn’t think the first film was enough of a gross-out film.

Grade: D+ as a horror movie

Grade: B+ as a slapstick comedy

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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