Black Phone

The Boy said, after the movie was over, that he found himself thinking “Hey, this is a lot like a Stephen King story…but a Christian is shown in a sympathetic light.” I informed him that the author, Joe Hill, was Stephen King’s son. “In other words, we just saw a story about an abusive anti-religious alcoholic who beats his children, but I’m sure it’s not autobiographical.”

I kid the King. I hear he’s a real nice guy. Like many celebrities, he’s a good example of why neither politics nor religion should be discussed outside of very narrow spaces.

Serial killer/child-rapist?

Sometimes it’s fun to imagine who the “author insert” is.

Anyway, Black Phone? Good movie. One of the screenwriters was wandering around Joe Bob’s Jamboree and seemed like a real cool dude. If I had to pick him out of a lineup, I would’ve gone with C. Robert Cargill but this is why you shouldn’t trust me with a lineup. Since everyone was saying it was the guy who also wrote Sinister and Doctor Strange, it had to have been Scott Derrickson. Who also directed this film after “creative differences” on the set of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.

The creative differences probably being that the last thing Marvel Studios wants is creativity.

So, whadda we got here? Kids in the “Stranger Things” era are being kidnapped and killed by a local masked villain known as The Grabber. Our protagonist, who lives at home with his abusive dad and his shining sister, is a wuss who lets his sister get beat, who gets beat up by school gangs, and who generally has a hard time confronting difficult things. Needless to say, he ends up a victim of aforementioned serial kidnapper. His only hope? The vengeful spirits of those who have gone before him, but who are rapidly losing their identities and memories.

Sure we’ve seen it before. But have we seen it…uh…set in Denver in 1978? Probably not?

Originality isn’t really the thing here. There are elements of The Shining, of Carrie, and especially of Silence of the Lambs. I mean, the entire third act feels like the climax of Silence of the Lambs. None of that really matters.

Mask by Tom Savini.

What do you mean, we’re out of lotion? Have you seen my skin?

The execution is top-notch. There’s no sin in telling the same story others have told if you do it better, and this is, as the Boy termed it, a “solid thriller”. The pacing is dependable. There’s no reliance on jump scares. The atmosphere is terrific: It’s not dogmatically color-coded in cyan so you know it’s a horror movie. The menace feels very real because it’s not relying on supernatural cues but on the fact that it’s the ’70s and kids just went places and were occasionally kidnapped. The characterization is mostly excellent, occasionally a little type-y just because you’ve got quite a few of them who are both important and have very little screen time in your 100 minute movie.

The worst and most graphic violence in the movie is fights our protagonists have with bullies. Which is plenty violent, don’t get me wrong. But I feel like the movie’s “R” is largely due to the language—which very accurately reflects 1978 playground language, as I recall it.

There’s very little violence involving The Grabber himself. Ethan Hawke is getting a lot of praise here for channeling Ted Levine, and there are elements of Francis Dolarhyde here, though I’m not sure whether it’s more Ralph Fiennes or Tom Noonan. He’s doing exactly what I’d expect Ethan Hawke to do, so I’m not sure what all the ooh-ing and ah-ing is about. I mean, it works, but who was surprised by that? Hawke conveys—without the movie ever having to show, and only exposits through past victims—a sadistic, perverted, self-pitying monster. The movie doesn’t need to show anything because we know what he’s done, broad strokes, and he gives enough hints to be horrifying.


Mmmm. Mustard yellow.

The decor! The fashion! The glitz! 1979!

Jeremy Davies, as the abusive father is quite good, treading that line between utterly despicable and utterly pathetic. The little girl, Madeleine McGraw, does a great job with her part, even if it does feel a little…go-girl-ish? I’m going to assume this character will feel fine in a more normal time than we’re currently in. It’s kind of necessary for her to be aggressive because her brother is so passive.

Mason Thames knocks it out of the park as Finney, our hero. He’s passive, which we understand given his environment, and his situation is totally unfair but we for God’s sake want him to stand up for himself and what’s right and all that. Thames manages to keep Finney likable, not just sympathetic, and his character arc is what the movie is all about.

The Boy was not blown away. But he really liked it, as did I. It’s such a simple, uncomplicated story that it almost feels strange to praise it. But then you think about the little details, the great performances and the attention to the story—this isn’t some franchise piece somebody crapped out for a quick buck. It has heart and rewards you, rather than punishes you, for having seen it.

That's telekinesis, Kyle!

There’s someone here who keeps saying I should kill the Grabber “with mind bullets”.

Joe Bob’s Drive-In Jamboree: Sunday

In a vain attempt to reduce the size of my coverage of Joe Bob’s Drive-In Jamboree, I summarized a lot of things. Then that was too long, so I split it into two posts. You can see the first part of the weekend here at Ace’s (where comments will get you banned) or here at Moviegique’s (where nobody comments and we don’t know how to ban).

Today let’s talk about Sunday on a sweltering summer day in Memphis. (I actually found it quite pleasant but I’m used to 100+ weather.)


“Say ‘Hogzilla’ one more time…”

Sunday night began with a riff of Hogzilla. Led by “Mystery Science Theater 3000’s” Jonah Ray, and helped by “The Last Drive-In” team (Darcy the Mail Girl, Austin Jennings and John Brennan) as well as riffs from the crowd, it’s safe to say this movie doesn’t really get any better with time. Darcy dug up a print to air a season or two back to torment Joe Bob with—to this day, the slightest provocation will get the crew and audience chanting “Hogzilla! Hogzilla! Hogzilla!”—its major crime, really, is claiming to star Joe Bob when he’s in very little of the movie. (This, of course, is a low-budget tradition.) That and, the rest of the cast is aggressively unlikable, which I think is less to do with them than a kind of cheap way to add tension when your monster budget is low to non-existent (also a low-budget tradition).

There’s not much to it, alas: It’s just a slasher movie with a giant feral boar taking the place of the slasher, but otherwise behaving exactly as a slasher does, down to picking off people alone and…well, I guess he doesn’t hide the bodies or anything but they seem to pop up unexpectedly anyway. This is the sort of movie that runs 90 minutes (if you count the very, very slow moving end credits) and really needs some riffing to get through. Ideas for Hogzilla 2 were floated, as well, such as Hogzilla 2: Pig In The City and 2 Hog 2 Zilla.

This is one of those movies that isn’t even going to make it to cult status.

The 2022 Hubbies


Purty, tho'.

For some reason, I’m thinking of the Mechanical Turk/Billy Bass gag from “What We Do In The Shadows”.

The Sunday night close-out and the ostensible reason-for-the-season was the Drive-In Academy Awards (the “Hubbies”). I actually re-scheduled my flight and took Monday off so I could be here for this, and I don’t regret it. Out of 250 submissions, ten winners were picked and then screened after the announcements. I missed two of them because I was waiting in line for an autograph, but the one takeaway I have from the eight I did see was: Wow, the technical level of the indie film has gone through the roof!

Of course, I’m seeing the top 4%. The other 96% almost certainly contained some more amateurish stuff, but the first one up was “Polybius“, based on the urban legend about a video game with a sinister effect on young minds. (If you go to the Wiki link, there’s an FBI meme in the offing: The FBI you wish you had fought crime; The FBI you’d settle for are evil high-tech geniuses; The FBI you get raids arcades because a kid has a seizure playing Tempest.) Trailer.

Anyway, this very ’80s premise was executed on a level to where you didn’t notice the budget. That’s kind of a big deal, I think. If you can walk away from a 20-minute $50K short just thinking about the contents of the short and not how they cut corners, that’s really something. For scale, consider the budget of the 1960 Little Shop of Horrors was over five-times that (adjusted for inflation) and used existing sets, and still feels inescapably cheap (for all its amusing aspects).

So, something is going on here which is potentially very good. Tom Atkins is in this one, by the way, and damn, can he still act. I mean, he’s 86 and he can’t hear very well, but he still projects strength and authority on screen. Very impressive.  (Atkins won a Lifetime Achievement Hubbie.) Writer/director Jim Kelly was floating around and seemed like a hell of a nice guy, too. From Mount Sinai, New York.

Get it?

“One day, Rockford’s ass will be MINE!”

I missed the feature winner Greywood Plot because I was standing in line to get an autograph. Joe Bob and Darcy The Mail Girl powered through the weekend on a couple of hours of sleep (after which they ran off to do a show above the Mason-Dixon line) at least partly due to JB’s insistence that he see everyone. He was dead on his feet—on his butt, actually, since he was sitting—by the time I got to him and still managed a sincere smile and chit-chat. (Trailer here.)

From Josh Stifter and Dan Degman of Crystal, Minnesota, Greywood is the tale of wannabe influencers who end up on an all-too-successful cryptid hunt. Kudos for the trailer effectively giving a brief shot of the monster. That’s just a rare thing period. (They either don’t show it or you wish they didn’t.)

The animated short The Mechanical Dancer, was not only as good as anything I’ve seen from a studio, it’s legitimately aesthetically superior to anything I’ve seen recently. A stop-motion-looking cartoon done in the style of the 1920 film The Cabinet of Caligari, this takes elements of that plot with a twist of Frankenstein/Bucket of Blood…it’s just nice to look at. Josh and Jenna Jaillet are professional artists and have produced something that you might find in front of a Pixar flick, minus the corporate blandification. From Sunrise, Florida.

Threshhold: A voice-over artist is haunted by ghosts…or is she just crazy? Or both?! (Entire short here.) Directed by Mike Thompson of Louisville, Kentucky.

Last Day for Videos: A documentary about the closing of the last video store chain in America. (Entire short here.) Nostalgic, melancholic, and oddly affecting considering video stores were about a 35-year phenomenon. Hell, you nearly 29-year-olds probably barely remember ’em. Directed by Chad Campbell of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Be Mine: This black comedy short reminded me heavily of a Julie Nolke bit gone horribly wrong, when a guy on a Valentine’s Day date is ready to take his relationship with his new “from out of town” girlfriend to the next level, only to realize he knows absolutely nothing about her. From Ryan and Anthony Famulari of Long Island, New York, I cannot for the life of me find a trailer or even a still of this, and “Be Mine” is a title shared by about a dozen horror shorts made in the past decade. But it made me laugh out loud!

Lethalogica: Calling this “micro” budget probably doesn’t do justice to the word “micro”. The budget was about $800 per director Tony Reames and co-writer Haley Leary. Leary stars in the film with Luke Tanner as a couple who have a slight misunderstanding that unfolds in a very drive-in way. From Georgia. No trailer I can find.

The Thing About Beecher’s Gate: Another micro-micro, made for about $250 over two weekends by Jeremy Herbert of Olmsted Falls, Ohio, the premise of this 26-minute short is that a new deputy in a small town must undergo a hazing ritual (or is it?), guarding a shed overnight which—well, let’s say it’s inspired by Assault on Precinct 13 and leave it at that. This was entertaining to me, but somewhat disappointing in that it’s clear that the events of the night don’t play out as planned, but it made me wonder what the “going right” could’ve possibly meant. Trailer.

Mannequins:  Directed by David Malcom from the UK, this story of mannequins playing out horror stories is fun, unusual and also has a kind of arty feel. Mannequins haven’t been this sympathetic since Kim Catrall! (Entire short here.)


A cable box only a Cronenberg could love.

The last film was a full-length feature called HeBGB TV. Sketch films are always kind of hit-and-miss but the noteworthy aspect is that there are some hits, and the technical/aesthetic quality is overall a pleasant callback to those old Rubinstein TV shows like “Tales from the Darkside”. From Jake McClellan, Adam Lenhart and Eric Griffin of Lancaster, PA. This is just a remarkable first time effort!

The takeaway for me was this: You could sit through these and think, “Hey, these are pretty good.” As opposed to “Hey, these are pretty good for the budget.”

JB has decided next year the Hubbies will be the first night instead of the last, which is a good move. Winning a Hubbie isn’t necessarily a ticket to fame and wealth or even to being able to make another movie—the people who get that far should be feted by the crowd that loves them best. We were up past 3:30AM Monday AM seeing these, and a lot of people had to leave beforehand.

I had no regrets a few hours later when I stumbled through the Nashville airport: Totally worth it!

Cha Cha Real Smooth

The sixth and final film in our accidental series of passion projects, this one written and directed by Cooper Raiff, Cha Cha Real Smooth is the story of a recent college graduate, Andrew, who is kind of aimless and living at home with his much younger brother (Evan Assante), his mom (Leslie Mann), and his stepfather (Brad Garrett) that he doesn’t much care for. His plans are so inchoate that they basically involve working at the Meat Sticks in the mall until he can get enough money to join his college girlfriend who is spending a year in Spain and pretty much has told him their whole college deal is over.

Meat Sticks!

I, too, would work at the Meat Sticks just for the merch.

The first thing that stands out about the movie is the character of Andrew (played by Raiff). Andrew is a really nice guy. Genuinely nice. Not perfect by a long shot. But a big part of his aimlessness comes from knowing that he wants to do something good and not being able to figure out what that would be.

Attending a flailing bar mitzvah with his family, out of a sincere desire to make things better, he…makes things better. He gets the party started. He gets people dancing. He does such a good job, people hire him as a professional party mover. This path leads him to Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt).

The attraction between the decade-older Domino and Andrew creates immediate tension because Andrew is really cool and gentle and excellent with Lola but Domino has a fianceé she is conflicted about on the one hand, but not in the movie-logic “Well, the young man who hasn’t even started his life should totally hook up with the mother with the teen daughter” way. The tension weighs on Andrew and he begins to lose his general coolness.

He acts like a dick, in short. And we see that, to some degree, his intense romantic feelings are a way of diverting from his aimlessness.

But she has some!

Still shots of Dakota Johnson do not really capture her charm.

This all works remarkably well. Minefields abound (from the standpoint of building a narrative). Andrew could be smug and unlikable (as is the way of the youth) but he’s not. Even his aimlessness is less a The Graduate-style inchoate loathing for The System, Man and just a “I want to make the world a better place, I just haven’t figure out how yet.” He could also be movie-perfect and he is not.

Here’s another refreshing aspect of the film: The characters in the movie that are positioned as his antagonists (his stepfather and his would-be girlfriend’s boyfriend), far from irremedial villains, are actually real live people with their own goals and feelings. In fact, wherever one might be tempted to reduce a character to a particular type, some atypical (for a movie) depth of character turns up.

Well, okay, there is the Prick family. Literally listed in the credits as Little Prick and Mr. and Mrs. Prick. Little likes tormenting Lola and as awful and cartoonish as it sounds, yeah, that’s well within the realm of reality, as well as the parents who indulge their children’s cruelty.

Good job.

Typical neuroatypical? She’s smart about some things, dumb about others.

The acting in this is award worthy. I have never seen a better performance from Mann. I’ve never noticed Johnson that much (though she was good in Black Mass), but here she is supremely effective: maternal, sexy, vulnerable but not stupid, you can understand both Andrew’s attraction to her and her conflict. Brad Garrett could be the butt of all the antics, but with very little time, he is a big part of young-Andrew-not-quite-getting-things. So, too, with Raul Castillo, who you could easily believe is abusive—he’s cut, he’s angry, he’s a lawyer—but ultimately is more mature and sensitive than Andrew.

Vanessa Burghardt. I was just commenting to The Boy that Tropic Thunder had really put a stop to the I’m-Mentally-Handicapped-Give-Me-An-Award genre. This, thankfully, is not that. Burghardt does good here. The movie does a good job of portraying the essential weirdness of certain types of brain injuries without glamorizing it, and Burghardt’s performance is more true-to-life than awards-bait.

Raiff himself does an excellent job in the lead. As I said, the minefield is not small. Pulling off writer, director, producer and lead is done more frequently than it’s done well, and it’s done well here.

It made a nice close to the six flicks.

Better blocking would've made the kid visible, too, somehow.

There’s a lot of story in this one shot.


Joe Bob’s Drive-In Jamboree: Friday and Saturday

I have a massive write-up already on the whole weekend in Memphis, where we spent all night watching drive-in movies, the days in a convention, and even a morning trip to Graceland, but it’s too long for a Saturday Evening movie post, so here are the movie highlights. Even this is massive. Oy. I’m cutting this into two bits.

Halloween III: The Season of the Witch

It’s a joke. On the children.

One of the bones of contention between Joe Bob and Darcy the Mail Girl has been Halloween 3. It’s been a comedic whipping boy for him since it came out, while for Darcy it’s a beloved classic, perhaps second to only Scream as her favorite horror movie. Darcy is a genuine fanatic and expert on horror movies, who can rattle off the names of Giallo directors from movie titles like Death Walks On High Heels (“Ercoli!”) and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have The Key (“Martino!”) and has interviewed I think most of the cast and crew on her podcast Geek Tawk.

So when JB let her program the first movie on Friday night, she naturally picked H3 and invited the stars Tom Atkins and Stacy Nelkin, as well as director Tommy Lee Wallace, to watch with them and make Joe Bob defend his stance on the film. She even had “The Last Drive-In” director Austin Jennings create a supercut of all the Joe Bob H3 bashing done over the years, on The Movie Channel and TNT, which cut had to be shortened for time.

The conventional wisdom, I think, on H3 is that it would have been more successful had it not been named Halloween, that people went to see Michael Meyers slashing up teens and they didn’t get that and were disappointed. I don’t know about that: I was the exact demographic that movie was aimed at, I knew exactly what Carpenter was doing and respected it. I certainly didn’t want to see just another movie about teens being carved up after the (literally) dozens of slashers made in the 1978 to 1982 period.

While that may have had a chilling effect on its box office (it made around $15M on a budget of $2.5M), I’d be just as willing to bet the downright mean violence of Halloween II had as much a suppressing effect. (The original Halloween has virtually no blood, and is powered by style and atmosphere, so the sequel was kind of an unpleasant shock to me.) But the biggest suppressor is doubtless the movie itself: Enough people saw it for it to take off via word-of-mouth, had people liked it enough.

I’m doing a full break down on this, but the summary at this late date is this: Like a lot of the older films we used to discard, there’s a tremendous amount of skill at work here. The third act is genuinely bravura as is its commitment to the sort of horror which, while not bloody, is genuinely horrific in its implications. The acting is fun, the camerawork top-notch, the music effective. But the first two acts really don’t feel much like a horror movie. (As Joe Bob quipped that night, “It’s sort of become ‘Murder, She Wrote’, hasn’t it?”) The upshot is that, unless you’re fully bought into it from the get-go, the movie’s logical leaps keep hitting you in the face—and the movie doesn’t do what it needs to in those first two acts to help you buy in.

That said, I will watch this again, just for the filmmaking and to try to pin down why it isn’t as great as I think it should be.

This first night was our early night for the weekend. We got out around 1:30-2AM.

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

I got this one autographed by P.J.

I’ve reviewed Rock and Roll High School—holy crap, six years ago, “Rocktober” 2016—when Mary Woronov came to a local showing. At the Jamboree, we had P.J. Soles,  and I think this movie gets better every time I see it. A JB pointed out (after yelling “F*#& John Hughes!”), this was the “last” high school movie that dealt with all the usual high school issues with a truly light-hearted attitude. My fellow mutants and I were calling out the Savage Steve Holland—with me embarrassingly referring to him as “Screaming George”, mashing up The Real Don Steele’s “Screaming Steve” character with special FX artist “Screaming Mad George”—classics One Crazy Summer and Better Off Dead and no doubt there have been others, but there was a definite angsty sentimentality to Hughes work which has encouraged me to keep most of his films away from my kids. (Exception.)

P.J. Soles was in attendance and a live version of the title song was attempted, more or less successfully, and I have to say that she really sells the Riff Randall character (and in a way I don’t think her #1 competitor, the rather younger Rosanna Arquette, would have been able to). There’s also something endearing/refreshing about story arc not about being “in love” with the Ramones, but just loving the music and wanting them to sing the songs she’s written. (This may have something to do with it being the realization of director Allan Arkush’s high school fantasies about, like, The Rolling Stones or a male group of that generation.)

Bubba Ho-Tep

Elvis and JFK on their way to fight evil.

The second film on Saturday night was Bubba Ho-Tep, and I can honestly say that it was the first time I’ve ever been in an audience with not only a group of people who had already seen it but who, like me, saw it during its initial short-run, which consisted of director Don Coscarelli and his team running the 32 prints of the movie around the country. The backstory of this movie is awesome: Back in the ’90s, someone put together a collection of essays and short stories reflecting on Elvis, who had been dead 15 to 20 years at that point. Joe R. Lansdale (Cold In July), an East Texas writer a grossly neglected-by-Hollywood, came up with what he considered the most unfilmable story possible. (In this case, the “unfilmable” has more to do with the completely a-commercial aspects of the story rather than, say, The Naked Lunch style of unfilmability.)

In an East Texas old-folks home, Elvis (Bruce Campbell) lays rotting away after an accident left him in a coma for 20 years, and rather disabled with a…genital deformity. When members of the home start having their souls sucked out by an ancient Egyptian mummy (who has acclimated to life in Texas enough to adopt the local clothing customs), he rouses himself to fight it, with the help of John F. Kennedy, played by Ossie Davis.

If you haven’t seen the film, you doubtless have questions. How is Elvis alive and why doesn’t anyone know it’s him, for example. Or, why is JFK black? How did an ancient Egyptian mummy end up in East Texas?

While the story explains all these things, to some degree, the magic of the movie is in the dramatic poignancy of the characters, realized by the performance of the actors. I feel that needs italic emphasis because it’s not what you would reasonably expect. But it’s the first time I saw Campbell and thought, “Hey, this guy really can act!” (This is not a dig: Campbell is a classic “movie star” and I think generally when people hire him, they don’t want acting, they want Bruce. Here he’s Elvis-as-a-human-being without being a cheesy impersonator.) Ossie Davis, despite being near the end of his life, is a powerhouse. Even the relatively minor part of the nurse, played by Ella Joyce, has just the right mix of nursely-authority and warmth.

It holds up really well after 20 years, I have to say. We were out of the drive-in by around 2:30-3, because we had to get up the next morning for our field trip to Graceland.


Wild Men

We were on a streak of seeing truly odd and unusual movies—unique, even—when we decided to catch this more conventional Danish film about a middle-aged man who flees to the forests of Norway to get in touch with his Viking heritage. There is little more disheartening than seeing the way modernity has sapped the Vikings, the Scots, the Western US and Canada—places we associate traditionally with vigor and independence—and one feels that our hero, Martin (Rasmus Bjerg) shares those sentiments as he bumbles around the forest with his cell phone and poorly crafted bow.

The story is that Martin has, under pretense of going on a business trip, decided to just live in the wild. Without telling anyone. Including his wife. He’s also completely unprepared, really. When we first see him, he manages to put an arrow in a little deer but not actually kill it. Desperate for food, he raids a nearby convenience store. This is our first real indication he’s actually in the modern world, although we’re not actually surprised by this.


The police officers and the swarthy gentlemen don’t exactly reek of VIKING!

Martin looks soft. He looks modern. His skin and hair are well cared-for, even if he has let his beard grow out. He’s in the woods but he’s got his little cheats: A tent, a sleeping bag, the occasional convenience store raid—though as he rationalizes later on, stealing from others is about the most Viking thing you can do.

Enter into this less than idyllic scene, one drug mule named Musa (Zaki Youssef, The Looming Tower). Musa’s with his two buddies on his way to make a drop off when their car hits an elk. An elk, for those who don’t know is like a miniature moose, but since the car they’re in is also a miniature, it’s totaled and the two buddies are incapacitated. Musa, realizing the penalty for failing to make a drop-off and not wanting to get busted by the cops, heads off into the woods to find the little town where his relay is stationed.

Instead, he finds Martin who chases off the cops he believes are looking for him for the convenience store thing. Musa convinces Martin to go to the nearby Viking village—a kind of Nordic themed Renaissance Festival—which also happens to be on the way, while the cops (who really would rather be anywhere else) are reduced to explaining their failure to their crusty old boss.

Eventually, the two drug buddies recover, hijacking the car of a man and his shrewish, pregnant wife. Martin thinks he’s found heaven-on-earth in the Viking village where a classic Nordic giant greets him as a kin—right until the flirty grilled-meat wench tries to ring him up on her iPad and spoils the illusion. (We had a bunch of those Danish grilled meat places try to take hold here pre-pandemic but they don’t seem to have last. Also, I swear they were all called “döner”—er, maybe with a slash through the o and not the umlaut—which is how “kebab” filtered through Europe. Hardly classic Viking.)


The lights are pretty but the Vikings didn’t get electricity till Tesla invented it in the 14th century.

Anyway, you can see what’s going on here. Martin, the decent family man feeling robbed of his Viking birthright by modern comforts; Musa, the lone wolf but essentially not evil criminal; his two drug buddies, genuinely murderous thugs; the hen-pecked powerless husband; the crusty old sheriff (Bjørn Sundquist, Dead Snow, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) from an older time… We’re struggling with the concepts of masculinity.

I think Martin had the right idea, even if his execution lacked any sort of reasonable plan or path to success.

Overall, it’s an effective film. Somewhat melancholy and low-key as Scandinavian movies tend to be but with a rather surprising third act: This isn’t really a comedy or played for laughs overall, as the question of what it means to be a man takes on a literal life-or-death situation. Director Thomas Daneskov’s last project was a miniseries documentary called “Just Boys IRL” about teen gamers meeting for the first time and I can’t help but think that informed this movie.

Worth a watch.

Though the bow keeps knocking over the chip displays.

How I dress for shopping, too, tbf.

Ninja Badass

Resisting the urge to see Mad God again when venturing down to the tony side of town, the Boy and I opted to see Ninja Badass on its last day. It was a surreal experience on a number of levels. First of all, this is a truly bizarre film—a comedy, sort of an action comedy, sort of a buddy picture where the buddies swap out mid-film, a kind of editing tour de force where the final product is way slicker than the source material somehow.

Second of all, it was Q&A night, but the only other people in attendance besides us were the writer/director/editor/star Ryan Harrison, his mom (who was in the movie) and his pal (who was not by virtue of being in L.A. when shooting was done).

I was more enthused by it than the Boy, who said, “I think you like bad movies more than I do.” Well. Fair enough. But there’s “bad” and there’s “bad” and so many other shades of “bad”, and this movie has a lot of good to it, and only a few bad things that genuinely work against it.

It's badass.

That hair, tho’.

The premise: Rex (Harrison) who lives with his mom (Harrison’s mom, Tara, “Miss Hot Body 1988”) wants to upgrade to the pet store hottie but she’s captured by Big Twitty’s Super Ninjers Squad, and he must rescue her if he’s to have any chance of a lovelife. He and his best pal Kano (Mitch Schlagel) seek out the grand master Ninjer Haskell to learn the necessary skills to succeed. Haskell confronts Big Twitty (Darrell Francis) and ends up an arm short, and through a series of vicissitudes I didn’t quite follow, Kano vanishes and Rex continues his journey with BT’s daughter Jojo (Tatiana Ortiz). Jojo is looking to improve her relationship with her father, which task is complicated by the two of them always trying to kill each other.

I assumed from this that Schlagel had to drop out and Ortiz filled in in spots. He does return later for the shocking twist.

Sure, why not.

Our heroes when they start on their journey.

None of this is super important, of course. This is a micro-budget film and passion project, and this really shows in the editing. It succeeds on the whole by moving you from moment to moment: The cardinal sin of the low budget feature has always been boredom—which generally wins out because padding the film to feature length is more important, traditionally—and Harrison does a lot to keep things interesting. If you don’t like a particular bit, another one is coming along in five sec—well, there it is already.

The film’s biggest weakness is that it feels like there isn’t quite enough material to cohesively hang together on the one hand, and more than enough material that other parts don’t feel developed.

Lee Van Cleef has nothing on this guy.

The Master Ninjer. And his cows.

The film’s next biggest weakness is the sound design. I don’t think there is any per se, and while I wouldn’t call it a nit-pick, it’s so common as to be practically de rigeur in low budget indies going back to the beginning. Still, it’s a definite minus. While I could hear the dialog quite clearly, it was always accompanied by loud background noise. A lot of it. Like an ambient microphone recording that had been boosted to make the dialog clear. (Our particular showing was way too loud, too, hurting our ears.)

Despite the disjointedness of it, and the extremely broad nature of the comedy, it manages to hang the funny bits and the outlandish bits together in such a way that you still sort of like and root for the characters by the end, especially Rex and Jojo.

And despite taking over a decade to make, there isn’t the sense of ennui that you seem some other extended projects. Harrison commits to the bit, follows through, and comes up with a surprisingly funny 100 minutes.

Can I recommend it? Well, it’s not for everyone™. It’s crude. There is a lot of sexual humor. There is a ridiculous amount of ridiculous violence. The word “ninja” is pronounced “ninjer”. There is a penis more or less right off the bat. (I didn’t ask Harrison if it was his.) He turns his mother into a running “yo mama” joke. (What a good sport! Actually, both seemed like real sweethearts.) There’s dracophilia. Sorta? Does it count if the dragon is one of those Chinese parade puppets? But also sort of a real dragon? I don’t know.

It defies classification, really. If you’re looking for something different and you’re not overly sensitive (both metaphorically and literally, given the visuals and audio) this will turn the trick.