Movie Reviews – October 2012

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The Ambassador
Drafthouse Films
On DVD: 10.23
Mads Brügger returns to the world of documentary filmmaking with another voyeuristic hidden-camera journey that transports viewers into more undesirable territories. Last time, he snuck us into North Korea in The Red Chapel, but his latest secretive expedition covertly places audiences in the middle of the Central African Republic (CAR) while Brügger poses as a foreign business diplomat attempting to set up a faux organization in the third world in order to leave with a briefcase full of diamonds. Brügger obtains this special status and exposes the corrupt world of diplomatic ranking with the help of corrupt businessmen who abuse the system to exploit third world countries. As the documentarian digs deeper into this immoral undertaking, he quickly realizes he may be the one being conned by individuals far more shady than himself. Too many issues remain unanswered after the credits roll in this project—some call into question the authenticity of the final product. While Brügger does use hidden cameras during high-profile interviews, it’s clear a cameraman is following him around during most of the production. Does this oddity not concern any of the crooked individuals involved? Furthermore, as one criminal after another is bribed with thousands of dollars, one might question the financer behind the project. As the running time progresses and the scheme appears to drift further and further from its initial course, Brügger appears to fill up space with nonsensical scenes (What’s the deal with the audio recordings of whales?). Brügger offers multiple scenarios that once again prove the filmmaker is one of the most daring artists of our time, but, unlike his previous endeavors, The Ambassador is far too unhinged and scattered to place him in a flawless spotlight. The final straw comes from the abrupt ending that contains no resolution, which forces the feeling that the entire journey was all for naught. –Jimmy Martin

Anchor Bay Films
On DVD: 10.16
In his directorial debut, Richard Bates Jr. racks up multiple points for the fucked up in this twisted horror-story-meets-teen-comedy. AnnaLynne McCord steps out of her usual “vixen” roles to play Pauline—a greasy, acne-ridden teenager with bizarre sexual fantasies centered on performing surgery on strangers. Her parents are disturbed and her classmates repulsed, but despite all of Pauline’s oddities, her younger sister Grace (who suffers from cystic fibrosis) seems to understand her … sort of. The film features all sorts of stellar cameos too—John Waters plays Reverend William, who Pauline is sent to for therapy, and Ray Wise plays the principal of Pauline’s school. Traci Lords also stars as Pauline’s flawless mother. Excision doesn’t fall victim to the trappings of an independent horror film. Although there is plenty of blood, a few disgusting sex acts, vomiting and, of course, some surgery, it’s clear that Bates knows the genre well and the disgusting scenes serve a purpose outside of simple repulsion. Every violent and grotesque scene moves the story forward and better explains the complexity of the characters. Excision is a film that was built to be a cult classic. –Jeanette D. Moses

Image Entertainment
On DVD: 09.11
In this coming-of-age story based on the novel Goats by Mark Jude Poirier, Ellis Whitman (Graham Phillips) is a 15-year-old with a strange family dynamic. His mother (Vera Farmiga) is a trust-fund hippy—completely self-absorbed and childish—and his father (Ty Burrell) has been absent for most of his life. This leaves the goofy, marijuana-smoking “Goat Man” (David Duchovny) as his main guardian. Though his upbringing has been somewhat unconventional, Ellis decides to apply and is accepted to the same uppity prep school his father went to on the East Coast, far away from his laid-back desert hacienda in Arizona. Far from home, he has to deal with the changes in his family––his mother becoming more and more dependent and the news of his father’s blossoming new family––all while trying to find himself. Phillips was absolutely perfect for this role. Having a couple of little brothers around the same age, I thought his acting was an accurate portrayal of a teenage boy dealing with adult problems. Goat Man was another favorite character, quirky and hilarious in his repartee with Ellis’ mother’s new boyfriend and his goats. Farmiga also did a wonderful job playing the new age mother—funny at times, but also a little sad and angering in her failure to be the supportive mother Ellis needs, rather than the childlike burden she becomes. These characters are definitely what make the film enjoyable, along with the beautiful desert landscape, which brings a unique setting to the film. –Esther Meroño

Shut Up and Play the Hits
Oscilloscope Pictures
On DVD: 10.09
In the opening moments of Shut Up and Play the Hits, we see James Murphy, lead singer of LCD Soundsystem, waking up in his bed with his French bulldog sleeping on his chest. It’s the morning after LCD Soundsystem’s final show at Madison Square Garden, so Murphy is understandably a little groggy. He drags himself out of bed, pulls on some pajama pants and takes his dog outside to pee. Here is the lead singer of what was one of the most popular bands in the world, and his life is so goddamn normal. Directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace were interested in making a film about the calculated and controlled demise of LCD Soundsystem because they wondered why. “Why would Murphy, at the height of LCD’s career, decide to disband?” Shut Up and Play the Hits was created using footage from the day after the final sold-out show, an interview that takes place a week before the final performance and, of course, extensive footage from the final show itself. Admittedly, I am a casual fan of LCD Soundsystem and never had a chance to see them play live. Although the live footage was fantastic and managed to capture the group’s energy, I thought that it was used excessively throughout the film. I realize this is probably because I’m not a super-fan, since the man sitting next to me started dancing every time LCD started a song. Luckily, the film still has plenty to offer for people like myself. I found the interviews with Murphy to be very insightful. Throughout the course of the film, Murphy discusses the mythical qualities of certain musicians, life outside of the music world and what it means to grow old in the business. Shut Up and Play the Hits may not be wet dream-inducing for casual listeners of the band, but any music lover will find something they like here. –Jeanette D. Moses

Magnet Releasing
In Theaters: 10.05
It’s strange, but the majority of viewers of this recent addition to the found footage horror genre will be unaware of the VHS format—I’m getting old. While most found footage films (The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity) use the genre to generate a cheap, shoddy production with little creativity to produce high box office revenues, these six filmmakers have combined their grotesque passion for gore, violence, dark humor and terror and essentially created a “Tales from the Darkside” found footage film. A group of pranksters who document their lives are hired via email to break into a home and steal a much-desired VHS tape. Not ones to shy away from filming their illegal antics, the crew brings the audience along to witness the crime. However, upon arrival, a scattered collection of tapes are found, so in order to locate the correct item, the criminals (and the members of the audience) must watch one horrifying tape after another. From demonic monsters and disturbing voyeurs to possessed Skype videos and active haunted houses, the see-saw of entertainment sways both ways as only half of the directors are capable of spawning true horror, while the others follow in the footsteps on their uninspired predecessors (but that doesn’t mean they won’t make millions in the process). Even with the less convincing portions of the film, this new spin has developed a whole new perspective on the found-footage model and renewed my hope for future cheaply made projects. –Jimmy Martin