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Tuesday: Super

This is a fun little flick that's worth checking out for those who are interesting in this genre and are able to overlook its flaws.

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Every summer, there are a bunch of superhero films released as they're always expected to rake in the cash. However, there have been more than a few independent films that take a more humorous approach to the genre by having people who are motivated to take on becoming a superhero, of course without the super powers. Kick-Ass succeeded with flying colors and many audiences seem to agree with my opinion on that. It's almost impossible to watch Super without thinking about Kick-Ass since there are some scenes that feel so similar. However, the motivations are completely different and the messages that the characters are portraying differ as well. We're supposed to root for the protagonist, but I could imagine some viewers unable to do so given the character in Super. With all of the violence and quick jabs at superhero flicks, Super fights to be the next Kick-Ass, but does it succeed?

When his wife leaves him for a drug dealer, average guy Frank D'Arbo, decides to become a superhero. He calls himself the Crimson Bolt and tries to keep a tagalong comic-book store clerk from becoming his sidekick. It's hard to be a superhero when all you've got no weapons or powers other than a pipe wrench. It isn't too difficult to walk away from even the trailer understanding that Super isn't meant to be taken too seriously. What sets Super apart from many other non-superhero vigilantes is that Frank and the comic-book clerk are anti-heroes. The film displays how the superheroes can be just as cruel, brutal, and relentless as the criminals. This is why I believe some audiences had difficulty being sympathetic towards Frank. However, my issue isn't with the character, but what he stands for. The filmmakers are clearly attempting to make a statement with this movie and the Crimson Bolt. It feels as if the creators got confused and then switched the message. The screenplay could be described as a bigger budgeted Troma film. There's a lot of over-the-top violence and gore, as well as a lot of transitions between moods. One second, Super is melodramatic and the next, it switches to comedy. There are times that this method proved to work, although there are a lot of moments where it actually hurts the fluency of the feature However, there are most certainly laughs to be had here. Unless you accept over the top filmmaking, you might be turned off by what Super provides. There are times that this movie is fun, but it ultimately has an average plot that gets messy.

Despite the many flaws scattered across the screenplay, there's a great cast still attached. Rainn Wilson plays Frank D'Arbo. He's truly the ideal actor for this role. He's believable in the character both physically and in the way he delivers dialogue and body language. Libby, Boltie, is Frank's sidekick. The marvelous Ellen Page performs in this role. As always, she absolutely nails the character. She's funny, sexy, and is sure to be a favorite of the feature. Libby's personality is so out there, although she has a completely different motivation for fighting crime. Even Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon are present in supporting roles. Tyler is Frank's wife, Sarah, who is the entire reason why he started fighting crime. Bacon is the main antagonist. He steals every single scene he appears in. He's awesome in the villain role here. No matter what you think of the movie itself, the cast is definitely impressive.

The budget for Super isn't very large, but it's a big fish in the smaller fish tank of movies known as Troma films. Director James Gunn has definitely given Super a comic book and independent atmosphere to the motion picture. There are a bunch of visual references to comic books throughout. When it comes to the violence, everything is way over the top. However, the visuals themselves look fine. There are a few gross gags that have been pulled off on a relatively small budget. Audiences will be pleased to know that the effects were done in front of the camera and when it comes to the bloodshed, there isn't CG work. Superhero movies usually get some fantastic treatment when it comes to the audio quality. Super doesn't quite have the impact that the others do in the genre, although it isn't bad. The dialogue is never difficult to hear and the audio comes through the speakers loud and clear. The surround channels aren't utilized as much as I was hoping for them to be. The subwoofer definitely makes its presence known when called upon.

I can definitely see audiences splitting on Super. It isn't for everybody, but I don't see very many people sitting in the middle. Most viewers will either love it or hate it. I had to let this movie set for quite some time before reviewing it. I had difficulty really deciding how I felt about the picture as a whole. It's very violent, has its moments where it's hilarious, but then also appears to be very confused with what it's trying to get across. Unfortunately for Super, everybody will be comparing it to Kick-Ass. One thing that I'm clear about is that this motion picture doesn't break any new ground. However, it's still a fun movie. The cast is great and the technical aspects of the visuals are solid as well. Super appeals to a very specific audience and if you're not one of those viewers, then it simply isn't for you. I'm not much of a fan of this movie, but I didn't hate it by any means. This is a fun little flick that's worth checking out for those who are interesting in this genre and are able to overlook its flaws.

My Rating = Three Stars

Next movie: God Bless America

Thursday: God Bless America

God Bless America is an uproarious picture that is ultimately successful in creating a satire of modern American pop culture.

God Bless America
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The pop culture with the technology, reality TV shows, and other distractions has most definitely changed society. They have changed the behavior of many children and adults. Writer/Director Bobcat Goldthwait has created God Bless America, which holds a mirror up to us about the society we live in. Along with many other people, I find reality television to be garbage and get very irritated by a lot of what's considered popular nowadays. A lot of children and teenagers look up to train wrecks such as Kim Kardashian and members on the Jersey Shore. How has it not been addressed more often about how wrong it is to look up to and praise such talentless hacks? Well, God Bless America is the movie for you if you have a similar way of thinking. It's a satire of modern America as it points out many of its flaws in a bloody fashion.

Disgusted with American society and diagnosed with a brain tumor, Frank teams up with teenager Roxy. The two begin killing reality TV stars, bigots, and others they find repugnant. This dark comedy displays how passionate writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait is about expressing his anger about society. While not everybody will be glad about Frank's choice of actions due to so many actual shootings taking place in real life, Goldthwait is successful in getting the audience to reflect on American society and ask themselves if we're really as civilized as we think. A lot of effort was clearly put into the screenplay. This movie has underlining themes that are more complex than they appear to be. The best portions of the movie are when Frank or Roxy have their monologues. They discuss what they find to be so wrong about American society. Not only are they humorous, but they really make you think. The writer has developed a well-paced script. From the opening moments, there are already some laughs. It doesn't let up until the credits are rolling, even though there are momentary breaks from the laughter, which are filled with character development. I was rolling my eyes when the film appeared to be going in the direction of a romantic relationship between Frank and Roxy. Fortunately, the movie never goes down that road. Instead, Roxy looks up to Frank and they develop a father/daughter-type relationship. By the end of the movie, it actually feels rather genuine. As the duo discuss what disgust them about society, such as people who give high-fives, misuse words such as 'actually,' and amateur singers seen on a knock-off version of American Idol., viewers won't be able to help but simply laugh along with the conversation. While the screenplay doesn't scream perfection, it still accomplishes what it set out to do and delivers a hell of a lot of laughs along the way.

If you're searching for big stars in God Bless America, you won't find them. However, that doesn't make a difference. Joel Murray performs as Frank. Those who have seen Hatchet should recognize him instantly. The rest of those watching this film will most likely not know who he is. This is one of those cases where he does a great job being a normal person. Usually, the only acting that gets a lot of recognition is when they're playing a character who has an illness such as schizophrenia. Murray nails the role of a normal man who simply snaps after dealing with society and then being told that he's going to die from a brain tumor. Tara Lynne Barr plays Roxy. She does a good job at playing the mature, yet a bit naive teenager. Both actors express themselves rather well as they develop a relationship between the characters and the audience with these performances. The acting is better than I was expecting it to be.

God Bless America holds a mirror up to the issues of America's pop culture. The screenplay does an excellent job with the humor. It's clear that the writer is passionate about the problems addressed. The dark comedy in this movie is absolutely hilarious. This is a highly entertaining feature from start to finish. There will be moments where Frank and Roxy will shoot people in situations where you found yourselves upset by and find it to be very funny. Mine is a scene where rude people continue to make noise and talk on their cell phones during a movie. The acting is surprisingly spot on as both actors present Frank and Roxy very well. God Bless America has taken a very gutsy topic and instead of beating around the bush, goes in at full speed and doesn't worry about breaking barriers. There are some scenes that are sure to be controversial, but this is a hilarious movie. God Bless America is an uproarious picture that is ultimately successful in creating a satire of modern American pop culture.

My Rating = Four Stars

Next movie: Grave Encounters

Saturday: Grave Encounters

If the execution was better, this could have been a terrifying piece of cinema.

Grave Encounters
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Ever since The Blair Witch Project was released back in 1999, a large number of independent horror filmmakers have decided to create his or her own found footage features. However, in 2007, Paranormal Activity began premiering at film festivals and that became the next big thing. It's perfect for the independent movie makers since these type of movies are pretty cheap to make and unknown cast members are actually encouraged to make the found footage feel authentic. I'm not sure how long the feature Grave Encounters has been circling the film festivals, but it's been a while now. After the success at those screenings, the film was picked up and put on video-on-demand. I've heard nothing but good buzz about this as many moviegoers were stating that this is one of the most terrifying movies to come out in quite some time. Well, a good indicator regarding the quality of the movie lies within the self-given name of the directors--The Vicious Brothers.

The stars of a paranormal-investigation TV show spend the night in a worn down psychiatric hospital, hoping to uncover what's been going bump in the night. As their cameras roll, they find themselves trapped and hunted. We've all seen or at least heard of those incredibly cheesy television shows where a group of people investigate a 'haunted building.' They actors are always so over the top and everything is so clearly fake. Well, that's what Grave Encounters is mocking. The formula of the overall pacing is very similar to The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Before any of the hauntings truly take place, we're given a backstory of the building and what type of paranormal things have been occurring. This portion of the movie goes by slowly and it doesn't start to pick up until much later in the picture. From early on, we can tell that all of these characters are absolute tools. Therefore, we're actually cheering for them to be taken out instead of wanting to see them make it alive out of the psychiatric hospital. Once the movie really gets into it, there are moments where I found myself tensing up a bit. However, the majority of what's seen here is laughable. There are so many giant plot holes here that you could drive a truck through them. The ending is sure to make you look at your buddy with a vexed expression and laugh from the insane amount of unbelievability that takes place. The entire point of having a found footage-type feature is to make it feel like it actually happened, therefore making it feel as if it could happen to the audience. Sure, there are some eerie moments of the movie, but a lot of it is so far fetched that it comes off as tacky. The IQ levels of these characters must be in the single digits because you'll find yourself wanting to yell at screen from becoming so irritated with them. It's a shame that there weren't very many of those sequences that simply pull us in and make us feel a bit creeped out. One of which involves a bathtub filled with blood from a patient who killed herself. Instead of entire portions of the movie being decent, there are only a few moments. Such small periods of time aren't enough to pull this movie through.

One of the greatest benefits to making a found footage movie is being able to choose actors nobody knows to make it more believable. This definitely cuts down on the cost for actors. Well, Grave Encounters has an entire cast of actors who struggle on screen. The Blair Witch Project surprised many viewers that the actors were doing a lot of improv and not very much of it was scripted. Some of the acting was over-the-top, but some of the monologues felt rather convincing, such as when Heather is speaking to the camera late at night about how she misses home and is afraid to close her eyes as well as to open them. We have no such gems here. The movie stars Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko, Mackenzie Gray, and Merwin Mondesir. Not that any of that matters because none of these actors are anybody you're going to recognize. Perhaps the best performance seen here is by Juan Riedinger as Matt White. I don't want to spoil it for those of you who are still going to see this, but towards the end of the movie he sells the character. The two most irritating of the bunch are Ashleigh Gryzko as Sasha Parker and Mackenzie Gray as Houston Gray. Gryzko provides exactly what you'd expect, just a lot of crying and screaming, most of which feeling fake. Gray's role is very annoying as it is, but on top of that, his delivery is very cheesy. I don't expect great acting from a feature such as Grave Encounters, but I at least expect to not be laughing when they're supposed to be delivering serious dialogue. I found myself laughing quite a bit.

There aren't any surprises when it comes to the camera work. It's handheld, but fortunately isn't too shaky. A lot of people complained about how shaky the camera work is in Cloverfield. You won't have to experience any of that as the cameras are actually held fairly steady for the feature. Of course, when the characters get frantic and begin to run, there's some shaking, but it isn't too bad. The biggest tool Grave Encounters has is the psychiatric hospital itself. Even though the movie itself isn't scary, the setting most certainly is. The Vicious Brothers selected a marvelous location and have captured the rooms to pure perfection. As the characters are roaming the halls, simply exploring the place, viewers will get feelings of dread and might even have a chill or two run down his or her spine. The filmmakers have definitely used the setting to their advantage. This isn't quite like Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project where nothing is really shown of what's trying to harm them. Instead, we're essentially hit in the face over and over with these ghosts. They're juming towards the camera and everything. I believe that not showing the ghosts so much would have worked to The Vicious Brothers's advantage. Instead, we have a lot of ghosts that look at the screen and drop their jaws, and have very fake looking demonic faces. I learned this trick within the first few days at film camp. If they wanted to show these ghosts so badly, perhaps they should have put more effort into the appearances of them. Grave Encounters doesn't have a tool stronger than the powerful and disturbing setting.

I'm left wondering whether or not I watched a different movie than everybody at these film festivals. Grave Encounters isn't scary. Its attempt at slow-burn horror fails in the beginning. Once the film kicks into full gear, a lot of the acting is laughable, as well as the effects with the ghosts. I like the original concept for the movie, but it simply wasn't executed correctly here. If you're looking for the next Paranormal Activity, you aren't going to find that here, although if you're looking for a flick to watch and make fun of with a group of friends, this might be a good choice. I usually am able to brush off plot holes without much of a problem, but they are so gaping here that it's impossible to ignore them. For a movie that's supposed to make us believe it actually happened, it sure feels fake. The reason why I gave this 2 out of 5 stars and not 1.5 is due to the fact that there are some moments where it's successful in being eerie and the utterly creepy setting. If the execution was better, this could have been a terrifying piece of cinema. Grave Encounters doesn't live up to the hype, however the psychiatric hospital itself is quite chilling.

My Rating = Two Stars

Next movie: Footloose