Movie Review ~ Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A look at the history of the American comedy publication and production company, National Lampoon, from its beginning in the 1970s to 2010, featuring rare and never-before-seen footage.

Stars: Chevy Chase, Kevin Bacon, Al Jean, Billy Bob Thornton, Ivan Reitman, John Landis, Judd Apatow, P.J. O’Rourke

Director: Douglas Tirola

Rated: R

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Though I’ve watched quite a few of the big screen offerings boasting the name National Lampoon, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen the bawdy, rule-challenging magazine that started it all. Those in the same boat as me will be well served to devote some time to Douglas Tirola’s Lampoon love letter Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon because it gathers nearly every living member that was a major contributor to the magazine and films, detailing how the magazine rose to record high circulation before crashing and burning near the turn of the century.

The ground-breaking publication had a 28 year run starting in 1970, born as an offshoot of sorts to the Harvard Lampoon, a chaste satire magazine that I’m pretty sure didn’t feature as many bare breasts as its wicked cousin. Attracting some of the best and brightest in young comedic talent, the magazine grew to phenomenal popularity in pop culture and found its players turning up on a radio shows, stage plays, and, eventually movies.

The timing seems right for this documentary, coming on the heels of the numerous retrospectives that surrounded the 40th Anniversary of Saturday Night Live. Looking at the members of the National Lampoon that were eventually lured away to form the original cast of SNL, you get an even greater sense as to where they cut their satiric teeth before achieving the national spotlight every Saturday night.

It’s a fairly straight-forward documentary with good sound bites presented by people with names we recognize more for their behind the scenes contribution than anything onscreen. Though they are now older and (maybe) wiser, the wealth of timeworn photos show that in their heyday these people partied hard and produced a ribald humor magazine that was a counter-culture phenom of its time. It’s hard to know if such a thing could happen in this day and age, making the National Lampoon a time capsule of sorts for how things (and people) (and humor) used to be.

Movie Review ~ Goodnight Mommy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Twin boys move to a new home with their mother after she has face changing cosmetic surgery, but under her bandages is someone the children don’t recognize.

Stars: Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz

Director: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Here’s the good news. It appears that we’re in a new renaissance of horror films; films made to scare that don’t always involve a slasher hacking away at nubile teens or a monster from the deep chomping away at nubile teens. No, this is a time of the slow burn psychological horror, fright flicks designed to give you the fears while you’re in the theater but also keep you checking underneath your bed for days/weeks to come.

Now here’s the bad news. Not all of these movies are good and Goodnight Mommy is the latest case in point.

Perhaps I’ve seen too many horror entries to feel the kind of dread as someone who isn’t a fan of the genre might feel when confronted with the grisly happenings that go on in Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s Austrian shocker. That may explain why I felt like I was being led along a paint-by-numbers canvas of a screenplay with the kind of twists and turns that feel also-ran. In fact, the big twist of the film is telegraphed so early on that I felt surely I had swallowed the red herring too fast and another rug was going to be pulled out from under at any time.

The handsomely shot film is set in an isolated country home and finds twin boys unsure of the woman they call Mother, a heavily bandaged woman that knows their names but also can’t recall important facts about them. Early scenes show the boys frolicking in the woods and nearby lake but when Mother arrives they are kept inside, trying to evade her cold glare and discover what lies underneath the bandages.

While the film begins as straight up psychological drama, its second act devolves into a gruesome set of torture sequences involving burnt flesh, cockroaches, and a host of other nasty deeds I can’t divulge. It’s a bit of a will tester, I’ll admit, but it’s so unpleasant that even telling yourself “It’s only a movie” doesn’t wash away the gritty grime you’ll feel when the credits roll.

As Mother, Susanne Wuest deserves some special prize for making it to the end of production without losing her mind. It’s a role of few words, and a remarkable one at that, requiring the actress to convey some air of mystery without using dialogue or facial expressions (she’s bandaged up for 75% of the film). I think it’s more to her credit than the screenplay that we empathize with her even while we question her intentions. Twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz have a raw honesty about them that works for their curious characters and the trio supports each other through Franz and Fiala’s more humiliating later scenes.

Goodnight Mommy first came on my radar with a much buzzed about preview that the internet proclaimed to be “the scariest trailer of the year” and they weren’t totally wrong. Unfortunately, after seeing the finished product I can tell you that the trailer is edited in a way to deliberately deceive the audience. A movie (especially a horror movie) should stand on its own and not fabricate scenes merely to get more butts in the seat or more chatter from film fans. It bugged me and it should bug you too.

Not as scary as The Babadook and not as original as It Follows, Goodnight Mommy is admittedly a cut above most of the US horror garbage dumped in theaters…but it’s one that doesn’t live up to expectations.

The Silver Bullet ~ Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

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Synopsis: Jane Austen’s classic tale of the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England is faced with a new challenge — an army of undead zombies.

Release Date: February 5, 2016

Thoughts: Inspired by Jane Austen’s literary classic and Seth Grahame-Smith’s cheeky genre-bending spoof, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies aims to take full advantage of audiences love of period drama and the flesh hungry undead. This nifty first teaser opens like any number of Austen adaptations before seguing into more bodice/throat ripping action. I can’t tell how well the drama/comedy/horror will balance out but it’s sure to be funnier than 2013’s dismally dreary Austenland and scarier than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (also, by happenstance, adapted from Grahame-Smith’s novel). With a pleasant stable of young stars onboard like Lily James (Cindrella), Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows), Jack Huston (The Longest Ride), Matt Smith (Terminator Genisys), and Sam Riley (Maleficent) this one could be great fun…or a one-joke bit of tedium. I’m hoping for fun.