This may put me in the doghouse but I found the recent reboot of the Griswold Vacation films to be funnier than the entire original Chevy Chase series combined. The National Lampoon series is a big, clunky, unwieldy beast full of hit or miss humour, really bizarre instances and comedy that has dimmed and dated a lot since then, they’re not my favourite films and I remember fondly only for sheer nostalgia because they’d always show up on TBS Superstation back when I was a kid. This thing goes and totally does it’s own thing though and ends up being fucking hilarious from start to finish, if you have the right sense of humour that is and are open to a severely offensive set of jokes and very R rated mayhem, which is the best way to get me interested in a comedy.
Terminally nerdy Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswold, the grown up kid of Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, who also turn up for third act cameos here. Rusty wants to recreate his childhood vacation to Walley World by dragging his wife (Christina Applegate) and two dysfunctional sons (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins) on a chaotic road trip there, with everything naturally going completely wrong every step of the way. When I say it goes wrong though I mean that in every gross out, humiliating, cringey, scatological, immature sense of the word. The tone here is radically different from the old Vacation films and honestly I appreciated it, jived with it more. The screenwriters just want to make a balls out (literally), hard R, deranged comedy that happens to take place in the Griswold universe and I guess some fans couldn’t handle it.
So what’s funny about it? Well take your pick: Chris Hemsworth as a hysterically sexist cattle rancher with a ten inch cock clearly visible in his briefs, a hot-springs that turns out to be raw sewage dump filled with used needles, relentless sibling bullying, a shady truck driver (Norman Reedus in the film’s best WTF cameo) with a teddy bear hood ornament to lure kids in, a suicidal river rafting guide (Charlie Day), cows getting turned into road kill and much more. If none of that sounds like your picks the you were probably expecting something else and this isn’t gonna be your bag. This ain’t the whimsical, eccentric Vacation aesthetic from the Lampoon films, but that’s alright. My favourite joke involves the Albanian rental car Rusty procures for their trip, an impossibly inconvenient machine with a button that literally blows out all the windows and a NavGuide system that screams at them in Korean, which had me laughing so hard it hurt. Watch for fun cameos from Keegan Michael Key, Ron Livingston, Michael Pena, Regina Hall, Tim Heidecker, Colin Hanks and Leslie Mann as a grown up Audrey Griswold, married to Hemsworth and his magnum dong. This one was a huge winner for me, and while I can appreciate the hate thrown at it when compared to the original films, that didn’t bother me. If you just roll with this vision
Slow Burn is just that, one of those dreary, stylized neo noirs about a low rent private investigator (Eric Roberts) who is on a case but seems only half interested, probably because the plot meanders around making little sense or holding less interest than a ruptured hull does water. Roberts is always engaging so it’s not all bad, plus there’s some eclectic cast members supporting him and an appearance from young Johnny Depp in what was one of his first roles, probably filmed in between takes of A Nightmare On Elm Street. Roberts is hired by a kooky New York artist (the great Raymond J. Barry) to investigate Depp’s stern rich parents (Beverly D’Angelo and Dan Hedaya), who may have some vague familial ties or be involved in a decades old scandal. Or are they? Do we care? Does it matter? It certainly didn’t matter to any potential distributors, as there seems to be literally no North American DVD release, I had to watch one of those choppy ten part YouTube versions. It’s interesting to see Depp and Roberts together in a few quick scenes, they are two legends of cool and it’d be nice to see them in something else together again. Overall though this is a particularly slow burn, and not a very enthralling one at that.
The Sentinel is one of the weirdest thing you’ll ever see. It’s less of a horror and more just a parade of bizarro world situations strung together loosely by a vague haunted apartment story. A young model (Christina Baines) has found a sweet deal on an uptown flat, inhabited by only herself and a blond priest (John Carradine). It’s just too bad that when a deal seems to good to be true in these kinds of movies, there’s almost always some kind of sinister agenda behind it. It’s not too long before spooky stuff comes along, starting with strange physical problems, creepy encounters with her odd lesbian neighbors, flashbacks to her attempted suicide and psychic disturbances that can’t be explained. She soon realizes that she has been brought to this building for a very specific and decidedly sinister reason. The way I described all that sounds kind of routine and pedestrian, but trust me when I say that there’s nothing generic or run of the mill about this absurdity of a film. Everything has a very disconcerting and surreal feel to it, particularly in a whopper of a climax where a portal to hell is opened and all sorts of babbling loonies pour out, deformed, whacked out and adorned in some of the most creatively gross practical effects that will give your gag reflex a solid workout. The film also speckled with a diverse group of actors, some of them quite young looking when you remember that this was 1977. A chatty Eli Wallach shows up as a detective, with a youthful Christopher Walken in tow as his partner, Ava Gardner of all people has a cameo, and watch for Burgess Meredith, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, William Hickey, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Dreyfuss, Chris Sarandon, and Tom Berenger in what must have been one of his very first gigs, a literal walk on part. Very distinct and memorable film, one that pushed the boundaries considering the time period, and never let’s the weirdness mellow down for a single minute.
Battle For Terra is right up there with Titan AE as one of the most underrated animated films out there. It was shunted to the area off the beaten path of the genre, released quietly and inconspicuously back in 2009, sneaking just past people’s radar. Not mine. I waited eagerly for a theatrical release, which never came, and grabbed the dvd as soon as it hit shelves. It’s a dazzling science fiction parable not unlike Avatar, but a little softer, reverent and easy on the pyrotechnics. The story takes place some years after the remainder of the human race has been left to wander the stars in a giant spaceship called The Ark, left homeless after devastating the resources of earth, and three subsequent planets after. Soon they set their sights on a newfound world they dub Terra. Terra is populated by a peaceful alien race who spend most of their time in harmony, studying their heritage and bettering their existence. They now face annihilation, however, as the humans wish to settle, mine resources and deeply unbalance their way of life. One young Terran girl named Nala (Evan Rachel Wood) is a plucky young inventress and wonderer who finds one of the human astronauts (Luke Wilson) crash landed and stranded in her neck of the woods. They form a bond which may turn out to be the only way to find peace between humanity and the population of Terra. The story is wonderful, universal and carried out in a childlike manner full of earnestness that anyone can relate too. The Terrans resemble something like upright tadpoles crossed with sock puppets, and are fascinating to look upon. More interesting still is the natural world they inhabit; they sort of swim/glide through their thick atmosphere, and coexist with the many strange creatures and bioluminescence around them, including gigantic blue whale type things that fly around with them. I’m describing this to try and impart to you the level of thought and detail which went into creating this world, so you can see how high the filmmakers have jacked up the stakes in attempt to let you see the length humans will blindly go to further their survival, without voluntary compromise. The world the Terrans live on is a lush paradise in perfect balance, and the humans aboard The Ark, no matter how desperate, threaten it. They are led by stern General Hammer (Brian Cox), who is an antagonist, but not a villain in the least, a determind leader who will go to extremes to protect his people if his lack of empathy is allowed to go unchecked. The supporting cast is stacked high with incredible talent, and one can practice ones skill for identifying voices by listening for Danny Glover, Ron Perlman, Danny Trejo, Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette, David Cross, Beverly D’Angelo, Chris Evans, James Garner, Mark Hamill, Amanda Peet and Dennis Quaid. What a lineup. Imagination, storytelling ambition and visual genius govern this overlooked piece, and anyone who is a fan of animation (which is brilliant here, I might add) or science fiction needs to take a look.