Sometimes the scariest things are simple, and in the case of It Follows, something as simple as seeing a person walk towards you can become the scariest damn thing imaginable.
Let’s get this right out of the way. Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, is the best of all three of the Cabin Fever films so far. You’ll probably react to this news in one of two ways: Indifference, or you’ll defend the Eli Roth original to the death as the One True Cabin Fever film. The problem with this is that the horror genre has moved beyond the referential “Homages and passion are enough” status quo. 2012’s Cabin In The Woods changed all of that. When Cabin Fever came out, it flopped pretty hard but the theater of people I saw it in were changed forever. It’s a raucous film that has energy and lots of flaws, but it’s lots of fun. The sequel was a bizarre result of studio intervention and Alan Smithee-esque levels of final cut butchery, so it’s best left forgotten.
I have a long and personal history with Dan Harmon’s work, and in a lot of ways, this documentary is a culmination of my fandom for him growing to its absolute peak. That is to say, the work of Dan Harmon is something I’ve always loved, even before I knew his name. You’re most likely familiar with his most famous work, Community. A lot has been written about that show, and with it, Dan Harmon. The two are kind of inseparable, which is what creates such an interesting pretense for a documentary: What happens to an artist when his creation is taken from him?
While this is a documentary that certainly does tell that story, the main focus is on Mr. Harmon. It’s his self-destruction, heartache for the loss of his own show, and the eclectic people who have all been touched in one way or another by Dan Harmon’s work that creates the backbone of the movie. We follow the tour he takes in response to being fired from his own show, and what we see is a condensed version of scenes from his popular and eponymous podcast Harmontown. So this documentary is really for two sets of fans; Fans who love Community and want to know more about its creator, and fans of his podcast. I’m personally in the latter, and I was giddy to watch this film. In a nutshell, it’s exactly what I expected. The podcast in a movie form, with a semi-narrative that accurately captures the spirit of the tour, and of Dan Harmon himself. He’s a tortured mad genius poet, who cannot accept his own success, and seems to self-sabotage. But it’s great! It’s cathartic to watch a man slowly – over the course of his tour – take some time to think about who he really is, who his fans are, and what that connection truly means to him, and to his fans in turn.
If you’re a Harmonite like me, you don’t need convincing to watch this movie, not really. If you’re in the camp of fans who only know him as the creator of Community, I’m honestly jealous of you. Along with the wonderful podcast (which is basically the long form version of lots of this film), this movie is a deep exploration of how insidious self loathing is. It shows us the real trials of being a very demanding artist who is willing to burn everything around him to create from his soul. It’s a passion and a drive that is respectable and admirable, even if ultimately unhealthy.
And unhealthy it is. Don’t get me wrong, this documentary is not favorable to Dan Harmon. It’s quite unflinching in its portrayal of his relationship with his girlfriend, who sits back and casually receives verbal abuse from Harmon that would cut others to ribbons. If there’s one thing to look for in the film, it’s how even though Harmon is a broken, sad, tortured man, he’s still managed to find someone who loves him for who he is. It’s a beautiful message and one of the more subtle ones told in the film. We mainly see the film through the perspective of a young Dungeons And Dragons player (“A Dungeon MASTER”, as he exclaims in the film) named Spencer Crittenden. He’s our “everyman” in the documentary, and as much as I love Spencer in the film, the focus is clearly on Harmon.
Harmontown is a documentary that shows us how over long periods of time, with enough mental work, enough patience and enough time, we can rise out of the ditches of self-loathing we all dig for ourselves. I can’t think of anything more heart wrenching than having your creation ripped away from you and given to others to continue working on, and the effect it has on Harmon is gripping. He’s a polarizing man for sure, but I guess in a lot of ways so am I, and so are a lot of Harmontown fans. I think that’s something that I, Harmonites, and Dan Harmon himself have all discovered together, and that’s pretty damn magical.
Images: Harmontown, The Orchard
Amazon has recently taken big swipes in the entertainment industry. They’ve gone pretty wholehog into this Fire thing, and to be honest, I really dig it. I like their approach to digital media distribution and the way they handle their cloud. They’re also great at creating original content, which is something they’re really starting to get a handle on. In the past few years they’ve even gone and made a “Pilot season” for their original programming. The Amazon pilot season is now in it’s third iteration, and while I’m not familiar with the previous two “winners” (all the pilots are in a contest to be chosen which will continue by viewer demand), the current lineup has two clear front-runners out of the pack that includes:
Hand Of God
This is a pretty typical “ambiguous religious duty” kind of show. You know the type, where the character is maybe getting some secret message, or maybe they’re just crazy, man. It’s not written terribly well, but it’s not boring or laugh out loud stupid either. If anything, it’s pretty clear that the whole thing is a vehicle for Ron Perlman to strut his stuff and show off his acting chops, of which he has plenty. Perlman is the draw here, because his performance elevates an otherwise pretty dreary and dull script. The show is captivating because of him and him alone, but that in and of itself is enough to keep me watching. The issue with this is that when your whole show rides on one actor, it tends to create a pretty huge vacuum if, for some strange reason, he decided not to act in it anymore. I’m not saying Ron Perlman is gonna die, but if he does, then this show will suck.
- Look: 75
- Sound: 70
- Players: 90
- Script: 30
This was the most pleasant surprise of the selection for me. I never thought a story about a tennis coach could be so interesting, but Steven Soderbergh has managed to produce a show about tennis that’s magically not stupid as hell. Granted, it’s accomplished by being set in the ’80s, which is the cultural equivalent of that neon colored frosting on store bought cupcakes. Bright and beautiful, but mostly just filler and lots of saturated fat. And cocaine. Did you know that all store cupcakes have cocaine in them? Explains a lot, doesn’t it?
Anyway, the pilot centers on a kid who teaches rich folk at a tennis club how to tennis better, or whatever. He eventually gets tied up in some hijinks and ’80s genre leitmotifs. I loved it, not only because I’m a sucker for ’80s music, but because everyone in this acted like real people who were trying to do things. When you’re making a dramedy, the characters HAVE to feel real, or else you’re just an unfocused director or writer trying to console their own feelings on camera while calling it an “exploration of the human condition”, or something really dumb like that. Red Oaks isn’t that, it’s just an interesting show that’s well-acted, and I’m excited to see where it goes.
- Look: 80
- Sound: 95
- Players: 75
- Script: 75
This kind of show has been done. It’s basically This is 40, the TV show. Another dramedy about a group of middle aged 30-somethings trying to understand their own burgeoning maturity and mourning the loss of their youth. It’s a common story in these kinds of shows. The one aspect this brings to it is thankfully all the characters are likeable, which is a fresh breath of air compared to most of the other relationship dramas of this kind. It makes it stand out a bit more from the rest of these pilots, but not enough to warrant a continued series. Likeable characters in your show are the difference between an objectively bad show being fun and a mediocre to good show being unwatchable trash, like Mad Men. Yes, Mad Men is boring trash. Fight me. (<— Editors Note: Mad Men is great – I will fight you.)
- Look: 70
- Sound: 65
- Players: 75
- Script: 77
This is one of those shows that is destined to fail. You know the ones, like 666 Park Avenue or Happytown. Does anyone remember Happytown? This show is like Happytown. An incomprehensible mess. There’s the old TV trope of the one scientist or doctor who discovers a new virus that’s somehow spread by social media. Not to mention the dismal pacing, acting, plot and terrible editing. It’s the kind of idea that some really naive but peppy exec would pitch to appease some Suit, or a Suit’s idea of what’s hip and new in the drama scene. I can imagine the scene right now:
“Viral stuff is in! Let’s make it a virus story! VIRAL! THE INTERNET! MY GOD JIMMY, I’VE DONE IT AGAIN!”
And then we’re left watching Mena Suvari’s weird forehead bumble around in the dark and warn us of weird internet diseases. I’ve got a disease for you, and it’s called Dumb-Conceptivitis. Guess what the cure is? Not watching this piece of crap.
- Look: 70
- Sound: 50
- Players: 30
- Script: 10 (I like the kernel of the idea, but it’s a short story at best, not a full TV show)
Overall the standouts were Hand of God and Red Oaks, mainly because they were good, and the rest were either boring or really dumb. That’s kind of the case with every pilot season, though. If you had to pick and choose through dozens of pilots for each season of TV, you would end up hating a lot of crap too. Watching all of these was fun in a way, because it made me feel like a weird TV exec with some level of power over the content I watch. In a way, this is really the future of television. We’re the ones who will choose the shows that we want, and the stupid middleman system they currently have with the studios will slowly become antiquated and weird. Amazon is doing something interesting here, and I’m honestly looking forward to next pilot season.
*Since this was submitted, Amazon has renewed both Hand of God and Red Oaks for series continuation. Awesome.
It’s a difficult thing to review a movie like I Spit On Your Grave 2. On one hand, I’m a life long horror fan who is always impressed when a film gets an emotional response out of me, and quite frankly that’s the easiest and simplest way to sum up the movie. I Spit On your Grave 2 is designed, as if by cruel life-destroying scientists, to challenge your emotions and morals when it comes to the nature of revenge and justice.
I don’t mean to get all Armond White on you here, so I’ll acknowledge I could be biased in my assessment of the film and my interpretation of this movie. That being said, I’m positive this film warrants some merit and consideration beyond the bargain bin at your local Best Buy. It’s no Citizen Kane, but as a revenge film, it’s very effective in establishing the kinds of characters we come to expect from these movies. The revenge movie has a series of tropes and this film follows along. The Victim, The Victimizer, and the Outside Force attempting to make due between the competing nature of violence that ensues with predator and prey. I’m not gonna bury the lead here, it’s a fairly simplistic revenge film, but it does a few things right, and adds one scene and bit of commentary that brings an otherwise relatively bland update into something special.
I Spit On Your Grave 2 is an obviously titled sequel to 2009’s I Spit On Your Grave. It’s not really so much a sequel as another remake. I suppose there is some tangible link between the two, but it seems fairly insignificant to me and would miss the point. It’s basically just a sequel that makes a better remake than the original remake. Which is a strange and confusing sentence to type.
Let’s get this thorn out of the way first, I Spit On Your Grave 2 is a violent, horrific film, just like the rest of the series, starting with the first ISOYG in 1978. Similarly to any of the other films in the series, if you’re at all a victim of abuse it’s certainly difficult to watch, which is the point. I think these movies are ultimately a way to make male viewers empathize and try to understand the cycle of violence and abuse that’s perpetuated not only by the act of revenge, but on each other as people. In the past, previous ISOYG films all featured the same setup: Girl gets kidnapped, girl gets brutally raped and tortured and left for dead, and the last act is her exacting revenge on them. After she kills everyone, she wins and the movie is over, You’re left to ponder the meaning of revenge and justice. The 2010 remake was just a bargain basement torture porn cash in that had some good technical effects, decent acting and creative death scenes. Sometimes as a horror fan, that’s all you ask for, but ISOYG 2 is different.
It’s a unique series because of it’s history as being pro-feminist, and honestly I get it. It’s a movie (and series of movies) that promote the idea of a woman being victimized horrifically, realizing nobody will save her, and instead of giving up she self actualizes and saves herself, then enacts revenge. It’s an admittedly weird, convoluted and bizarre context to portray that message, but nevertheless it is still there. The real twist this film brings to the table is a predictable reveal of who the “head honcho” is, which I can’t reveal without spoiling the film. Suffice to say, it’ll give you some thoughts about how misogyny and femicide are ideas perpetuated by all sexes, but really, it’s the men who deserve to be punished for it. Punished for it with their balls. Their dong meat. Their waggling baby sausage of love. Their HATE WORM.
What? Right. Anyway, the movie is food for thought, or you can just watch it and enjoy it as the sick horror movie loving scumbag I am. Either way, I wasn’t bored watching it, which is ultimately the highest compliment you can give a film these days. Right?
Images: Cinemagic, Anchor Bay Entertainment