Archive | January, 2022


28 Jan

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Zoink” is a film that took me back to the nostalgic days of making movies as a child and having fun with storytelling. It has the makings of a child’s hybrid of fantasy, horror, science fiction, and comedy. It contains some common tropes that kids still love to this day–there’s something odd and suspicious about your younger sibling, only your friends can understand what’s happening, and of course the classic rule: adults are the enemy.

Even though writer-directors Lolo Loren & Patrick Poe were in their 20s when they made this film, they weren’t afraid to be children at heart (and with a budget of only $250) and I could tell they had fun while making it. I can see why this movie wouldn’t work for some viewers because it’s not their kind of silly. Well…it’s my kind of silly.

Oh, and why is it called “Zoink,” of all titles? You’d be surprised to find out–but I won’t display spoilers in this review.

Our two young protagonists are Tommy (Thomas Fitzgerald) and Sam (Roan Ricker), ordinary kids with ordinary-kid problems. Sam has an older sister for a bully; Tommy is weirded out by his introverted little brother; and both have to put up with a Nickelodeon sitcom’s idea of a bad teacher (Mr. Hideaux, played by a hilariously over-the-top Coleman Crenshaw). Tommy confides in Sam that he believes his kid brother Tyler (Tyler Fitzgerald) is a demon–or, to an extent, Tyler doesn’t even exist. While skeptical, Sam helps Tommy investigate the matter. Why is Tyler silent? What is the “science project” he’s building in his bedroom? Tommy is completely convinced that something isn’t right here.

This leads to a fun montage in which Tommy and Sam test Tyler in many different ways (by looking to the Internet for tips on how to identify a demon) which then leads to a night in which Tommy, Sam, and Sam’s sister Annie (Amber Joy), who’s been roped into babysitting the two youngsters, find themselves in for a crazy weekend…

And that’s all I’ll say about the plot, except that the more the movie digs deeper into its strangeness (from, say, the 35-minute mark of this 70-minute movie), the more enjoyable it is. What this movie lacks in technical quality, it makes up for with plenty of ambition and good laughs. (There are plenty of little quibbles that remind me of film school, but there’s no fun picking on those–besides, Loren & Poe are smart filmmakers; they get better.)

There is an actor named Richard J. Burt whose role in “Zoink,” I’m not even going to begin to describe to you. He’s one of the film’s definite highlights as he delivers some of the funnier lines of dialogue. (And speaking of funny lines of dialogue, Roan Ricker is terrific as Sam, who’s the wisecracking cutup of the central characters.)

If I tell you too much about the plot of “Zoink,” it may either turn you off or get you invested. But I must abide by the respect of the filmmakers and not give away the film’s zanier surprises. Instead, I’ll just reiterate my point from before: it’s my kind of silly, and it might just be yours too.

“Zoink” is available to rent on Amazon. You can find more fun stuff from Lolo Loren & Patrick Poe’s IX Productions by checking out their YouTube channel and/or subscribing to their Patreon page.

My Favorite Movies – Misery (1990)

28 Jan

By Tanner Smith

There are so many obsessed fans out there who have been familiar with their favorite artist’s work for so long that if they try anything different from their usual craft, they get confused and/or angry and complain they “can’t” do that! (I use quotations because who the hell are we to say what artists can and can’t do?)

There are even people who FREAK OUT online when the new “Star Wars” movies and the last season of “Game of Thrones” don’t meet their expectations or standards–they even demand that they do it all over again.

Yeah, THAT’LL happen, you dorks.

Many fans are hard to please because they just want the same things they love over and over again…even though they already have the same things they love and they can go back to them whenever they want!

And in “Misery,” famous author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) faces his worst nightmare: having his life in the hands of an obsessed fan (his “number-one fan”) who forces him to write a new novel that meets HER standards. It’s a great allegory of creating art for the public versus creating art for yourself. He’s clearly not happy doing this, but it’s not his career he has to worry about if he doesn’t continue; it’s his life, literally! This sick, psychotic lady, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates in an Oscar-winning performance), keeps him sick, forces him to burn his latest book and write a new one, and even smashes his ankles so that he doesn’t get away when his broken legs mend! And he’s got no choice but to comply with her every demand and please her because he knows that it takes one little thing to turn her from sweet and kind to loud and violent, which is definitely where the suspense comes from in Bates’ performance.

James Caan’s performance is great too, as he has to play a guy who has to keep calm and keep acting like he’s ok in front of this psychopath. He knows if he slips up, he could get himself killed by his caretaker. And when he’s alone is when he shows the mental torture he’s suffering.

My favorite scene: I love the ending to this film and how Paul finally manages to obtain the upper hand with Annie, using her own methods against her. It’s a moment of sweet vengeance before things get really violent.

There’s a lot of great stuff here, and it all comes from an author who’s had his own share of physical & mental tortures (Stephen King), a director who gets his work (Rob Reiner, who also made “Stand By Me,” another King adaptation), and two brilliant performances from Caan and Bates. And it’s one of my top 100 personal faves.

My Favorite Movies – Cannibal! The Musical (1996)

13 Jan

By Tanner Smith

I can credit my old college buddy Jordan Mears for this one–it’s his favorite movie; the more times he talked about it or showed me clips from it, the more compelled I was to watch it. I want to thank him for influencing me to check out this delightfully “shpadoinkle” musical dark comedy from the creators of “South Park” and “The Book of Mormon.”

Made in 1993 and released by Troma in 1996, “Cannibal! The Musical” was the debut film from director Trey Parker and co-producer Matt Stone, both of whom would go on to be two of the brightest satirists in TV and film history. It tells the true story of prospector Alferd Packer, who led a doomed expedition that resulted in frostbite, death, and cannibalism among his party. Though…this movie takes some liberties, to say the least. (But this is a musical farce–so if you care about historical accuracy, this is not the movie for you.)

The film was made when Parker and Stone were film students at the University of Colorado in Boulder. It began as a three-minute trailer for film class, which then gave them funding to make a feature film out of it. While the finished film definitely has that “student-film” aspect to it, that just adds to its charm. What charm it already has comes from its love-letter approach to Hollywood musicals and Western films and just having a ton of goofy fun with it.

Parker plays Packer (though he’s credited as Juan Schwartz, named after “John Schwartz,” one of the real Alferd Packer’s alias’), and he’s an engaging performer. Whether it’s singing for laughs or singing it straight, he’s outstanding here. He plays Packer as a total goof with inexperience as a wilderness guide and a great naïveté, plus a love for his horse Liane. He leads a group of Utah miners on a journey to Colorado Territory in 1873–they are compulsive liar Humphrey (Stone), Mormon priest Shannon Bell (Ian Hardin), butcher Frank Miller (Jason McHugh), teenage horndog George Noon (Dian Bachar), and overt optimist Swan (John Hegel).

These guys are a lot of fun. They range from jolly (Swan) to cynical (Miller), and all of the actors share great chemistry together.

Blah, blah, blah–what about the songs?? They’re all memorable and fantastic. There’s the joyful opener (“Shpadoinkle”), the hopeful-wishes song (“That’s All I’m Asking For”), the lovesick ballad (actually, there are two–“When I Was On Top of You” and “This Side of Me”), the villain song (“The Trapper Song”), the optimistic song (“Let’s Build a Snowman”–my personal favorite), and the celebration of pending execution (“Hang the Bastard”). They’re all very funny too, such as when Parker sells his Roy Rogers-esque moments, we hear more through “That’s All I’m Asking For” of what everyone wants (particularly Noon, who just wants to have sex), the subtle subtext of “When I Was On Top of You” (made even funnier when you know the background behind the subplot involving the horse named Liane), when the villains (a group of trappers) stop their song to have an argument about music theory, and especially when Packer’s love interest Polly Pry (Toddy Walters) sings “This Side of Me” and a passerby stops and is confused at her performance. The reprisals are funny too, particularly when the characters are on the verge of dying and don’t have much energy to reprise “That’s All I’m Asking For.”

Oh, right, there’s a story, isn’t there? While on the journey, Packer’s horse Liane runs away, with all of the group’s food, thus beginning their problems. They get lost, find refuge at an “Indian camp” (where all the self-described “Indians” are all played by Japanese exchange students and led by Masao Maki, playing my favorite character in the movie), leave even when they’re warned it’s too dangerous to venture out in the winter, and…well, let’s just say most of them don’t make it out alive. As the late Roger Ebert used to say, a movie is not about what it is about but about how it goes about it (I don’t think he saw this movie; in his scathing review of Parker’s later film “Orgazmo,” he even hinted that he never would). With this much entertainment value, who needs a story?

Cheap and amateurish, yes; but “Cannibal! The Musical” is a rollicking good time. All the songs are memorable and quotable, as are the characters, and the movie has great comedic timing. And it would prove to be a promising start for the careers of Trey Parker & Matt Stone. (Another one of my favorite movies: “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut,” of course.)

My Favorite Movies – Creep (2014)

12 Jan

By Tanner Smith

THIS is how you do found-footage horror!

I love “The Blair Witch Project” and “The Sacrament” and “Rec,” but “Creep”…WHOA!

I haven’t watched “Creep” in a long while. I’ve seen its sequel, “Creep 2,” more times just because I think it’s more interesting as its own kind of dramatic-thriller type. But “Creep” is straight-up psychological-horror and after seeing it again, almost like I was seeing it for the first time (except I know the twist obviously)…

I forgot how unsettling this movie is–even when you know the twist going into it, there’s still a lot of “uncomfortable” to sit through. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it, guys–this movie scared the bejesus outta me.

“Creep” is a microbudget indie thriller created by Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice, who just decided at one point to go out to a cabin in some woods and make their own movie in which a videographer may or may not be in danger of his “creepy” subject. This was a brilliant setup for the first-person perspective setup, with our main character being a videographer named Aaron (played by Brice, who also directs the film) and filming his experience in answering an ad for a strange man named Josef (Duplass) who asks him to follow him around with his camera for a couple days. When Josef who’s already shown to have very strange qualities becomes even more disconcerting, we have no idea where this film is going to go and neither does Aaron–we ourselves are with it along with him, trying to piece some things together. THAT is how you do a found-footage/faux-doc movie!

How off-putting is Josef? I swear, it’s like you took the cringe factor out of comedies like “The Office” and “Borat” and inserted it into a horror film–you laugh but it’s OK because the alternative is to SCREAM (not just because you feel uncomfortable but because you fear for your own life at the same time)!

Mark Duplass is one of my favorite talents, but his work here makes me want to run far away from him as quickly as possible–he’s THAT creepy.

“Creep” is simplicity at its finest. For a movie about just two guys making a movie in a cabin, it makes an impression.

A hell of an impression!

Both Creep and Creep 2 are available on Netflix.

My Favorite Movies – Real Genius (1985)

10 Jan

By Tanner Smith

Is the science in this outrageous comedy accurate? I like to think so. The way “Real Genius” balances wicked smarts and broad humor is enough to convince me that this movie was indeed made by real geniuses. Director Martha Coolidge (“Valley Girl,” “Rambling Rose”) and her team of writers (Neal Isreal, Pat Proft, & Peter Torokvei) obviously did a lot of research before going into this project, but even if they didn’t, I like to believe you really could do all the things the movie’s characters do if you had the wit and knowhow.

“Real Genius” is not merely one of the funnier movies about smart people (if not the funniest, period)–it’s also one of the smartest and most fun.

Although, strangely enough, it starts out rather strange. After a bland opening-credits sequence set to a lounge song followed by a biting government-experiment satire in the same vein as “Dr. Strangelove” and “WarGames,” you wonder where this film is going. Then we’re introduced to our pompous antagonist, Professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton, perfect at playing a pompous ass), who recruits 15-year-old Mitch (Gabe Jarret) into his university study of laser physics. Why? Where are we going from here?

And then…Chris Knight enters the picture. Chris Knight, played marvelously and brilliantly by Val Kilmer, is also on the laser team and is Mitch’s roommate. He’s very intelligent, but to Mitch’s disappointment, he’s a goof-off who uses his smarts to have fun rather than work hard.

This is when the rug is pulled out from under us, as Chris interacts with Mitch, Dr. Hathaway, and others, and we realize two important things that factor into the enjoyment for the rest of the movie: that this is a comedy and that this character is going make it fun for all of us. Chris and Mitch have a nice brotherly relationship throughout the film, as Chris teaches Mitch to loosen up and have fun once in a while–he does that for all of his dorm-mates, such as crafting an ice skating rink in the dormitory hall and turning the assembly hall into a swimming pool to throw a party with aspiring beauticians. (This guy knows how to party!) He’ll even help Mitch get revenge on a bully by dismantling the jerk’s car and reassembling it in his own room.

I love this guy! His misadventures elevate a smart comedy to a greater level. And Val Kilmer plays him flawlessly–I wholeheartedly believe this is a smart dude who knows when to keep going and when to take things serious; this is no one-dimensional party animal. (Also a plus: this is a college I would have loved to attend…maybe I did attend it!)

What makes “Real Genius” even more fun is when it gets revealed that Dr. Hathaway has been paid by the CIA to craft a laser weapon for them and is hiring these college scientists to build it because, again, he’s an arrogant ass. Neither Chris nor Mitch nor Hathaway’s slimy toady Kent (Robert Prescott) ask any questions about this laser because all they care about is passing the course and moving on to bigger things in life. But late in the film, after they successfully finish building the laser, they realize they’ve been had and decide to get even, leading to…well, I won’t give it away here, but it’s perfectly fitting for the intelligences of all involved.

Another key character who lights up the screen whenever she appears is Jordan (Michelle Meyrink), a hyperactive student who becomes Mitch’s love interest. (Never mind the age difference–it’s more cute and quirky than icky.) She never sleeps, is always working on a project, and of course, like the other characters, is highly intelligent–she’s even self-aware to the point where she accepts Mitch because he’s not afraid of her as the other guys are (even when she follows him into the men’s restroom one morning to show a sweater she knitted for him–awkward!). Does she have a disorder or is she on speed? They don’t say, but…it’s the ’80s and it’s college, so I wouldn’t rule out the second possibility.

Oh, and there’s also Laszlo Holyfeld (Jonathan Gries) who is a literal closet case. (No, for real–he disappears from Chris & Mitch’s closet into a secret tunnel to his underground home.) He’s the smartest and most eccentric character of the bunch.

Overall, “Real Genius” is a smart, fun comedy that I enjoy coming back to every now and again. And I have to credit most of that to Val Kilmer as Chris Knight–he is this movie.