Drinking Buddies tells the tale of friendship, beer and lack of ambition. It is a well thought out and executed slice of life that has a lot going on under the surface. I’d compare it to the wonderful beer Innis & Gunn because it is unique, layered and thoroughly enjoyable
It is hard to characterize Drinking Buddies and I like that. It isn’t a romantic comedy or a stereotypical mumblecore film. It is an evolution of both and will certainly not sit well with people looking looking for Friends With Benefits 2. The word “mumblecore” has been thrown around a lot in the reviews for Drinking Buddies. Mumblecore is characterized by low budgets, naturalistic improvisational performances and novice actors. The films are usually shot on digital and the sets are scarce. Drinking Buddies may have the low-budget and naturalistic vibe but it would be a shame to simply categorize it as mumblecore. It is well thought out and that is evident in the way scenes play out.
The film may have an improvisational feel but director Joe Swanberg had 45 pages outlined and had a clear idea of the things that make his characters tick. He describes his directing choices in an interview with Sag Harbor Express:
Silence is big for me. The most directing I do on set is reminding actors that they don’t have to talk all the time. When a camera and lights are pointed at them, I think that there’s a natural instinct for actors to be on, and fill that space. But in regular conversation, there’s quite a bit of listening that happens, and there’s quite a bit of thinking that happens in between something being said to you and your response to it–at least in my conversations.
The movie focuses on Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson who work at a Chicago brewery. They are close friends who seem like kindred spirits. They eat lunch together at work, go on double dates, drink lots of beer and both are incredibly selfish. They have a naturalism together that is evident in the quiet moments where they probably get a little too close to each other.
Jake Johnson’s character prefers drinking beer to talking about marrying his girlfriend. Olivia Wilde is a whirlwind who does her own thing to her own detriment. Jake lives with his girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) who keeps a nice apartment and respects his love of beer. Wilde’s apartment looks like a trash bomb went off and she spends the majority of her nights at her boyfriends tidy apartment. Both of them will figure things out but they’ll need catalysts to grow up.
There are several moments that show Drinking Buddies is more than an indie experiment of improvisation. For instance, Ron Livingston gives Olivia Wilde a copy of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run. The central character of the book flees when things get too serious. Also, the way Wilde reacts to compliments of her brewery party differ as she talks to friends, acquaintances and her boyfriend. The characters are all self aware but too wrapped up in their own lives to focus on what matters. They live a life where they don’t have to grow up and it shows.
Drinking Buddies is a unique take on male/female friendship that captures the late twenties/early thirties mind set that adults have today. Swanberg’s drinking gamble paid off as Tarantino placed it on his top ten (so far) of the year and the Rotten Tomatoes score is at 82%.
Watch Drinking Buddies. Enjoy Drinking Buddies. Do not try to drink as much as they do.
Europa Report is an engrossing science fiction film that focuses on sacrifice for the sake of knowledge. It doesn’t rely on jump scares, evil moon rocks or green men because the tension comes from the unknown. It is about six people making their way to Jupiter’s Europa moon in hopes of finding something beneath the ice.
It is refreshingly earnest in its effort to tell a quality science fiction tale. It adroitly blends fact with fiction and builds towards a memorable finale that is earned and not forced. Europa Report joins Troll Hunter, Chronicle, Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch as quality films that used found footage to their advantage. It also goes out of its way to show how the footage was recovered which is something Apollo 18 failed spectacularly at.
Shot in 19 days in a ridiculously detailed sound stage the creators worked hard for authenticity. Production designer Eugenio Caballero consulted with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and SpaceX to build the most realistic spaceship possible. Europa didn’t have the budget of Gravity but still managed to look believable in a CGI heavy environment.
My favorite aspect is that the script wasn’t lost in the science and detail. Without the script and likable characters the ending would have been wasted and the beautiful sets wouldn’t be fully appreciated. For instance, the instant classic Moon looks fantastic AND is buoyed by a fantastic Sam Rockwell performance. The Science fiction and human element combine to bring the viewer in. Europa succeeds because of its script and performances.
I couldn’t quite single out what made me appreciate this film so much. The world wasn’t ending, a rich old man didn’t want immortality and there were zero hell portals in sight. The director Sebastian Cordero summed it up for me when he talked about his involvement:
One of the reasons I was involved in this film was that this is not a film about a threat. We’re not talking about something coming to get us. … It’s much more about the thrill of discovery — and the natural instinct for human beings to explore.
The crew of the Europa realize the expectations of the 3.6 billion dollar venture. They are adventurers who knowingly risk it all for knowledge. It is moving to see the practical yet insane choices they make in the face of discovery. I should have predicted the writing on the wall when the ship’s pilot Rosa said this:
Compared to the breadth of knowledge yet to be known, what does your life really matter?
It is interesting to watch people make rational decisions that are not about themselves. Sure, in the end their legacy will be secured but it means they are dead. As they land on Europa about 100 meters away from the original target zone they are committed to completing the mission. Yes, bad things will happen but they occur unselfishly and with curious bravado.
Europa Report does something very important. It adds a unique film to the science fiction cannon. If you haven’t watched Moon, Sunshine or Europa Report yet I recommend you check them out now. Turn off the lights. Turn off your phones. Enjoy science fiction done right.
MY CALL: Overall a fun watch for fans of the franchise, but it’s lost a good bit of the joie de vive that fueled part 2 and made part 1 a breakthrough DTV film. MOVIES LIKE Subspecies III: Hopefully you saw Subspecies (1991) and Subspecies II (1993), and perhaps Subspecies IV (1998). For more pseudoromantic monster movies try Dark Angel: The Ascent (1994) and Bleeders (1997). SIDEBAR: This was filmed back to back with Subspecies II, which follows in the spirit of the franchise by picking up exactly where this movie ends.
Michelle’s sister Becky (Melanie Shatner; The Alien Within, Subspecies III, Star Trek V) narrates as this sequel picks up immediately where Subspecies II left off: After defeating Radu (Anders Hove; Subspecies I-IV, Critters 4), Becky must wait until dark to escape with her vampire sister Michelle (Denice Duff; Subspecies II-IV, Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation), who is abducted in the final moments by Radu’s “Mummy” (Pamela Gordon; Weird Science, Poltergeist II, Subspecies II, Alien Nation), a crone-like ghoul akin to an unwrapped mummy.
While not holding a candle to the AMAZING opening scene of Subspecies II, Bloodlust opens with a brief, concerted effort at delivering some gore, wincing wrist slicing and face stabs to get us excited in this sequel’s opening. During this scene, Mummy resurrects Radu and the two of them steal Michelle away because, evidently, Michelle and Radu are to be bound together forever. That’s Radu’s idea anyway.
It’s a little early in your relationship to be giving her family heirlooms. Especially when the former owner, your Mummy, is still alive and doesn’t want to give it up! I don’t care if she is 1000 years old.
Yup. Radu, you need to slow your roll. It’s clear you’re way more into this relationship than she is.
Bro, watching her sleep like that…not helping.
“Why won’t you love me?”
With little contribution from Lt. Marin (Ion Haiduc; Subspecies II-IV, Dark Angel: The Ascent, Mimic: Sentinel), Becky and embassy representative Mel (Kevin Spirtas; Friday the 13th Part VII, The Hills Have Eyes Part II, Subspecies II) continue to try to save Michelle for the entire second act of the movie. This portion of the story is slow, unexciting, and hardly informative–it just drags. Meanwhile Mummy whispers poison in Radu’s ear in hopes that he’ll destroy Michelle instead of weaning her away from her ties to mortality. Ignoring the classic adage that “evil witch vampire Mummy knows best,” Radu teaches Michelle to focus her heightened senses, move through the shadows and hunt human prey.
The best part of this movie was when we were finally rid of this worthless character (Marin).
Normally these vampire tutoring/self-realization scenes are great (e.g., Interview with a Vampire, We Are the Night ). But they are just okay and mostly serve to convey Michelle’s eventual disgust for this kind of life.
Mummy gets a of screen time and action in this movie–plus a lot of bickering with her son Radu. Not that I’m not entertained by this, but it made the movie feel less serious and more bonkers, much as the undead Toulon did for Puppet Master II (1991). To that end, the finale didn’t really offer much in the way of action except for Radu’s final moments (which was a cool, but brief death). I find this to be a shame since Subspecies and the first 10 minutes of Subspecies II (in combination) make for a damn fine piece of work making a B+ movie from a B-budget.
Speaking of bonkers: here Mummy has killed a CIA agent (who dresses like a special ops soldier) armed with a machine gun using her knife. She brought a knife to a gunfight and won!
As for the story… This entire film was about Radu’s imaginary romance with Michelle, which was never reciprocated, and Michelle’s acclimation to vampirism. While I understood what the writer/director (Ted Nicolaou) was trying to do, it wasn’t done very effectively. Moreover the subspecies demons, for which this franchise was named, do not even appear until the final few minutes of this film and the bloodstone, for which part 2 was named, played no bigger role in part 2 than in parts 1 or 3.
Part 3 is still overall a fun watch, but it’s lost a good bit of the joie de vive that fueled part 2 and made part 1 a breakthrough DTV film. I’m sorry to say that director Ted Nicolaou (Subspecies I-II, Terror Vision, Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys) lost the inertia that started this franchise so powerfully.
Grabbers is fun, charming and rewatchable. It is a little Irish film that focuses on villagers who have to stay drunk to stay alive. The best thing about Grabbers is that it is immensely likable and doesn’t become a one-note shlock fest. It follows in the foot steps of Gremlins, Attack the Block and Tremors with its infusion of horror, comedy and oddness. You will cheer for the eventual drunk heroes as they battle ill-tempered aliens.
The story centers around an alien species (locals call them grabbers) running wild in a small Irish town. People are grabbed, laughs are had and the local police find out that alcohol is a reliable deterrent. The story has familiar elements such as the redeemed hero, cute love interest and cheeky town residents. However, these familiar elements are handled well and Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley and Russel Tovey all add charm to their characters.
Much Like James Wan (Insidious, Conjuring) the director Jon Wright plays with horror conventions and realizes he isn’t reinventing the wheel. He uses familiar tropes with aplomb and this creates a joyously good time involving one-liners, thrills and a guy getting flicked by an alien. Grabbers was created to entertain and it does not disappoint. It is a drunken roller coaster with beautiful Irish scenery.
What I appreciate most is that the film doesn’t simply settle upon it’s interesting/cheeky plot. Writer Kevin Lehane did a fantastic job of building upon the funny idea. There are layers to the characters and there are enough surprises and jokes to keep it chugging along. It is absolutely absurd but it is told with confidence. It you look back at Tremors and Gremlins you will notice outrageous moments are embraced. Characters use poles to leap from rock to rock and furry Gremlins enjoy a night out watching Snow White. There is zero self consciousness to the films and that is why they work.
Check out Grabbers on Netflix. It is an incredibly fun film that wants to entertain. Comment and let me know what you think!
MY CALL: Deliberately stupid movie about slimy little monster fetuses and the greedy wealthy eccentrics that collect them. MOVIES LIKE Hideous!: Other fun little ensemble monster movies include Puppet Master (1989), Ghoulies (1985) and Seed People (1992).
Directed/produced by Charles Band (Puppet Master, Dark Angel: The Ascent, Ghoulies, Netherworld) and written by Benjamin Carr (Thirteen Ghosts, Retro Puppet Master, Curse of the Puppet Master), our story begins at a sewage plant where we learn of the occasionally discovered deformed fetuses that represent the theme of this campy little jaunt.
Run by Belinda and her assistant Elvina, International Medical Specimens Inc. specializes in selling these abominations. Dr. Lorca (Demonic Toys: Personal Demons, Cemetery High) and his oft-nearly naked assistant Sheila (Jacqueline Lovell; The Killer Eye, Femalien, Head of the Family) feel betrayed knowing that she is instead brining coveted specimens to Lorca’s competition Napoleon Lazar (Mel Johnson Jr.; Total Recall). Lorca’s darkly colored wardrobe, his sex toy of an assistant and his over-the-top villainous demeanor all intentionally paint him in melodrama that is only matched by his ridiculous lines.
When we meet Napoleon, Belinda showcases her recent acquisition along with a sales pitch demanding a preposterous sum. Enamored with the “specimen” Napoleon bites. But in no time Lorca seizes the specimen by force. So what is this coveted thing? Just another mutant fetus for Lorca to add to his disturbing collection. This fetus somehow survives formaldehyde-preservation and imbues the other three preserved medical oddities in Lorca’s collection with life-and they escape.
They look a little like Sonic, Kuato and Swamp Thing.
Seeking to reclaim his property, Napoleon brings Belinda, Elvina and a hired detective to Lorca’s castle. Once Napoleon (and Lorca) discover that the oddities are no longer in their jars accusations run wild and Sheila triggers an alarm, sealing the castle and trapping everyone inside until they have found Lorca’s specimens. Little do they know that the hideous fetuses are alive and well.
So they (ABOVE) are trapped with them (BELOW).
ABOVE: He looks like Kuato’s cousin from Total Recall!
BELOW: More like an undead PopTart.
These little latex monsters are a lot like Ghoulies. They make similar sounds, they’re somehow always slimy and they each have their own distinct look–one of them looks like an undead Pokémon Sonic the Hedgehog. When all of our greedy human characters first meet these monsters they literally bargain with them (they can’t speak, but understand English just fine and can even write–of course). Lorca and Napoleon vie for their trust, promising them a nice home and a fine life. But things naturally go bad and it ends up being humans versus mutants.
Lunacy abounds in this film. An example of some of the finely written scenes include a topless Sheila in a gorilla mask mugging Napoleon in the middle of Winter. In fact, Sheila is always either topless or wearing an open leather vest with no bra and leather spanks–very classy, always slinking around like the house mother of a vampire brothel. There’s a scene in which one of the monsters gets a little fresh with Elvina while she’s sleeping–also quite tasteful. Oh, and there’s a sword duel between Lorca and Napoleon complete with a random rhyming cheers from Sheila.
Yup. That’s Sheila for you. Actually actress Jacqueline Lovell has done a lot of softcore adult films. So this is actually more than she’s used to in the wardrobe department.
Hungry, little guy?
Nothing about this movie is taken seriously. It is not only overly hammed up, but there are some deliberately stupid/funny lines, making this nonsense far from critically acclaimed but rather entertaining. Just keep your expectations low and it should be fine to kill a Sunday afternoon.
In 1999 a little film entitled The Sixth Sense exploded onto the scene and became a cultural phenomena. SPOILER!!!! The creepy tale about a kid and his dead friend grossed $672 million at the box office. It was nominated for Academy Awards and cemented “I see dead people” into the cinema cannon. The director was 29 year old M. Night Shyamalan whose only prior directorial credit was a little film called Wide Awake.
Shyamalan’s next film was the now cult classic Unbreakable. It is my favorite Shyamalan film. I love how a man with weak bones is convinced there is someone who is indestructible. Sadly, the film didn’t light up the critical world like The Sixth Sense because expectations were too high and the movie wasn’t a retread. However, it found an afterlife on DVD and has a devoted following.
M. Night broke out of his sophomore semi-slump with the blockbuster Signs. Signs was a massive hit ($400 million worldwide) starring Mel Gibson as a grieving widower battling aliens. It received positive critical reception (74%RT) but rumblings started popping up in regards to certain narrative patterns and plot contrivances (water kills aliens etc…).
Times began to change for M. as his next films The Village (43%), Lady In the Water (24%) and The Happening (17%) were profitable failures. They made money but were savaged by a populace who had grown weary of the twists, turns and plotting of Shyamalan. The last nail in the coffin was the sometimes beautiful and mostly confusing The Happening in which air wiped out people’s ability to act.
Shyamalan had swung big and missed repeatedly. His failure had become a joke and the studios were no longer interested in his original stories.
His next job was a director for hire on the live action adaptation of The Last Airbender. The film made copious amounts of money ($319 million worldwide) but was critically and publicly reviled. The Last Airbender felt like a movie by committee that wanted to quell Shyamalan’s tendencies and instead came up with a boring diet cola version of his films.
The biggest problem is Shyamalan needs a slow burn story in which he reveals layer after layer. The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable slowly lead us to beautiful actualization. They took their time and the reward was wonderful. However, his writing style doesn’t mesh well with popular cartoons adored by kids with short attention spans. Thus, he had to pack in seasons of a beloved show into one movie while trying to keep his writing and directing style alive. The result was lucrative but mediocre.
This leads us to After Earth. The story of a teenager braving the wilderness while his stern dad lectures him. The movie features monotone dialogue, wonky CGI and an abrupt ending. It is an odd film that was fairly/unfairly savaged by critics. Is it the worst film ever made? Nope. Is it good? Nope. Did it need to be dogpiled? Nope. Did it make a decent amount of money? Yep. ($243 million) Did The How Did This Get Made crew do an entertaining discussion for After Earth? Yep.
Some critics called it the “worst film ever, aside from Battlefield Earth” while others marveled at the ineptitude and simply decried the “lack of ambition.” Words such as tedious, terrible, pompous and vanity were thrown around with reckless abandon. Some called it a slight comeback, others insulted the Smith nepotism and other’s took digs at Scientology (Read it all here).
After Earth is structurally unsound and slightly bonkers. Jaden Smith had no chance as he acted in front of green screens while speaking with a quasi southern accent (I think). This movie was a no-win. Will Smith came up with the idea and M Night tried to fit that into his narrative wheelhouse. The result was an off-kilter film that in no way meshed. The biggest problem is it was rigid when it should have explored new territory. There was zero wonder or thrills because of the monotone narration and overall glossiness. After Earth should have resembled Avatar’s Pandora but instead felt like a boring day at the office.
Remember when Bruce Willis finds out he can bench press hundreds of pounds in Unbreakable? The scene was exciting because a father and his son were learning about newly realized power. A moment of basement weight lifting carried more heft and suspense than a young kid surviving a violent new world.
Shyamalan directing huge epics or adaptations reminded me of a Mitch Hedburg quote. When asked if he wanted to act Mitch replied:
I worked my ass off to become a really good cook, and they said “alright you’re a cook… can you farm?
M. Night worked hard to tell small singular tales and was now tasked to tell huge multilevel stories. The result was bound to disappoint. He can cook up small stories but should never have been asked to make mass produced fluff.
I miss the days where he had the freedom to tell his strange tales. Some of the greatest and worst films have come from singular visions (Citizen Kane, The Room). We need auteurs who swing big. Let them miss occasionally because when they connect the films are epic. Swing away Shyamalan. Swing away. The $2,276,000,000 worldwide box office receipts don’t lie.
John’s Horror Corner: Subspecies II: Bloodstone (1993), a worthy sequel in a solid B-movie franchise
MY CALL: This sequel sees a most welcome upgrade in effects and a small loss in character credibility, but it still does justice to the franchise. MOVIES LIKE Subspecies II: Other pseudoromantic monster movies include Subspecies (1991), Subspecies III-IV (1994-1998), Dark Angel: The Ascent (1994) and Bleeders (1997). SIDEBAR: This was filmed back to back with Subspecies III, which follows in the spirit of the franchise by picking up exactly where this movie ends.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the Bloodstone, after which this sequel is named.
Michelle narrates as this sequel picks up immediately where Subspecies left off: fledgling vampire vixens lay dead on the ground beside Radu’s beheaded body (Anders Hove; Subspecies, Subspecies III-IV, Critters 4).
Director Ted Nicolaou (Subspecies, Terror Vision, Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys) has stepped up his game. Right away the effects seem to have graduated from the already impressive (i.e., on a low budget) Subspecies. The claymation of Radu’s subspecies minions is green-screened more subtly and their movements are more ambitious as, for example, two of the diminutive demons work together to remove the wooden stake from Radu’s chest. As Radu’s head reattaches itself we find much more elaborate effects and creative gore than previously seen. A la The Thing (1982), arterial tendrils whip from his detached head and affix themselves to his body. As they drag his head into place is spinal cord extends outward to receive it. Already I’m impressed!
But wait, there are more new effects hailing scare-tastic fun. When Radu slays his sleeping brother (who defeated him in a the end if Subspecies), we watch as Stefan’s face sinks into a fleshy slimy mess with exsanguination. We also enjoy more creative depictions of Radu’s “shadow gliding” ability (which allows him to quickly move “through” interconnecting shadows).
Evidently when you become a vampire you look like an entirely different actress.
Just a reminder. This movie is about that thing.
Replacing Laura Mae Tate (Dead Space, Subspecies), Denice Duff (Subspecies III-IV, Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation) assumes the role of now-vampire Michelle, who was turned by Stefan in the end of Subspecies. Escaping the castle with the bloodstone and slowly learning what it means to be a vampire, Michelle turns to her sister Becky (Melanie Shatner; The Alien Within, Subspecies III, Star Trek V) for help. Meanwhile Radu turns to his “Mummy” (Pamela Gordon; Weird Science, Poltergeist II, Subspecies III, Alien Nation), a crone-like ghoul akin to an unwrapped mummy that is hungry for the bloodstone.
Mummy: “Where’s the Bloodstone?”
Radu: “My…ummmm…girlfriend’s got it.”
Embassy representative Mel (Kevin Spirtas; Friday the 13th Part VII, The Hills Have Eyes Part II, Subspecies III) and local Romanian Lt. Marin (Ion Haiduc; Subspecies III-IV, Dark Angel: The Ascent, Mimic: Sentinel) try to help Becky find her sister. They then team up with occult history Professor Popescu (Michael Denish; Subspecies III-IV, Vampire Journals) and visit the fortress where Michelle was staying (in Subspecies). Whereas the effects in this sequel are far superior to the original, these characters (including our female leads Becky and Michelle) just aren’t as strong as the protagonists in part 1. They don’t carry the scenes well and often they don’t seem confident enough for their roles. Only in the final scene do Michelle and Becky find the strength to fight Radu. Understandably, Michelle spent much of the story suffering from her transition to vampirism and the associated urges. But I just feel too much of this movie’s running time was filled with unconfident characters.
Here’s another issue. The franchise is called Subspecies yet we only see the subspecies demons in the opening scene. This sequel is called Bloodstone yet the Bloodstone seems to play really no more major part in this sequel than in the original (or part 3, FYI).
Oh, no wait. Mummy’s looking at the Bloodstone. So…this movie “is” about the Bloodstone?
The movie seems to focus just as much on Radu’s little crush on Michelle.
Accordingly, the finale is not as powerful as part 1. Yes, Radu is again defeated and yes, there’s some blood, some fire and a lot of stabbing. But it’s nothing special and has nothing as cool as the decapitation or “chandelier death” of the original. Maybe it’s not fair to compare it to the fantastic effects and gore of the opening scene, or maybe they just didn’t try as hard because Subspecies III was filmed back to back with this and they never put much thought into a “big ending” (as they clearly did for Subspecies), already being obviously aware that this was not “the end.” If that’s the case, then part 3 better have one Hell of a finale!
In either case, I very much enjoyed this and, as I’d advise you, I watched Subspecies III immediately after this for the sake of story continuity. So enjoy and stay tuned for my review of Subspecies III: Bloodlust.