It has to be hard to be Broken Lizard. Like the Farrelly Brothers starting their careers with the comedy classic Dumb and Dumber (1994), Broken Lizard started their careers with a comedy classic of their own in Super Troopers (2001). But unlike the Farrelly Brothers, the members of Broken Lizard also act in their films, which has made it more difficult for them to find continued success as a film cooperative. Not only does the production company have to deal with being pigeonholed as a low-brow, comedy specialist, but its members also have to deal with their own case of Jon Heder syndrome. Heder’s the guy who played Napoleon Dynamite and hasn’t been able to escape it since.
That’s why Broken Lizard’s follow-up to Super Troopers was so hard to watch. Before I knew Club Dread (2004) wasn’t any good, I had a hard time accepting the members of Broken Lizard in their new roles. By the time Beerfest (2006) came around, though, I had accepted the fact there might never be a Super Troopers 2 and could understand why. That’d be like asking F. Scott Fitzgerald to write a sequel to The Great Gatsby, or more on topic, asking the Farrelly Brothers to do a sequel to Dumb and Dumber immediately after its release.
It took 20 years for the Farrelly Brothers to commit to Dumb and Dumber To, so we should all be thankful it only took Broken Lizard 17 years to give us Super Troopers 2. Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Kevin Heffernan, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske are back where they belong, portraying Vermont Highway Patrolmen in a cop comedy that pokes fun at the state of the United States and Canadian culture.
The first rule of reviewing a sequel is not comparing it to its predecessor. Very few sequels are as good as the original, and Super Troopers 2 is no exception. Holding it to the impossible standard only realized by The Godfather: Part II and The Empire Strikes Back is unfair.
We can, however, compare Super Troopers 2 to similar films within the genre and subgenre. In the subgenre of buddy-cop comedies, Super Troopers 2 is no Hot Fuzz (2007), but it’s more enjoyable than The Heat (2013) and CHIPS (2017) and way better than Ride Along (2014) and Cop Out (2010). Super Troopers 2 probably falls behind The Other Guys (2010) but before Let’s Be Cops (2014).
As far as contemporary comedies go, since the release of Super Troopers in 2001, I’ve only seen a few that made me laugh out loud as much as Super Troopers 2. They are, in no particular order: The Other Guys, Tropic Thunder (2008), Jackass: The Movie (2002) (which shouldn't even count but has spawned Jackass Number Two (2006), Jackass 3D (2010), Bad Grandpa (2013), and now, Action Point, which will release June 1, and actually has a story), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Anchorman (2004), Step Brothers (2008), Old School (2003), Pineapple Express (2008), This is the End (2012), Office Xmas Party (2016), Grandma’s Boy (2006), Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004), A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011), Team America: World Police (2004), Your Highness (2011) and Beerfest (2006). That’s pretty good company for a list that you’ll notice includes just one sequel (unless you include the Jackass franchise).
You should definitely see Super Troopers 2. You’ll laugh enough to forget that you’re basically watching the same plot as the original except to the music of Eagles of Death Metal instead of .38 Special, which is a treat. You’ll get some laughs out of Rob Lowe playing a former, minor league hockey player turned mayor, and you’ll no doubt enjoy the pranks pulled by and on the Canadian mounties competing with the Super Troopers to keep their jobs. The story is far-fetched at best, but the situations created by the story are worth taking the leap.
Indie darling film director Steven Soderbergh officially “retired” from filmmaking in 2013 but since then has directed HBO’s Behind the Candelabra, Logan Lucky, and now the made in secret Unsane.
I mainly want to talk about Soderbergh’s process and less so review the film. This will be spoiler free for Unsane.
Soderbergh’s had a few mainstream hits like Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brockovich and the Academy Award winning Traffic but mostly he works on under the radar indie experimental films like Out of Sight, The Limey and the Solaris remake.
He’s actually been quite prolific in the last few decades since his debut feature film Sex, Lies and Videotapes wowed audiences at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989, winning multiple awards. He’s directed 30 something features since then and produced (which means he actually worked on producing the film) or executive produced (in where he “puts up the money”) another 30 something movies.
And he continues to experiment. Sometimes he uses non professional actors, sometimes he releases a movie without a marketing campaign, he was the first mainstream director (that I’m aware of) that released a feature film on the theaters and on VOD at the same time. He is often quoted in interviews saying he’s not a storyteller and he doesn’t make movies because he feels he has a story to tell. He makes movies as an exercise in storytelling form. And form is what he plays around with in many of his films, offering unconventional ways of telling his story.
Soderbergh’s 1999 revenge film, The Limey, starring Terrence Malick comes to mind. What could have been a fairly straight forward revenge thriller turns into something quite different with an extraordinary sound design / editing technique employed during the production. The film often uses dialogue clips from previous scenes or flash forward sound clips from future scenes, juxtaposed with the current scene you are watching. This is used primarily to punctuate a scene with emphasis but it also creates a rhythmic sound structure of the film which really has to be seen and heard to fully appreciate. Anyway, my point being - no one else had ever done anything like that and overwhelming critical praise suggests it was quite effective.
And, one would assume, if a director finds something that works, why not use the technique again? Because that’s just not what Soderbergh is interested in. He used his sound juxtaposition as an exercise in form for that one film and then moved on to other experiments.
Which brings me around to Soderbergh’s latest experiment, his newly released film, Unsane, starring Claire Foy (the Queen on Netflix’s The Crown). Soderbergh decided to shoot the entire feature film on the iPhone 7. Now, I know he’s not the first director to do this (but he might be the first "big name" director to do so). There are a handful of films I can think of shot on an iPhone in recent years, 2015’s Tangerine being the most popular, and also the Oscar winning documentary, Searching for Sugar Man.
Actually, Searching for Sugar Man wasn’t entirely shot on an iPhone. Some of it was shot on 8mm film but when the director ran out of film he used iPhone app called 8mm Vintage Camera to finish portions of scenes.
I can see the appeal of shooting on an iPhone. Inexpensive. No clunky rig set-ups, no apple boxes, no grip tape, no ten crew members just to track and push your dolly. Soderbergh acted as director, director of photography and camera operator. And he was able to just follow the actors around with relative ease.
The actors loved it, of course. Without all that excess gear and crew and Soderbergh allowing scenes to go on and on the actors were fully immersed in the scenery and the story.
Claire Foy talks about the process in an interview she gave for Entertainment Weekly:
"The thing I loved about it was that Steven was in the room, he was operating , so it really felt like he was there, watching everything, being part of it, which felt really amazing. I've never had that before … We shot it in 10 days, and it meant Steven had huge amounts of freedom in where he could put the camera, what he could do with the camera, what he could try and then get rid of … He was just experimenting all the time. We shot it entirely chronologically. It just moved. It just moved a lot. And it had an energy, and a rhythm, and a momentum to it that felt fresh, and unrehearsed, and full of life.”
Soderbergh was equally in love with the iPhone shoot telling appleinsider.com:
“I have to say the positives for me really were significant and it's going to be tricky to go back to a more conventional way of shooting. The gap now between the idea and the execution of the idea is just shrinking and this means you get to try out more ideas so I wish I'd had this equipment when I was 15."
Later saying that iPhone's 4K footage looks like "velvet" and calling the device a "game changer."
Well, I’m all for experimentation in art and storytelling. But experimentation doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” And, Unsane, for all its form experimentation - is okay. Unlike 2015’s beautiful looking Tangerine, which does not look like it was shot on an iPhone (but was), Unsane actually looks like it was shot … well … on an iPhone.
The Highlights: It certainly has a gritty, voyeuristic feel to the visuals. It’s almost like you’re watching this awful thing happening in real time on security footage. So, that’s creepy. Which, at times is effect since Unsane is a thriller.
The Lowlights: A standard iPhone doesn’t allow you to play much with deep focus. You can pretty much only create a flat space look. Another problem is that the iPhone lens can’t handle close ups, sadly, it “fish eyes” the edges of the screen rounding them out. Again, sometimes this works but most of the time it just looks ridiculous. The blacks all get crushed and the lights are overly pixelated.
So when Soderbergh says the final product looks like “velvet” I seriously don’t understand what he’s talking about. Unsane, quite literally, looks like your kid brother shot a movie in the basement using his iPhone.
Velvet it is not.
That being said, sometimes the crushed blacks and pixelated lights work in favor to the story. The movie is, after all, about a woman going insane (or is it?).
Unsane is kind of review proof. It’s experimental on so many levels that some folks will just like it for what it is, and some will not. I kind of like a lot of it but I also wish Soderbergh had just used a film camera. Super 16mm would have been perfect for the tone. But using super 16 would have been a story telling choice and not a “form experiment,” which is what Soderbergh wants.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t think the problems with Unsane have anything to do with what camera was used. The problems, like the problems with many, many horror films, is that there are too many dopey script choices.
And by dopey, I don’t mean silly because Unsane, to its credit, goes out of its way to be believable and I appreciate the tone of the film.
I could also say bad acting is a problem with many horror films but that’s certainly not anything Unsane has to worry about. All of the actors are quite believable. Even when they’re screeching ridiculous lines.
When “form” isn’t getting in the way, Unsane is as effective as it tries to be. And there are lots of things I admire about the film. But “shot on the iPhone,” isn’t one of them.
Seeing a lot more bad movies is to be expected when you become a MoviePass member. You’ll see more movies when you’ve got an annual membership to see as many movies you want, even if you only need to see one movie per month to make the membership worth the price. And most movies are bad these days. Gringo is one of those movies.
Having seen the trailer and read the synopsis, I had reason to hope Gringo wouldn’t suck. It’s a relatively original idea: dirty, pharmaceutical CEO doing off-the-books business with dirtier drug dealer needs the business with the drug dealer to stop in order to facilitate a merger. Conveniently, the business conducted with the drug dealer occurs in Mexico -- the kidnapping capital of the world -- and the CEO already has a patsy in mind, but his patsy doesn’t act as the CEO expects.
Despite quality casting, I didn’t laugh out loud once during Gringo. Charlize Theron (A Million Ways to Die in the West) produced the picture and plays the CEO’s business associate. The CEO is portrayed by Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Black Mass), brother of director Nash Edgerton. Edgerton was good for a few laughs, but Theron was easily funniest, and it wasn’t because of the dialogue written for her by Anthony Tambakis (who wrote Warrior and Jane Got a Gun, both featuring Edgerton) and Matthew Stone (Life, an actually funny film starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence).
Why Theron was willing to put up money for this heap of garbage is beyond me, but maybe it was a good script before David Oyelowo was attached. Oyelowo plays the patsy and wasn’t funny nor realistic. Spoiler alert: he’s clueless about his wife’s cheating on him with his CEO and “friend,” who treats him like a subordinate. What’s unrealistic about Oyelowo’s performance is that his character is too clueless to exist in real life.
But Jason Bateman is never clueless and always funny, and Game Night is another relatively original idea: a group of friends gather for their weekly game night expecting to solve a staged kidnapping and end up attempting to solve an actual kidnapping. Sure, it has its roots in The Man Who Knew Too Little, a brilliant picture starring Bill Murray, who thinks he’s portraying a spy in the “Theatre of Life” while actually thwarting an act of international terrorism. Game Night isn’t as entertaining as The Man Who Knew Too Little, but we can’t expect Bateman to channel Bill Murray. Like Theron, Bateman put up money for Game Night to be produced.
Game Night is also casted well, with Rachel McAdams (Wedding Crashers, Mean Girls) playing Bateman’s wife and Kyle Chandler (Super 8) his “cooler,” older brother. The screen is stolen, though, by Jesse Plemons (Paul, The Post), portraying the perfectly awkward neighbor, who loves his dog a little too much and wants nothing more than to be included in the group’s game nights after his wife has left him.
I laughed out loud throughout Game Night, and while it wasn’t The Man Who Knew Too Little, or even Horrible Bosses, the jokes are at least written and delivered well. Mark Perez (Accepted) wrote a quality script and Rich Delia (Dallas Buyers Club, The Help) put together a better cast than Carmen Cuba (The Martian) did for Gringo. if you’re looking for laughs, see Game Night, not Gringo.
If you need more reasons to avoid Gringo and see Game Night, Gringo has received a 39-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes while Game Night sits at 82 percent as of this writing.
Back when I sat on the edge of my theater seat with clenched fists for almost two hours during Life, I tweeted immediately after that the film was the Alien of a new generation. I Tweeted that because like the original Alien film, the beauty of Life is that you don’t see much of the alien. It’s thrilling because the alien is growing quickly, and you don’t know what to expect the next time you see it. Neither do the characters, which better allows their fear to infect you.
GCN’s resident movie critic, Charles Karel Bouley, called Life an Alien “ripoff,” and I agree wholeheartedly. But I appreciate that the makers of Life utilized the successes of Alien and those suspenseful thrillers before it. But what I appreciate most about Life is that it’s at least a partially original story, with motivated plot and character arcs and an original, twisted ending that utilizes parallel editing pretty well. Life is an Alien movie with a new alien, just as Alien was Jaws with a new shark, and Jaws the Psycho with a new psycho.
It’s just too bad Alien: Covenant did its best to ruin Life’s opening weekend and gross earnings. Life has made just under $80 million worldwide, while Covenant moved up its release date, forcing Life into a crowded month and weekend. Logan and Get Out were both R-rated films still pulling strong numbers, and that’s two too many. Covenant did $4.2 million in Thursday night preview screenings at about 3,000 locations. As of this writing, Life is currently rated five points lower than Covenant on the Tomatometer and audience score.
So there’s another Alien movie. That’s six if you don’t count Alien vs. Predator. But you can tell Covenant is not a true Alien movie by simply comparing the trailers. Remember the Alien trailer? Well, I guess I don’t either. It was before my time, but I do remember watching effective trailers in film school, including that of Alien. It’s an effective trailer because the alien is never revealed. They start with the suspense right out of the gate and leave you wanting -- no -- needing to go to the theater to see that damn alien!
Covenant attempts to build suspense with its trailer but throws it all down the drain with the last shot. Sure they wait until the very end of the trailer to reveal the alien, but I’d argue they never needed that final shot of the alien. Almost everyone knows what the alien looks like by now, but the revelation used to be reserved for those who paid for a movie ticket. Now Hollywood just puts the revelation on the poster like a brand, but the art of making a great trailer has gone by the wayside as well.
Karel said Covenant doesn’t offer us anything new regarding suspense, “but it goes back to the same cinematography, the same type score, the same lighting that the original did oh so many years ago. BUT that had things we had not seen before.”
So Life can’t be an Alien ripoff with a mostly original story, villain and ending, and things we haven’t seen, but we can remake the same damn movie over and over as long as it shares part of the name of the original film? I might be in the minority, but I’d rather see someone attempt a film that’s even partially original than see the same film with the same shots and same music I saw 20 years ago with better computer graphics. Speaking of exactly the same...
The trailer for Life is almost an exact replica of the Alien trailer and is equally suspenseful. You never see the alien in its grown form -- only the faces of its victims -- which is plenty. The trailer doesn’t give too much away, and neither does the poster. The last time I was that excited to see a film (besides 2017’s Get Out for obvious reasons) was Dark Knight Rises five years earlier (and that’s because I’m a Batman freak). I just had to see that alien! And I am in no way comparing Life to either Get Out or Dark Knight Rises. I’m merely commenting that the feeling of excitement I had going into the film was piqued thanks to the trailer and movie poster. I was sold, and the people responsible for creating those marketing materials should get mad props.
As a fan of film and not necessarily of the Alien franchise, I appreciated what Ridley Scott did with the Alien prequel, Prometheus. He made it like the first Alien movie. The Xenomorph in Alien had just four minutes of screen time and didn’t appear until an hour into the film. That’s how you build suspense. The only horror or thriller villain to win an Academy Award spent 20 minutes onscreen. That’s all the role required thanks to Anthony Hopkins.
The Prometheus trailer never reveals the alien and neither does the poster. If you had never seen an Alien film you could have gone to the theater not even realizing you were going to see an Alien film. Then, after the most gruesome, on-screen c-section ever, that newborn alien just sits in that locked room. You almost forget about it while waiting for the big payoff -- the fight with the “engineer.” And when those doors open, the alien does not disappoint. It’s suspenseful more than it’s scary, and suspense is better.
But moviegoers have made things easier on filmmakers these days by turning out in droves for horror flicks and action movies that aren’t nearly as dedicated to cinematic and thematic quality as thrillers and dramas. I mean, a handheld-shot, horror movie made nearly $250 million. And while Covenant looks to be on its way to good payday, it’s also surrounded with the likes of a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, a third animated movie about talking Cars, a sequel to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and a remake of The Mummy with Tom Cruise (which I find to be incredibly disturbing).
My point is the standards of moviegoers have fallen tremendously, likely due to the lack of originality and variety available at movie theaters these days. Hollywood is getting away with it and will continue to do so until people stop paying exorbitant amounts of money to see bad films.
“Ridley knows how to terrorize us...but when Scott discovers that we can be terrorized again with less, instead of more, and when the writers can innovate instead of capitalize, the next great horror film will be made,” Karel said.
I would venture to say horror isn’t a genre that lends itself to originality, and if writers want to innovate, they wouldn’t write horror or action. They’d write suspenseful thrillers, which require new monsters and new stories like Life has given us. I so hope there's a sequel called After Life and a sequel to the sequel called Life After Life. Given the ending of Life, I'd say the future of the franchise is brighter than the box office numbers indicate.
I have no problem with the Alien franchise continuing. It’s a fantastic story and now a fantastic pre-story. But if you’re going to make an Alien movie, make an Alien movie -- trailer, poster and all. Leave some wiggle room for the imagination to fantasize prior to throwing the alien in our face. That’s what made Alien so great, and while Life and Prometheus are contrived by design, at least they stayed true to the inspiration. If Alien: Covenant stays true to its inspiration, it’ll be contrived from the sci-fi, action movie Aliens, which, by design, means it can’t be as cinematically or thematically entertaining as Life or any of its predecessors.
Editor’s Note: An update will follow with my review of Alien: Covenant.
Editor's Note: I finally watched Alien: Covenant, and since it's been almost four months since this was originally published, you are right to assume that I didn't see it in a theater. I'm glad I didn't, because the latest Alien movie isn't even worth renting. While I'll appreciate the franchise continuing tradition and making a woman the film's strongest character, that's about the only thing I like about it besides Daniel McBride's performance. Michael Fassbender returns as David and also plays Walter -- an updated version of David. But Walter is duller, too, and for good reason. The humans don't want him to create anything for fear of what he's capable. This doesn't allow Fassbender to carry the screen like he did with David in Prometheus, but the film does do a good job illustrating the potential hazards of artificial intelligence, leaving you wondering for how long you'll be atop the food chain -- and not because of the aliens.
The plot is oh so predictable from beginning to end. Upon introductions of the Covenant crew, I knew exactly who would live and who would die. But even their deaths weren't especially entertaining or creative, with one crew member slipping on blood and injuring her leg to make things easy for the newborn alien. The biggest problem I had with the film was how almost everyone panics (and unrealistically at that) the moment something goes wrong. It might be just a colonizing mission, but they're in outer freaking space. If this crew had any training whatsoever, most didn't show it. And whether or not you're aware aliens exist, you must assume aliens exist, and have a plan in case you make contact. Apparently, NASA doesn't have a protocol for dealing with aliens, either, but that's because they're not even close to getting far enough from Earth to find any. Covenant, however, is en route to a planet that could sustain human life, and therefore other life, and the crew awakes seven years from their destination. I'm sorry, but anyone who boards a spaceship and falls asleep for a decade while roaming outer space and awakes with the assumption they're still the only intelligent life in the vicinity is either incredibly vain or incredibly stupid, or both. Alien: Covenant is equally as stupid. The entire film exists because Prometheus was so good and revived the franchise. They certainly didn't need Ridley Scott to make and sell this garbage. Prometheus did that. Life, however, is a fresh take on the alien story and far more entertaining than Covenant. It might not be as introspective and thought-provoking, but Life is more suspenseful, offers believable performances, and has a much better ending because I didn't see it coming when the movie started. The only thing I was wrong about is Covenant wasn't as scary as Life.
A man in Texas is suing his date for texting during Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2. The man is looking to be reimbursed for the price of his ticket: $17.31. I know, that’s way too much to pay for a movie, but it was in 3D afterall, which is generally a waste of money. The only good 3D movie I’ve ever seen is Harold and Kumar’s Very 3D Christmas.
Anyways, if we wanted to pay even more to see a movie, we could adapt a program where cell phones are locked up by the movie theater staff and can be picked up anytime during or after the movie. But since that’s not happening we all have to put up with people who don’t understand that the use of their phone bothers moviegoers because in a nearly pitch-black theater, a cell phone is like a road flare.
For me, as a film graduate, I find cell phone use during the feature completely disrespectful not only to your fellow moviegoers but to the filmmakers as well. If you’re not going to consider your fellow moviegoers as neighbors who are taking this visual and auditory adventure with you, consider how many people worked hard to bring you this entertainment you pay $17.31 to enjoy and escape your miserable life.
You millennials out there who are connected to your phone like an Army Ranger is to her rifle could benefit from powering down every once in awhile. Why would you want to indulge in your miserable life when the one on screen is so much more interesting? In the words of Tyler Durden, “You are not special. You are not beautiful or unique snowflakes. You are the same decaying, organic matter as everything else. You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.” So make like the rest of the courteous crap and shut off your damn cell phone during the film!
People texting during the feature brings me flashes of that scene from God Bless America where a man with nothing to lose and a high school girl with nothing to do shoot everyone being annoying during a movie and leave the person who wasn’t with, “Thanks for not talking during the feature. Thanks for turning off your cell phone.”
Now I’m not about to pull a Dark Knight premiere on people using their cell phones during a movie, but I will sternly ask them to shut off their cell phone immediately. If they continue to use their cell phone or talk during the feature, I will ask the usher to remove them and give me a refund for having to leave the theater during the movie for which I just paid $17.31.
If the usher isn’t willing to do either, I’ll speak with a manager who will. While movie theater owners don’t want to lose the millennials who think seeing a movie is a social event, they’d rather lose customers who aren’t interested enough in the film to turn off their cell phones than a regular moviegoer who is. It’s imperative that you let the manager know they’ll lose you as a customer if cell phone use during the movie isn’t addressed with no tolerance.
If I had it my way, I’d make it illegal to use cell phones or any technological device in a theater, and issue an insane fine, so if people do it once they never do it again. Actually, instead of a fine, make those people sacrifice a day of their lives to see what filmmakers go through to make the movies they disrespect. That could be up to 17 hours. My film school had to enact guidelines limiting the length of shooting days to 12 hours because one of my classmates was killed in a car accident after working 16 hours on a shoot. He fell asleep at the wheel, and they called it “12 hours on, 12 hours off,” meaning for every 12 hours on set or location you need 12 hours off set or location to rest. That’s not the case on most films.
There are few products that require the work of as many people as a feature film, and if you’re watching a film in English, there’s a good chance you’re supporting 1.9 million American jobs. So if you feel you need to message your friend during the feature like the Texas man’s date, I hope you get more than a lawsuit. I hope you’re never allowed in a theater again.
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