For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
I’m of two minds about the documentary feature Skull World, now available on VOD: On one hand, its subject is not your ordinary, everyday guy who’s been doc’d to death. On the other, why encourage him?
Greg Sommer is a grown adult, yet lives in the basement of his mom’s house with his girlfriend, a blow-up doll. Since high school, he’s operated under the pseudonym of Skull Man, so named for the full mask he dons. His passion appears to be turning cardboard into homemade armor for the ongoing “box wars” he wages against others, but he holds down a day job as a cemetery worker and also has a public-access sketch show on the side, Variety Store TV.
The problem is that while Sommer is undeniably manic, he’s not particularly funny. The times when I laughed were not when he was cracking jokes, which is almost always, but when he was worshiping his terrible taste in music: “I've been rockin' Clutch since 1993. I rock Clutch loud ’n’ proud,” he tells the camera with pride. Later, he pays tribute to other bands while he’s doing push-ups: “This one's for Sepultura! This one's for Fear Factory!”
While watching Skull World, I was reminded of the recent Beauty Day, which is another documentary on another Canadian quasi-celeb / gadabout who doesn’t look before he leaps. The difference is that a fully formed arc exists in the storytelling of Beauty Day, whereas the intermittently entertaining Skull World feels like Justin McConnell (The Collapsed) was capturing footage of a crazy friend, which is the case. It’s quite possible that, given a span of more years, Sommer will do something to merit such a treatment. As is, setting up a “piss box,” a “shit box” and a “puke box” at a party he’s hosting doesn’t cut it.
The energetic film has its moments of greatness, but I think Sommer would be better suited to a short subject. His immaturity wears on the nerves ... or at least I simply don’t possess the enormous amount of patience that McConnell must for his pal. He’s all the better for it. —Rod Lott