If you liked V/H/S, just press play on V/H/S/2; if you didn’t, don’t even start.
With one fewer segment than the original, this second stack of lo-fi tales of taped terror opens with no credits — just the wraparound story of two private investigators whose gig takes them to a house, where in front of a bank of TVs, littered VHS tapes await viewing, thereby leading to four freestanding bits.
In the first, “Phase I Clinical Trials,” a man is befitted surgically with an experimental eyeball that doubles as a camera. The orb is not without its side effects. The Blair Witch Project co-director Eduardo Sánchez returns to the woods for “A Ride in the Park,” in which a biker unwittingly pedals his way into a horde of zombies. Its 15 minutes are better than any of the recent spate of independent features on the undead.
From The Raid: Redemption’s Gareth Evans’ “Safe Haven” starts to grow tired, before redeeming itself in a balls-out finale. Finally, Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun) steals the show with the self-explanatory “Slumber Party Alien Abduction.” If you must only watch one piece of V/H/S/2, Eisener’s is it. —Rod Lott
Never say never, because here’s something I’ve now said twice this year: Josh Duhamel is really good in this.
An indie dramatic thriller, Scenic Route casts Duhamel as Mitchell, a finance exec/family man on a road trip with Carter (Dan Fogler, Take Me Home Tonight), an
old friend from whom he’s grown apart of late. Carter lacks everything
that Mitchell has: a wife, a kid, a job, a house, confidence, ambition.
“operational vehicle” to the list, in the middle of Death Valley. As
temperatures plummet, tempers flare and secrets are revealed. Just when
you think screenwriter Kyle Killen (The Beaver) has neutered his own script’s balls in the final minutes, give him until the bitter end.
Drastically altering his vanity via a real Mohawk is only part of Duhamel’s appeal here. Maybe it’s those Transformers movies
or his marriage to a Black Eyed Pea, but we tend to think of Duhamel as
mere lightweight pretty boy. Well, the pretty boy gets to act, and he
rises triumphantly to the challenge. The film is the best gift his
10-year career has received, so overcome any preconceived notions of the
rom-com refugee if you can. —RL
World War Z
The Z stands for “zombies,” of course, but this is an action-thriller, not a horror flick. Like TV’s ridiculously popular The Walking Dead or 2009’s more-fun-thanfunny Zombieland, it’s a watered-down depiction of the days and nights of the living dead — a zombie film for who people who can’t handle a “real” zombie film. It’s entertaining without approaching extraordinary.
Former UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) rather reluctantly leaves his wife (Mireille Enos, TV’s The Killing) and
two daughters on a military aircraft while he trots around the globe,
helping to pursue a cure to whatever virus has caused this pandemic. No
matter his destination, super-fast zombies are present for a
greet-and-eat. Repeat for two hours.
very loosely on Max Brooks’ novel, Marc Forster’s film needs no setup.
What it does need is — no pun intended — more meat. Shouldn’t a
depiction of a global catastrophe come equipped with a serrated edge? At
least what there is now can be seen at home, where projection issues
during night sequences disappear.
Pitt makes for a fine host on his travelogue of terror.
Too bad Enos can’t be there with him. It’s demeaning that her role amounts to moping on a cot. —RL
Inspired by the dirty doings of mass murderer Charles Whitman, 1968’s once-controversial Targets is
the first true film directed by Peter Bogdanovich and also — I think,
despite Oscar love for his ’70s work — his best. It’s also one of Warner
Archive’s finest rescues from out-ofprint oblivion yet. Fearing
he’s an anachronism, aging horror star Byron Orlok (the legendary Boris
Karloff in one of his final roles) announces his retirement, effective
immediately. After all, “no one’s afraid of a painted monster” when the
headlines scream of six slain in supermarket shooting. How can a cheap
horror movie compete?
a separate story line seemingly unrelated, a cleanscrubbed suburbanite
with the all-American name of Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly) admits, “I
get funny ideas.” Any viewers unsure what he means by that will have
that cleared up when they glimpse into his car trunk, which hosts an
arsenal of weapons: He’s a rubber band pulled back too far, just waiting
Sadly, Targets is
more relevant today in the wake of Fort Hood, Aurora, Sandy Hook, etc.
No matter what side of the political issue your beliefs fall, Targets
provides real drama, disturbing and suspenseful and brilliantly done.
The Bling Ring
Even my children’s worst moments are still above the best moments of the snotty, self-absorbed, home-schooled brats of The Bling Ring, Oscar winner Sofia Coppola’s follow-up to 2010’s snoozeworthy Somewhere.
A dramatization of a reallife California teen crime spree, The Bling Ring follows several high schoolers (one played by Emma Watson) as they break into the homes of C-list celebrities to steal jewelry, clothes, cash and X-rated Polaroids.
felonious five netted upward of $3 million before braggadocio brought
them down, resulting in arrests and prison sentences. Viewers will be
doubly pleased to arrive at the movie’s legal phase, not only because
these gals are overdue for a reality check, but because Coppola’s
robbery scenes quickly grow repetitive, and the film doesn’t dig much
The film is
never more alive than in its opening montage, set to the clipped,
fuzzed-out beats of Sleigh Bells’ “Crown on the Ground.” That’s not to
say the rest is technically bad; like its subjects, Coppola just places
style above substance.
For cinema dealing with superficial youth, The Bling Ring would make a great first half of a double bill with Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. (Just be sure to stop before you get to Spring Breakers, m’kay?) —RL
An American Hippie in Israel
If you don’t already hate hippies, An American Hippie in Israel just might shove you into that corner. The 1972 oddity by first- and last-time filmmaker Amos Sefer is as odd as it is unsubtle.
title refers to Mike (Asher Tzarfati), a barefoot Vietnam vet who has
spent the last two years being chased across Europe by two mute goons
with snappy suits and silver-painted faces, because why not?
in Israel, Mike immediately meets Elizabeth (Lily Avidan), a
hot-to-trot redhead who gives him a ride and then gives him a ride, if
you know what I mean.
follows? Mass death, a goat purchase, a dream sequence, much
skinny-dipping, two cardboard sharks and not using soap. Yes, the
movie’s unique and unusual, but also free-association to the point of
boring. The characters are annoying and repellent (not just because one
practically can smell their body odor through the screen); their
dialogue can — and does — trip itself up into maddening circles.
best way to watch is with a group, since the movie is ripe for
ridicule. If watched alone, its dreadfulness can act as a depressant,
making Mike’s observation, “That was a bummer,” ring painfully true. —RL