(On DVD, July 2016) I wasn’t expecting much from the low-budget Jeepers Creepers, which is probably why I ended up pleasantly satisfied. This is not, to be clear, a particularly good or respectable horror movie. Don’t go looking for deeper themes or allegories in the result, which is as straightforward a creature feature as can be. This is nothing more than the story of two teenagers encountering a monster in the backwoods and dealing with the ensuing mayhem. Still, Jeepers Creepers does have a bit of self-awareness and some of the suspenseful sequences are handled well. The terror move deliberately from the rural to the supernatural, and the atmosphere of the result is interesting enough, especially when the protagonists reach “civilization” and find out that it’s not much comfort. The “Jeepers Creepers” song is catchy, and the monster does have some originality to it. The dialogue has its moments, and Justin Long has an early memorable role as one of the teenage protagonists. It does get more and more conventional as it goes on, unfortunately, and the grim ending doesn’t do much to make it any better. Still, Jeepers Creepers knows what it tries to do, and isn’t too bad at it.
(On Cable TV, June 2015) The good thing about today’s movie universe is that it has never been easier for just about any determined filmmaker to grab decent-quality filmmaking equipment and shoot their own movies. This also works for experienced filmmakers, who can indulge their creative urges with smaller projects for specific audiences. Sadly, this is also making it harder to stop projects that maybe shouldn’t have been completed. So it is that Kevin Smith can riff off a ridiculous premise in a podcast and, months later, complete a project based on that rant, about a hapless podcaster being tortured into becoming a walrus for a madman’s own purposes. The wonders of modern filmmaking! Of course, the problem for end-result Tusk is that even though it tries hard to be a comedy/horror hybrid, it’s neither funny nor scary. Just gross and pitiful, with a big side-order of boring. Justin Long is neither good nor bad as the protagonist: while Long-the-actor is naturally likable, his character is obnoxious enough to shut down any nascent sympathy for his fate. Tusk is self-aware enough to have joke casting (such as having Johnny Depp in a supporting role without crediting him, or featuring Depp’s and Smith’s daughters in small roles), but as with most of the film’s characteristics, the final result is slight enough as to make everything seem pointless. If Tusk had been a better film, I would have a few nice things to say about the dialogue, the fractured chronology, some directorial choices or Michael Parks’ performance. But it’s pointless, grotesque and interminable even at 90 minutes. Even the Canadian content left me less than enthusiastic (the badly-translated French doesn’t help). I’m not opposed to dumb midnight-movies, but Tusk is not a good example of the form. And if Kevin Smith’s career is headed in the direction of increasingly-hermetic fan-service goofs, then I’m happy to let him go there and never look again; after all there are plenty of other filmmakers doing far more interesting things with the means at their disposal.
(On TV, March 2015) I’m not sure if there’s a recent dearth of college comedies, but I can tell you that Accepted acceptably hits the spot. It’s not a refined or overly clever film, but the central premise –about rejected college applicants accidentally founding their own no-rejection college—is good for a few laughs. Justin Long is likable as the protagonist who stumbles into becoming a college dean, whereas Jonah Hill plays a representative example of his early fat-nerd persona. Farther away in the background, Lewis Black has a thunderous small role as a disillusioned ex-academic, while it’s fun to see Maria Thayer’s fiery curls light up scenes as a secondary character without much to say. But it’s the film’s sense of pacing that works best: Despite a few odd misfires (the probably-improvised electric shock sequence, among others, feels out of place), Accepted’s editing is exemplary, complementing a script that often thrives on rapid-fire dialogue. While the script eventually veers into idiot-plot territory in which everything is solved via One Big Speech, much of the film actually works well, and even the unlikeliness of its premise (as if community colleges didn’t exist…) actually work in the film’s glorious intent to deliver a silly college comedy no matter its preposterousness. Accepted amply fulfills the basic requirements for a comedy: it’s fast, easy to watch, not terribly vulgar, largely amusing and often laugh-out-loud funny. Heck, it may even send the viewer on a few flights of fancy as to what they would do in a similar situation, and whether the whole point of the college experience is simply paying for a social experience away from home. While Accepted could have been a bit better with a bit more discipline, it’s enjoyable enough as it is. Pick this one up for your own independent-scholar film appreciation class.