Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Tentacle 8 Makes (Some) Confusing Sense

The film:
Tentacle 8 (2014)

The under-the-radar factor:
A first-feature by John Chi, the film's exposure has basically come through its dvd release in early 2014.

The review:

I adored the American paranoia films of the 1970's. Give me a night with Gene Hackman trying so hard to figure out what they're really saying in the distance in The Conversation. Let's see if Max Von Sydow is going to blow away Robert Redford this time...or if Cliff Robertson will be the real sell-out in Three Days of the Condor. And I want to watch John Huston go through that flag one more time in Winter Kills.

By way of lighter-weight, lower budget contemporary offerings in this sub-genre comes Tentacle 8, a film that succeeds more through atmosphere than by making any sense...which I found contributed greatly to the atmosphere. Getting confused? you'll be in the right frame of mind in which to regard this movie.

It's not enough we have the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA to worry about - turns out there is a covert group called Tentacle 8 that may be behind the mother of all computer viruses that has wiped out records across the intelligence community. The man who may represent the likely problems and possible solutions with said virus - and the ability or inability for anyone to retrieve the information that has gone AWOL - is Ray Berry (Brett Rickaby), code breaker par excellence. When we first meet him, Ray has slumbered into bed with the clock reading 4:45. After a quick fade-to-black, the digital clock face is shown flashing "12:00" - there has been a blackout in power, time... and information.

The gap in facts continues and the so-called plot jumps around considerably. Ray finds himself apprehended and placed in confinement, where he's beaten to a pulp by some soldiers, but befriended by another, who helps to spring him. He falls for a jet-setting CIA agent (Amy Motta) who may indeed love him but who is also working behind Ray's back with those trying to track down the Tentacle 8 elements. A chap disguised as a homeless person may be leading Ray towards danger...or answers. A guy named Mitchell may be pulling most of the strings behind the scenes...but may not be able to get out of the ambiguous mess he's helped to create. Mystery builds upon mystery; one part of the puzzle appears as others slip out. Ray's ethical stances are a problem for some and a tool for others. There are references that go back to that horrible day in Dallas and the other one in NYC decades later. The tale goes nowhere and everywhere.

There are shortcomings in Tentacle 8 that would annoy anyone. The film is just tooooooo long! Especially hard to sit through are the drawn-out, stilted lovey-dovey banter scenes between Rickaby and Motta, with clumsy dialogue contributing to their stiff deliveries and absence of chemistry. And throughout much of the film Rickaby's performance comes across as somewhat robotic and non-emotive; for a guy who has had the crap beaten out of him and who has a number of lives placed in his hands there seems to be a little too much "oh, well" in his attitude.

There are other elements that the same folks would have to concede are undeniably strong points of the film. The production values are crisp and never less than professional, helping the movie transcend its modest budget. The supporting players - that is, the performers representing the various members of the intelligence community trying to sort out the mess and the few who have a real idea of what has transpired - are well cast and help contribute to the dry but convincing sense of political intrigue. Max Blomgren's score is effective in the dramatic scenes (but unnecessarily sappy in the Rickaby/Motta hook-ups).

Then there are the issues that particular audience members will be bothered by, but for others...not so much. The lack of a coherent storyline and dearth of elements that allow a viewer to surmise "well, this led to that and, therefore, the other thing happened..." - if that's you cup of tea in enjoying a film, you'll definitely be left thirsty by this baby.

But as much as some may think writer Chi has copped out in the script and created scenarios without plausibility or, at least, due much as many will scream "baloney", others (see my hand up in the air? It is!) will be wrapped up and intrigued by the ambiguities. Perhaps that goes a long ways to explaining our world outlooks but many of us who buy into the notions that this planet doesn't lend itself to making itself understood and that even those who seem to be in charge are often clueless about what's really going on will want to hop on for this ride.

It's largely a forest vs. the trees/feeling vs. thinking division. If you demand that everything you come across in Tentacle 8 deserves an explanation, then you'll hate this film. If you're willing to have the whole package deliver the paranoia perception through how you felt about what you experienced, then you may get as much a charge out of this as I did.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Briefly - Blood Cousins

Four cousins hook up to head out on a road trip, visiting the grave of a grandmother on the anniversary of her death and squabbling with old acquaintances in BLOOD COUSINS. This first-time feature indie effort from down Texas way is put out by the group that calls itself Comedia A Go-Go, with Regan Arevalos, Jess Castro and Larry Garza all sharing the writing/directing credits.

Three of the adventurers seem to be taking their voyage in good spirits but Stevie (Joel Settles) is often in a different space - he starts experiencing flashbacks of a troubling experience from his youth that he can't really comprehend in the present. His brother and cousins are oblivious to his concerns, preferring to banter about video games, chicks, and which junk food will be chugging down their gullets next. Things remain fairly civil until after the cemetery visit when they crash the home of some relatives. From there, the tone of the film shifts from lowish-brow humour to heavier dramatic interplay and, finally, some nasty business in the gruesome horror department.

The most impressive aspect of the movie (aside from sharp production values re: videotography and editing) is the shift from lightweight comedy to the heavier dealings that emerge with a jolt in the last twenty minutes of the film. Other hybrid genre flicks I have witnessed have not done as effectively in this regard (see Make-Out With Violence as an example of such crossbred attempts). Unfortunately, one has to sit through the first hour to get to this payoff and that's where Blood Cousins feels like you've been stuck as the fifth wheel in a group who can't get away from. The personality of Larry Gaza's character of Von, the crudest in the group, is the one element that breathes life in the earlier going but also serves to illustrate that his colleagues, while likeable and non-irritating, are just not that interesting. The so-called comedy is also largely ineffective, consisting of predictable gags and subject matters.

In the end, whether a film is labelled as low-budget indie or big studio tentpole, one question has to be answered - was it worth it? Blood Cousins serves more as an impressive demo reel of a group that seems to have some undeniable potential going forward but are still in class, rather than having graduated to the mastered feature world. (The results of this effort can be witnessed by the curious with a trip to the productions website where the download is available.)

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Coyote is One Rabid Beast

The film:
Coyote (2013)

The under-the-radar factor
Director Trevor Juenger has seen his movie winning a few awards at some of the lesser known/specialized film festivals... and being banned from other screenings. This "art-house horror film" is scheduled for distribution this fall from Wild Eye Releasing.

The review:


No two ways about it... Bill has issues.

Bill (Bill Oberst Jr.) has some "mommy" issues, typified by his inability to write her a correspondence to describe how he's getting along (which is...pretty lousy). This is ironic given that Bill is suppose to be a writer...but apparently is not much of a storyteller. He has issues with paranoia, imagining masked men coming into his home in the middle of the night to assassinate him. He has some issues with women in general - like the ones he calls up on cable shopping channel programs, threatening them. More than anything he has issues with sleep. He's an insomniac who seems to be petrified to fall into a peaceful slumber. He bangs away at his typewriter or does push-ups just to prevent dozing off. He yells at the woman he has just bedded - "Never let me sleep!" - after he has accidentally caught a few winks. "Victory" is when he tapes his upper eyelids to force himself to stay up. But Bill could be winning a battle that's only hurting him in the end. He loses more of his grip on reality the longer he goes without any shut-eye. We see him in two different versions of a job interview - each seemingly odd in different ways. We see him in the act of pursuing...or is he being pursued? What is the real world and what are products of Bill's warped, tortured mind become increasingly hard to distinguish as the story goes on, but whoever could be after Bill is gonna get a wupin' - he's in shape, has weapons, and is ready to rumble. As the trailer reveals (in all of its four-letter blasts) there is certainly a lot going on with this character...

There is no point in trying to explain the storyline in Coyote, as it remains a surrealistic knot to untangle throughout. You could describe every single scene in sequence and not be able to give an indication of what the film is "about". Fortunately, not "getting it" is not important here - Coyote grabs the viewer from the first scene and never lets matter how hard you may want a release from the grip.

There is a point in repeatedly warning folks that this flick is not for everyone. In case you need further convincing of that, you should take a gander at this very NSFW clip...

Be grateful I didn't subject you to a scene of the character urinating into a bottle and then...

I will say I have grown tired of low budget filmmakers doing low budget versions of better financed offerings, rather than accept the austerity of their means to experiment and run wild with their imaginations. Juenger does not pass up on the opportunity and concocts a bizarre but captivating piece of raw cinema that I was more than happy to take in. For all its wildness there is a particular vision here: you may not know where the plane is going - and it seems to be going everywhere - but you're always convinced the pilot knows what he's doing. The imagery in the film is well done and often startling. The musical score by Michel Schiralli sets up the mood in each scene in a more than appropriate fashion. The ultimate strength of the film, however, lies with Bill Oberst Jr's rather amazing performance. He truly carries the movie on his shoulders in convincingly portraying the walking time-bomb this man has become.

The folks behind this film describe it as "art-house horror". Coyote scores well on that hybrid front, is deserving of an audience and can indeed be appreciated by the open-minded and resilient among us. For the rest of you, I'm sure the next Tyler Perry magnum opus is on its way soon.