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Entries in Mockumentary (6)

Friday
Mar022012

Project X

Think of the wildest, craziest, most insane party you’ve ever been to. Think about the pretty girls, the hunky men, the loud music and the bountiful booze. Think of how it began to spin out of control. Now think of the one defining moment at that party where you thought to yourself, “This is too much for me.” Now take that memory and multiply it by 100. That’s where Project X lies. Its main goal (well, its only goal really), is to make you laugh by putting up on the screen the biggest, most deranged and morally uninhibited party you’ve ever seen. For those still at that partying age (or those who should be acting like adults by now but still prefer to act like idiots), Project X will interest you. I, however, found it hopelessly unfunny, offensive and a total waste of 90 minutes of my life.

There isn’t much of a story in Project X beyond its set up, which involves an upcoming birthday bash for Thomas (Thomas Mann). He’s still in high school and he isn’t very popular, so along with the help of his buddies, Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), he sets out to throw the biggest bash his school body has ever seen while Dax (Dax Flame) records it all on camera.

And the resulting movie is as shallow as that plot synopsis. From the moment we meet these kids, especially Costa, who is introduced grabbing his crotch and singing the lyrics to one of the more provocatively titled 2 Live Crew songs, we immediately dislike them. They’re annoying, loud, perverted and sexist, continually referring to women as “hoes” and “bitches.” They’re little more than narrow-minded twits whose main goal for the night is to get laid, regardless of the destruction they cause around them. It doesn’t matter who gets hurt in the process, just as long as they have fun. Everyone at the party acts like such buffoons that at one point, a grown man who lives across the street comes over and physically assaults one of them. Although such abuse is certainly not appropriate in the real world, this is one of the only movies I think I’ve ever been okay with an adult punching a young child in the face.

Their attitude and behavior is, of course, supposed to be funny, but instead it’s just kind of sad. There is nary a laugh to be had in this abysmal wasteland. As I know some will argue, the comedic value of Project X comes from taking every party movie you’ve ever seen and combining them, culminating in the most over-the-top and ridiculous backyard spectacle ever, but such a narrow focus isn’t inherently funny. It’s what you do with it that will make or break it. Unfortunately, absurdity doesn’t always equal hilarity and it’s simply not funny watching a handful of high school teenagers get high on ecstasy and drunk off tequila, knowing that their actions will most likely result in time behind bars. It’s not funny watching someone drive a car into a pool. It’s not funny watching the police show up to stop a riot that has broken out in the middle of suburbia. And it’s certainly not funny when one of them hands a baby a small bottle of alcohol. It’s just kind of troubling. It’s exclusion of a story just makes the movie so much worse because without the laughs coming, it has nothing to fall back on. It’s not funny, but it’s also not dramatic, sweet, charming or interesting. It’s just there, like it or not.

In keeping with the recent trend, Project X is a found footage movie (of sorts) and everything you see is captured by a character in the movie walking around with a camera. Aside from a couple of switches where the onscreen action switches to footage captured on someone’s camera phone, most changes in perspective break the established rule of one character documenting everything. Angles and cuts that wouldn’t be possible with a single camera set-up are prominently on display here. Furthermore, the use of shaky cam is nauseating, to the point where I almost had to leave the theater to go heave. Such qualms could be overlooked (yes, even the nausea) if the film provided laughs, but it doesn’t. Project X is immature, stupid, loud and unworthy of your time

Project X receives 0.5/5

Friday
Jan062012

The Devil Inside

A lot of people these days criticize mockumentaries and “found footage” films. I’ve always been one of their defenders. I think the style allow for more realism. Conventional horror movie techniques are overshadowed in favor of simple, subtle frights, not exaggerated violence and “Boo!” scares. After watching The Devil Inside, though, I’m quickly changing my tune. This subgenre of film has presented only a small number of tricks and after The Blair Witch Project, The Last Exorcism, REC and three Paranormal Activity films, I think we’ve just about seen them all.

The story of The Devil Inside revolves around a young woman named Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) who wishes to know whether her mother (Suzan Crowley), who was institutionalized after murdering three people years ago, is simply crazy or possessed by the devil (take a guess which one it is). So she employs the help of two Catholic priests-in-training named Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth) who agree to let her and her documentary filmmaker film them as they perform an exorcism without the church’s permission.

Of course, that begs the question, why in the world would they do that? As the film so kindly points out, performing an exorcism without the church’s permission is grounds for excommunication, but they let them keep right on filming anyway. “All media coverage is banned,” one of the priests even says as they drive to perform an exorcism while the documentarian lugs his camera around, as if a documentary is somehow more acceptable. It’s a lapse of logic so huge that it’s impossible to get past. Watching this movie is like watching someone accidentally walk into a glass door, pause for a second and then do it again. You can’t help but throw your hands up and laugh at what I feel I can safely say is the most poorly planned out movie I’ve seen in years.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, Paramount Pictures snatched up the rights to this movie with the hopes that it would turn into their next Paranormal Activity. There are clearly hints of that film (and about a dozen others) in this one, but there’s a difference between using it as inspiration and simply riding its coattails. The Devil Inside clearly does the latter. One can’t help but get the sneaking suspicion that if horror mockumentaries hadn’t gained so much popularity over the last few years, this never would have been made. In a strange way, it makes all the great movies that have come before seem redundant.

Think of your five favorite foods in the world. Then think about blending them together and choking them down. So much good has suddenly become bad. The Devil Inside is kind of like that. It begins like the brilliant Australian horror mockumentary, Lake Mungo, complete with talking heads and back story akin to an actual documentary. It’s also very much like the aforementioned Paranormal Activity, with a number of cameras set up during the actual exorcisms, so as to provide fresh perspectives. At times, it even reminds of the underrated sequel, The Exorcist III, during its dialogue heavy asylum scenes. But whereas all three of those movies are great, The Devil Inside is garbage. Lake Mungo actually had an interesting story to tell with plot turns and an interesting twist. At 77 minutes without credits, this barely has a story at all and it offers no surprises. Paranormal Activity was all about minimalism and letting your imagination do all the scary work. This throws its supposed frights in your face. The dialogue in The Exorcist III was gripping and thought provoking. The Devil Inside was written by the same guys who wrote Stay Alive, which should be all I need to say about that.

If that’s not enough, you have story points that are said in passing, but never explored, like Ben’s haunted past involving the death of, I don’t know, someone and contrived scene set-ups, like when a parent says they needed to move their possessed daughter into the basement for no other reason I could ascertain than because it’s dark, decrepit, scary looking and a perfect fit for a horror film. Its worst offense, however, is its inability to maintain the documentary illusion. This thing uses film techniques that simply aren’t feasible in actual documentaries. Most of the time, it’s small things that most people won’t notice, like a sequence of shot reverse shots where the camera operators would have to be sharing the same space to pull off without time skips, and other times it’s something stupidly obvious, like a long shot that suddenly jumps forward to the object or person in the distance without missing a beat.

The Devil Inside is horribly sloppy. It feels like a college video project, with actors that only strengthen that feeling, and it’s entirely ineffective. If it had come out a week ago, it would have easily made my worst of the year list. It may very well indeed make my list this year, but if it’s lucky, by the time the end of 2012 rolls around, I’ll have completely forgotten about it.

The Devil Inside receives 0/5

Friday
Oct212011

Paranormal Activity 3

For the first time in eight years, we’re approaching Halloween without a new Saw movie. Like the franchise or hate it, it was a Halloween staple, but pumping out a new movie every single year was destined to fail eventually. Fans grew tired of the premise and dwindling ticket sales eventually killed it. A large part of that was due to 2009’s Paranormal Activity, a clever, if not entirely effective, horror movie that relied on a slow build and eerie frights rather than fast action and gory kills. Last year’s sequel took the foundation of that film and built upon it, upping the ante with multiple cameras, an all-seeing dog and a baby in peril. If that film was an evolution of the premise, Paranormal Activity 3 is a de-evolution. In terms of legitimate scares and narrative cohesion, this is a major step back.

The movie begins with a familiar scene. Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and her family have just returned home to find their house ransacked. Completely disregarding the fact that the sequel clearly stated that nothing was missing except for a necklace her sister, Katie (Katie Featherston), made her, it appears now that a box of old VHS tapes from the basement were stolen instead (just one of many ways this movie fails to connect to its predecessors). This sets off the rest of the film as we watch the footage from those tapes where young Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown), along with their parents, Julie (Lauren Bittner) and Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), find themselves haunted by a demon.

The first and second films, while mostly existing within themselves, did a good job of setting up a back story through dialogue. It took the time, even as small a time as it was, to establish a history, which gave the mysterious events that occurred some weight. In a sense, a prequel is the next logical step for this franchise because there’s plenty to explore and connect. Unfortunately, this movie ignores even the simplest things. The fire that burned all of their belongings that Katie spoke of in the first film never actually happens here, for instance. Any connection made by viewers will be one littered with assumptions. Katie also spoke of how, when they were children, the spirit would stand at the foot of their beds. One would think something as simple as that would surely be included for continuity’s sake, but one would be wrong. The spirit does a lot of things, but none of what was mentioned in the previous movies.

Then there’s the absurd ending (which is far too reminiscent of plenty of other films, including last year’s The Last Exorcism) that tries to provide answers when none are needed and fails to make sense of what’s happening in regards to the continuing narrative that has now stretched over three movies. All would be forgiven if this could stand apart from its predecessors in terms of sheer scariness, but for every moment of genuine dread, there are three of redundancy. Loud bangs, slamming doors, swinging chandeliers, falling objects and shaking houses are old hat at this point. Although credit must be given to directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the guys behind Catfish (which I’m still not convinced is real), for managing to maintain suspense for minutes on end in certain sequences, too many moments are obvious and predictable. More than anything else, Paranormal Activity 3 needed some new tricks.

In the original films, all of the scares came organically. They came from the demon and his activity. In this one, multiple scares come from the human characters unnecessarily jumping out of closets and in front of the camera and from strange edits that make it appear like something is happening when nothing really is. They are forced in and come off as desperate attempts from a franchise that knows it’s losing the attention of an audience that is used to its tactics. By the end of Paranormal Activity 3’s technically short, but perceptively long runtime, it’s hard not to feel exhausted by what amounts to a creative mess, one that can’t even manage to connect the dots on a story with such undemanding simplicity.

Paranormal Activity 3 receives 1.5/5

Friday
Sep242010

Catfish

Hot on the heels of I’m Still Here comes another so called documentary whose authenticity is suspicious, Catfish. And again, while I would urge hesitation on the part of those who have viewed it, I can’t fully say how much of it is fake, if any. Given the concept and ending, of which I can’t divulge, my bet would be on fiction. Chance occurrences as outlandish as this simply do not happen.

If you’ve seen the trailers for Catfish, you’re undoubtedly interested in how it plays out. Critics across the country have claimed that the ending is “a shattering conclusion” and its posters and ads have warned, “Don’t let anyone tell you what it is,” and in not telling you what it is, I’m going to have trouble conveying my feelings towards the film. What I can say is that the ending is not what you expect. Giving off the sense that it suddenly turns into a horror film, the trailer is misleading, one of the biggest misrepresentations of a movie I’ve seen in a long time. In fact, the hype and interest regarding the ending is much ado about nothing. It’s not that shocking, at least in traditional cinematic terms.

But it works in terms of reality. To say why would be giving it away, so proceed with caution, though I’ll do my best to be vague. The film begins with two documentary filmmakers, Henry Joost and Rel Schulman, as they decide to film Rel’s brother, Nev, as he embarks on a relationship with a family that lives hundreds of miles away. Nev is a photographer in New York City and one of his pictures ended up in a local newspaper. Somehow, a Michigan family got a hold of it and had their 8 year old artist prodigy, Abby, paint it. At first, it’s simply a casual relationship; he sends her pictures he has taken and she paints them for him. But as time goes on, he connects with the rest of the family, including Abby’s beautiful half sister Megan. He and Megan, though they have only spoken over the phone and Internet, immediately connect. But soon it seems Megan may not be who she seems, so Nev makes a surprise trip to visit the family and get to the bottom of it.

“Internet” is the key word in that description. In this digital age we live in, everybody is connected through the Internet and falsifying information can be quite easy. In certain ways, we all live double lives. We have hundreds of friends on Facebook and communicate with them daily through status updates and event invites, yet we are only true friends with a select few. The people reading our information online know so little about us that we could make up anything and pass it off as fact. That, put as broadly as I could in relation to the movie, is what makes Catfish work. It’s timely and works on its own terms, even if the ending fails to live up to the hype made by the foolish marketing campaign.

It’s a shame because there is an interesting movie here that explores issues of loneliness and belonging, showing people (characters?) who use the Internet to spice up their drab lives and play others for fools, even if that is not their intent.

The movie, even through its sometimes slow and plodding story, rests on Nev (assuming he is a real person) and he is charismatic and likable. He’s good looking, funny and lonely, even if he pretends not to be. He's the perfect catalyst to set these crazy events into motion.

But in the end, those events won't be crazy enough to live up to the hyped up ending. I fear that may hurt this movie’s reputation because those who see it will be disappointed, as was I, but those who can look past that and discover why it still works on relatable terms to today will find something more, though that bad taste left by the marketing campaign will linger on.

Catfish receives 3.5/5

Friday
Sep172010

The Virginity Hit

News flash! Teenage boys are obsessed with sex. They fantasize about it, watch it and talk about it with their friends. Their world revolves around it. If you are one of those high school boys who really doesn't know any better and thinks having sex is the most important thing you can do, then I have nothing to say to you. For those who have grown up and can think with the head that’s on your shoulders rather than the one in your pants, I’m here to bring you words of caution. Avoid The Virginity Hit at all costs.

Teen sex comedies are no stranger to cinema. Porky’s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the more recent American Pie have taught us that when boys hit puberty, they also hit an intellectual wall because their brains are overrun by stupefied thoughts of what they hope to do with the opposite sex. The Virginity Hit is largely the same, only it doesn’t have the lasting ability of those films. Despite sticking to the tried and true formula, it fails in every regard and only separates itself from the rest of the teen sex comedy pack by using the recent cinematic fad: the mockumentary.

The story, as if it needs explaining, follows a foursome of guys as they enter into high school and make a pact to lose their virginity. As each one does, they take a hit from a bong, hence the title. After some time, all have accomplished their goal except for Matt (Matt Bennett). He has a steady girlfriend named Nicole (Nicole Weaver), with whom he hopes to do the deed, but after finding out that she cheated on him, he falls out of love with her and refuses to go through with it. So his friends embark on a quest to help him out, no matter the cost.

There’s an easy explanation as to why The Virginity Hit is as derivative and bland as it is. It’s written by the same guys who wrote The Last Exorcism, a horror movie that borrowed all of its shocks from other, more effective horror movies. The writers must not have a single original thought in their heads, but the movie’s familiarity isn’t the problem. It’s that the whole thing is remarkably unfunny, one of the driest, most barren wastelands of comedic dreck I’ve sat through in a while. Every immature joke falls flat, but I suppose immaturity is what I should have expected, given the suggested age of the characters (not even legal adults in most areas). An endless barrage of sexual jokes and explosive potty humor (literally) is all it has to offer.

And that’s a problem because outside of the truthfulness that all young guys think passing the arbitrary hurdle of sex is the only thing worth accomplishing, it fails to capture the authenticity of being a teenager. American Pie may have been childish, but it was real. I knew those characters in high school and even saw myself (to a certain extent) in one of them. There was a feeling of connection with that film because it drew from real life experiences. The Virginity Hit, to put it lightly, goes off the rails. The characters trespass and break into people’s homes, visit strip clubs (despite the ambiguity of their actual age) and even hook up with real life porn star, Sunny Leone. Similar to how the overrated, but still decent, Superbad went too far in its depiction of wild teenagers, The Virginity Hit feels fake and forced.

When I was teenager, I, like every other kid my age, thought about sex and girls a lot. I discussed it with friends and waited for the day to cross the threshold into manhood. Then I grew up. Those who haven’t may find something to like in The Virginity Hit, but I certainly didn’t and those who value the circulation of blood in their brain over other areas won’t either.

The Virginity Hit receives 0.5/5