Book Review: What Has Become of You

Growing up is a tricky thing. Not everyone can or wants to do it. I know I’ve clung onto many things from my youth as I’ve been ripped into the world adult life, kicking and screaming. I think that is large part of the new novel from author Jan Elizabeth Watson. What Has Become of You features two captivating leads who both are having issues with growing up. One is Vera Lundy, a 39 year old English teacher, new to an all girls high school, and the other is 15 year old Jensen Willard, a strange girl whose writing in class reveals her as a talented, troubled young person.

Vera sees a bit of herself in the young miss Willard and takes a shine to her as she begins to teach her new students Catcher in the Rye. The class discusses the way Holden Caulfield sees the world, and how it relates to their own paths growing up and a recent tragedy in the town, which leads to more writing from Jensen, some of which is highly troubling for Vera to read. Things start to spiral out of control when a student winds up dead and Jensen goes missing, and fingers begin to point in Vera’s direction.

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Donald’s Top Ten Films of 2013

1. Gravity

There is nothing I love more than a cinematic experience. going to the movies is something I do a lot of, so when something ups the game and makes the now casual everyday movie going experience something grander, I take notice. When it’s done by one of our greatest living filmmakers, doubly so. Gravity crafts a story that grabbed me by the balls and didn’t let go until the credits rolled. I used to make fun of Sandra Bullock, but in this film she is astounding. George Clooney being charming and clever isn’t anything surprising or new, but it also helps to make the movie something great. It took a long time, but I am so glad Alfonso Cuaron came back.

2. Spring Breakers

Rare is the film that comes in March that is still on my mind the following January, but Harmonie Korine’s seething look at the sordid world of spring breakers and their debauchery was a film that is hard to forget. Often referred to as the “Disney Channel Girls” movie because of Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, the film is so much more than that, and while yes, there is lots of nakedness and drunkeness, the film is never approving of these things, and shows what a dangerous road these things can lead you down. The neon color palette is beautiful, the score thumps and wubs deep into the hollows of your bones, and James Franco is nothing short of breathtaking as Alien.  Will there ever be a scene as strange and beautiful as girls dancing with shotguns to Britney Spears? Most likely not.

3. Stoker

Park Chan Wook has been a favorite of mine since a friend of mine sat me down, put in a DVD of Oldboy and said “Watch. Don’t ask questions, just watch.” so of course, I was interested in his English language debut. I don’t know what I expected, possibly for the Hollywood system to crush the creative force right out of him, but that’s not what happened. What did happen is a technical masterpiece. The film is so well crafted that every single shot, every single frame is a work of art. The cinematography, the editing, the sound design, the music, and the cast, it all elevates a script that isn’t quite up to snuff and turns it into pure delightful dark cinema.

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DCOM Disaster: You Lucky Dog

You Lucky Dog (1998) | dir. Paul Schneider | 89 min.

You Lucky Dog (1998) | dir. Paul Schneider | 89 min.

You Lucky Dog, the third DCOM, premiered on June 27th 1998. It’s headlined by Kirk Cameron who plays Jack Morgan, a man once able to mentally communicate with dogs who has lost his powers. Now working as a pet psychologist, his powers suddenly return when millionaire Mr. Windsor (Hansford Rowe) brings his dog Lucky to visit Jack’s clinic. But when Mr. Windsor dies and leaves his fortune to Lucky, with a request that Jack be brought on as Lucky’s personal translator, will Jack be able to deal with the resurgence of his powers? And what of Mr. Windsor’s niece and nephews, played by Christine Healy, Taylor Negron and John “Q” de Lancie, who covet the fortune they think Jack has cheated them out of? James “Uncle Phil” Avery also appears as Mr. Windsor’s loyal butler.

BRAD: Let me start this off by bringing up how hard it was to find this movie. There was never any official release of it, on VHS or DVD, and it just doesn’t seem to have the following necessary to be consistently uploaded online. I actually started looking into some tape trading communities on the thin hope that somebody out there may have recorded this off TV back in 1998 and had it lying around in their attic. No luck. We were ready to just give up and skip ahead to the next movie. Why waste all that effort on tracking down something that’s probably a piece of shit anyway?

I won’t go into details but thanks to some connections with the Russians we were finally able to find it. And I was wrong. All that effort was worth it, because You Lucky Dog is something special. Never in my life did I expect a movie starring Kirk “Crocoduck” Cameron as a man who psychically communicates with dogs to be something I would fall in love with. But You Lucky Dog succeeds gloriously at being a sweet family film about how the best things in life can’t be bought. It’s also jaw-droppingly insane.

A lot of my initial wariness came from Cameron’s involvement. It’s well known that he’s a devout Christian who has been very open about his beliefs, and in the past has run into trouble with co-stars who don’t share his faith. Then again, a movie where Cameron uses unholy powers to commune with beasts did have it’s appeal.

GREG: The biggest shock of You Lucky Dog was how genuinely funny it was. While Under Wraps doesn’t by any means fail at being funny, some of its jokes don’t hit as well when you’re outside of the target age range. The same cannot be said of You Lucky Dog. I’d be hard-pressed to think of any gag that doesn’t succeed at being funny on some level. The majority of them are concerned with the secondary effect of Jack’s powers: besides being able to communicate with Lucky, when Lucky gets excited Jack begins to channel and mimic him. That’s right: Kirk Cameron becomes possessed by a dog in this movie, at multiple points, and it is absolutely hysterical. I never would have expected Kirk Cameron to excel at physical comedy, but this film is proof that he has a legitimate talent for it. And he’s willing to go the extra mile for a laugh.

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BRAD:
To be honest, I’ve never seen Growing Pains. In fact, my only prior exposure to Cameron has been Youtube clips of him debating creationism. But I’m really tempted to seek out more of his work now, because it’s clear that he’s a talented comedian. He deserves props for being not only willing, but physically able to perform these stunts. His ability to act like a dog is astounding, if not a little disconcerting.

As far as story goes, the plot is mostly just serviceable to the comedy. Jack (Cameron) inherits a mansion from Mr. Windsor, much to chagrin of the owner’s spoiled niece and nephews. Feeling cheated out of their inheritance, they hatch a plot to kidnap Lucky and kill him so that Jack will be forced to forfeit ownership to them.

The Windsor siblings are about as cartoonishly evil as Dick Dastardly and as effective as Wile E. Coyote. Their home break-in attempt may as well have been sponsored by ACME, right down to their comically unreliable tranquilizer guns. If anything, the film is worth it just to see James Avery trying to defend himself with a giant toy dog bone.

GREG: After their attempts to capture Lucky fail, the Windsor siblings turn to legal means of seizing their inheritance. If they can prove that Jack is faking his ability to speak with Lucky, they can have him stripped of his position as translator and have the fortune moved to them. Meanwhile, Jack is having trouble coming to terms with the return of his abilities and admitting he has them. These two arcs culminate in his having to finally prove them before the court, at which point Lucky delivers a speech through Jack about the worth of family and friendship and things money can’t buy. The siblings are arrested, Jack finally regains his confidence, and the platonic romance subplot with single mother Alyson Kent (played by Cameron’s wife Chelsea Noble, because he’s a strange person who can’t separate acting from real life) ends with her bringing her daughter over to the mansion to play with Lucky. Everyone is happy, except the house staff who aren’t James Avery, because they’ve been run out of their job by a man possessed by a dog.

While You Lucky Dog isn’t as consistent in its theme as Under Wraps, feeling the need to have it laid out in a climactic dogologue, the physical gags throughout it are consistently funny, and come together to at least create a fun and vibrant movie. And it has Kirk Cameron begging for dog treats. How can you say no to that?

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Next time, we learn to soul skate with Brink!

The Lone Ranger Aims High, Misses Mark

Holy crap, Donald reviewing a film. Yes it’s been a while. Here are my thoughts on this weird, weird movie.

lone-ranger1

A guy called Armie and Johnny Depp with a bird on his head. Yep. That kind of movie

I didn’t really see much of the Long Ranger when I was a kid, but the character has left such an indelible mark on culture that I knew exactly who he was, why he fought the bad guys and why he wears the mask.  In this new film, director Gore Verbinski seeks to uncover this American legend on a grand scale. While his attempt is at times admirable, the film fails on quite a few levels.

The movie tells the story of John Reid (Armie Hammer) who is coming back to Texas after getting a fancy law degree. On his way back home he interrupts notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (a dastardly William Fitchner) from killing a Comanche named Tonto (Johnny Depp), letting the outlaw escape and narrowly escaping the train himself. His brother Dan (James Badge Dale) is a Texas Ranger set on finding Cavendish and bringing back to hang, but is killed in the attempt, while John miraculously survives. Seeing this as a sign, Tonto decides to team up with this shadow warrior to go after Cavendish, whom he believes is not a man but a Wendigo, a creature from legend.

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DCOM Disaster: Under Wraps

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Under Wraps (1997) | Dir. Greg Beeman | 95 min.

This entry co-written with Greg Royce.

Originally premiering on October 25th 1997, Under Wraps, the second ever DCOM, became a Halloween staple for the Disney Channel. It centers on Marshall (Mario Yedida), a twelve year-old horror movie fanatic who is struggling to adjust to his divorced mother’s new boyfriend. In an act of curiosity he and his two friends Gilbert (Adam Wylie) and Amy (Clara Bryant) break into the basement of a recently deceased neighbor and accidentally awaken a mummy! But instead of a monster, Harold (Bill Fagerbakke), as they name him, turns out to be friendly and a bit of a goofball. Now Marshall must return Harold to his sarcophagus by midnight on Halloween or he will turn to dust and his soul will be destroyed forever!

GREG: If the exclamation points didn’t tip you off, Under Wraps is actually an entertaining movie, unlike Northern Lights. This is pretty much all thanks to Harold the Mummy. There’s many attempts at incredibly telegraphed verbal humor that fall flat, but Harold’s physical comedy is great. It really only varies between slapstick and the humor of just having a mummy walking around in the suburbs, but all of those gags landed with me. Even the one with Harold skateboarding. How can you not love a skateboarding mummy?

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Review: Kiss of the Damned

Kiss of the Damned (2013) | Dir. Xan Cassavetes | 97 min.

Kiss of the Damned (2013) | Dir. Xan Cassavetes | 97 min.

Kiss of the Damned, the latest film from Xan Cassavetes, the daughter of Gena Rowlands and actor/director John Cassavetes, is closer to a Jean Rollin movie than it is anything her father would make. I went in knowing nothing about it beyond seeing the fantastic poster and walked out having seen what some could argue equates to soft-core porn.

Josephine de La Baume plays Djuna, a vampire who meets Paulo (Milo Ventimiglia), a human screenwriter away on vacation in order to find inspiration. Despite Djuna’s demands that he stay away he refuses and in a passionate love-making scene she turns him into a vampire, which he is all too willing to go along with. She teaches him about his new lifestyle, which includes feeding off deer, but he quickly adapts and becomes a part of the ritzy vampire underground culture.

Things become complicated when Djuna’s sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) comes to visit and begins seducing and feeding on humans. Her recklessness threatens to undermine the safety of the entire vampire community. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Room 237

Room 237 (2013) | Dir. Rodney Ascher | 102 min.

Room 237 (2013) | Dir. Rodney Ascher | 102 min.

Art is subjective. Any work of art, be it a painting, a song, or a film, is a Rorschach test of sorts because every person is going to gauge it differently. “Room 237 “is an exercise in subjectivity.

The documentary, directed by newcomer Rodney Ascher, is a compilation of interviews with critics who all have different theories about what Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic “The Shining” is actually about. Some sound plausible, others are absurd enough that the entire theater was laughing.

The first theory is that “The Shining” is a metaphor for the genocide of Native Americans, pointing out the film’s consistent Native American imagery and that the Overlook Hotel in the film is mentioned as being built on an “Indian burial ground.” This is probably the analysis that has the most ground to stand on because it only gets weirder from there. Read the rest of this entry

DCOM Disaster: Northern Lights

Oh hey, if it isn't the most obvious symbolism.

Northern Lights (1997) | Dir. Linda Yellen | 111 min.

This entry co-written with Greg Royce.

Northern Lights
is the first film to be marketed as a “Disney Channel Original Movie.” Produced by and starring Diane Keaton it tells the tale of a business woman from the city, Roberta (Keaton), who upon finding out her brother Frank has died, travels to the small town where he lived. After the funeral she discovers that he had a son she never knew about and that his custody was left to her and Frank’s college friend Ben (Maury Chaykin). Now she must get used to life in the country and the oddball townsfolk who live there.

BRAD: Northern Lights is like if a Hallmark movie and Twin Peaks had a child. And then Twin Peaks went out for cigs and scratchers one day and never came back.

If the Twin Peaks comparison seems strange, well I certainly wasn’t expecting to make that connection either. In fact, very little of Northern Lights feels in line with the rest of the DCOM canon (that I’ve seen). While it certainly has the sentimentality and push for family values it lacks the goofier tone of the movies to follow. To put it simply, there’s no hijinks going on.

GREG: That’s not to say there aren’t moments of levity, but they’re much more sparse than in DCOMs to come. The fact that Diane Keaton’s Roberta is the protagonist, rather than Frank’s son Jack (Joseph Cross), is another strange departure from the usual DCOM formula.

Overall, it’s pretty clear that this film wasn’t made by Disney. So many of their hallmarks are absent, and I don’t think there’s a single mention of Disney or a subsidiary in the credits. Which makes it pretty strange to consider that this was the first movie under the Disney Channel Original Movies banner.

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Brad & Greg’s DCOM Disaster

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This entry co-written by Greg Royce.

In 1997 the Disney Channel began a tradition that continues to this day – the Disney Channel Original Movie (otherwise known as a “DCOM”). Before this they had a series of films known as “Disney Channel Premiere Films”, but fourteen years after that name’s 1983 premiere, they suddenly changed the moniker. The change was not merely cosmetic, however. The Disney Channel began to heavily promote their original movies and as a result the station’s popularity began to boom. DCOMs became a social event among young children.

The movies usually starred young kids, usually between 12 and 15, and pushed strong moral values. They often contained fantastical elements, diverse casts (more on this later), and that timeless message of “be true to yourself.”

Unsurprisingly most of these are cheesy, melodramatic, and cheap. But what else do you expect from made-for-cable movies whose target audience is ten year olds?

So what is this write-up all about? Well, I’m fairly young and from 2001 to 2004 I watched the Disney Channel religiously (I was eleven, everybody was doing it). During that time period I saw just about all of the content Disney had to offer. But inevitably I grew out of it, I dropped the channel like a rock, and I haven’t watched it since.

But nostalgia is a cruel mistress. A few years ago a friend of mine, Greg Royce, suggested the idea of watching all of them and doing write-ups for each one. Eventually he decided he didn’t hate himself quite that much, but I liked the idea and agreed to go in on it with him. Two years later we’re finally doing it.

These are peculiar films that have been largely forgotten save for the occasional “Only 90s Kids Remember This” list on Buzzfeed. But I feel they’re ripe for discussion. At times these films could stop feeling like movies and more like product, like corn syrup. But other times they could also have a lot of heart and soul behind them, especially when they attempted to be poignant.

Perhaps the biggest reason for wanting to undergo this though is simply to revisit childhood. I had a lot of fun with these movies as a kid, and I hope some of them hold up.

Wag presents A Short Film: Coffee with Lou

Hey folks, Wag isn’t dead, far from it. We are pleased to announce that on occasion we will be presenting short films and other visual entertainments to the public here on Wag. First up is a short film that I had the distinct pleasure to make recently, called Coffee with Lou.

Coffee with Lou is about a young man named Jeremy who has started sharing his morning coffee with a recent friend named Lou. Lou, however, has a deep secret that may change how Jeremy thinks of him. Things are not always what they seem.

Enjoy.

 

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