2017 heralds the arrival of the fourth Chattanooga Film Festival and the first year I have been able to attend. In its relatively short existence, the festival has acquired a stellar reputation with its programming of indie genre offerings and promises to be a treasure trove of films for DAILY GRINDHOUSE readers looking for something new.
SATURDAY, APRIL 8
THE MONSTER SQUAD
After sleeping in to recover from a late Friday night, my first film of the day was a retro screening of THE MONSTER SQUAD. It remains just as funny, charming, cheesy, and completely silly today as it did when it was released in 1987—even with a few too many cringe-worthy homophobic moments that were a steady source of “harmless” comedic moments in ’80s films.
DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE
A documentary that tries to delve into the creative process of a genius is already at a disadvantage. When that genius is David Lynch, a man who has shown no interest in explaining his artistic choices over his forty-plus year career, that attempt is even more insane. Thankfully, John S. Nguyen, the director of DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE, does not try to get to the bottom of what led to the choices made in Lynch’s films. Instead, he simply observes the director and painter as he works on various art projects and narrates moments of his early life from childhood through to the production of ERASERHEAD.
The Lynch that emerges is a man who grew up with what he considers an almost ideal childhood with warm, loving parents, made a few missteps as a teenager and wound up finding art as his calling at a young enough age that he could pursue it as a lifestyle beyond just a hobby. The man on display in the film is one who is grateful for his breaks and wonders where his life would have taken him if things had not gone his way at critical points. But he also tends to gloss over the unhappy moments or what happened when he fell in with what he terms a “darker” group of friends when he was teenager.
And that is what is so difficult when using a filmmaker for a documentary subject: they understand how to self edit their own stories to highlight what they want. Lynch is a fascinating artist and person, but he knows how to retain the mystery of his process and withhold what drives his darker obsessions. Perhaps that is exactly how it should be.
The new film from director Joe Lynch is a gory sci-fi/action/comedy starring Steven Yeun as Derek, a lawyer at a corporate firm who has sold out his ideals in pursuit of power and money by ruthlessly climbing the corporate ladder. When he finds himself unjustly fired for his superior’s costly mistake on the same day that a virus causes most of the people in his firm to lose all inhibitions—including himself—he seizes the opportunity to earn his revenge against the ruthless partners who kicked him to the curb. You can probably guess by the title what ensues next.
Along the way, he forms an uneasy partnership with Melanie (Samara Weaving), a woman whose house is being foreclosed upon by clients of Derek’s firm. Seeking her own justice, she is only too happy to plow her way through attorneys using various power tools to fight her way to the top floors.
Having worked in a corporate law firm for over three years and been on the receiving end of more than a few temper tantrums by multi-millionaires who never think twice about bullying those they consider “inferior,” I identified quite a bit with Derek and Melanie’s desire to pick up a hammer and start swinging at the nearest head. But even if I did not bring in my personal baggage to the film, I still would have enjoyed the hell out of it. Lynch’s direction is energetic and he gets very good performances up and down his cast. The script by Matias Caruso is wry and subtle one moment and then has two characters spitting on each other for an extended gag the next minute without ever feeling like anything is tonally off.
Yeun is rock solid as a man who regains his soul by losing his mind. Hopefully now that he is done with that never-ending soap opera that is called a zombie show, he will work steadily in films. Weaver is the real find here. With a maniacal look in her eyes and pinpoint comic timing, she steals most of her scenes with a deranged smile and liberal use of a nailgun.
Seek out MAYHEM when it gets released. It’s a subversive and hilarious kick in the pants and is easily the best film that Lynch has made as he keeps refining his skills on bigger and bigger canvasses.
I saw THE VOID at last year’s Fantastic Fest, but did not get around to writing it up even though I enjoyed it. With the film now out for everyone to see, it feels a little redundant to write up my thoughts since I would simply be echoing the praises of everyone who has written about it for the last seven months. It really is as freaky, creepy, and balls-to-the-wall gory (featuring stellar practical effects) as everyone describes. Watch it ASAP.
THE NIGHT WATCHMEN
I had no idea what to expect from THE NIGHT WATCHMEN. I glanced at the synopsis for the film, saw the word “vampires,” and signed up. After all, what other kind of film do you want to watch at 11:30 pm on day three of a film festival? But what I didn’t know (because I don’t do much research before choosing most movies—like a fool) is that many of the vampires in question are actually vampire clowns.
Read those two words again: vampire clowns. Fucking vampire clowns.
If there has been a more brilliant concept for a movie monster, I don’t know what it is. I just wish the film lived up to its central menace in a more consistent manner.
You can boil the plot of the film down to a one sentence logline: Four security guards at the offices of a daily newspaper become trapped in their building by hordes of vampires, many of which are dressed up as clowns. Here, it would seem, is a movie that should write itself. But director Mitchell Altieri and writers Ken Arnold, Dan DeLuca, and Jamie Nash (Arnold and DeLuca also play two of the guards) muddle the film to near incoherence with a very broad comedic tone that often stops the film in its tracks for random jokes of the fart, gay panic, stoner, and mocking sexual fetishes variety. I’m all for juvenile humor, but it damn well better be a funny joke if you’re going to interrupt an attack by a horde of vampires (many of which are extremely frightening clowns—have I mentioned that?)
But even with the ragged feel of the script and overly slack direction, THE NIGHT WATCHMEN finds enough moments of goofy fun to make it worth watching. You just need to fight your way through long stretches of incoherent action and cringe-worthy jokes to get to them.
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Tags: Chattanooga Film Festival, Dan DeLuca, David Lynch, David Lynch: The Art Life, Eraserhead, Jamie Nash, joe lynch, John S. Nguyen, Ken Arnold, Mayhem, Mitchell Altieri, Samara Weaving, The Monster Squad, The Night Watchmen, The Void