Blu-Ray Review: John Dies at the End

Director: Don Coscarelli
Screenplay: Don Coscarelli
Based on a Novel by: David Wong
Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Glynn Turman
Producers: Brad Baruh, Don Coscarelli, Andy Meyers, Roman Perez
Country: USA
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 2012
BBFC Certificate: 18


Adaptations of novels are a tricky business, especially when the source material is well loved. If something is changed the fans create an uproar but if nothing is changed it can make the film bloated and ineffective. On top of that the films are rarely judged on their own merits as critics are often familiar with the source material so comparisons are inevitable.

Well, I’m afraid I’m going to be writing that kind of review for John Dies at the End, which is based on the cult novel by David Wong (whose real name is Jason Pargin). I made the classic mistake of reading this quite recently before watching the film. I’ve done this a couple of times before and regretted it. Never Let Me Go was a film I felt was very well made, but because I’d read it a couple of weeks before, it struggled to match up and the experience of watching it was too strange as my own vision of the story seemed so fresh in my mind. I read Cloud Atlas just before the film came out too, but that was a slightly different experience as I had some problems with the book. The film actually addressed these problems so in some ways was a great adaptation, but on a scene by scene basis the film was flawed so on a whole it still felt disappointing.

Which brings me to John Dies at the End. I won’t try to explain the plot too much as it’s bat-shit crazy and the real ‘truth’ behind the madness isn’t explained until near the end. What I will say is that it’s the story of David (Chase Williamson), a loser whose life gets flipped upside down and ripped to shreds as he and his slacker friend John (Rob Mayes) come across a mind-expanding drug known as soy sauce. The ensuing chaos includes (among other things) a TV mystic/psychic who’s actually real, a demon made up of the contents of a freezer and a swarm of tiny insects that take over people’s bodies.

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Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

Point Blank

2011 France. Director: Fred Cavayé. Starring: Gilles Lellouche, Roschdy Zem, Gérard Lanvin, Elena Anaya.

The immediate comparison when talking about Point Blank is to Guillaume Canet’s Tell No One. Both are high-paced French language thrillers about the search for truth and motivated by love for a wife. That comparison is certainly apt. And while Point Blank is a decidedly less memorable and weighty piece than Tell No One (I still think that’s one of the best mystery thrillers of the last few years, foreign language or otherwise), I still very much enjoyed Point Blank mainly for its taut pace that barely stops for breath throughout its pleasingly brisk 80 minute runtime.
-ROSS

Cold Souls

2009 USA, France. Director: Sophie Barthes. Starring: Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Dina Korzun, Lauren Ambrose.

This was a big disappointment for me. It has a great, unique premise in which people extract and store their own souls, with Paul Giamatti playing a version of himself, an actor struggling to play a part because he feels his soul is weighing him down. It is going for the same sort of quirky but realistic feel of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich (all written by Charlie Kaufman) but doesn’t come together in an entirely satisfying way as those movies do. I wanted a lot more from it instead of just hints and snippets of brilliance here and there. I still enjoyed it for its existential ideas and great cast (Giamatti is particularly good) but I felt it didn’t fulfill its potential.
-ROSS

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Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

Win Win

2011 USA. Director: Tom McCarthy. Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale, Burt Young.

The always commendable Paul Giamatti headlines an emotionally sincere cast in Tom McCarthy’s modest family dramedy Win Win. The story follows a small town lawyer, family man and assistant high school wrestling coach named Mike Flaherty (Giamatti), who hopes to turn around the flagging fortunes of his team with the inclusion of a talented but troubled new student named Kyle (Alex Shaffer). Rarely descending into sports movie cliché, the film, like McCarthy’s previous effort The Visitor, is packed full of understated feeling, unpretentious humour and questions of everyday morality. Amy Ryan is excellent as always; Bobby Cannavale is very funny as the films most overtly jokey character, and newcomer Alex Shaffer is completely convincing as the polite but introverted Kyle, a teenager who, like real teenagers, speaks every word in the same disinterested tone. But the highlight of the film is lifetime character actor Burt Young, who is simply spectacular as Kyle’s dementia suffering grandfather Leo. Neither overly ambitious nor tediously trivial, Win Win is a top notch independent production. [See also Marina’s capsule] -TOM

Hunger

2008 UK. Director: Steve McQueen. Starring: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham.

Bold. Visceral. Heartfelt. Beautiful. Breathtaking. Epic. Hunger is the sort of film that is difficult to convey beyond the most basic of descriptions – rather, it is a film that must be experienced. The painstaking attention to detail places the viewer in the prison cell with Bobby Sands (Fassbender), allowing us to experience the disillusionment of one being betrayed by his body and the circumstances surrounding his perils, and the strength that it takes to overcome such misery. McQueen does not pull any punches, and it seems difficult to imagine any other fictionalized work having such an emotional impact without resorting to the cliché. Never before has waiting for dialogue felt so jarring, nor has any conversation been so exceptional as the seventeen minute unbroken exchange between Sands and a priest (Cunningham). Fassbender’s turn is equal parts traumatic and wonderful, and I cannot help but wait with eager anticipation for his future films. [See also Marina’s review] -DOMENIC

Netflix Instant (US and Canada)

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Trailer: The Ides of March

 

Cannot get enough of the ubiquitous Ryan Gosling? Here comes The Ides of March, an election campaign drama/thriller directed by George Clooney with about as many talented actors as you can squeeze into a movie: The aforementioned Gosling joins Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marissa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright and George Clooney himself in the role of the spotlighted political candidate. The film was penned by Good Night and Good Luck writer, Grant Heslov, who co-incidentally directed Clooney in the much sillier Men Who Stare at Goats.

After seeing this trailer, I’d vote for Clooney (he always delivers a good speech on screen), even if a very charismatic Gosling is going to backstab him on the campaign trail. This is one of the many films in the initial volley of TIFF titles, so those in Toronto will have a chance to catch this in early September, meanwhile the film will get its official release on October 7th. Sony is wise to release this sooner rather than later as America is going to be quite exhausted with the rhetoric of the 2012 presidential elections by mid next year, and may not want to see a more idealized reflection of the national climate up on screen.

The full trailer is tucked under the seat.

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Review: Ironclad

 
[With all the talk on this weeks cinecast about Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins and its DVD release, it is fitting that Iron Clad is getting a theatrical bow in the US, as it is like the a very British take on the ‘small band vs. big army’ story. And it is really, really good. I caught the film at Actionfest a few months ago and my review is republished below.]
 

“What a tedious little man!” snarls Brian Cox after dealing-slash-politicking against Paul Giamatti for the hearts and minds of the British peasantry. Far from it, to enjoy Ironclad is to embrace one of the most ridiculous, yet delightful moments of over-the-top royalty since Graham Chapman and the Pythons (clearly a film that Ironclad is subtly nodding at while its plethora of arterial sprays and limb severings, even as it plays everything else decidedly straight.) Giamatti and Cox join a host of celebrated english Capital-A actors such as Charles Dance and Derek Jacobi along to occasionally bark at each other through its orgy of violence. The film is hilarious, yet deadly earnest, the type of bloody heroic wet dream of 14 year olds, with the type of posturing put forth by the WWE or Mel Gibson.

Without missing a beat, Johnathan English’s Ironclad picks up right where Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood left off. It is certainly not an official sequel, but golly, it could be the swaggering, slightly drunken, trashier sibling if you swap in a scowling James Purfoy for a scowling Russel Crowe. King John (Giamatti) has signed the Magna Carta, but at the behest of the Pope in Rome has declared the document invalid and is marching across the land with a small army of Danish mercenaries, killing all the Barons who signed it. In the meantime, the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dance), orders one of the few remaining Barons (Cox) and the best Knight Templar (Purefoy) in the land and orders them to defend Rochester Castle at all costs. (As Rochester goes, so goes England). Failing to raise an army, only a few ragtag adventurers and scoundrels (from the Office’s Mackenzie Crook to the ubiquitous Jason Flemying who seems contractually obliged to be in all of these types of movies), they arrive at Rochester just as John and his army show up. Thus for well over half of the two hour duration, the film is an action packed castle siege film that pits about 20 men against several hundred, and bravery, blood and battle over anything resembling restraint or good taste.
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Cinecast Episode 214 – I Hate that I Know That

 
 
We start things off simple. No Kurt. Just some Pirates and Priests. With unpleasantness out of the way, Kurt jumps in with both feet for a indie post-apocalyptic film out of Toronto, a re-evaluation of Inglorious Basterds and Tarantino’s career. Trains and Toni Collette keep the conversation chugging along and with Gamble here, “Game of Thrones” is sort of unavoidable. We all revel in the love for Rip Torn and South Korea before rounding everything out with a talk about sequels that are crazier than a rat in a tin shithouse (ala Caddyshack II and Gremilns II). Nobody dies.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 

To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_11/episode_214.mp3

 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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Rank ’em: Paul Giamatti

Paul Giamatti has over 70 credits to his name according to the IMDb. Some of these are televisions episodes but still, that’s a much more impressive filmography than I thought. Of these 71 credits, I’ve seen 28 of his feature films and 1 television mini-series (“John Adams”). I haven’t caught Barney’s Version or Ironclad yet, but can’t wait to. Still, what the hell, I thought. Let’s rank out his performances shall we?

I’ve divided the list into two parts: (fairly) major roles and minor roles (unranked).

MAJOR ROLE:
American Splendor
Sideways
The Illusionist
“John Adams”
Cold Souls
Cinderella Man
Planet of the Apes
Shoot ‘Em Up
Win Win
Storytelling
Lady in the Water
Man on the Moon
Fred Claus
The Hawk Is Dying
Duplicity
The Last Station
Confidence*
Paycheck*
Safe Men*

MINOR ROLES: (unranked)
Big Momma’s House
Saving Private Ryan
Private Parts
The Negotiator
The Truman Show
Doctor Dolittle
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Donnie Brasco
Sabrina
Singles

* = I don’t remember all that well

ActionFest Review: Ironclad

 

“What a tedious little man!” snarls Brian Cox after dealing-slash-politicking against Paul Giamatti for the hearts and minds of the British peasantry. Far from it, to enjoy Ironclad is to embrace one of the most ridiculous, yet delightful moments of over-the-top royalty since Graham Chapman and the Pythons (clearly a film that Ironclad is subtly nodding at while its plethora of arterial sprays and limb severings, even as it plays everything else decidedly straight.) Giamatti and Cox join a host of celebrated english Capital-A actors such as Charles Dance and Derek Jacobi along to occasionally bark at each other through its orgy of violence. The film is hilarious, yet deadly earnest, the type of bloody heroic wet dream of 14 year olds, with the type of posturing put forth by the WWE or Mel Gibson.

Without missing a beat, Johnathan English’s Ironclad picks up right where Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood left off. It is certainly not an official sequel, but golly, it could be the swaggering, slightly drunken, trashier sibling if you swap in a scowling James Purfoy for a scowling Russel Crowe. King John (Giamatti) has signed the Magna Carta, but at the behest of the Pope in Rome has declared the document invalid and is marching across the land with a small army of Danish mercenaries, killing all the Barons who signed it. In the meantime, the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dance), orders one of the few remaining Baron Cox) and the best Knight Templar (Purefoy) in the land and orders them to defend Rochester Castle at all costs. (As Rochester goes, so goes England). Failing to raise an army, only a few ragtag adventurers and scoundrels (from the Office’s Mackenzie Crook to the ubiquitous Jason Flemying who seems contractually obliged to be in all of these types of movies), they arrive at Rochester just as John and his army show up. Thus for well over half of the two hour duration, the film is an action packed castle siege film that pits about 20 men against several hundred, and bravery, blood and battle over anything resembling restraint or good taste.
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Action Fest Line-Up Teased.

This is likely to be my first festival Roadtrip of 2011, a mere dozen hours or more from Toronto to Asheville, North Carolina, where the worlds first film festival dedicated to action movies, the aptly titled ActionFest, is kicking off its sophomore year with a collection of strange and unusual ways for people to be punched, thrown off of buildings and shot. Co-founded and operated by Chuck Norris’ stuntman brother, Aaron and programmed in 2011 by Midnight Madness and TIFF programmer, Colin Geddes, expect it to be stretching the boundries of what you think of as an action movie while paying homage to the classics (Cannon, Golan-Globus we still heart you!) and the stunt folks behind the mayhem. The festival runs April 7th-10th.

ActionFest 2’s Opening Night film on Thursday, April 7th is Ironclad, an epic, blood-soaked account of a brutal castle siege starring Paul Giamatti, James Purefoy, Derek Jacobi, Brian Cox, Charles Dance and Jason Flemyng.

Other confirmed new titles include:

Little Big Soldier — a new period action film written by and starring Jackie Chan;
Hobo With A Shotgun — the hot Sundance selection starring Rutger Hauer;
Super — vigilante madness starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon and Liv Tyler;
Bangkok Knockout — Thai action from the stunt team and filmmakers of Ong Bak;
Outrage — a gritty and violent new Yakuza thriller from the legendary Takeshi Kitano;
Bunraku — a surreal fist-and-sword epic starring Josh Hartnett, Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson, Kevin McKidd, and Ron Perlman;
Machete Maidens Unleashed — the titillating story of 70s exploitation films from the Philippines.

The full lineup will be announced on Monday, March 22nd, followed by the screening schedule.

More details from the Action Fest Press Release (Stunt Show! Stunt Show!) are tucked under the seat.
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Cinecast Episode 157 – Whoop-de-doo

 
This has got to be a record for one of the shortest shows we have ever done. But hey, when you have got these sort of “nothing but what is on the surface” types of films, that is often all you can do with the conversation. We do not even head into spoiler territory for the two films, Cop Out and 44 Inch Chest we review and discuss. There are, however, more than a few great DVDs (and Blu Rays) coming out this week and on the horizon: The Independent Spirit Awards, the Oscars, the new Tim Burton kajillion dollar Alice In Wonderland, and Roman Polanski’s latest, The Ghost Writer. Enjoy the brevity folks, because it is not going to last.

 
 
 
 
 

As always, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_10/episode_157.mp3

 
 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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Cinecast Episode 156 – Metaphorical Make-Up Sex

 

SPOILERS ALERT!
 
Shutter Island has been a big topic of discussion around here and the whole of the movie-based internet sites over the past week and we’re obliged to continue that discussion as Matt Gamble joins in for a full on spoiler discussion of the movie – including hashing out the continuity errors once and for all! We also saw plenty of other great cinema since last week including a revisiting of Mulholland Drive and escaping back to the original versions of both The Collector and The Crazies. Kurt managed to catch up with the new version of the latter film while Andrew made time for the Oscar nominated (acting) The Last Station as well as the German mountaineering picture, North Face. So lots to get into here as well as some new DVD releases and other tic bits of awesome. It was a great show and we hope you enjoy the listen.

As always, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

Click the Audio Icon below to listen in:


To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_10/episode_156.mp3

 
 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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