Sunday, November 01, 2015

Halloween Eve with monster-fighting teens: Freaks of Nature (aka The Kitchen Sink) & Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

I wasn't actually planning to do a double feature Friday night, although it was sort of in the back of my mind as neither of the two movies had reviews on eFilmCritic. I knew I was going to see Freaks of Nature, but figured it might be a quick turnaround, especially since not many sites were listing the actual length of Freaks. There was, though, just enough time to get back downstairs, buy a second ticket (which is one of the first times I've seen a 2D movie there not using MoviePass in some time), and get back up for a second 90-minute movie. Probably should have quit when I was ahead, especially since I wanted to write and also was planning to go to the Somerville Theatre's 12-hour marathon the next day.

Don't warm up for marathons; rest up instead.

I actually wound up composing the last bits of the Scouts Guide on my phone during the between-film breaks at the, which is not ideal. Nice to know how to do it, but I really hope I can get my tablet back soon because that is kind of uncomfortable.

The Kitchen Sink (retitled Freaks of Nature)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 October 2015 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

Freaks of Nature was originally called The Kitchen Sink - some websites are listing its showtimes under that title - and neither name is great. "Freaks" is generic and not really what the movie is about; "Sink" puts the emphasis on the filmmakers' intentions to make a bizarre movie even though they're also trying to make something good. It does, in fact, go a little nuts in pursuit of its high concept, but it's also fairly funny and even fitfully clever.

It takes place in the town of Dillford, Ohio, in a world were human beings, zombies, and vampires live together in relative harmony, though there is still a fair amount of tension. Plus, regular high school stuff: Lanky Dag Parker (Nicholas Braun) has a crush on his sexy neighbor Lorelei (Vanessa Hudgens), although she mostly sees his bedroom as a convenient place to hide her weed from her parents. Petra Lane (Mackenzie Davis) is excited to go to her first vampire party with sexy bloodsucker Milan Pinache (Ed Westwick), although they may have different ideas of what "going all the way" means. Ned Mosely (Josh Fadem) is brilliant, but the only girl who pays him any attention is a zombie (Mae Whitman), and his father (Ian Roberts) is much more invested in his athletic older brother (Chris Zylka). That's a lot of teen angst, and that's before the arrival of an alien spaceship has every group thinking that the other is plotting against them.

Oren Uziel's script was apparently on the Black List of great unproduced screenplays a few years back, and what people would see in it isn't hard to discern: In the same way that a lot of high school movies are proxies for how adult social groups don't necessarily get along, Uziel amplifies that with the various types of monsters, although he never makes it so much a movie about movies that the original satirical intent is lost - heck, he's able to bring it closer to the surface this way. And while the comedy is often broad, there is occasionally something barbed underneath - the characters may be in absurd, exaggerated situations, but the teenage emotional overdrive that motivates them is recognizable and easy to empathize with.

Full review on EFC.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

* * (out of four)
Seen 30 October 2015 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

At a festival earlier this year, a director actually mentioned that his producer prevented him from putting proper punctuation in his film's title, saying it looks bad on a marquee and that you don't want a pause in there. I don't see anyone fighting for the apostrophe that should be in this movie's title, though - the guys making this not-particularly-clever teens-versus-zombies picture don't seem like the type to sweat details like proper grammar.

After a sort-of-funny opener where a janitor (Blake Anderson) in a secret facility ignores an edict not to touch anything, the movie introduces the last three guys in Deer Field, CA still scouting as sophomores in high school: Augie (Joey Morgan) is the die-hard, although friends Ben (Tye Sheridan) and Carter (Logan Miller) have mostly stuck around the past couple of years because they felt Augie needed it after the death of his father. In fact, after Augie gets his "Condor" badge on tonight's camping trip, they intend to sneak away to a party being thrown by the seniors - including Carter's sister Kendall (Halston Sage), on whom Ben has a most understandable crush. But Scout Leader Rogers (David Koechner) never shows up, and when they get back to town, only Denise (Sarah Dumont), a waitress at the local strip club, seems to be around. Luckily, she's pretty good with a shotgun.

This film was originally titled "Scouts vs Zombies", and there's little denying that it's a fun idea for a movie, although it might have been a better one if the emphasis on scouting were more than having the characters in uniform occasionally mentioning that they'd tied a specific knot. It's a dead-simple idea, after all, but director Christopher Landon and his co-writers only rarely seem to come up with scenarios where tracking, knowing about wildlife, surviving in the wilderness, or the whole gamut of skills modern scouts might get merit badges for are put to the test. There's a very funny thriller to be found in overlooked kids coming to the rescue, especially if they're kind of unassuming and have the broad range and mastery of skills those about to become the film's equivalent of an Eagle Scout display, especially if the entire troop were more than just three sixteen-year-olds.

Full review at HBS.

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