by Louis Fowler
Most weeks, I review more DVDs than the Indy can fit into print. You can look for extra write-ups here, on the IndyBlog.
As the end of the world, according to the Mayan calendar, looms over us, no one seems to be taking this very probable threat seriously. No one, that is, except for made-for-cable or straight-to-DVD low-budget sci-fi fare. Without them, we’d all be seriously at a loss when the earthquakes, volcanos, floods and other assorted Biblical disasters come to cleanse this garbage dump we call the Earth. The latest offering is the appropriately titled Doomsday Prophecy, starring AJ Buckley (CSI:NY) and Jewel Staite (Stargate: Atlantis). They are a bickering book editor and gangly geophysicist, respectively, thrown together as a conspiracy theorist’s prophecies about the Earth aligning with the center of the universe start to come true, engulfing whole areas of cheap-to-film-in Eastern European countries. Scoff if you want, but without it I’d never know to find a magical spear that would unearth Easter Island statues in Canada that would bring an end to the impending cataclysm.
At first glance, I was pretty excited to watch The American Dream, which purported to be the American military experience through the eyes of young urban Americans. But, instead, all I got was an exceedingly pretentious, offensively stereotyped view of service, peppered throughout with overwrought drama-club histrionics and pathetic attempts at social commentary. In other words, the type of movie about war that know-nothing kids from Hollywood would make in order to prove they’re more than know-nothing kids from Hollywood. Dream follows Luis and Ronald, two inner-city youths, duped by an evil Marine recruiter into fighting in Afghanistan. Filmed in a grating found-footage style, we follow the guys from their vacation in Mexico and backyard barbeques at home, all the way to the battlefields where characters stare at the cameras blankly and try to do their best impersonation of the easy-to-overact “crazy” soldier. The American Dream is a filmmaking nightmare, and the easiest way to wake up is by pushing the eject button.
As the low budget trend of running zombies and backwoods cannibals come to a straight-to-DVD end, aspiring lo-fi filmmakers have found a new inspiration: the found footage film, or, more specifically, the Paranormal Activity flicks. What could be easier for a no-budget start-up? Just point a camera, roll a can of beans across the floor and voila! Instant scares! The latest of the lot is Documenting the Grey Man, which I actually enjoyed more than the Paranormal Activity films because, believe it or not, things actually happen. A group of heavily accented Southerners set out to debunk reality ghost-hunting television by setting up a family who’s been terrorized by local legend “the Grey Man.” Of course, they learn that the joke’s on them and the Grey Man is actually a terrifying force of invisible malevolence, with a couple of truly jump-worthy scares in the final 20 minutes. It’s a pretty effective horror, at 1/100th the price.
In the wake of the Aurora tragedy, I debated whether or not to write a review of God Bless America — especially given that there is a movie theater shooting scene in the movie, played for dark laughs. I decided to go ahead, not because of how much I liked it, but how much I agreed with the message of the movie, which I feel is so important in our current pop-culture. Joel Murray is Frank, an everyday Joe who, after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, takes a look at the world and realizes what a horrible place America has become, worshiping insipid reality TV stars, masturbating to useless consumer wants, and thriving on mass-media ridicule to make ourselves feel better. Realizing that someone has to do something, he picks up a gun (and a spunky teenage girl sidekick) and proceeds to cut a swath of destruction throughout America, culminating in a final stand at an American Idol knock-off. It’s the ultimate black comedy, filled with constant caustic truths that people could stand to hear.