It would behoove me, I suppose, to first say a few words about Troll 2. You’d think it was a sequel about trolls, but it’s actually an independent film about goblins! There’s a family, loosely portrayed by what I will call actors, who move into the town of Nilbog, only to discover a conspiracy to kill outsiders, and maybe eat them? Also, there’s a Transylvanian witch for some reason. It is, by my estimation, the worst movie not created by Ed Wood.
Which is in fact the topic of the documentary I’m actually here to review. It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to watch a documentary about a terrible movie without having first seen the movie, but then again, it’s hard to imagine liking that movie in the first place, and I am speaking as someone who does. But maybe that’s the point, is that it kind of explains how anyone could like such a thing, and maybe you want to know that. Or maybe you want to see the people involved, from the implausibly likable dentist to the (at the time of filming, no less) mental patient to the utterly insane, albeit undiagnosed… well, I suppose that would be telling. And let’s not forget the hilarious writer and delusional director. But mainly, I think, the fans.
Because the truth is, even though I can’t explain to you what possible justification I have for liking Troll 2, I would probably try to get you to watch it. And worse, I don’t even feel that bad about it!
I don’t have a ton to say about The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, and actually to some extent because of spoilers, ridiculous as that sounds. Basically, it’s this: if you want to watch a documentary that simultaneously makes you feel a lot better about yourself and a lot worse about humanity than you did before, come no further. Well, except for the guilt when you laugh, which you will many, many times. (Hopefully that part won’t make you feel better.)
Also, it has multiple cameos by Hank Williams III, who sounds a great deal like his grandfather and looks a great deal like… well, like he was born to the wild and wonderful Whites of West Virginia. Which, to be clear, is not a compliment. (Also, spoiler alert, they are not wonderful.)
You know what there are not a lot of? Documentaries about serial killers. Well, no, that’s the opposite of what is true, there are actually like a ton of those. By literal film-reel weight, I mean. But there aren’t very many documentaries about uncaught serial killers. Well, that might not be true either. Because, like, Unsolved Mysteries, right? I’m pretty sure that show became a genre once there was a Court TV. But, okay, this time I’m going to be right: there are very few documentaries about uncaught serial killers from the perspective of the serial killer. Including, you understand, interviews and other literal documentary footage.
Before yesterday, as it happens, I would have said there were actually no such documentaries. But now I have seen Behind the Mask, and I can say that there’s one, anyway. It actually starts off playing for comedy to some extent, both because our slasher is personable and funny in the confines of his soulless psychopathy and also because the very concept of a documentary crew following around a murderer is kind of laughable. But the moment when the horror of what they are witnessing (and, let’s be honest, doing) finally begins to sink through, the movie shifts from comedy to the finest example of post-modern horror I’ve seen since Scream. This is definitely a must-see for genre fans, and I’m sad I had never heard of it until a month ago!
 I should note, incidentally, that the mask itself is in fact at the intersection of cool and creepy to such degree that I’m very slightly surprised there hasn’t been a sequel based on that alone.
 Oh, right, I lied a little bit. “Serial killer” is the best way to portray the type of person I mean in a documentary setting, but truthfully this guy is a slasher; some famous previous-movie slashers are his heroes, and there’s obviously some nod to the idea of, if not the supernatural, at the very least that these guys work damn hard to appear supernatural.
Lake Mungo was the obligatory documentary ghost story. See, there’s this Australian family on Christmas vacation, and after their daughter drowns in a local lake that you would erroneously think is named Mungo, an unlikely series of twists, backtrails, and switchbacks unfolds around her haunting of her family and the area. The acting was fine, and the story was fine, but… I dunno, I think it was just a little too long. Not that this movie was the worst offender of the weekend, but I think it was the most disappointing about it, because the premise would have worked so well if they had been willing to be just a little less impressed with their cleverness.
1) Despite having his name all over the previews and posters, Eli Roth is merely the producer. It seems like he should ought to make at least a few more movies before all the new people get to attach his name to their work a la Wes Craven.
2) It is shown documentary-style, with the inevitable moments of implausibility that this brings. People carrying cameras just won’t act like this in real life situations, and Blair Witch only got away with it by being the first. That said, I only found myself rolling my eyes at the cameraman a handful of times, which is better than average.
If you can get past those downsides, it’s not a bad little movie. The premise is just about enough to justify the price of admission all by itself: a small town exorcist in the Deep South travels around in response to peoples’ letters about crazy relatives or dead livestock, puts on a nice little show for them as a placebo effect to drive away the “demons” that are vexing them, and goes home with a nice wad of cash. Only, he’s started to feel guilty about the whole thing and is getting out of the business. Not only that, but he apparently feels badly enough about it to expose the chicanery inherent in the whole system by taking a documentary crew along on what will be his last exorcism. You can guess how that turns out, of course, but there are still twists and turns aplenty before the plot is played out to its conclusion, which you may well have a prediction about already. (At least, I’ve never seen a horror-with-camera movie that didn’t end with every single character dead or worse. Have you?)
Going into it, I considered that this may be my most embarrassing review ever. And if you’ve been reading this for any amount of time, you know that’s saying kind of a lot. It’s like, The Real World, right? Sort of the first big reality TV show, took over MTV and removed all hope of music videos ever gracing those airwaves again? Yeah, that. Some years later, they decided, hey, what if we made a movie about these kinds of people going to Cancun for Spring Break and getting nakeder than MTV generally approves of since the early ’80s? And then they did so.
And, y’know, The Real Cancun really is about what you’d expect. It’s like, let’s take a whole bunch of college age students, give them way more than they can afford, and let them do random stuff. In the Real World, that turns into weeks of annoying drama interspersed by fake community service work, or maybe that stuff like happens on Donald Trump’s show? The point here, is that I don’t really watch much reality TV and have no clear idea what happens except what I’ve tried to ignore while others were watching. But it turns out that if you reduce the time they spend together to just a week or so, put them into lots of wet t-shirt contests (and beefcake contests, to be fair), and (especially this one) change the show’s duration from weeks of 23 minutes down to about 90 total, it’s a lot more palatable. I, ever so slightly, cared about what happened to these characters.
Today was supposed to be disc golf day, but then Eric’s kid was sick and the weather was drizzly. Not to worry, we found a kid-watcher and the weather turned into a downright beautiful 60s extravaganza, so that part worked out okay, except for where I played really badly. But that’s not the point. The point is how, in the meantime, we headed off to the IMAX to see the Tom Hanks produced Magnificent Desolation, which is all about taking a bunch of astronaut quotes and voicing them with famous actors (including, obviously, Morgan Freeman) while Tom Hanks narrates and the astronauts keep kicking moon dust right in your face!!!
No, seriously, it’s pretty cool. Lots of magnificent, if desolate, scenery to gaze upon. Plenty of 3D, even if a lot of it was screen with data superimposed over the moonscape. A sidebar on how the landings themselves were faked. An examination of how they might have dealt with an emergency situation if they had one. (They did not; everything was pretty much blowjobs and funnel cakes.) Glimpses of the future. But mostly, people walking around on the moon in 3D. Let’s face it. If you go for that at all, the visuals with a completely silent soundtrack would have been sufficient to cover the price of admission.
First of all, let there be no doubt that this falling behind thing is of the suck. It makes it really hard to adequately review serviceable-yet-mediocre fare when you’re a week or more after the fact. So, you’re asking yourself (or at least would be, if my titling scheme was not so utilitarian), what movie have you finally gotten around to seeing after a month out of the theaters? The Cave, surely. At the least, Red Eye, or maybe that Brothers Grimm thing, right? Well, no, instead, March of the Penguins.
There are two things to understand that will make sense out of this travesty of movie-going. 1) I do have some amount of interest in learning about things as well as stuff, and sometimes just for the sake of knowing things, not merely because of all the chicks at cocktail parties who hang on my every word and inevitably pay for the cab back to their respective places afterwards. 2) I really dig penguins. I mean, a lot. I blame Opus.
Anyhow, worthwhile movie? Yes and no. My instinctual reaction while watching was to assume that the Discovery channel is going to get a lot more advertising money over the next quarter or so. This is both its success and its failure. Excellent job of providing concise and comprehensible information about the world out there where most of us can’t afford to be. Terrible job of escaping the boundaries of a made-for-TV documentary. The only things that truly distinguish it from one of a hundred other such documentaries that have and will air on basic cable this year alone are a) a massive advertising budget and b) probability of winning an Oscar. Unless I’ve fabricated this into my days later memory banks, there were actual commercial break fades.
I forgot c), though. Probably, if this had not been theatrical, you’d have had Patrick Stewart narrating rather than Morgan Freeman. Of course, maybe this is his way of retiring and he’s hitting all of the big documentaries from here on out. Between this and War of the Worlds, he’s already off to a big start.