Thursday, November 21, 2013

John Dies at the End of This Review (I hope that joke hasn't been done before)

at 7:30 PM

Unlike Andrew, I watched John Dies at the Movies but did not read the book, because I am not a loser. I would say definitely watch if you enjoyed the book, and I also recommend it to anyone looking for contemporary scifi, genre comedy, or the kind of action/fantasy/horror/adventure-fun that they just don't make anymore (probably - except for this movie I guess). While JDatE didn't blow by head out of the water, it did make me nostalgic for days (when I was like 3 or not even born) of movies like Army of Darkness, Adventures in Babysitting, and Gremlins 2

The more detailed review is that it is from Don "Phantasm" Coscarelli, filmed on a shoe"laces"string budget. If you know Phantasm, you probably already know whether you want to see this movie (or, more likely, have already seen it). Wongburger's source book provides a number of decent jokes and kooky characters (the eponymous John "Dies at the End" Cheese being a particular favorite), but it's the bizarre atmosphere and trippy twists that keep the film moving moreso than the haphazard punchlines. Perhaps the same is true of the novel and this is simply a case of a perfect matching of director and script - either way, it feels like a natural continuation of what I know of Coscarelli (I've seen the first two Phans Tasm). Interestingly enough, Costco manages to wrangle together both his acid-nightmare storytelling impatience of Phantasm and the everyone's-holding-a-gun-yet-there's-never-any-action apocalyptic tension of Phantasm II for a story that's disorienting in bursts but never gets out of hand. The movie is somehow both meanderingly philosophical and frantically time-shifting, probably due to the use of a frame story and drugs. Not probably, I'm saying it is because of those things. I just worded it wrong - probably due to the use of a frame story and drugs.

As a B-movie aficionado, it pains me to complain about effects, but it's impossible to ignore the overbearing truth that (what I assume was) the scope of Wongburger's novel was simply not in the studio's budget. Kudos for the attempt to bring Korrok the unspeakable Lovecraftian abomination to life, but the heroes' final showdown with the demonic god was so painfully green-screened and the practical explosions so penny-pinchingly meager that the film's climax felt light-years out of its league, more like an SNL (or Agents of Cracked!) parody than a feature film. I don't really know the solution to this problem - switch to animation? stock footage? shaky cam? but what we got took me severely out of the movie at what is ostensibly the most crucial moment. Luckily the rest of the movie works well enough at a small Phantasm-esque scale that it didn't really need this action climax to sell. 

That's what's nice about John Dies at the End though - you can take it seriously. It's not a cartoon horror comedy like Evil Dead 2, wherein scares are alternated with laughs to keep you guessing, nor is it a straight-up black comedy like V/H/S, where everything is pretty horrifying but the audience takes pleasure in utterly despising every human onscreen and watching them earn their justice hurts. JDatE is just an adventure through an extremely strange world, taken alongside protagonists ready for strangeness. The weirdness (like a dried-meats golem and a fighting detachable mustache) is plain expected and isn't played with a trombone effect for a joke. The characters' cynicism, exasperation, and wit parallel our own reactions to the mundane world. It's reminiscent of Jossy Whedon's Buffy/Angel, which bring's me to a shocking point...

The one guy looks so much like David Boreanaz that why not just cast David Boreanaz. Was he described in the book as Angel Jr.? And while we're on actors, everyone was pretty good, though I don't know who to blame for the weirdness of Wongburger's character - he changes so drastically throughout the course of the film from solemn know-it-all to disturbed denier to snarky comebacker that I can only imagine it was a problem with adapting a 100 (200?) page novel into a <2 hour movie. The guy did a great job looking like he was on drugs though. Talk about someone who looks like he's bugging out at all times. The "known" actors were fine - Paul Giamatti doesn't do anything for me, if anything he's kinda a distraction by being too famous for this movie. Clancy Brown, on the other hand, gives a delightful turn as the kind of character that only the villain from Highlander/Raiden/Mr. Krabs/Sgt. Zim could provide.

Were there any women in the movie? Sorry, I shouldn't be reviewing a movie I saw 6+ months ago, as I suppose this question reveals. Just doing it because of the reason of yesterday's TBA. Movies without female characters are racist and I cannot in good conscience recommend them. I'm probably just forgetting the female lead though. That's a testament to the strength of the role. No hang on it's probably just a testament to me being racist but hang on I'm gonna blame that on society so we're all good, movie still totally recommendable. Society, on the other hand: ONE OUT OF FIVE STARS.

In conclusion, David Wongburger and Don Coscarelli are a fun and entertaining team that I hope once again come together to bring the sequel (This Book is Full of Spiders, I think) to the big screen. Hell knows I ain't readin' no pansy-ass book. I would certainly watch a TV series about The Adventures of Wongburger and Cheese with Clancy Brown as a recurring Macaroni, and considering this movie was probably lower budget than most episodes of Game of Thrones, someone should make that happen. I officially bestow my creative blessing on that idea. Go hence and make it so. 

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