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Mondo Sacramento - Review

Mondo Sacramento posterOn paper Mondo Sacramento fits the bill for a modern “mondo” style shockumentary. Showcasing three “truth is stranger than fiction” type short stories, each segment has its fair share of occult driven lunacy. From batgirls to kinky ice cream parlors, the director’s love for Sac-town’s darker side is obvious and sincere.  

For what it is worth, Mondo Sacramento cannot be accused of aiming too high. In fact, filmmaker Jason Rudy had his sights set directly in the gutter, and with that in mind his film is a success.  Every frame is iniquitously filthy, with enough blood, nudity, and diabolism to intrigue even the most perceptive of the simple-minded.

Those looking for a genuine “Mondo” documentary will unfortunately be left wanting. While Mondo Sacramento does attempt to recreate gruesome tales of the macabre, ultimately the final product is too campy to take seriously. The great Mondo films of the past succeeded by convincing the audience that the horrifying acts of tribal savagery (Ultime Grida Dalla Savana), sexual exploitation (Mondo Hollywood), and human brutality (the Faces of Death series) were in fact authentic. Mondo Sacramento more closely resembles a considerably less polished episode of Unsolved Mysteries than let’s say Mondo Cane VI.

Ultimately this is a fun, if not inconsequential, B-movie horror romp. In a paint-by-numbers sense, Rudy crafts a safe little genre movie a couple of teenage boys would be more than happy to watch at 1 A.M. on a Saturday after a night of not getting laid.  It is obvious Rudy does much with very little, and the movie has an air of camaraderie that you only get with super low budget films. It’s probably safe to assume Mondo Sacramento was shot over the course of several weekends. You get the feeling everyone involved had a good time shooting their scenes, and that notion of alacrity does more for this film than the blood and breasts. Even the film’s weakest section - a series of talking head interviews with the employees of an ice cream/massage parlor, is nearly made watchable by the sheer enthusiasm of those on screen, and for that Rudy should be very grateful. 


#1. Snow White and the Huntsman -  Review

An amalgamation of Grimm, Disney, and even Shakespeare for good measure, Snow White and the Huntsman utilizes many of the familiar elements of the classic tale, but strays far enough away from previous attempts to keep you guessing. Yes there is a rose and an apple, the enchanted mirror and even seven dirty little men (well, technically eight but who is counting?), but director Rupert Sanders implements these expected tools in different, while not entirely clever, ways.

Charlize Theron (Monster, Prometheous) plays the deceptive Ravenna, the fairest one of them all for sure, who uses her beauty to entrap and kill a recently widowed king in an effort to pilfer his power. Having made a deal with the devil so to speak, Ravenna controls many magical powers, including immortality, but only by sustaining the title of being the most beautiful woman in the land, judged of course by her shape-shifting mirror. She maintains her natural good looks by literally sucking the essence out of the young women in her kingdom, stealing their youth and leaving them as morbid wrinkled husks of their former selves.

The king’s daughter, princess Snow White (Kristen Stewart of The Twilight Saga) has of course been left to rot in the castle’s north tower, until the Queen learns the princess has come of age and stolen her title as the fairest of them all, leaving Ravenna no other choice but to extract the girl’s heart to finally guarantee her own immortality.  Snow White ably escapes from the queen’s evil clutches, teams up with the Huntsman tasked with her capture, and sets forth on a fantastical adventure. At least on paper that is how it would seem.

Produced by the same team that backed Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 2010, their most recent fairy tale update attempts to portray all of the dark violence many remember from Grimm’s original tale, but with the big budget spectacle that brought them such success with Alice. Forfeiting all of the whimsy and fancifulness and color of Wonderland for an ominous land of grime and despair, the sheer weight of Snow White’s bleak murkiness and melancholy found throughout the kingdom eventually overpower the audiences’ ability to simply enjoy themselves. There is no fun to be had here.

Even the eventual introduction of the dwarves, all but guaranteeing even the slightest sense of levity, is quickly stomped out by the death of the eighth dwarf soon after meeting him. Played by some of today’s most endearing British actors such as Ian McShane (Deadwood, Hot Rod), Toby Jones (The Mist), Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), Ray Winstone (The Departed), and Bob Hoskins (Hook), director Sanders questionably gives the men nothing to do. They must have been going by amount of screen time when the producers decided to drop “and the Seven Dwarves” from the title. It is a testament to the actors’ skill they were able to inject any manner of life into their intriguing little clan.

Theron’s Ravenna, although horrifying at times to be sure, is as disappointingly one-sided as the mirror she so often gazes into. Her beauty is bewitching, and her quest to preserve that allure is an interesting one, but in the end screenwriters Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock fail to create a villain that will stand the test of time similar to Disney’s own iconic evil Queen (Lucille La Verne), whose raspy voice and looming presence I can immediately conjure. The same sadly goes for Stewart and Hemsworth’s eponymous personifications. Stewart’s Snow White is as dead-eyed and open-mouthed as her Bella Cullen, once again finding herself in the middle of two beefy men and leaving me to wonder what it is they see in her. Hemsworth fares a little better, his charms come off more natural and not nearly as forced as poor Stewart.

About as much fun as a twirling a sparkler on a shadowy summer evening, Snow White and the Huntsman’s shallow experience is somewhat admissible if only for its sheen. A film that is as breathtaking as it is boring, it unfortunately never amounts to more than a stunning proof of bloated budget. Coming out in the belly of blockbuster season, this is just another in a long line of films this summer that prove once again that spectacle can never compensate for good old fashion storytelling.



#68 - #69. Fantasia & Fantasia 2000 - Quick Review

Fantasia original poster

Fantasia is everything you remember and more. I retro trip back to nostalgia town, Fantasia is an instant flashback to hours spent wearing footie-pajamas and losing yourself in Disney psychedelica the only way a child can. Immediately recognizable and yet completely fresh, each segment is a wonderfully animated dedication to classical music. While I found new appreciation for some of the moments that did not fully engage me when I was young (like the ballroom dancing water lilies), or were perhaps too scary (centaurs!), it was my old favorites I most enjoyed. This is quintessential Disney, beautiful, charming, and wondrously enchanting.

Fantasia 2000

I shied away from Fantasia 2000 when it first released in 2000. Although I was not afraid of the sequel tarnishing my memories of the original like Batman Forever or Matrix Reloaded, I did doubt the franchise’s ability to play in the 21st century. If I am honest with myself, what that really means is I was worried animated musical numbers would not as easily entertain me now as when I was a child. Thankfully, 2000 quickly brought me back to my footie-pajama’ days. More of a homage than cash-in, 2000 is a modern take on traditional form. While I doubt it will become a classic similar to the original, Fantasia 2000 deserves some respect. 



#67. Make Me Young: Youth Knows No Pain - Quick Review

Make Me Young film poster

Mitch Mccabe’s documentary Make Me Young: Youth Knows No Pain attempts to investigate America’s obsession with appearance, and the growing plastic surgery market that feeds on our insecurities. A grab bag of quirky characters and scalpel junkies, Make Me Young nearly succeeds at being both an entertaining and at the same time non-judgmental take on a touchy subject. Sadly, McCabe turns out to be her own worst enemy, devoting much of the film’s runtime to herself. While many documentarians are naturally charismatic enough to carry a film (Michael Moore comes to mind), McCabe is about as dull and charmless a lead you could find, and unfortunately made the experience more pain than gain. 


#66. The Grey - Review


Joe Carnahan’s The Grey is an existential study of masculinity and spirituality in wolf’s clothing. With a trailer that promised non-stop survival horror and action, this film has a more profound soul and purpose than what the marketing team would have you believe. Equal part Solaris (1972) and The Descent (2006), Carnahan beautifully blends his desired themes with white-knuckle tension and ultimately delivers this year’s first must see film. 

The Grey follows John Ottway (Liam Neeson), a hired gun for an Alaskan pumping station whose sole responsibility is to protect the company’s roughnecks from animal attacks, specifically wolves. He patrols the perimeter of the frozen oil field night and day, spending more time in his own head than making friends. Visions of his wife haunt him, and it is obvious he is tired, in the worst sense. Early on in the film Ottway proves his expertise with a sniper rifle, taking down an attacking wolf before its intended victim even knew it was there. The hunter has a bond with his prey, an appreciation, and each kill hurts.

The Grey posterOttway’s respect for the wild animals far exceeds that of those he is hired to protect. Describing the pumping station as a living hell, the employees are the worst kind of men, all hiding from their past in Alaska’s frozen wasteland. It is with these men Ottway boards a passenger plane heading south to the continental United States, and it will beside these men that he soon must fight for his life.

The plane crash comes quickly. So do the wolves. Ottway is the obvious alpha male among the survivors, but he knows even he is no match for the creatures that stalk them. With some convincing he leads the men towards the tree line, and then just south, each decision more of a stab in the dark than an actual plan.

The Grey’s special effects are a mix of both practical and cgi, delivering some of the most intense moments on screen in recent memory. The wolves pursue their victims with a supernatural oppression, often times creating an atmosphere more reminiscent of a monster movie than your typical predator/prey setup. Their howls serve as ominous alarms, their frightening red eyes peer menacingly through the pitch black of night. As much apparition as vicious beast, the wolves of The Grey are wonderfully realized, and truly terrifying.

Carnahan’s tale of man vs. nature is unrelenting, maintaining a brutality and unremitting pace that most directors would trip over. And yet the director is not content to make your typical survival film. This is Ottway’s journey, but Carnahan and Neeson are not so much interested in his battle to survive as much as they want to discover why he wants to. In the wilderness he must find food, weapons, and the meaning of life; be it love, camaraderie, or perhaps even god.

Neeson continues his streak of badassery, following kick ass roles in The Gangs of New York (2002), Batman Begins (2005), Taken (2008), and Carnahan’s 2010 film The A-Team. However, while The Grey insures Neeson’s bankability as an action star, it also offers the actor the opportunity to play a genuinely compelling character again. Ottway’s vulnerability is welcome after almost a decade of successfully playing one-sided heroes. It is thanks to the character’s humanity that Carnahan’s lofty existential and philosophical goals are achieved.

With an immediately captivating story, great supporting turns from Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, and the tragically underworked Dallas Roberts, The Grey is fantastic cinema. This should finally quiet Carnahan’s detractors, proving once and for all he is more than just a capable director of fun action romps (Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team), but is instead a genuine filmmaker, and I for one hope the artist maintains this trajectory.

I would love to do a more in depth spoiler-filled discussion. There are so many subtle, effective touches that I would very much like to discuss (thinking about the little moments in the film, like seeing the breath on the plane). If you have seen The Grey and either agree or disagree with my opinion please leave any comments you have below. And please follow me on Twitter and bookmark the site!


#65. The Shrine - Review

The Shrine posterI can respect the aspirations of filmmaker Jon Knautz, but this horror film about a group of journalists investigating a cult was just too wound-up for its own good. With cardboard performances and an uninspired premise, The Shrine is as forgettable as its title. The one interesting thing I can say is that Knautz scored actor Aaron Ashmore, twin brother of Shawn Ashmore (X-men series, The Ruins) who had me convinced I was watching the latter for the majority of the film. Anyway, those of you in need of clever, original horror films should keep looking, but for the rest of us willing to try anything in an attempt to scratch our genre itch could do worse… like Yellow Brick Road. Follow me on Twitter, and leave any comments below. 


#64. Drag Me To Hell - Review

Director Sam Raimi's comedic abilities really come full circle with Drag Me To Hell, a film that is equal parts horror, gross-out special effects, and hilarious gags and set-ups. Much in the vein of his Evil Dead films, Drag Me To Hell is silly, but succeeds at allowing you viewer to laugh without ever laughing at itself. Its straigt-faced delivery makes the spectacle of every scene that much more enjoyable. Fans of Raimi's pre-Spider Man days will feel right at home here, and those who aren't just need to shut-up and watch it anyway. 

Funny Gag Reel for the film