The last of 2013 is upon us and I’ve been shoveling in just about as many films from the year as I can, building towards my awaiting best of/worst of lists and the second annual Silver Screen Riot Awards. At the theater, I closed out seeing the last films I would this year with Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, August: Osage County, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Reviews for all three to debut soon. Also check newly published reviews of Saving Mr. Banks, Inside Llewyn Davis, and American Hustle. At home though, I saw some of the worst, most unadulterated trash I’ve seen all year. Just pure garbage. But amongst the filth, I found a few hidden gems and finally watched some old classics. This might be the last installment of the year as the Holidays loom large and my time is going to be severely crunched.



In this utterly terribly film, Lindsay “Dead-Eyed” Logan and James “The Actual Pornstar” Deen have the chemistry of a brick and a rock. Beyond their impressively poor performer’s chops, the rest of the acting is atrocious, with each amazingly managing to be worse than the last. Paul Schrader‘s amateur porn-level direction seems like it’s trying to be different but it’s just confused and, there’s no tiptoeing around it, downright awful. Bret Easton Ellis, a reputable author dabbling for the first time in the script-writing business, loves to pen these drab, empty, trust-fund scumbags but the script here is either DOA or entirely misinterpreted by Schrader’s incompetent hand. The soulless LA landscape occupied by depraved, despicable people, who occasionally take their clothes off and bang (as if that’s any consolation for the horror that is watching this monstrosity) is signature Ellis but it lacks any irony, substituting tits for wit, meandering in his usual loose moral cesspool. Either way, he ought to probably stick to writing because there’s a reason this was rejected from both Sundance and SXSW for “quality issues”


THE HOST (2013)


Absent on entertainment, The Host makes Twilight look like an art film. With a script that makes fan fiction seem like Pulitzer material by comparison and features lines like “Kiss me like you want to get slapped,” it’s impossible to not scoff your way through this wildly ineffective disaster of a movie. Even if you took the grating voice-over work out (*shutters*) you’re still left with a film where absolutely nothing happens. Most certainly one of the worst movies of 2013 and probably up their amongst the worst movies of all time.


EPIC (2013)


It’s almost amazing how flat this animated feature is. It’s got all the expensive looking animated design but Epic struggles to make you care about in the least bit about this retread story. Like Rio, the voice work is transparent and completely fails to make us forget the celebrity names behind the characters. Most importantly though, the film is boring, lazy, and just more “there” than anything. The whole good-vs.-evil conceit works fine so long as there’s something beneath them. Here, that’s just not the case. A couple of comic moments from Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd help to break up the monotony but the rest of the voice performers are straight out of the vanilla convention (Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson). I’m left wondering where the hell the name Epic came from as well since there is nothing the least bit epic about this epic failure.




An out-of-the-blue effort from deep English director Ben Wheatley, Sightseers is an untamed hologram of a vacation gone horribly wrong. Going into this blind is going to really boost your experience with it so I’m just try and skirt around any significant details. It’s easy to spot that the film was made on a paltry budget and a shame to see that it didn’t even make $50,000 dollars in US theaters but what can you expect from notoriously choosy American audiences (who would rather spend their money on Lone Ranger or another junky Hobbit flick). Although the project at first seems the work of amateurs, it really settles into its own and manages to be a fun, horrifying, thoughtful, and succinct experience.




There’s hardly anything to say about this comedy entirely bereft of laughs. Identity Thief is nothing more than a totally forgettable clunker set on cruise control and left on the shoulders of the goodwill of its popular stars. Jason Bateman once again squanders his comic talent, playing a straight man to Melissa McCarthy‘s unpalatable identity thief. But rather than inject any genuine humor into the thing, all the “jokes” are culled from McCarthy letting loose a string of expletives or throwing karate chops at unexpected vocal chords. Beyond the pure laziness masquerading as humor, the third act dissolves into the saccharine melodrama that has no place in an R-rated comedy. All in all, what a waste of time.




In the process of trying to acquaint myself with Tim Burton‘s early and much-beloved work, I’m discovering a man oozing with passion. His character and set designs are as gothic and home-grown as ever and there is undeniably heart living in this project. Furthermore, this is without a doubt a weird Johnny Depp character and yet he’s still more relatable than the slew of weird characters he’s played for the last ten years. Beyond the scars, makeup and scissored hands, he’s a gentle giant struggling with his pure-heartedness and society’s uneasy alliance with him; the Beast to Winona Ryder’s Belle. It’s a shame that Burton has since turned to cheap remakes and Depp to hackneyed characterization because these are two men who really seemed to understand each other and their audience.




Without the ADHD framework of bopping between segments where Johnny Knoxville and crew get charged by bulls, launched from buildings, or have their scrotums assaulted in the most heinous of ways, it’s a little harder for the Jackass crew to keep our attention. Bad Grandpa relies on sentimentality and a loose narrative structure to involve us beyond cringing reactions and uproariously laughter. And while seeing Knoxville rocking old man makeup as Irving and taking little Billy under his wing in this hidden camera comedy does show an inkling of emotional storytelling rarely present in Jackass’s finest work, the social commentary present in Bruno and Borat is largely absent here. It’s no surprise that the bits that’ll work your funny bone hardest mostly rely on the easy humor of sharts and male anatomy but seeing little Jackson Nicoll steal the show from Knoxville was definitely out of left field and a pleasant surprise.


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Out in Theaters: BAD GRANDPA

“Bad Grandpa”
Directed by Jeff Tremaine
Starring Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll, Greg Harris, Georgina Cates, Kamber Hejlik, and Spike Jonze.
92 Mins


Oh Jackass, your combination of filthy jokes, raunchy slapstick, and hidden-camera non-sequiturs are as amusing as they are tasteless. This mixture is the defining factor and key draw for Jackass fans since the days of the TV show that gave the franchise it’s start. Bad Grandpa has this sophomoric concoction in spades, and for those who are willing to suspend their seriousness and not scrutinize the themes to closely, it’s great entertainment. Unlike previous Jackass incarnations though, Bad Grandpa is not a jumbled collection of skits: it has a plot line and defined characters, and dare I say, more depth than any of its predecessors.

 The characters of Bad Grandpa aren’t (completely) unique. Johnny Knoxville reprises his persona as Irving Zissman, foul-tempered and lecherous grandfather who’s penchant for horrible pickup lines, over-the-top geriatric foibles, and deviant public sexuality has proved over and over again to be genuinely disturbing to average bystanders and hilarious to the franchise’s fans. Across from him is Jackson Nicoll who plays Billy, an impressionable youth with tragic prospects and an unchecked mouth, an enfant terrible whose one-liners and crude banter come off as innocent and misguided to anyone not in the joke. With the exception of scattered actors and jackass co-conspirators who help the pair set up their jokes, the true stars are the odd-couple and the confused, sometimes-disgruntled, and always unsuspecting public who get to watch them up close.

The story, although modeled after the sincere and heartbreaking comedy Paper Moon in ’73, starts at first as a vehicle for Zissman and Billy’s raucous stunts and gags. Zissman’s wife Gloria, a frequently raunchy co-conspirator in the other Jackass films played by Spike Jonze, has just died, leaving Zissman finally free to spread his aging oats. Simultaneously Zissman’s daughter, who it is established by Billy in the opening scenes is going to jail for being a crack addict, drops Billy on Zissman in the middle of Gloria’s funeral with instructions to take the boy to his irresponsible father to be taken care of. Although Zissman initially resists, the two eventually form a bond through constant public japery at bystander’s expense and frequent back-and-forths revolving around their unlikely comradely.


What distinguishes this from other Jackass films is it’s very conceit of being plot driven. Typically, the lewd pranks Zissman pulls give fans comfortable distance because of their temporary nature: Knoxville does the Zissman bit, the Jackass boys get a good laugh in, and then they cut to a totally unrelated skit. In Bad Grandpa, Knoxville has committed to his role. Zissman, although crude and obtuse, is a character, has a personality, a history, and a future in this film. For all of his vulgarity, he has moments that seem altogether sincere and as his journey with his grandson Billy progresses, you can feel a real connection. It sheaths the normally unconnected jokes in the duo’s inner life and provides a level of depth that, although not enough to constitute character growth or definition, is not nearly as shallow as other Jackass conceits.

The hidden camera jokes in this framework are both the reasons that the film was made and the situational action that moves the internal relationship between Billy and Zissman forward. As such, the real people and their reactions have real impact on the arcs of the scripted characters. These bystanders, comedic “marks”, typically fall into categories: the gullible mark, the disgruntled mark, the apathetic, and the laughing co-conspirator who, although not completely aware of what’s going on, is still in on the joke.  They instigate, they get angry, they play along, and their jaws drop in disbelief, and in many ways they steal the gag. The line between pranker and comic victim becomes blurry in several scenes, and these add a level of enjoyment that suggests the incredible work involved in producing these scenes.


All of this – the responsive characters, chemistry, and the wonderful cross-section of American life that Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine and co. were able to film – make for nimble comedy. They have not lost any of their spirit or their awful taste, but the movie feels more mature somehow than the wolf pack that Jackass typically focuses on. The gleeful defiance against the mundane day-to-day that their pranks rely upon feels more refined and the moments of bonding and feeling between Zissman and Billy feel very honest and genuine. From golf courses to junior beauty pageants, the two fail social convention and blunder through any event they find themselves in. Yet, the self-deprecating drama Knoxville and Nicoll embark on seems earnest and heartfelt, and that makes the regular Jackass tropes shine brighter in Bad Grandpa.

Jackass has never pretended seriousness. They consistently play the buffoon and perform painful and self-deprecating stunts to shock bystanders and get belly laughs from audiences. Bad Grandpa is an evolution on the Jackass formula that is quite welcome – almost needed. Knoxville and Nicoll play their roles wonderfully and the gags, the writing, and the concepts didn’t miss a beat. It’s flinch-worthy in plenty of ways, and it has some jokes that don’t fall as well as others. The majority of the jokes are polished and without imperfection, and it feels like Knoxville is coming into a second wind.  What it offers is generously entertaining and an hour well spent, and despite it flaws, it is a fun with something really worthwhile to give.


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