Tag Archives: D

TAR

Producers: Andrew Kappel and Timothy Nuttall   Director: Aaron Wolf   Screenplay: Timothy Nuttall and Aaron Wolf   Cast: Timothy Bottoms, Graham Greene, Aaron Wolf, Sandy Danto, Emily Peachey, Max Perlich, Nicole Alexandra Shipley, Tiffany Shepis, Stuart Stone,  Liam Grace and Dani Fernandez   Distributor:  1091 Pictures

Grade: D

Watching “Tar,” about a monster that arises from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, one wonders whether it was originally designed as a straight horror movie—it certainly doesn’t boast a lot of scenes that are genuinely humorous—but elicited such derisive laughter in early screenings that the makers decided to rebrand it as a horror comedy instead, hoping that would help sell the thing.  In any event, this effort from actor Aaron Wolf, who co-wrote the script and directs as well as assuming one of the leads, works neither as a horror picture nor as a comedy–or as a mixture of the two.

Wolf plays Zach Greenwood, an ordinary Joe who works with his father Barry (Timothy Bottoms) at a repair shop in an office building near the Pits.  He’s helping his dad pack up the place, since the building owner (Stewart Stone) is demanding that they vacate the premises by the next day. Zach has a nice girlfriend named Rose (Emily Peachey) and a best friend named Ben (Sandy Danto), a doofus co-worker who’s supposed to be amusingly randy but is incredibly annoying instead.

On their way to the office they regularly encounter Carl (Graham Greene), a homeless fellow who sits outside the gates of the Tar Pits and tells the tale of their history to anyone tossing a quarter into his hat.  Ben is fascinated by his stories, and can barely tear himself away. 

That night all hell breaks loose in the building.  Ben is hoping to get lucky with Barry’s ditzy secretary Marigold (Tiffany Shepis), who’s into astrology and tarot cards, but he’s also infatuated with the only other tenant in the place, the sultry Diana Dunder (Nicole Akexandra Shipley). Whose small accounting business has one assistant (Dani Fernandez).  Meanwhile dreamy Barry remembers how his father Alfred (Max Perlich), the founder of the business, told him scary stories about the area when he was a teen (played in flashbacks by Liam Grace).

Suddenly the power goes out, and the building is invaded by a murderous creature that appears to be made out of tar, into which it can transform at will.  (Such murderous creatures are apparently freed from the depths of the Pits whenever the ground is disturbed, as it has been by a nearby constriction project.)  The thing begins attacking the characters, who are increased by the presence of Carl; he has a habit of taking refuge in the basement at night.

What follows is predictable—lots of chases through hallways, close shaves and bloody deaths as the giant, hooded creature stalks the group down.  There are moments that are supposed to be goofily funny—like a juxtaposition of Barry listening to a record of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” with some anxious attempts at lovemaking between Zach and Rose in a supply closet, and Ben’s attempts at convincing Diana to have at it with him—but they fail miserably.  No better are the shock scenes, which are edited to death by Simon Carmody (one of the fellows who plays the monster under mounds of rubber), presumably to disguise the cheesiness  of the makeup.  But at least they include a couple of cases where really irritating characters bite the dust.

There are also periodic inserts of one of the characters, bruised and bloody, talking directly to the camera about what’s happened to them all.  These too are shot in a jerky, spasmodic style by cinematographer Aashish Gandhi , but they come across as simple filler.  The cheesiness of the picture is also reflected in the shabby production design of Vincent Albo.  Conor Jones’s score tries to add some energy and tension to the mix, but it’s pretty much a lost cause. 

As to the cast, one has to feel some sympathy for veterans like Bottoms, Perlich and Greene, who struggle to invest their trite material with some modest substance.  The younger cast members are barely adequate, with Danto and Stone faring worst because they try much too hard.  As for Wolf, one can only hope this has gotten the auteur instinct out of his system.

Because—and you know one can’t resist saying it—this movie is the pits. 

DEATH OF ME

Producers: Lee Nelson, David Tish and Charles Dorfman    Director: Darren Lynn Bousman   Screenplay: Ari Margolis, James Morley III and David Tish   Cast: Maggie Q, Luke Hemsworth, Alex Essoe, Kelly Bronwen Jones, Kat Ingkarat and Caledonia Burr   Distributor: Saban Films

Grade: D

The scenery is lovely in “Death of Me,” and so is star Maggie Q.  Both are photographed well by cinematographer José David Montero.  Otherwise Darren Lynn Bousman’s would-be thriller is a depressingly muddled mess.

It begins one morning on the island off the Thai coast where Neil (Luke Hemsworth), a travel writer, and his wife Christine (Maggie Q) are fast asleep.  She awakens with a start, as the TV pops up with a warning about an approaching typhoon.  She prods Neil to get up off the floor, where he’s practically comatose, telling him they’re late: they have to pack quickly and rush to the dock, where their boat back to the mainland is scheduled to depart.

But everything goes wrong.  They get into a quarrel with the cab driver, who forces them out onto the road.  And when they get to the dock, they discover that their passports are missing.  They can’t leave without them.  But there’s one odd positive note: they’re told there’s no typhoon threatening the place at all.

From there on the movie turns into a quest by the puzzled duo to find out what in heaven is going on.  It’s especially unnerving when they discover Neil’s camera and replay a video that appears to show him actually murdering and burying Christine after a night of drunkenness on booze that might have been spiked with some mysterious ingredient.  They’re equally horrified, and Neil assures her that he’d never do such a thing.  But where does the footage come from?  And what’s with the strange necklace that Christine is given, or the peculiar attitude of the waitress who served them?  Worst of all, Christine actually begins coughing up dirt and grass, suggesting she did spend time underground.

Enter Samantha (Alex Essoe), who runs the place they had rented and offers her help as the dazed couple struggle to learn the truth about what’s happened to them.  They go to a doctor and try to track down the waitress who apparently drugged them.  But they separate as Neil goes off to photograph a local festival with some curious vibes to it.  Scenes are introduced that seem designed to turn the stomach, most notably one that depicts a literal disemboweling.  (Of course, it’s quickly forgotten.)  Cultism and black magic are introduced, and even a reference to “The Wicker Man” that serves as a signpost.  And lurking in the background is that potential typhoon.  A previous film about one was called “The Impossible,” which in this case might be applied to the chance of understanding what’s going on.  Watching, you’ll like be as much at sea as Christine and Neil, snd at the close you might feel like throwing something at the screen.

You have to sympathize with the stars for what they have to go through, but then they probably enjoyed the vacation in a nice location and the paychecks that went along with it, so one can’t feel too sorry for them.  And while one can get some pleasure from the locations, Montero’s cinematography and Sutham (Soviet) Viravandaj’s production design, you still have to deal with the messy transitions that Brian J. Smith’s editing can’t paper over satisfactorily.

Director Bousman was previously responsible for three of the “Saw” movies (II, III and IV), as well as the dreary nunsploitation  movie “St. Agatha.”  He’s a not without talent, but he definitely lacks taste in his choice of material.  In this case he was apparently drawn to a script that possesses an intriguing initial premise that, unfortunately, unravels as the twists multiply.  The Thai location is exotic, but it’s not worth visiting in this form.