Archive | June, 2014

Flatland – Review

25 Jun

To my complete surprise, before I started watching Flatland, I learned that this was actually a pilot for a television show that seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. When I found that out, I was tempted to not even watch it since I was much more interested in watching a movie at the time, but I figured, “What the hell? I’ll give it a watch.” It was packaged and sold as a movie after all, plus the case was boasting about the $40 million budget and how it will please both science fiction and martial arts fans alike. Well, I’m both of them and I have to say that this might be one of the worst things I’ve ever had the displeasure to watch in my entire life.

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In the year 2010, a mysterious man named Smith (Dennis Hopper) recruits a group of people for reasons that he isn’t really willing to explain. These people include two previous enemies Quentin (Phillip Rhys) and JT (Bumper Robinson), but also the martial arts master Amy (Françoise Yip). These people soon learn that Smith is a fourth dimensional being who lives in a dimension called Flatland, where the past and the present collide with possibly deadly outcomes. Smith’s mission is to find and eliminate his longtime mortal enemy named Khan (Steven Grieves, David Hayward) who has been reincarnated, much like, Smith time and again throughout the centuries. At first, this team of warrior aren’t willing to join in Smith’s outer dimensional crusade, but soon learn to look at their past lives in order to defeat the dangers that are facing them in the present.

Doesn’t all that shit sound awesome? It really does. Martial arts, Dennis Hopper, and fourth dimensional warfare? Well, My first question is what happened to that $40 million budget that they were raving about because I never saw any evidence of anything over $50. The action sequences and the stunt work were so unbelievably underwhelming and terribly choreographed that it was laughable. I found myself laughing many times during Flatland at the most inopportune times during the plot. I understand what they were trying to do with the often seen high flying action choreography, but it just didn’t work. It seems like a great idea mixing science fiction and martial arts. Just look at The Matrix. The problem is that there is horrible production quality, and the writing. The writing…

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It’s rare that I see something that has writing that actually makes me cringe with disgust. The entire screenplay is filled with poetic tough talk that couldn’t be delivered well even if they found Marlon Brando back from the dead. Dennis Hopper’s character has these long tirades that is filled with lines that must have made the writers feel so smart and clever as they were writing them. Unfortunately, they only sound like pretentious pseudo intellectuals who think they are writing philosophical tough talk. The only thing that is just as bad as the writing is the sound design, or often lack there of. Some action scenes seem strangely quiet, and other times way too cluttered. I also need to point out the ridiculously stupid soundtrack of traditional asian music with an electronic flair. It’s the cherry on top of the shit sundae.

To sum it up, it’s probably a good thing that Flatland has been forgotten, judging from this pilot or movie or whatever you want to call it. The idea sounds really cool, but unfortunately the writers had no idea what they were doing with plot or dialogue, the action sequences are stale, and the production design as a whole is total garbage. The only cool thing is seeing Dennis Hopper say his ridiculous dialogue with a straight face. I can categorize Flatland as being so bad it’s good, but it was a total waste of my time.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate – Review

23 Jun

If you were to take the CGI effects of Hugo, the amount of characters from Snatch, and the impressive fighting choreography from Hero, the outcome would probably look a lot like Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. This is a wuxia movie that uses the impressive 3D and computer generated effects to create a magical looking film filled with excellent action and beautiful scenery that will suck you into the apparent anti-gravity universe that all of the characters inhabit. Before this movie, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a battle take place inside a tornado, so it’s easy to say that there was a lot in this movie that was an over the top blast. Unfortunately, far too many characters with far too little motivation prohibited this movie from reaching the standards of classics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and left it just as a movie that had great action and looked really nice.

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After the Emperor’s eunuchs have split themselves into the two Bureaus of the East and West, ideas of justice and law soon went flying out the window. Zhou Huai’an (Jet Li) is a wandering warrior who has decided that it is up to him to protect these ideas of law and order by assassinating the heads of the Bureaus and eventually the Emperor. When a sandstorm threatens to cause major havoc in the area, a group of thieves and soldiers for the Emperor find themselves hiding in the Dragon Inn, but what they don’t know about each other, Zhou will use to his advantage. The thieves are here to find the hidden gold of Dragon Gate and the soldiers are there to kill a maid who was impregnated illegally in the Emperor’s court. Zhou begins to play these group off each other, but soon becomes involved in finding the gold at Dragon Gate with the boisterous group of thieves.

Normally, I like to name the main characters in movies and what they are doing, and even who they are played by, but I really don’t think I’d be able to with the overload of stories and characters in Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. There was a point about half way through the movie where I was worried if I wasn’t paying enough attention, and that’s not a feeling that I want to experience when I’m watching a movie. Confusion is one thing, but feeling like you’re missing something is totally different. When all of the characters are in the vicinity of the Dragon Inn, I was starting to sort of piece together what was going on, but I was still pretty unclear. This is because there are so many characters with not enough motivation and narrative drive. Things were happening without too much explanation. There were a few interesting characters, one of them being Jet Li’s role, so obviously this is who the movie focuses on…?

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Since Jet Li started the movie off with a bang with an excellent action sequence and then following up on his story with important scenes involving his mission, I was completely invested in what his character was doing and I was really into it. Too bad after I was really getting into the story, a giant handful of new characters show up and Jet Li disappears for a good amount of time. This is the time where I really started losing track of the plot because this is where the plot about finding the gold comes in, and compared to assassinating government officials in flying scenes of swordplay, this seems a lot less interesting. Another problem is that the movie becomes just as cramped as the Dragon Inn, itself. All of these characters and all of their plots are carelessly mushed into one movie and it just left me baffled.

While the story gets messed up in a really bad way, the action and special effects are spectacular. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate really is a spectacle in every sense of the word. The action scenes offer some really awesome slow motion and interesting choreography with weapons that made me laugh at the craziness of it all. The genre of wuxia has a lot of cool things to offer in terms of plot, but the action is what normally really gets me. Much like Hero, this movie puts the computer generated effects to good use with a combination of balletic swordplay and beautiful CGI backdrops and other effects.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate isn’t particularly a good movie in every sense of the word, but in terms of how cool it is, it excels. The visuals are all mind blowingly awesome and the fight choreography meshes very well with the countless number of effects happening all around the characters. If the plot was just structured better and there were a few less characters, this film would probably be remembered as a martial arts classic. Unfortunately, this is a movie that will probably be missed or completely forgotten by people who aren’t completely devoted to this genre.

Mad Max Trilogy – Review

17 Jun

Despite having major controversies surrounding him recently, everyone and their mothers know who Mel Gibson is. Nowadays he’s a major movie star, producer, and director but he had to start somewhere. Enter the cult classic dystopian sci-fi trilogy of Mad Max. Spanning from 1979 to 1985, this trilogy was a new and unusual re-imagining of what dystopian science fiction should look like, and has spawned many film makers and designers to mimic what George Miller had originally created. Obviously, to any who have seen these films, this trilogy isn’t perfect, but you really can’t deny how influential and fun these movies are.

In 1979, George Miller directed and released the first film, Mad Max, on a budget of just $400,000, which is extraordinarily cheap for a movie like this. Somehow, Miller was able to make this movie work and work very well.

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In a bleak future due to a worldwide energy crisis, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is the last chance for law and order in the violent Australian highways. Working for the MFP (Main Force Patrol) has become a major driving force for Max’s life, along with his relationships with his wife (Joanne Samuel) and his best friend Goose (Steve Bisley), who is also a member of MFP. When a vicious motorcycle gang led by the Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rides into town with the plan on getting revenge on Max, who is responsible for the death of one of the gang members. When the Toecutter and his gang finally catch up to what Max loves he most, he wages a one man war on the motorcycle gang, and won’t rest until they’ve all got what’s coming to them.

The plot for Mad Max is anything but difficult and complex. You don’t have to do a whole lot of thinking during this movie as long as you know the basic plot that runs through every revenge movie ever. What the biggest draw is to this movie is the completely ridiculous and awesome vehicular action scenes and stunts. Cars, motorcycles, and trucks get completely demolished in what can only be described as vehicular mayhem. If you’re expecting anything else from this movie, you may be sorely disappointed. The narrative of this movie doesn’t feel very good with a very exciting first act and third act, but a second act that drags on way longer than it should. This would be a perfect, mindless action movie if the second act was shortened and the third act was longer.

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Still, for what it’s worth, Mad Max is a very entertaining movie and was the start of a trilogy that became an influential sci-fi hit. This film didn’t make it into the US for major distribution until after the second film, which isn’t only an excellent film but also one of the best sequels ever made.

In 1981, George Miller released the second installment in the trilogy, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. People, including me, who complained about some of the lackluster qualities in the narrative of the first film, but praised the high octane action will fall head over heels for this movie. Not only is it the best of the trilogy, it very well may be one of the best action films ever made.

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Five years after the events of the first film, society has fallen into even worse conditions after a global war has wiped out most of the oil supplies that was keeping civilization moving. Max is still wandering the wasteland and, like everyone else, is left to fend for himself in search of oil. Max soon comes across a compound that is acting as an oil refinery that is under constant siege by a gang of leather clad savages led by the Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). Max strikes a reluctant deal with the leaders of the oil refinery that consists of him bringing them a Mack semi-truck to transport the oil in return for as much oil as he can carry. As expected, the Humungus and his gang are waiting for them and begins one of the most epic chases ever to be captured for the silver screen.

This is how an action movie should be made and this is also the film that pretty much defines what the Mad Max trilogy is all about. The over the top punk, savage gang members have become the iconic image for these movies and is what a lot of people think of when these movies are mentioned. The action and chase sequences in this movie are choreographed and shot so well that it almost seems unbelievable. Now a days, with a few examples, CGI is used for a lot of special effects in the industry, but in The Road Warrior, all of the destruction you see is genuine. Of course, people aren’t really getting decimated by these vehicles, but it sure looks like it! The story also follows a narrative arc that is seen in some Akira Kurosawa samurai films and westerns like The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars.

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Mad Max 2 is an achievement of the action genre that inspired many people, including the Wachowskies and their epic car chase in The Matrix Reloaded, which was done with very little CGI. Not only does it fix all of the flaws of the first film, it enhances everything that was awesome about it. Even if you’ve never seen any of the other films in this trilogy, you can’t miss out on this one.

Finally, in 1985, Miller and his co-director George Ogilvie released the final film in the trilogy, that being Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. A title like that is certainly intriguing, but as anyone who even knows a little about these movie knows that this is not only the weakest entry in the series, but also a major disappointment as a whole.

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It’s been twenty years since Max first started wandering the wastelands. His adventures finally bring him to a place called Bartertown where he comes searching for the camels that were stolen from him. Upon arriving, he meets Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), who is the self proclaimed ruler of Bartertown. She  makes it clear that she is willing to give Max his property back as long as he challenges the head of the Bartertown underworld, Master Blaster (Angelo Rossitto and Paul Larsson), to a battle in the Thunderdome where the rule is that two men enter and one man leaves. After refusing to kill Blaster, Max is banished to the desert where he meets a tribe of children that he vows to protect and enlist their help to free Master from Bartertown and start a new life of their own.

To be fair, the first forty five minutes to an hour of this movie are awesome. The whole idea of the Thunderdome and Master Blaster being two people acting as one is awesome. Tina Turner also gives a gleefully over the top performance as the queen of Bartertown. At first, I was confused as to why this movie was so disliked. That’s when Max met the kids and it turned into Mad Max Meets the Goonies. Of course, that’s not true, but it felt like Steven Spielberg took over and decided to make this a family adventure film. Well, it’s not supposed to be! It’s a Mad Max movie! The chase looks eerily similar, and a thousand times more goofy, to the one from The Road Warrior and lots of the intensity is sacrificed for a more Hollywood film.

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Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is too long, too uneven, and too goofy for my tastes. It did build on Max’s character in some cool ways and the first half was really awesome. It’s just unfortunate that the second half is damn near unwatchable. This film is solely for die hard Mad Max fans that would feel incomplete without this film. It’s a mess.

So the Mad Max trilogy isn’t perfect. It has one shitty movie, one good movie, and one excellent movie. That’s pretty good in my opinion, and the whole mythology surrounding the story is really cool. George Miller is planning on releasing another film featuring Tom Hardy as Max in 2015 called Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m definitely impressed by these movies and am ready for another one, so I can honestly recommend these movies to anyone who likes to turn their brains off and just have a good time watching a movie.

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Review

11 Jun

The X-Men franchise, which has been around for over a decade (their movies at least), is a franchise that has had some strong up and some really strong downs. Bryan Singer’s X-Men and X2: X-Men United were both triumphant examples of how a superhero movie should be made. That’s when tragedy struck. X3: X-Men United was a complete disaster that ruined everything Singer had done, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a mediocre entry, and The Wolverine was downright boring. Only with Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class did the series seem to get its footing once again with one of the best entries of the franchise. Now, Singer’s back in the director’s chair and has created the most exciting, dramatic, and action packed entries yet, X-Men: Days of Future Past.

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The future is a bleak place for both humans and mutants. Giant robots called Sentinels have ravaged the planet killing both mutants and normal people who have the mutant gene, leaving the world completely devastated. It is revealed that the cause of this is because the mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assassinated the designer of the Sentinels, Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage), and prompted the government to capture her and use her genes to create the murderous robots and making Trask appear as some sort of martyr for humankind. Now, the only chance of survival lies with a small group of remaining X-Men, particularly Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), whose consciousness is sent back in time by Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) to bring together the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and find Mystique to stop her before she can carry out her assassination. Meanwhile, in the future, the Sentinels are closing in on the X-Men’s hide out, forcing the survivors to fight for their lives so Wolverine can complete his near impossible mission.

Of course, I’m leaving a lot out of that quick little plot summary because there really is so much going on in this movie, to the point that it’s almost mind boggling. Time travel movies are rarely simple, but I found that this one was not too difficult to understand, and that has a lot to do with the writing and directing. I could tell, right from the opening scene (which might be one of the most violent scenes in this entire series) that this movie was not only going to be entertaining, but it was also going to impress me. There’s so much to love in this movie from the action and drama to its strong sense of style and humor. Finally, but the end, it becomes obvious that Bryan Singer fixed everything that was ruined, at least for the most part.

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One of the most impressive parts of this movie is the cast, but I feel like that really goes without saying. When I first heard that the casts from both the original X-Men movies and First Class were going to be in the same movie that involves Sentinels and time travel, I was immediately down with the entire idea. Everyone really brings their A-game to this film as well. Hugh Jackman gives his expected performance as Wolverine, which has really been a perfect combination right from the start. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen also give their expected performances as well, which says a lot because I’ve never seen them off their game in anything that they’ve been in. In my opinion though, the real scene stealers come from the people in the past. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have difficult jobs in this entry, being that both of their characters appear to be at the lowest points in their lives. McAvoy, especially, delivers his lines with such emotion and power, it’s hard not to get just a little choked up. How could I forget Evan Peters, though, and his brief role as Quicksilver? Not only was his brief role one of the most memorable parts of the movie, but it also showed Singer’s strength as a film maker.

To go off from the main story a little bit, this movie got me very curious for what’s to come with the X-Men movie franchise. The post credit scene was crazy enough, but I just mean with things that were added in the plot itself. It’s almost as if Bryan Singer was standing on the side, wiping off his hands, and proclaiming “There. I fixed it.” Not only is the story put completely back on track, but there’s finally some style that’s returned in both the writing and the directing. That being said, kudos have to be given to the screenwriter, Simon Kinberg.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is, without a doubt, the best entry in this franchise and is also a refreshingly awesome and dramatic summer blockbuster. There’s a lot to marvel at with the outstanding special effects that add a level of epicness, but the dramatic story and social critique is just as excellent. The characters aren’t stupid and neither is the story, which only makes this film all the better. If you’re looking to just be mildly entertained, watch X-Men Origins. If you want to be blown right out of your seats with pure amazement, check out Days of Future Past.

 

Hugo – Review

6 Jun

Martin Scorsese has become one of the key names of American film making, and throughout his career which has spanned over 40 years, he has created some of the most well loved films in modern film history. Of course, most of these films’ content are not too appropriate for people under a certain age or with weak hearts, so it came as a surprise that he would be directing Hugo, a film based off of Brian Selznick’s kid’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Well it turns out that my surprise was completely unfounded as the film went on to receive 11 Academy Award nominations and win 5. I’ve finally gotten around to seeing this movie and it has not only reminded me why I love movies so much in the first place, it touched me to the core with a story that went a lot deeper than I ever expected.

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Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a young boy who lives in the walls and clock tower of the Gare Montparnasse railway station in Paris. Before this, he was a clockmaker with his father (Jude Law), but tragedy takes his father away and forces him to work with his uncle (Ray Winstone) at the train station. His uncle soon disappears leaving him alone to collect different tools and gears to finish fixing an automaton that his father found soon before he was killed. Hugo is caught stealing pieces from a bitter toy maker named Georges (Ben Kingsley) who threatens to turn him over to the station inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen), who prides himself in rounding up stray kids and sending them to the orphanage. Hugo enlists the help of Georges’ god daughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), and the two kids not only discover the secrets of the mysterious automaton, but also uncover the past of Georges, a past he tried to bury and forget.

It’s hard to give the plot synopsis of Hugo because I’m just so excited about it, but I don’t want to ruin anything for people who haven’t seen it yet. What I can say is that this was not what I expected from this movie. I knew that I was going to really like it and give it a good review, but I wasn’t expecting on completely falling in love with it. This movie could never have worked the way it did if it had any other name attached to it besides Martin Scorsese, and if you really think about it, this makes perfect sense. Martin Scorsese has made it his life’s work to not only make great movies, but also to restore and save movies that have been lost or damaged. This is a man who loves cinema, and Hugo is a movie about his personal love and admiration for the cinematic art and magic.

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Out of the 11 Academy Awards this film was nominated for, it took away 5. While I feel like it could’ve won any of the awards it was nominated for, the ones it did win were for it’s sound, art direction, and cinematography. The visual and auditory aesthetics of this movie are out of this world. The first scene alone which starts in the Parisian sky then travels through the train station took an entire year to design, animate, and render all of the thousands of frames just in that opening seconds of the film. Particles of dust wander throughout the frames and light shines through the windows of the train station making it all seem like a wonderful dream you never want to wake up from. This is a beautiful movie to look at and listen to.

Why this movie is so special to me, however, is because it is an ode to films that helped lay the foundation for films that would lay the foundation for movies we see today. There are clips of Harold Lloyd hanging high above the crowded city streets in Safety Last!, haunting images of the silent horror masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and constant references to a science fiction film that seemed way ahead of its time in 1902, A Trip to the Moon. Even Sacha Baron Cohen’s character is a tribute to the slapstick comedy of Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton. There is so much a film buff can find in this movie and wonder at.

Hugo very well may be Martin Scorsese’s most personal film to date, but also a film that many years from now will be regarded as a classic. There’s so much to love about this movie, from the references to old movies to the relationships formed between all of the characters. You don’t have to be a complete cinephile (like me) to enjoy and appreciate this movie, although if you are you may get a little something extra out of it. To summarize exactly how I feel about this movie, Hugo is a film about the magic of cinema and the feelings you experience when you are completely lost in one. It is a reminder that movies aren’t just cheap entertainment, but to some very lucky people, a way to immerse yourself in a world unknown and experience imagination that you may never find in normal life. Hugo is that magic.

Man Bites Dog – Review

2 Jun

A triumph of film, no matter how big or how small, is still a triumph nonetheless. Seeing enormous spectacles of grandiosity that lays their budget out for all to see is great, but it’s equally great watching a much smaller effort that turned out to be something truly special, and in this case infamous. Man Bites Dog (or C’est arrivé près de chez vous, which translates to It Happened in your Neighborhood) is a controversial film made on a shoe string budget that is recognized now as a cult classic (depending on how you look at it) and also registered in the Criterion Collection, which is all the more note worthy. On its own, it’s also just a phenomenal, brilliantly evil movie.

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Rémy (Rémy Belvaux) and André (André Bonzel) are two documentary film makers who are in the midst of making a movie about a psychotically pleasant serial killer named Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde). The film makers feel honored to be let into Ben’s life as he shows off his family, friends, and girlfriend. On the other hand, he also takes them on a tour of his brutal side where he finds joy and money in killing men, women, and children of all races and ages. As the documentary crew go on more and more trips to kill, they soon become fascinated with all of the work that goes into murder and soon find themselves gleefully becoming part of them. Before too long it seems that Ben is now making the movie and the film makers are his key players.

There’s many different ways that one can analyze this movie. Some say it is an examination on violence in the media, others say it’s about the way society finds beauty in horror, and others say it poses the question of “how far is too far” in terms of documentary film making and reality television. Well, to put it simply, André Bonzel wrote in an introduction for the Criterion Collection DVD that it’s simply a movie about making a movie. Belvaux, Bonzel, and Poelvoorde wrote, starred, and directed this movie together with a budget that pretty much didn’t exist and calling in favors from friends and family just so they could get the movie done. No message or theme can ever shine through this film more than the thought of the perseverance throughout the entire year it took the film makers to complete this film, and now have it honored as much as it is.

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If Man Bites Dog was made with a good sized budget and beautiful lighting with actors that we all know, I’m absolutely positive it wouldn’t be as affective as it actually was. The black and white film makes it look gritty and real and keeps with the cinéma vérité style that the film makers were trying to recreate. Sure, this movie isn’t pure cinéma vérité, but it recreates it very well and makes it feel like these two documentarians went out, found a serial killer, and got mixed up in his gruesome business. There’s also a hefty use of long takes in this movie, and anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows how much I adore the use of long takes. I just can’t stop thinking about how much the style lends to the success of this movie.

All of this style would be out the window if it wasn’t for a good screenplay and good performances. In a film made like this, these two factors may not be as strong as you’d want them to be. Even in Clerks, the writing is great, but some of the acting redefines the word “iffy.” That’s not the case in Man Bites Dog. All three of the main actors give great performances, but the one that really stands out is Benoît Poelvoorde. He brings the character of Ben to life with such cartoonish realism, it’s almost scary. In fact, there are times when it is scary. The times when he is spouting his bullshit philosophies on religion, race, and architecture, I can’t help but laugh. When he’s anyway around people, it gets scary. This movie may be scary and brutal, but it’s also laugh out loud funny, and that’s saying something.

Man Bites Dog is brutal, hilarious, and surprisingly effective film that hasn’t left my mind since I finished watching it. Seeing a group of film makers go out with almost no money or resources and make a movie that has become praised by film buffs and critics is always great to watch. It’s pretty much on the same level as Clerks but on the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a very dark film that may or may not want to make you analyze it. Personally, I don’t feel the need to analyze it. I take it as what André Bonzel said it was: a movie about making movies. If you think you can stomach the unflinchingly awful content, check out Man Bites Dog.