Well, ya know what they say – better late than never. After a brief hiatus last week we‘re back in the fold with the sixth installment of this little column.  This week enjoy some musings by Ryan Kavanagh, Albert Schwartz, Spike Marshall and Jeb Delia.  Dig it, mothafuckas!  And, well, mothafuckettes! – Jeremy

By Ryan Kavanagh

STUDIO: Indiepix
MSRP: $24.95
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 54 boobless min
Deleted Scenes
Jack’s Time line
Director’s commentary
Trailers for other Indiepix releases

The Pitch

Documentary showcasing Jack Taylor’s shop, the famous men who’ve been customers, and men’s fashions over the many many decades he has been in business.

The Humans

Starring Jack Taylor, Bonnie Taylor, Jason Schartzman, Monty Hall, and other various customers, fashion experts, and old people.

Written and Directed by Cecile Leroy Beaulieu

The Nutshell

Jack Taylor has been in business for over 60 years and at the age of 90 is still at work everyday. He has had many legends as customers and has become one himself with his finely made bespoke fashions.  

The Lowdown

Director Cecile Beaulieu met Jack while her husband was shopping for a suit and was taken with this character who has dressed so many famous men and argues with his customers. Most of the stories in the film are told by friends of Jacks like Monty Hall. Monty had hundreds of suits made by Jack while he was filming “Let’s make a Deal”. Most stories told by Jack’s friends range from mildly interesting to moderately amusing. It’s a very innocuous film, I would compare it to an afternoon spent with your parents who are visiting with old friends and hearing them tell stories about someone you don’t know.

The biggest problem I had with the film is that it felt like an elaborate tribute film a niece would put together her favorite uncles birthday, or an infomercial without the hard sell ad breaks. We get a very basic history of Jack beginning in New York and then out to the West Coast but he seems to have become successful right away and it was then gravy for the next sixty years, we never get any low stories about Jacks life, no near bankruptcies, no fighting style changes through the decades, just lots of past customers telling us Jack could be hard to deal with(I wanted a fancy lining but Jack said no! or Jack would tell me to lose five pounds and come back for my fitting) but it the end the clothes are worth it. Not exactly thrilling stuff. The only negative thing mentioned in the film is that Jack fell off the sidewalk and into a hole when they were doing construction outside his shop. I find it hard to believe there aren’t several great stories of dealing with celebrities that could have been shared but weren’t. This guy dressed everyone from the rat pack to Bogey, Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum, Charles Bronson, and on and on. The only real celebrity tidbits were that Elvis was packing knives and mace with him and that Jack Lemmon gave him a golf club.

Being someone who likes to wear suits(and misses them since my current employment does not require one) I was hoping to get more out of the sections where they talk of men’s fashions, but even there it’s touched on so little it can be summed up in a sentence: Men used to dress properly, they don’t anymore because they buy crap made in China, and Jack was a success because he used quality material and had his own style.

The film is not terrible despite it’s faults, Jack is an interesting character. I don’t think first time director Beaulieu wanted to find any faults in Jack and that keeps the film relegated to puff piece. This film never really gives us anything to sink our teeth into. Hell the only things I came away with from the film was this: if I wanted a great suit I should see jack (after losing some pounds of course) and that if you’re a celebrity buying a suit from Jack means it’s likely he’ll outlive you.

The Package

The film is presented in 16:9 and Dolby sound. The audio is not great, and even worse on the deleted scenes. If you liked the film, the deleted scenes are more of the same, except the best joke is in there, also there is a great what the fuck moment where Jack’s golf caddy is interviewed and just starts crying. In addition to the deleted scenes, there is a director commentary which has a couple of nice Jack stories but the director’s comments don’t add much. There are also some trailers for other Indiepix films which I couldn’t even sit through.

OVERALL 5.0 out of 10

By Albert Schawrtz

STUDIO: Paramount/Comedy Central
MSRP: $14.99
The Notorious 2008 MTV VMA Monologue
An Englishman in New York
Loose Cannon Drunk Girl

The Pitch

The British comic crosses the pond to tell America about himself, bombing at the VMAs, himself, pachyderm gynecology, himself, being cock-blocked by Macauly Culkin, himself, googling himself, and himself.

The Humans

Russell Brand, Russell Brand’s relentlessly thrusting hips, Russell Brand’s fucking ridiculous haircut (sic).

The Nutshell

At the top of his act, Russell Brand assures his NYC audience that he is quite famous in his native Britain. He does this because, as he puts it “my personality doesn’t really work without fame.”  And he’s right.  If this special is your first exposure to the man, there’s a decent chance you’ll come away thinking he’s completely vapid, self-absorbed, and obnoxious.  There’s some truth to that, but what makes it tolerable is how completely upfront he is about enjoying the fuck out of fame.  There’s no sense that he’s somehow entitled to his status or the perks that go with it, but also no apologies for not looking a gift horse in the mouth.  Or, for that matter, a gift elephant in the vagina, as in an anecdote full of a child-like enthusiasm that demonstrates how much he appreciates the extraordinary opportunities celebrity allows.

While the entire line of Waltz With Bashir spin-offs was questionable to begin with, none was quite as wrongheaded in concept or disturbing in execution as Samba With Hollow Man.  

This is part of what sets Brand apart from other, particularly American, comedians.  He’s totally comfortable being a good-looking, popular guy, and coasting on presentation and charisma.  His persona is much more sexualized than most stand-ups, while at the same time being less deliberately obscene than many of his schlubbier counterparts.  He’ll speak extremely frankly about how much he loves sex, whereas American comics (and audiences) seem more comfortable when the focus is on the awkward and painful facets of sexuality, or on issues of inadequacy and rejection.  Which I guess makes sense in that those things are easier for your average Joe comedy fan to relate to than casual sex and threesomes*, but in any case, rejection is something Brand is only interested in if it produces a grammatically amusing death threat.

Brand is a distinctly non-jokey comedian, but he’s mastered the art of amiable self-aggrandizement which seems more the province of rappers than stand-ups in American culture.  It may sound like faint praise, but as I was watching I thought “this is what a Dane Cook show would be like if he were remotely sufferable.”  Like said douchepile, his act takes the form of a series of extended personal stories that you will enjoy based entirely on your appreciation of the performer’s personality.  For my part, it produced a steady stream of grins and chuckles but not much in the way of belly laughs. It’s nonetheless an entertaining hour, and a must-own if you’re a devotee of nonsensical hairdos or hand-flung sperm. And let’s be honest, it’s no great mystery why your Silence Of The Lambs DVD is “scratched” on the exact same scene where your VHS copy mysteriously wore out ten years ago.

“But if we weren’t doing the samba, then what was with all the thrusting and sweating and…oh…”

*Admittedly speculation on my part, as this review was formulated via dictation to a statuesque blond “assistant” whilst I enjoyed a foot massage from a Russian gymnast aboard my opulently furnished houseboat, the SS WETDICK.

The Package

It’s a stand-up DVD, so if you were buying this to be wowed by the presentation, then congratulations! Your existence flouts scientific plausibility. You’re also going to be disappointed.

There are a couple of bonus features, the most amusing of which is a few minutes of Brand trying to shut up a drunk audience member, which was edited out of the aired version for obvious reasons.  The others are ten minutes or so of Brand wandering the streets of New York where nothing particularly funny happens, and the “notorious” VMA monologue.  The monologue itself is not as interesting or funny as the post-mortem analysis he gives it in the show proper, and since that involves reading large portions of the script verbatim, seeing it adds little in terms of context.

OVERALL 6.5 Out Of 10

By Spike Marshall

MSRP: $39.98
RUNNING TIME: 642 min.
Skate videos

The Pitch

Follow a globetrotting multimillionaire teenager as he does stuff that isn’t all that interesting.

The Humans

Ryan Sheckler, Taylor Bogart, Gretchen Sheckler, Kane Sheckler, Shane Sheckler

The Nutshell

Ryan Sheckler is a world famous skateboarder whose raison d’etre is to “have fun and have a chill girl”. With an entourage of friends, a lavish lifestyle few of us could hope to achieve and a family situation steadily melting down their should be be plenty of opportunities for insight and drama. As it turns out there really isn’t any opportunity for insight as Ryan, and his extended entourage, are never all that interesting.

The Lowdown

Reality Television is an odd beast, it’s cheap to make and increasingly popular but it’s also incredibly hit and miss. The entire premise of a reality show is in itself something of a gamble for producers. If your target is naturally engrossing or has scope for development then the show has potential to be a phenomenon, but sometimes your shows target will shrink under the light taking your show with it. If you’re dealing with characters with the sheer personality power of Hulk Hogan, The Osbournes or Rev. Run then your show is going to be interesting and other shows have a certain car crash factor as you watch an already unhinged celebrity drift further and further into media fuelled insanity. In short reality TV is based on personality power, so what do you do when the star of your show is in insufferably dull?

Sometimes you can mask the inherent vacousness of your ‘star’ or ‘stars’ by focusing on the glitz and glamour of their life (My Super Sweet 16 and The Hills definitely fill this criteria if you’re wondering) and at times it feels like The Life of Ryan is going to go down the lifestyles of the rich and famous route by defining Ryan by his fortune and his possessions. This almost works because there’s something gratifying about watching someone who you could argue was a self made man achieving so much at the age of 17. A gifted skateboarder, and professional since the age of 13, Ryan Sheckler’s success is presented in a positive and almost life-affirming way.

Ryan, despite falling prey to the shortcomings apparent in all teenagers, is a fairly decent guy with a natural charisma. He’s likeable but never particularly interesting and his occasional whining about a famous, young, multimillionaire does tend to grate after a while. The problem is that there isn’t much of a show to base around Ryan and as such every episode starts to feel a little rote. You feel that you’ve found out all there is to know about Ryan after three episodes and by that point you’ve still got nine hours of show left. There are some genuinely impressive skateboarding scenes dotted throughout the three seasons but even these never feel enough to justify the amount of time we spend with Mr. Sheckler.

MTV seems to be aware of this fact and as such the major focus of the show becomes the fall of the Shecklers as a family unit. In usual MTV style the melodrama in the situation is exaggerated and heightened to an alarming degree and as such the reality of the situation is never really touched on. Ryan’s mother and father are estranged, living in different houses with the mother having a new partner, and 70% of the time their split seems to be entirely amicable. Then there’ll suddenly be a fight, or tears will be shed or some other emotional contrivance will be used and it’ll seem like the family is genuinely at war. It’s a part of the entire MTV dynamic, but it doesn’t make it any less acceptable and having it done to a ‘normal’ family feels a lot nastier and underhanded than the similar treatment doled out to the Osbournes and Hogans. The family politics give way to tensions between friends as the series progresses although there are always toe curling ‘scripted’ moments with Ryan and his father which leave you feeling sorry for both individuals.

With some beautiful cinematography, a nice (if somewhat mopey) lead, and some great Skateboarding action The Life of Ryan is a nice diversion but it really doesn’t deserve the time needed to go through all two and a half (Season Three was mercifully stopped halfway through production) seasons.

The Package

The disc is pretty empty aside from three skateboarding videos. These videos demonstrate the natural skill and talent Ryan and his entourage possess and it’s actually a nice little condensation of most of the positive elements of the series, albeit scored to the kind of corporate pop punk that hates the rest of the world hate skateboarders.

OVERALL 6.0 out of 10

By Jeb Delia

STUDIO: Lionsgate
MSRP: $19.98
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes
Commentary with Director Michael Feider and Actor Kane Hodder
Stills Gallery

The Pitch

Real-life serial killers are as boring as we are.

The Humans

Writer-Director: Michael Feifer
Starring Kane Hodder, Amy Lyndon, Odessa Rae, John Burke, Caia Coley, some people angling for SAG cards.

The Nutshell

Kane “Halloween” Hodder plays notorious serial killer Dennis “BTK” Rader, who was convicted of murdering nearly a dozen people. Evidently, though, they weren’t particularly interesting, as the film bills itself as “a fictional story of a real life killer,” and pretty much makes up the story as it goes along.

The Lowdown

In Kane Hodder’s second outing as a famous serial killer (he previously starred in writer-director Michael Feifer’s film about Ed Gein), he’s practically a walking police sketch: the doughy face, thick glasses, baseball cap, all come right off one of those scary artists’ composites that get shown on TV, and the rest of his characterization is built straight out of the profiler’s handbook: moody, sexually unsatisfied, a frustrated wannabe cop (he’s a municipal code enforcer)… and a fundamentalist Christian FTW!

Hodder’s big, beefy presence is certainly intimidating, and the film begins by using that to play against expectations: Rader visits a prostitute, but instead of abusing or killing her, he asks her to tie him up. She does so, but becomes terrified of her client, and runs off with the money, leaving him tied to a chair. I have no idea if the real Rader ever did something similar, but the idea of a sexually repressed serial killer ceding that much control to anyone-much less a hooker-doesn’t feel particularly convincing. In the first of several odd structural decisions, the film seems to imply that this incident may have led to Rader’s murderous rages; later, however, we find that, at this point, he is already well-launched on his bloody career.

Once back home, with the first of a long litany of excuses for his nocturnal absence, we get to see Rader as family man. His wife (Amy Lyndon, who also played his wife in the Gein movie) is blowsy and whiny, and clearly provides him no sexual stimulation; his two daughters find him distant and unknowable. But he’s evidently such an exemplary Christian that he’s on his way to a high post in the local congregation. Typically, films of this type would show us how repressive fundamentalist religion was shaping Rader’s warped sensibilities. Here, though, it’s just a bit of contrast: brutal killer is able to masquerade as upright religious citizen, with no attempt to examine what that might mean to a monster like Rader.

And if the movie has a theme, that’s pretty much it: serial killers can look and act just like us (or at least those of us who are dull and uninteresting). We follow Rader on his rounds, provoking potential victims by citing them for untrimmed grass or parking across their own driveway. In contrast to most movie serial killers (and what little I know about the real BTK), there’s a haphazardness to most of this (at one point, he even targets a girl walking home from school who is far younger than any of his other victims), and the murders themselves have little in common with one another, apart from their brutality.

Unfortunately, if the film avoids much that we associate with serial-killer sensationalism, it also denies us the pleasures we expect from the true-crime genre: we’re never truly inside Rader’s head, and his methods have none of the meticulous planning, or ominous kink, that forms the primary appeal of the “serial” killer (as opposed to an ordinary murderer). It’s not even clear how or why Rader chooses to use “Bind Torture Kill” as his moniker; while all of his victims get “K”‘d, there’s only a smattering of “B: or “T” going on.

It’s one thing to convincingly portray the external ordinariness that probably served to hide Rader’s crimes, but when the film never digs below that, the murders feel appropriately sordid, but that’s about it. And sordid you can get from newspaper accounts: the only point of making a movie out of a story like this is to provide some sort of illumination that’s either beyond Feifer’s abilities, or outside his interests. I don’t need to know why Rader acted as he did, but I’d like some sense of why Feifer thought he was worth making a movie about.

And for no reason that I can see, we’re also deprived of the alternate pleasure of watching the police procedural aspects of the story: late in the game, some detectives show up who have evidently been on Rader’s trail for some time, but before we even learn their names, we’re already up to the inevitable scene where they confront Rader’s wife with the truth about her husband In fact, the timeline of the film is hard to parse in a number of places: as I say, the scene with the prostitute suggests strongly that it’s an encounter that sets him on his deadly course, it appears that he’s been killing, and taunting the police about it, for some time before that. And the “twist” ending feels less like a crafted idea than an apology for the weirdly compressed structure of the film’s second half. Doubtless some of this has to do with the film’s brief 85-minute running time,

It’s not a movie to look to for spectacular or imaginative kills, but it doesn’t skimp on them, either. In fact, one of its strengths is that the murders are never exhilarating or cunningly staged: they’re ponderously ugly and brutal, and the best acting in the movie is done by the women portraying the dying victims. Kudos to Feifer for not staging the murders for gaudy effect (only one even produces much blood), but it’s one thing to take cheap thrills out of a genre picture; to make it work, you’ve got to put something back in its place, something that makes us feel as though exploring this story in a movie can go deeper than just reading the same lurid facts in a newspaper.

This being the first of Feifer’s films that I’ve seen, I’m not sure if Hodder’s supporting cast suffers from inadequate direction, or if they’re mostly just terrible actors. In particular, the actresses playing the daughters possess an almost total inability to muster any emotion they haven’t learned from watching TV. In all the family scenes, Hodder’s a dullard among hysterics.

In the end, it’s a movie that has moments of effectiveness when it’s being mundane or cruel, but the acting and direction aren’t strong enough to sustain even such a short film; every moment worth your time is followed by five you’ll never get back.

The Package

A very nice-looking DVD, crisp and clear, with the nice deep blacks you need for brutally offing helpless victims. Hodder’s not much on the commentary, but Feifer actually goes a bit deeper into some aspects of motivation and story than he did in the film itself; I could imagine worse things than him taking another shot at this movie with a real budget, and real actors, some day.