Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Brown Mountain Project: "Alien Abduction" (2014)

Aside from the generic title and some pretty bad "Airforce" footage, this film is quite the little chiller. It is hard to make the silliness of alien abduction scary, but director Matty Beckerman does an admirable job with Robert Lewis' sometimes repetitive script.

The Morris family- Dad Peter (Pete Holden), Mom Katie (Katherine Sigismund), teen son Riley (Riley Polanski), teen daughter Jillian (Jillian Clare), and young autistic son Corey (Corey Eid)- is on a camping trip to Brown Mountain in the backwoods of North Carolina. You've heard of Brown Mountain, haven't you? Strange lights, creepy disappearances, and such? Well, the Morrises don't care and head out. The entire film is edited from little autistic Corey's video camera, and according to some beginning graphics and footage, this was found by the Air Force's Project: Blue Book- a government program to investigate UFOs (and a short-lived TV series from the late '70's...hmm, just dated myself right there).

The family sees the strange lights one night, but still head deeper into the woods the next morning, coming upon a tunnel full of abandoned vehicles. Peter is attacked by a shadowy alien creature, and the rest of the family must survive in an isolated cabin after being taken in by redneck Sean (Jeff Bowser).

While many jump cuts provide the most scares, director Beckerman seems to have actually planned out many of Corey's camera shots, meaning the shakiness is convincing without making you want to throw up. There is more than enough tributes to "The Blair Witch Project," and this film stands up well against the grand daddy of all found footage horror flicks. The special effects are effective because they don't try to do too much. Some of the scenes get bogged down in familiarity. It is intimated early on that Corey's camera goes a little haywire when the aliens are around, so it's a safe bet that when it is working fine, then the scary noise the cast hears is probably something harmless. I also doubt the servicemen involved in the Project Blue Book events wore uniforms with "PROJECT BLUE BOOK" written on them. That scene had me laughing.

I was impressed with "Alien Abduction," and watching it in a darkened room in the middle of the night only heightened the suspense. Nicely done all around. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Great Director Cashes Out: "Jinxed!" (1982)

An infamous flop when it came out, Don Siegel's final film is a chore of missed opportunities and obvious production problems.

Bonita (Bette Midler) is a second-rate singer following her gambler boyfriend Harold (Rip Torn, the film's only bright spot) from Nevada town to Nevada town. Harold is following blackjack dealer Willie (Ken Wahl). Harold consistently beats Willie at the tables, and Willie consistently gets fired, moving on to the next casino job. Finally, Willie's new boss (Tex Avery) advises Willie to break the jinx by taking something of Harold's, which he does by bedding Bonita. The two fall in love too quickly, and decide to get Harold out of their lives permanently, coming up with a murder plan that can't fail.

I can't go into too much depth from here on out concerning the plot, except to say that it gets very convoluted very quickly. This film was an odd choice for Siegel's swan song (he directed "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Dirty Harry," and "Escape from Alcatraz"). It tries to be a black comedy, complete with some goofball morbid moments, but there is an underlying tension that ruins any "fun" that was to be had.

Wahl and Midler reportedly hated each other and fought constantly. Their onscreen lack of chemistry reflects that. Siegel also stated he would rather starve his family and pets instead of going through directing Midler again. One screenwriter took his name off the film, throwing in a pseudonym. All of this is evident, despite Vilmos Zsigmond's inappropriately beautiful cinematography. Torn isn't playing another lout, the screenplay has him beating Bonita in the past, but he seems to be the only actor to rise above the drama and turn in an actual performance. The Bruce Roberts/Miles Goodman musical score is sure to beat you over the head during the wacky scenes in case Midler's tiresome mugging and screeching doesn't clue you in that this is supposed to be FUNNY. Jack Elam is wasted in the second half of the movie- a bizarre scavenger hunt that feels lifted from another film.

"Jinxed!" was jinxed, doing no business and almost killing Midler's post-"The Rose" film career until "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" and "Ruthless People" came along four years later. It serves as a poor-to-bad movie curiosity, and little more. (* *) out of five stars.