On occasion I dive into some of the odder titles in the redbox release catalog–those movies that just looking at their cover art or brief descriptions leaves you wondering, “What tha… heck is this?!” Well, here’s what they are. At least as far as I can tell:
Before we get to what tha heck this “summer camp horror movie starring Jesse Eisenberg and inspired by true events” is, here’s what it isn’t: 1) A pre-Social Network Eisenberg is in the film for four minutes tops; 2) the “true story” is writer-director George VanBuskirk had to attend a Christian camp as a kid, and the guilt trips and devil warnings freaked him out; and 3) this is not really a horror film as much as a psychological mind trip with demonic visions. Kids raised in a closed-off religious community, including star Will Denton, are sent to Camp Hope where the head priest Bruce Davison tries head off the temptations of puberty–but when Denton gets all sins-of-the-fleshy with a girl camper, he’s tormented by hellish hallucinations. Camp Hell isn’t a bad film–it shows a certain sure-handed inventiveness not so much as horror or religious satire, but simply as a tale of teenage angst. Plus, middle-aged Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy plays Denton’s hyper-strict father!
The phrase “Carla Gugino as (retired) porn star Elektra Luxx” seems self-explanatory, but in fact writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez’s comedy sequel to his very Almodovar-ian 2009 ensemble Women in Trouble ends up a lot harder to pin down. For starters, this loopy, loping Boogie Nights-style roundelay of L.A. misfits also includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Elektra Luxx’ biggest fan, Timothy Olyphant, Malin Akerman, and an uncredited Julianne Moore as… um, the Virgin Mary. Some of it feels like the usual “throw lots of indie quirks at the wall and see what sticks” hit-and-miss routine, but Gugino, Olyphant, and Gordon-Levitt are always worth watching, and Friday Night Lights‘ Adrianne Palicki of all people wiggles up genuine laughs as a ditzy call-girl/porn star who’s worried her mental lapses and malaprops could be a sign she’s “acoustic.”
As seen in Camp Hell, a regular What Tha..?! ploy is plastering a hot actor’s name and face on the cover art of a smaller, direct-to-video release. Usually its Zach Galifinakis (see previous What Tha lists here and here), but this time it’s his Hangover co-star Bradley Cooper. Bending All the Rules was released in 2002, and the production’s sound dubbing, lighting, sets, and non-Cooper acting all scream “student film.” Deadly wooden Colleen Porch plays a woman with a gratingly “quirky” childhood (carny life!) who’s torn between two lovers: scruffy radio DJ/bartender/philosopher Cooper (looking like something the Spin Doctors spit out) and ambitious business player David Gail. The overall film has a shoddy amateurism, but it only takes a moment to spot the future star power on the screen. Bending the Rules is worth a look for curious Cooper fans seeking evidence their boy had all that winking charm and charisma working for him right from the start.
Lately video producers have been collecting under one cover a half dozen short festival films featuring known actors (sometimes before they made it big, sometimes as post-fame favors to up-and-coming filmmakers). (Previous collections include Love & Distrust and Guilty Hearts.) The big-name-stars pitch may feel like a bait and switch, but once you accept these films’ roots and usual varied quality, there are interesting finds among them–I’ve come to genuinely enjoy these mixed-bag mini film fests. This time the loose theme is the darker side of the American dream, and the shorts include James Gandolfini as a pub ghost, Steve Carell in a mean-streets dodgeball showdown with Cougar Town‘s Ian Gomez (and Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet), Josh Hartnett delivering from the driver’s seat a phantasmagoric, Bickle-y soliloquy of dissatisfaction, Paul Walker and Scott Caan as–surprise–shallow movie stars, and Paris Hilton as–bigger surprise–a shallow party girl.
You may vaguely recall South Korean comedian and writer-director Hyung Rae Shim’s 2007 Dragon Wars as a cheesy fantasy footnote. (In fact it was the most expensive South Korean film ever made. Shim also helmed the 2001 creature feature Reptilian [Yonggary].) Here Shim puts aside his love of giant monsters and returns to his hardy-har roots. Plopped into a ’40s-style American mob spoof, Harvey Keitel and Jon Polito (Miller’s Crossing) goof on their usual gangster stereotypes as warring mob bosses, while Kevin Smith lifemate Jason Mewes sneers as a ambitious young gun. At the center is Shim as Young-gu, Keitel’s long-lost, “mentally challenged” heir. The comedy is all bright colors, broad slapstick, and very silly. A study in what foreign cultures find funny, The Last Godfather’s no humor masterpiece, but depending on your tolerance for (literal) baseball-bat-to-the-head Three Stooges clowning, it has amusing moments and a likable dumb heart.