Nasty, Brutish and Short
The Vicious Kind
I prefer to mainline my indie films in sets of two or three on Netflix just because I hope that even if one’s gonna be painful I can wash away the taint with something somewhat decent. One night, I had planned a three-for, and I was kneecapped by Yesterday Was a Lie. An award-winning neo-noir that was so painfully excruciating to watch I literally could not stomach another movie. I went home, put a wet towel over my forehead, lamented my choice to become a film student, and refused to turn on anything electric for 50 hours. I never reviewed that film, and subsequently missed out on catching what was to be the follow up, Lee Toland Krieger’s The Vicious Kind. So now, I loathe Yesterday Was a Lie even more for forcing me to fail you in not bringing it to your attention sooner. It’s one of those frustrating indies that refuses to offer satisfying resolution — the kind that idiots usually whine “aren’t about anything.” The Vicious Kind is a character study about unpleasant characters, a dangerous chemistry if not carefully balanced will more often than not simply blow up in your face and dye your tongue chartreuse.
Caleb Sinclaire (Adam Scott) is basically a completely fucked-up bastard, a misogynistic misanthrope whose own inner demons have turned him into a snarling, sniping prick. If it were mere sarcasm, it’d be sitcom, but there’s an insanely violent undercurrent of menace and actual savagery, coupled with a fragility Krieger uses to toy with your sympathies. Caleb offered to drive his younger brother Peter (Alex Frost) home for Thanksgiving break from college and pick up his new girlfriend Emma (Brittany Snow) along the way. Caleb pines for Emma while threatening her not to break his brother’s heart. Every actor in this film is so tuned up to maximum carnage, with awesome performances from everyone, including J.K. Simmons as the boys’ father and Vittorio Brahm as Caleb’s dull-witted kicking post/best-and-only friend. The Vicious Kind is a baffling and ugly film. If missed, you would truly be missing some monstrously good performances. Adam Scott always seems to be waiting to go on cigarette break in his performances I’ve seen, an attitude that works wonders for him in “Party Down.” If you suffered through the ball-drumming of Step Brothers, you might have gotten a glimpse at his fiery douchebag potential. But in the hands of a skillful filmmaker like Krieger, Adam Scott turns in a nuanced performance that should have gotten him accolades and awards.
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that I played Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons through high school and college. One expects a certain soupcon of dorkishness from their pop culture critics. Only recently did I start playing a new campaign of Dungeons & Dragons’ latest edition with a group of actors out here in LA. D&D typically calls to mind a bunch of bitter geeks squatting in a poorly-lit basement, slurping Mountain Dew, and bitching about rules while they monotonously pitch dice in a rote hack-and-slash drudgery. When in the hands of people who remember that it’s meant as entertainment — take it seriously but seriously have fun with it — and with professionals used to putting on airs, it can be amazing. It’s the difference between going to a murder mystery dinner with people who actually dress up and play characters or going with some douche who finds the script and shouts out the answers. In our pre-game ministrations, we had discussed the alleged geek pecking order: videogamer > role-playing > Magic: The Gathering > L.A.R.P.ers. Live action role players are the sad folks who you see dressed up in wild Halloween makeup, running through state parks shouting “Lightning Bolt” and hitting each other with PVC pipes wrapped in duct tape and foam. Monster Camp is a documentary by Cullen Hoback that follows the trials and tribulations of the Seattle branch of NERO, one of the more popular organizations that supports live action role play. It’s probably the most accurate portrayal I’ve ever seen of the dysfunction and camaraderie of these social deviants. Right down to the crappy handmade documentary style. It’s not a great documentary, but it really does a wonderful job of lifting the stones on the untouchable geek underclass.
Uwe Boll made a great movie. I’m not kidding. And I’m not surprised. Whether you find the final product to be middling and immature, unpleasant and polemical, hamfisted and preachy, you cannot be unaffected by Rampage. Freed from the shitty constraints of video game adaptation, Boll was able to deliver what’s essentially a trenchcoat mafia wet dream. A loser, a total grunting, disenfranchised schmuck, a college dropout living with overworked clueless parents who want him out, stumbling from a blue-collar job to a fast-food restaurant while his only friend rails recycled anarchist propaganda at him, decides to go on a rampage. He builds a suit of Kevlar, arms up with machine guns, and goes on a killing spree in his hometown, randomly shooting up pedestrians willy-nilly. It’s Falling Down for the Halo crew, a real-life and all-too-savagely realistic version of Grand Theft Auto. Rampage is horrifying in that its violence is both casual and gratuitous. The kid fires away, peppering innocent bystanders in the back, herding people together like sheep and arbitrarily gunning some down and letting others live. For every “It’s been a pleasure frequenting your establishment” level of hamfoolery (a scene actually takes place in a bingo parlor), there’s a ton of honesty. The kid climbs out of his car when he’s about to start his onslaught and walks straight down Main Street as a pickup truck trundles towards him. He raises his submachinegun and fires into the windshield. We see the spray of blood on the back of the truck window, and the kid watches as the truck rolls forward and crashes into a pole. It’s chilling, a kid poking roadkill with a stick on a massive scale. Boll fucked up his adaptation of Postal, and then went right ahead and made the best version of Postal’s mindless violence that’s ever been done. There will be people who hate Rampage, and rightfully so. It’s a divisive movie, and maybe much of my sheer stunned shock comes from the fact that Uwe Boll actually didn’t make a piece of shit.