Films I Neglected To Review: From The Peaks To The Pits
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/15/18 15:43:08
Please enjoy short reviews of "Mountain," "Tag" and the Blu-Ray release of John Landis's debut film, "Schlock."
Those who know me reasonably well can attest that I am not particularly good with heights, especially when I am constantly aware of just how high up I am (let me just say that taking my father for a birthday lunch at the top of the Hancock Building was not a swift move on my part), I am not one for communing with nature firsthand in any of its permutations and I am simply baffled by people who willingly put themselves in extremely dangerous situations just for the sense of personal accomplishment for having survived them. Therefore, I am probably not the best person to be judging ''Mountain,'' a new documentary by Jennifer Peedom that displays the titular formations in all their glory while exploring mankind's obsession with climbing and ''conquering'' them despite the incredible risks involved. From a conceptual perspective, Peedom (whose previous film was the 2015 documentary ''Sherpa'') makes an interesting choice by eschewing a straightforward approach for one that combines a score of old and new classical compositions played by the Australian Chamber Orchestra and excerpts from Robert Macfarlane’s 2003 book ''Mountains of the Mind'' read by Willem Dafoe that discuss both the allure of mountain climbing and the way that what was once a spiritual experience has been commodified over the years to create a more meditative feel that may remind some viewers of that trippy documentary classic ''Koyaanisqatsi.'' However, what will be the film's chief selling point for most viewers is the very thing that drove me to nauseated distraction and that is the cinematography, in which drones and GoPros have been deployed to capture the mountains (not to mention those trying to scale them) in all their vertiginous glory. From a technical standpoint, the results are astonishing and convey the impact of their majesty in a way that has never really been achieved before. The trouble is that if you are even slightly put off by heights, watching the cameras swooping above and throughout the mountains on the big screen may well induce more fear and intestinal distress than anything on display in ''Hereditary.'' (I found myself getting more than a little queasy at times at the sights being shown and I was only watching it on a computer.) ''Mountain'' is an always gorgeous and occasionally stirring testament to the alluring beauty of the great peaks of the world--just think twice about hitting the concession stand beforehand.
The trailers for ''Tag,'' a comedy about a group of five grown men who are still playing a game of tag that they began as kids 30 years earlier, make it seem like an exceptionally stupid celebration of arrested development in its most virulent form. In fact, that trailer, as crappy as it is, doesn't even begin to hint at just how loathsome, puerile and aggressively unfunny it really is. Watching the antics of a group of adult men--self-absorbed businessman Jon Hamm, stoner Jake Johnson, strait-laced Ed Helms and oddball Hannibal Buress--who get together for their yearly month-long game of tag with the emphasis on finally nailing the one player (Jeremy Renner) who has never been tagged once (based very loosely on a true story about a bunch of guys who have been doing this for decades) is never funny for a second--the slapstick is brutal without ever being amusing for a second--and the attempts to bring pathos to the material, ranging from the musings of a Wall Street Journal reporter (Annabelle Wallis) who is along for the ride (don't ask) about how the game has kept the friendships going throughout the years to serious medical complications dropped into the third act seemingly at random, would be insulting if they weren’t so laughable. The cast (which includes the thoroughly wasted Isla Fisher and Rashida Jones) barely seem connected to the material and there is never a moment when you believe that any of them even know each other, let along are willing to put their lives on hold for a month each year to screw around in this manner. My guess is that the pitch for ''Tag'' probably included many comparisons to ''The Hangover'' (which also explains the presence of Helms, who essentially plays the same character here that he did in that film) but let me assure you that this film is so bad that, in terms of laughs, originality and likability, that it pales in comparison to ''The Hangover 3.''
As a rule, I usually try to cover as much stuff as I possibly can here but every once in a while, something worthwhile slips through the cracks and when that happens, I try to catch up with it if possible. This time around, the one that almost got away is Turbine Media Group's excellent limited edition Blu-Ray of ''Schlock'' ($39.95), the goofy ultra-low-budget 1973 monster movie spoof that marked the filmmaking debut of the then-21-year-old John Landis, long before directing such hits as ''National Lampoon's Animal House'' (1978), ''The Blues Brothers'' (1980), ''Trading Places'' (1983) and ''Into the Night'' (1985), to name just a few. Taking its inspiration from a slew of ape-related movies ranging from classics like the original ''King Kong'' to lunacies like Joan Crawford's infamous cinematic swan song ''Trog,'' it tells the story of a prehistoric ape-man (played by Landis himself) who is awoken from his slumber within a cave located near a small Southern California and ends up wreaking enormous (but deliberately blood-free) havoc in a series of misadventures that finds him trying to eat a cake, falling in love with a blind girl, goofing on a TV reporter and taking in a matinee of ''The Blob'' (presumably because both films were produced by the same guy, Jack H. Harris, and the extensive clips came cheap) while the police, military and scientists follow in hot pursuit. The film is nonsense, of course, but even after 40-odd years, it still has a certain charm going for it that overcomes the puny budget and occasional dull moments. For one, while Landis is spoofing a lot of movies here, he is doing it from a place of love, not contempt, and his affection shines through in the unabashedly silly jokes, most of which work even if you don't immediately catch what is being referenced, a reminder of those bygone days when fandom used to be fun. The other is the legitimately impressive ape suit constructed by future makeup legend Rick Baker, a piece of work that is even more astonishing when you consider that Baker designed and created it with virtually no money to speak of. Long out of print, ''Schlock'' returns to home video in a package that offers up a 4K restoration of the film that probably took more time and money to accomplish than was required to make the actual film. The special features include a very funny commentary from the original DVD release featuring Landis and Baker recalling the making of the film while ragging on their efforts, trailers and a new extensive interview with Landis in which he discusses his days as a movie-mad kid, his early forays into the film industry and how he came to make his filmmaking debut. Landis would, of course, go on to make movies far better than ''Schlock'' (and several far worse as well) but, as this release proves, he has nothing to be embarrassed about with this one.