Bloodsucking Bastards (2015): Sales Sucks (Review)

Fran Kranz as Evan in Bloodsucking Bastards

Apart from the running themes of “phone sales is a soul sucking job” and that the corporate ladder is full of bloodsucking bastards, this indie horror/comedy feels very much like “The Office” (The American version.)  on LSD and amphetamines. It is amusingly awkward and funny but, oddly,  dated.

Starring Fran KranzJoey KernJoel Murray and Emma Fitzpatrick (as the love interest) Bloodsucking Bastards was directed by Brian James O’Connell – his third time up in the chair . It was  written by Ryan Mitts and the comedy “conglomerate” Dr. God.  It follows Evan Sanders (Kranz) as he experiences the two worst work days ever. 

Evan breaks up with Amanda (Fitzpatrick) and is passed over for promotion by his fickle boss Ted (Murray).  As acting sales manager none of his team are actually doing much in the way of sales.  New manager Max (Pedro Pascal) is brought in to rejuvenate the company’s profits and its employees. 

From the moment Max arrives things start happening, co-workers disappear, or change completely. Some  have  their work ethic improved dramatically.  Evan appears to be the only one who notices these changes until slacker Tim (Kern) and  security guard Frank (Marshall Givens) realize something is amiss.

The comedy is a bit hit or miss but overall the inter-office politics and interactions are pretty much spot on.  The  “slacker” ratio is fairly high and the manager is definitely not a “people” person. In other words pretty much like “The Office” (either version).

Max, as the new “invigorating” sales manager is obsequious and as phony as a three dollar bill.  It also turns out that Evan’s fears are not unfounded. Something is actually going on at the business and his co-workers have become something else.

There are some funny lines.  For example, Kranz’s character gets incredibly frustrated at one point and yells out “F**k, f**k, f**kity, f**k.”  It is funny in a South Park sort of way although the phrase is the height of  urban displeasure vocalized.

Sidenote: Matthew Lillard has a “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo towards the end of the film.

Bloodsucking Bastards is a modern vampire tale mixed with the soul destroying job of phone sales, or cold calling as it is known in England.  Kranz is a sort of “Everyman” character who shoots to a sort of inept greatness when he discovers what is really going on.

As a comedy the film is not overtly amusing. The humor is more chuckle-worthy than “laugh-out-loud” funny.  The cast all work well together although each character is two dimensional. This has the effect of thwarting the “real factor”  which damages  “The Office” premise.

It is put together well by director O’Connell. The FX fit and the exploding body bit works well as a sly dig at the more “common” results of staking a vampire.  Buckets of screen blood  are splashed over the protagonists. While there  is an impressive amount of the red stuff, it is not too overwhelming.

The script  for Bloodsucking Bastards does meander a tad.  The film takes its time morphing into its horror theme. When it does finally make the transition it continues its corporate dogsbody theme.

This is a 3.5 star film, earning a full star for Joel Murray and Fran Kranz alone, and well worth watching at least once.  Bloodsucking Bastards is streaming on Showtime at the moment.

Rebirth (2016): Adrenaline 101 (Review)

Franz Kranz as Kyle in Rebirth

Written and directed by Karl Mueller (his second feature in the chair and fifth credit as writer) Rebirth stars Fran Kranz  (The Cabin in the Woods, Dollhouse, JourneyQuest) as the feckless “everyman” Kyle.  Kyle has a wife, a daughter and a bank job that he loathes.  He also has a boss who does not respect him and a life that is repetitive and boring.  Soon though,  Kyle will get a lesson in Adrenaline 101 that is going to change his life.

Out of the blue Kyle’s old college buddy Zack (Adam Goldberg) shows up with a proposition.  Take the weekend off and leave his wife and child at home.  He invites his old pal Kyle to a retreat that Zack promises will be fun and exciting.

The white collar desk jockey decides to take Zack up on his offer and after a mysterious and confusing start, his weekend goes straight downhill.  Trapped in a huge house with multiple doors, each leading to another surreal or dangerous scenario, Kyle soon wants nothing more than to go home.

Kranz is brilliant as the man so far out of his comfort zone that we panic for him.  His character goes from insecure mouse to outraged avenger through the course of his time at the “Rebirth” weekend retreat. A seminar that is meant to “wake you up.”

Mueller’s film is a real treat. Not only does it have an ironic twist at the end but it also confuses the viewer as  much as it does Kranz’ Kyle.  The cast includes the splendid Pat Healy  (Ghost WorldThe Innkeepers) and Harry Hamlin in cameo roles. It also has Neighbours  alumnus Nicky Whelan  as the enigmatic Naomi. 

The film follows Kyle’s frantic journey at the weekend seminar as it goes from bad to increasingly worse.  Mueller has managed to make the Rebirth program feel like a cross between a bible camp and those empowerment/self help conventions.

In many ways it feels as though Mueller is having a sly dig at Christianity and the church. The members of Rebirth all feel like kissing cousins to church members who “know” something you do not.   The somewhat patronizing and condescending attitude displayed toward “nonbelievers” is prevalent in all the members of Rebirth.

Although the ending, along with the “branding” for each successive “rebirth” feels almost like a “Mark of the Beast” scenario. (Especially when one takes into account the ending and its surprising twist.)

It is the increasing adrenaline rush that Kyle goes through that pushes the story forward however.  As the credo, or mission statement of Rebirth is that this is “real life” it makes sense that the members are hooked on the rush.  The seminar points out that what Kyle and the other new initiates live in outside is a zombie existence.

Rebirth is a film that starts as one thing and ends as another. It is  either an ironic look at self help seminars, or organized religion. It could even be presenting   Adam Goldberg’s character  as the Antichrist.

This is a  five star film that grabs your attention and holds it. Even the slow build at the beginning keeps us interested, although that may be more from the power of Kranz’ acting than the actual storyline.  The script and Kranz’ performance have us on Kyle’s side from moment one and that is what makes this film work so well.

Rebirth is streaming on Netflix at the moment and is well worth a look or two.

Joss talks about Avengers 2, Serenity and Much Ado About Nothing

Joss talks about Avengers 2, Serenity and Much Ado About Nothing

The Cabin in the Woods (2011): Wolfram and Hart go Big-Time

It may just be me, but the whole film kind of felt like a huge Angel episode. One where Angel and co have already been defeated by ‘Wolf, Ram and Hart’ and are now running the entire world to their own set of skewed rules. It felt like the ‘bad guys’ had won the battle, but in order to win the war had to keep sacrificing a certain amount of people to hold the ‘ancient ones’ at bay.

It was like this was really the series end of Angel and it showed us that the demonic law corporation was alive and well and holding back the evil gods by the skin of their demonic teeth. Having Whedon regulars like Amy Acker (never a bad thing) and Fran Kranz (a personal favourite after his brilliant role in Dollhouse), not to mention Tom Lenk (it was nice to see him in something other than the Pepsi Max commercials he’s been trapped in), sort of made this film seem like ‘old home week’ already, but add in the massive plot device and the twist at the end of the movie and it still felt a little like an Epilogue to Angel season 5.

But despite the niggly feeling that Eliza Dushku was going to suddenly show up and save the day, I enjoyed the film. The very presence of Richard Jenkins(who gave a star turn as the father figure in the film Let Me In) ensured that the calibre of acting was going to be top notch and it was. I adored the explanation of how the whole thing worked. The ‘participants’ had free-will going for them. Okay the cards were pretty much stacked against them from the get go, but they still had the liberty to misbehave or not. The entire feel of the ‘behind the scenes’ guys was brilliant. Right down to the betting pools on which ‘big bad’ was going to dispatch the group.

The writing was pure Whedon and Goddard gold. The scene where the gas station attendant rings the control room for a strange almost biblical rant. He  stops mid-rant and asks, “Do you have me on speaker-phone?” With much choked back giggling and gestures to keep quiet, the controller talking to the gas station guy says, “Yep, I did. Sorry about that.” He then makes a knocking noise and says, “Okay, you’re off.” Of course gas station guy isn’t off the speaker phone and the giggling and laughing clues him into this. The entire film was worth the price of admission just for this scene alone.

“I told you! I don’t want to talk about Dollhouse!”

It was these type of scenes combined with the subtle action that made the film worth watching. Wendy Lin (Amy Acker) turning up her nose at the office pool and then at the last minute placing her bet. The slow realization that everything is resting on their televised sacrifice show and the pressures and tension that entails. The premature celebrations when they think they’ve won. I could go on but what would be the point?

The film was a brilliant attempt at satirizing the horror/slasher genre that just doesn’t quite work. The film has stand out moments and for my money Fran Kranz stole the show. The Cabin in the Woods was plagued with problems from the get go. The studios who had given the film the green light, then turned around and wanted to first change the format to 3D and then just wanted to get rid of the finished product.  *Interesting to note that the other film the studio was desperate to get rid of was the re-make of Red Dawn. Red Dawn also starred Thor aka Chris Hemsworth. It makes you wonder what the studio was thinking.*

I did also get the feeling that Kristen Connolly was a replacement for Felicia Day who must not have been available for the shooting schedule. I was desperate to see this film and was gutted when I missed it’s cinema run. Watching it last night, I was actually glad that I didn’t see it on the big screen as I don’t think it would have enhanced the experience at all. I am now waiting for the blu-ray copy to come in so that I may see the making of featurettes that I live for.

Goddard, Thor and Whedon

My final verdict is that the film is a must see for Whedon fans, or indeed Goddard fans,  and it’s still very entertaining. It is not a horror film (I thought I’d better warn you) and it only just misses the satire genre. The film is still clever and what we have come to expect from Mssrs Whedon and Goddard.

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