Thursday, December 29, 2016

On DVD/Blu-ray: GOAT (2016); PET (2016); and DAD'S ARMY (2016)

(US/UK - 2016)

GOAT is a harrowing chronicle of fraternity hazing, based on the 2004 memoir by Brad Land. Director Andrew Neel (the LARP documentary DARKON) and co-writer David Gordon Green (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS) take some significant liberties with the book, playing a little fast and loose with the facts as to what happened to Land and what he did regarding the fraternity. Taken on its own terms, GOAT is frequently very powerful, with a pair of strong performances as its core by Ben Schnetzer (the acclaimed but short-lived series HAPPY TOWN) as Brad and Nick Jonas as his older brother Brett (though he looks younger, Schnetzer is actually two years older than Jonas). In the summer after graduating high school, Brad visits Brett at his Phi Sigma Mu frat house at Brookman University (the frat and Brookman are fictional; the actual university was Clemson) and is talked into giving a ride to two sketchy-looking townies who steal his car and nearly beat him to death. Still traumatized by the incident and unwilling to cooperate with police, Brad has all of his masculine insecurities brought to the forefront, questioning why he gave them a ride and why he never tried to fight back ("Am I a pussy?" he drunkenly wonders). Though Brett doesn't think it's the answer, Brad decides to pledge Phi Sigma Mu and is joined by his sensitive new roommate Fitch (Danny Flaherty), both freshmen needing to feel like they belong somewhere and needing to feel bolstered and reinforced by the power and prestige that comes with being in a popular frat ("I'm having sex for the first time in my life!" Fitch keeps saying). Neel doesn't shy away from the brutal hazing of Hell Week, an endless series of increasingly degrading and dehumanizing rituals that make it seem like a collegiate version of SALO could break out at any moment. The pledges are terrorized, forced to drink gallons of alcohol until they puke and black out, tied up and locked in animal cages, urinated on, threatened with forced bestiality with a goat if they don't finish a keg in a certain amount of time, and one comparatively harmless prank involves a blindfolded Brad believing he's being forced to eat a turd out of a toilet bowl, but it's only a banana. The hazing by frat leaders Chance (Gus Halper) and the sadistic Dixon (Jake Picking) goes over the line to the point where even Brett is growing disillusioned with the whole thing, asking Chance at one point "Is this getting a little weird this year?"

Weird eventually escalates to tragic, but all the while, Brad is willing to look the other way because the more he endures, the less of a "pussy" he feels. It's his way of getting back at the guys who assaulted him, even as he ignores calls from the cops to come in and ID two guys who match the description and have been picked up for another crime. The changes made by Green and Neel are strange--in the book, Brad put his foot down and quit the fraternity while Brett was presented as, for lack of a better term, an antagonist who resented his brother. In the film, Brad is so concerned with asserting his manhood that he refuses to give up on the frat even as Brett pleads with him to do so, and it's Brett who grows tired of Chance's and Dixon's antics. It's an odd decision that may create some dramatic tension between the brothers but sort of undermines Brad's role in what was supposed to be his own story and his own expose. The story works in the context of the film, but it's a bizarre artistic choice by the filmmakers, unless someone thought making Nick Jonas the hero might secure a better distribution deal. It hardly mattered--the Cincinnati-shot GOAT only played in a few theaters and on VOD, but it's a sleeper that's certain to find an audience on streaming services, as difficult as it is to endure at times. Schnetzer and Jonas are both excellent (Jonas is a real surprise here, though he might've fared even better as an actor if the filmmakers stuck to the book), but producer James Franco gives himself a cameo as an aging frat god from years earlier who still periodically stops by the house to chug some beers and reminisce with the younger guys about his glory days. Franco basically turns up for a few minutes to play a dudebro combination of "James Franco" and "Matthew McConaughey's Wooderson" for a few minutes, and it's distracting to say the least, but hey, he's the producer, so what are you gonna do? (R, 102 mins)

(US/Spain - 2016)

There's some intriguing ideas in this sort-of extreme horror variation on the John Fowles novel The Collector, famously made into a 1965 film with Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar. What begins as a standard-issue psycho-stalker movie gets a major boost from a mid-film reveal that just ends up fizzling by the end, when screenwriter Jeremy Slater (a writer and producer on the Fox TV series THE EXORCIST) and director Carles Torrens (the found-footage possession movie APARTMENT 143) go for one too many twists and contrivances as things wrap up with a groan instead of a jolt. Seth (Dominic Monaghan, whose American accent needs some work) is a lonely and awkward man who works as an attendant at a Los Angeles animal shelter. On the bus ride home from work one evening, he spots Holly (Ksenia Solo), an aspiring writer and high school classmate who doesn't remember him. He makes bumbling small-talk and is oblivious to the fact that she's clearly not interested, but he stalks her on social media, shows up at the greasy spoon where she waits tables asks her to a Ben Folds show, and follows her to a bar where he's promptly beaten up by her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nathan Parsons). Repeatedly reprimanded at work for getting too attached to the animals and failing at any attempt at male bonding with imposing security guard Nate (Da'Vone McDonald), a desperate Seth finds a closed-off room in the shelter basement, complete with a large cage, which he deems the perfect place to keep Holly until she realizes how perfect they are for one another.

PET is pretty standard up to that point, but Slater and Torrens pull one of 2016's better bait-and-switches that up-ends both Seth's motive for doing what he does and the audience's perception of Holly. We're not talking a USUAL SUSPECTS-level game-changer here, but as far as twists go in 2016 movies, this one is pretty audacious. But the filmmakers stumble on the follow-through, with PET completely collapsing in the final act, trying to go for ambiguity as an excuse to cover up the trail of implausibilities that's left them completely backed into a corner. Seth's devotion and Holly's behavior ultimately make little logical sense, and PET turns into one of those movies where everyone from Seth's bosses to the cops are required to be incredibly careless and unbelievably stupid in order to keep the plot moving. Still, there's enough good intentions in the building blocks of PET's construction and in an outstanding performance by Solo that it's worth a look, even if it ultimately misses the mark and 40-year-old Monaghan looks entirely too old to have gone to high school with Solo. (R, 94 mins)

(UK - 2016)

Running from 1968 to 1977, the BBC series DAD'S ARMY remains one of the most beloved sitcoms in the history of British television. Giving career roles to great British character actor ringers like Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier, DAD'S ARMY dealt with the wacky antics of a platoon of misfit Home Guard volunteers in a small English town in WWII. With its slapstick comedy and quotable catchphrases, it was so popular that it spawned a 1971 feature film spinoff in the middle of its run. Nostalgia would seem to be the only reason to produce a remake nearly 40 years after the show went off the air, and with absolutely no reason to exist, the 2016 version of DAD'S ARMY is painfully unfunny and would be completely unwatchable if not for a distinguished cast that's hopefully having a lot more fun than the audience. In 1944, in the days before D-Day, Walmington-at-Sea's Home Guard leader Capt. Mainwaring (Toby Jones in Lowe's role) and his right-hand Sgt. Wilson (Bill Nighy in Le Mesurier's role) are informed by their commander Theakes (Mark Gatiss) that they're to patrol an Allied base at Dover that's being targeted for invasion by high-ranking Nazi Admiral Canaris (Oliver Tobias), who's sent a spy to infiltrate the area. Meanwhile, sultry reporter Rose Winters (Catherine Zeta-Jones) arrives to do a story on the Home Guard, which results in Mainwaring and Wilson trying to one-up the other in their hapless attempts to woo her, which naturally infuriates their henpecking wives. Also among Mainwaring's Home Guard troops are doddering Jones (Tom Courtenay), senile Godfrey (Michael Gambon), crotchety Frazer (Bill Paterson), and youngsters like the womanizing Walker (Daniel Mays) and goofball Pike (Blake Harrison).

With that cast and a script by frequent Rowan Atkinson collaborator Hamish McColl (MR. BEAN'S HOLIDAY, JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN) working under the direction of Oliver Parker (the 1995 OTHELLO with Laurence Fishburne, AN IDEAL HUSBAND), it's hard to believe DAD'S ARMY is as terrible as it is. Joke after joke lands with a thud, the pace is laborious, and the greenscreen work and CGI look unfinished. Who is the audience for this movie? Older people who fondly remember the TV show probably won't go for the more contemporary vulgar elements, whether it's a confused Godfrey relieving himself on what he thinks is a tree but is really Jones in disguise (I'm pretty sure that when Tom Courtenay received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO 50 years ago, he never envisioned Michael Gambon pissing on him in their emeritus years), or Paterson's Frazer dropping trou and mooning a U-boat crew. The increased toilet humor seems to be there to draw a younger crowd who I'm certain has no interest in seeing an otherwise dated and creaky WWII comedy headlined by Bill Nighy, Toby Jones, and Tom Courtenay. DAD'S ARMY resurrects the catchphrases ("You stupid boy!") and gives cameos to the series' two surviving cast members (Ian Lavendar, the original Pike, appears as a general, and Frank Williams reprises his role as the town's vicar), but it was panned by British critics and flatly rejected by UK audiences, bombing when it was released there in early 2016. With the TV show known only by the most ardent Anglophile TV fans in the US, Universal had no viable strategy on how to sell this to American audiences, even with familiar faces like Nighy and Zeta-Jones, so they ended up releasing it straight-to-DVD/Blu-ray with no publicity at all.  A rare movie that's made for absolutely no one and whose very existence is an inexplicable mystery, DAD'S ARMY's only point of interest is that it was produced by Alan Parker (MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, FAME, PINK FLOYD: THE WALL, MISSISSIPPI BURNING), who's been MIA since directing 2003's THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE. He's no relation to Oliver Parker, which would at least explain his involvement. Alan Parker disappears for 13 years and this is what inspired him to emerge from self-imposed exile? You know a comedy is bad when even the end credits blooper reel isn't funny. (Unrated, 100 mins)

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