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Films I Neglected To Review: Shenanigans.
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "The Endless," "Ghost Stories" and "Super Troopers 2."

With their previous feature directorial efforts ''Resolution'' (2012) and ''Spring'' (2015), the team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead announced themselves as new filmmakers of interest and with their latest effort, ''The Endless,'' they have stepped up their game to the point where they should now be considered among the most fascinating purveyors of head-spinning genre cinema working today. In this film, they play Justin (Benson) and Aaron (Moorhead), two brothers who escaped from a bizarre UFO-obsessed cult a decade earlier. While Justin has nothing but bad memories of the place, Aaron only remembers the good, which looks even better when compared to the lowly existence that he and Justin now share. When a videotape featuring cult member Anna (Callie Hernandez) turns up on their doorstep, Aaron implores Justin to take him for an overnight visit to the cult's base at Camp Arcadia. When they get there, they find the old gang still there, looking almost as they did when the brothers fled ten years earlier and cheerfully willing to forgive Justin for things that he said about them after their escape in order to ruin the group's reputation. And then. . .

Don't worry, there is not a chance that I would ruin any of the many startling developments that are in store from Benson and Moorhead. Working practically by themselves behind the camera--besides co-directing and co-starring, Benson also wrote the screenplay, Moorhead served as cinematographer and both worked on the editing--have created a twisty tale that owes a debt to any number of genre classics (though to list any of them hear would probably go down as a spoiler) while at the same marching down its own distinct path. The film begins generating an understated degree of tension and menace right from the start and keeps it accelerating throughout, even managing to maintain it during the occasional moments of humor to be had. There are some nifty visuals to be had--all the more impressive when you consider its presumably low low budget--but this, like the great recent film ''Annihilation,'' is a form of science fiction based on ideas instead of hardware and viewers may well find themselves engaged in long discussions about the questions raised here about the age-old battle between the notions of destiny and free will, among other things. Alas, while there was once a time when a film of such assured style and substance might have been given a chance with a big theatrical release, it is only appearing in a few theaters and will get most of its exposure as a VOD item. That said, whether VOD or theatrical, make sure to see ''The Endless'' because this one is a keeper.

For fans of old-school horror omnibus films like ''Dead of Night'' (1945), ''Tales from the Crypt'' (1972) and ''Asylum'' (1972), the British import "Ghost Stories" will feel like the return of a long-lost friend. Like those films, it is comprised of a series of short tales of seemingly unconnected terrors linked together with a wraparound that pulls them all together in unexpected ways. In this one, professional skeptic Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman, who also co-wrote and co-directed with Jeremy Dyson) is charged with investigating three case histories of incidents which seem to have no other logical explanation except for paranormal activity. In the first, a security guard (Tony Matthews) at an abandoned mental asylum hears and sees a lot of strange things over the course of one long night. In the second, an edgy teen (Alex Lowther) recounts a joyride he took in his father's car that had spooky result. Finally, Martin Freeman plays a snobbish banker who is left alone in his mansion to do battle with a poltergeist while his wife is off in the hospital delivering their first child. Goodman thinks they are all full of crap, of course but it turns out that his investigation of these stories was no mere coincidence.

One of the most startling things about ''Ghost Stories'' is that it actually has its origins as a hit stage play in London--considering the elaborate stagings on display here, it fairly baffles the mind how it could have possibly been done live. As for the film itself, it is, like most movies of this sort, a bit uneven. The first two stories are pretty good but the third one is the best of the bunch, thanks in no small part to the strong performance by Freeman, who somehow makes you sympathize with a character that you might wish to endure the tortures of the damned if you met them in real life. The flaw with the film is with the wraparound that tries to tie them all together. These scenes are well done, I suppose, but the denouement is just a little too clever for its own good and goes on for so long that the terror high supplied by the Freeman segment winds up dissipating without being replaced by anything nearly as strong. That said, ''Ghost Stories'' is still a fun and occasionally chilling throwback to a once-proud form of horror cinema and while it may not hit the heights of some of the classics of the format, it nevertheless pays a worthwhile tribute to them.

All comedy is subjective, of course, but the particular brand of stupid-smart (or is it smart-stupid?) humor that is the specialty of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe tends to be especially divisive—some people have found such films as their 2002 breakthrough ''Super Troopers,'' the slasher movie spoof ''Club Dread'' (2004) and the weirdo ''Beerfest'' (2006) to be hilarious while others tend to find them stupid beyond belief. Personally, I fall into the former category (there was a joke in ''Club Dread'' that was so inspired that I almost had to leave the screening room because I could not stop laughing) and therefore found myself looking forward to the long-awaited ''Super Troopers 2.'' This time around, the Super Troopers--leader Thorny (Jay Chandrasekhar, who also directed), loutish Farva (Kevin Heffernan), perpetual rookie Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske), Mac (Steve Lemme) and Foster (Paul Soter)--having lost their jobs as Vermont State Troopers as the result of an unfortunate incident involving a celebrity, have the chance to regain their former positions when a Canadian border town in deemed to actually belong to America and the guys are sent up to set up a highway patrol outpost that they may get to run once the transfer is complete. While goofing off as usual, they stumble upon what appears to be some kind of smuggling operation and try to get to the bottom of it while at the same time dealing with locals who do not necessarily want to become Americans in the first place.

A ''Super Troopers'' sequel has been discussed for years now and I must confess that while watching it, even the most ardent Broken Lizard fan will have to admit that ''Super Troopers 2'' might have been more effective if it could have been made maybe ten years ago or so. And yet, this didn't bother me too much because I was too busy laughing to worry too much about that. A comedy sequel is a dangerous thing because that almost always result in a mere repetition of the jokes from the original film. Happily, the Lizard guys are well aware of that and when they do end up reprising old jokes (Meow), they manage to put a self-aware spin on them so that they still manage to work on some level. Other than that, I have to confess that I was amused by most of the shenanigans this time around--while this one never hits the heights of the original or ''Club Dread,'' which remains the group's finest film to date, the jokes still hit more often than they miss and some of them are really amusing. (I especially like the bit where they begin translating the numbers used in their radio calls into metric.) To be honest, if you do not like Broken Lizard, there is nothing here that will inspire you to change your way of thinking and if you have never seen their work before, this is probably not the best place to start. However, if you are a fan--and the fanbase generated by the original over the years is the obvious target audience here—you will most likely come away from it reasonably amused and satisfied and with a taste for a liter of cola.

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originally posted: 04/21/18 01:19:37
last updated: 04/21/18 01:44:11
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