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Review: Mass (2021)

Mass (2021)

Directed by: Fran Kranz | 111 minutes | drama | Actors: Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, Reed Birney, Breeda Wool, Kagen Albright, Michelle N. Carter, Michael White, Campbell Spoor

Four people, one room, a lot of talking. That is in fact the intention of ‘Mass’, the directorial debut of actor Fran Kranz (including ‘Dollhouse’ (2009-2010), ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (2011)), who also provided the script. If he doesn’t make it easy for himself with the staging, the theme is obvious: the aftermath of a deadly shooting at a secondary school. Two couples sit opposite each other, the parents of the shooter and the parents of one of the children who was killed. The target? That stays in the middle. But gradually details emerge of the horrific event and how the various interlocutors dealt with it.

Kranz shuns an all-too-clear position. The gun policy in the United States is briefly touched upon, but leaves no room for digression, because the murder weapon turns out to be stolen from a classmate’s father. As in ‘Elephant’ (Gus van Sant, 2003), it appears that the shooter liked violent computer games, but (fortunately) no reason is sought in this. The film does not attempt to provide a solution for the mainly American problem of an average of more than one mass shooting per day, but deliberately only zooms in on the dynamics between the four interlocutors. The most important asset is the phenomenal cast.

Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton are the first couple, Jai and Gail, to join the conversation with mixed feelings. Gail indicates on the way to the meeting room that she really isn’t going to say “that one”. Jai gradually appears to want confirmation that the shooter’s parents could have seen the terrible deed coming. But Linda and Richard, played by Ann Dowd and Reed Birney, above all seem to wonder where they’ve failed as parents. Their son, the culprit, turns out to have committed suicide after the school massacre, so they too have to deal with grief. And they have clearly grown apart.

Because it is unclear whose idea the conversation was and what the four parents each intend to do with it, Kranz can play nicely with the mutual dynamics. A nice free moment at the beginning is when Linda starts to cry first and Gail’s eyes fire because she is the damn victim after all. Even though it seems that few agreements have been made regarding the conversation, you can read from the reactions that unwritten rules are broken every now and then. Venom comes before emotion. Lawyers are frequently referred to, indicating how great the distance between the two parents was.

And that distance is still there at the beginning of the conversation, also in the image. But somewhere halfway through, the presentation changes. Not only do the camera images become jerky instead of static, the image format used also changes during an intense monologue by Jai, in which he meticulously describes how the shelling went according to the police report. While he tells his story, the field of view of the viewer, but also of the parents themselves, is literally expanded by using a higher aspect ratio. There is rapprochement, but not necessarily in the way you would expect.

No matter how much emotional satisfaction ultimate mutual understanding would bring to the viewer, the film happily shows that grief is something elusive that everyone deals with in their own way. Although the whole set-up seems a bit artificial, all four players get plenty of opportunity to display their acting talent. It is literally the faces of Isaacs, Plimpton, Dowd and Birney that tell the story, almost without further ado. Very different from, for example, the also very strong ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ (Lynne Ramsay, 2011). No sensation this time, just visible emotion. And that makes ‘Mass’ a particularly strong debut.

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Review: The Dark Tower (2017)

The Dark Tower (2017)

Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel | 95 minutes | action, adventure | Actors: Matthew McConaughey, Idris Elba, Tom Taylor, Dennis Haysbert, Ben Gavin, Claudia Kim, Jackie Earle Haley, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Katheryn Winnick, Nicholas Pauling, Michael Barbieri, José Zúñiga, Nicholas Hamilton, Eva Kaminsky, Robbie McLean , Mark Elderkin, Matthew Thomson

Stephen King has written many books since his debut ‘Carrie’; in a 2016 conversation with fellow author George RR Martin, he said he commits himself to writing at least six pages every day. And even though he doesn’t write nearly as much as he did in the seventies, eighties and nineties, he can’t resist. Much of his work has been made into films – think of ‘Carrie’ (1976), ‘The Shining’ (1980), ‘Christine’ (1983), ‘It’ (as a series in 1990 and as a film in 2017), ‘Misery’ ( 1990), ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (1994) and so on. Much of his work is self-contained, but he also has an eight-part series to his name: ‘The Dark Tower’, written between 1982 and 2002. This series of books is considered King’s magnum opus, partly because it incorporates all kinds of elements. his other books in it. In its entirety, ‘The Dark Tower’ consists of more than four thousand pages of fused elements from horror, science fiction, fantasy and western that connect the parallel worlds from various King books. There have been plans for a film adaptation of this series for about ten years, and given its size, one film is not enough to do justice to the complexity of the story. JJ Abrams was originally in the picture as a director, and after he retired, there was talk of Ron Howard directing. However, it was Danish screenwriter and director Nikojai Arcel (‘A Royal Affair’, 2012) who took off with the film adaptation rights for both a film and a TV series.

‘The Dark Tower’ (2017) tries to tell the complete story of King’s eight-part series in 95 minutes. You say in advance that that is impossible, and this film adaptation unfortunately does not prove the opposite. The situation is described very quickly: eleven-year-old Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has been an outsider at school, especially since his father, who was a firefighter, was killed in a rescue operation. He has visions and real-life nightmares about a universe protected from evil by a gigantic dark tower. A mysterious ‘man in black’ (Matthew McConaughey) goes to great lengths to bring down the tower so demons can take over. And then there’s the lone warrior, sniper Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), who tries to fight the black magician with wits and his revolver that shoots faster than his shadow. Jake’s mother (Katheryn Winnick) thinks her son has gone mad and wants to put him in a clinic, but as soon as Jake sees seams in the necks of the people who come to pick him up, he flees. He is convinced that he has been chosen to help Roland. Thanks to his ingenuity and perseverance, he even finds the place that offers him the gateway to the alternate universe. But the ‘man in black’ is after him.

Arcel worked on the screenplay with no fewer than three others, including his compatriot Anders Thomas Jensen, who we know from ‘Adam’s Apples’ (2005) and ‘Brothers’ (2009) and Akiva Goldsman (Oscar winner for ‘A Beautiful Mind’ , 2001). So many different ‘handwritings’ often result in a messy script and that is also the case here. It is already impossible to cram more than four thousand pages of source material in just one and a half hours, but here it is very colorful. It’s easy to follow at first, but once Jake steps into alternate reality, so much crucial information is left out and developments rush through so quickly that the film becomes a rather disjointed mixed bag. Certain dialogues still refer to elements of the source material (for example, in the scene where Roland takes a trip to Jake’s world and sees a commercial with talking raccoons, he asks, ‘Do the animals still talk here?’ – this is a reference to Oy, a talking animal from the book series that is not referenced anywhere). Because so much (background) information has been omitted, touched on casually or summarized in a minimal way, the dialogue often makes no sense if you don’t know the books. Reportedly, that background information will be incorporated into the upcoming television series, which creates the expectation that the series will do more justice to King’s book series than the film.

What remains is the visual spectacle and especially the actors. McConaughey and Elba do their very best to make something out of it and succeed reasonably well. Elba, in particular, is cut out for the role of the last of the ‘Gunslingers’, and has just the right look for an ultra-cool action hero (it’s not for nothing that Elba has already been signed to the series). He even provides comic scenes here and there, whether intentional or not. Elba, McConaughey and the young Taylor keep a film that rushes past itself just a little bit.

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Review: Wieners (2008)

Director: Mark Steilen | 88 minutes | comedy | Actors: Kenan Thompson, Fran Kranz, Zachary Levi, Darrell Hammond, Jenny McCarthy, Andy Milonakis, Mindy Sterling, Blake Clark, Andrew B. Ackerman, Kyle Gass, Tad DAgostino, Joel Moore, Sarah Drew, Sarah Wright, Chris Pratt, Bill Romanowski, Sina Amedson, Erin Empey-Baxter, John Farley, Frank Gerrish, Gabe Grifoni, Kari Hawker, Molly Jepson, Jimmy Miklavcic, Maclain Nelson, JJ Neward, Rachel Nish, Kerry Pence, Tyger Rawlings, Greyson Richey, Weston Roberts, Hailey Smith, Melinda Sward, Sierra Dawn Thomas, Tisha Vaculin, Devin Wolfe, Robin Westover

Do you remember Kenan Thompson from the “Kenan & Kel” series (1996-2000)? It was the somewhat plump boy whose best friend Kel was crazy about orange prick. That series still had its funny moments with all the antics of the couple, especially those of Kel (Kel Mitchell). Unfortunately, you can hardly say that about “Wieners” …

It all starts with a talk show from one Dr. Dwayne, an even worse variation of Dr. Phil, played by Darrell Hammond from “Saturday Night Live” (1975), here complete with Southern American accent and accompanying know-it-all. There, Joel’s (Fran Kranz) girlfriend decides that she no longer wants to be with him. Merciless dumping is out of the question and Dr. Dwayne is also more annoying than mean. Anyway, Joel lives in front of the TV for a month, eating only chips and not washing himself until he is taken on a road trip by his two best friends. The aim is to take revenge on Dr. Dwayne, but unfortunately this doctor is not made a real villain during the film. He’s more annoying and you can’t speak of real revenge towards the end. So why are they actually going? Then there is friend Wyatt who likes to hand out sausages for Oscar Mayer for free across America in his own sausage van. But why he wants that so badly is not told, but we do hear that he was rejected twelve times for an internship.

Such a silly comedy does not require much content, but a clear and, for example, simple goal is required. Something that binds the three friends and viewers, think of the search for the fast food joint in “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” (2004) or the interception of a video tape in “Road Trip” (2000). In addition, the jokes are not well presented or worse, they are often not fun at all. Like a Hitler joke and when a bird is on Joel’s hand. If you think Jenny McCarthy can make you laugh, then you are wrong. She’s just a filthy peasant woman here who doesn’t get much fun to say or do and is quickly out of the picture. A real shame. Combine this with worn-out shit, pee, fart and sex jokes and you’re left with little fun comedy.

Acting is really only good with Kenan, although he runs around here more like a screaming Chris Tucker. Zachary Levi and Fran Kranz act unconvincingly several times. So as a viewer you actually only sympathize a little with Wyatt. Andy Milonakis from “The Andy Milonakis Show” (2005-2006) gets to play a bully from Joel’s childhood. But a victory of Joel’s demons is also not shown. Suddenly the switch goes and he has some sort of super powers when he attacks the competing tofu hippies. It’s all pretty pointless and humorless (especially the ending). Nice to see is the comic competition of Ben (Zachary Levi) and the Wiener mobile. “Wieners” has all kinds of ingredients, just like “Dude Where’s My Car” (2000): soul mates, strange characters and a cool sausage tin, but in the end it is just a weak bite.

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Review: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Directed by: Drew Goddard | 95 minutes | horror, thriller | Actors: Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Jesse Williams, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Brian White, Amy Acker, Jodelle Ferland, Chelah Horsdal, Tom Lenk, Monique Ganderton, Richard Cetrone, Dan Payne

Some skepticism is always in order when the makers of a film tell the public that their film will be ‘unique’ or ‘innovative’. These words turn out to be more often a lie than a truth. Hearing the promises of the makers of the horror film ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, it is not surprising that many people shrug their shoulders. Because the slogan ‘you think you know the story, you think you know the place, think again’ sounds no different than the average PR talk that precedes a film. In the case of ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, however, there appears to be a great deal of truth in these words, because ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ is indeed more than just another simplistic horror film.

Yet it is not surprising that an almost apologetic-sounding slogan has come up for the film. Because initially there seems to be very little originality about ‘The Cabin in the Woods’. Take the subject alone: ​​a group of five young people leaves for a long weekend in a detached bungalow far away from civilization to relax and party. Not exactly something that has never been done before. The main characters themselves also meet all the requirements for the ‘standard’ horror film characters. The amorous Curt (Chris Hemsworth) and Jules (Anna Hutchison) are the busier characters, Holden (Jesse Williams) and Dana (Kristen Connolly) are more serious and calmer in nature. The fifth character is that of Marty (Fran Kranz). Only the latter can be called really distinctive because the continuously stoned young man has his own view of the world, does not really fit the group in character and is therefore a very welcome addition to the company.

So far not much new under the sun and also the first part of ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, when the party ends up in the old, abandoned bungalow is nothing new (although the scene in which Jules becomes ‘truth or dare’ during a game challenged to kiss a wolf’s head is tough). However, it soon turns out that there is much more going on with the bungalow and the five young people are trapped like rats. When they unknowingly summon some evil ghosts from the past in the basement of the bungalow, life is no longer certain. It’s actually from this point on that ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ takes a slightly absurd turn. Where it can be expected that the film ends in a long, reasonably predictable survival journey, this turns out not to be the case. Without wanting to give too much away about this plot twist, you can say that fans of the better ‘hack and slash’ work will get their money’s worth, and not just about it. All brakes are released and the makers clearly couldn’t stop laughing in the orgy of blood that follows.

Although liters of blood are spilled in this film, the massacres definitely do not fall into the category of torture as we know from films like ‘Saw’ and ‘Hostel’. The way humans and monsters come to their end is funny rather than nasty and often well thought out. Unfortunately, the latter cannot be said of the underlying story about the history of the bungalow and all the other organizations that eventually turn out to be involved, because the final story about the how and what is quite laughable. Fortunately, at that point it no longer matters and the story is less important than in an average film. ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ has in any case become a remarkable film that ultimately leaves fans of the genre in particular with a huge sense of satisfaction.

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Review: Vienna (2008)

Vienna (2008)

Directed by: Mark Steilen | 88 minutes | comedy | Actors: Kenan Thompson, Fran Kranz, Zachary Levi, Darrell Hammond, Jenny McCarthy, Andy Milonakis, Mindy Sterling, Blake Clark, Andrew B. Ackerman, Kyle Gass, Tad DAgostino, Joel Moore, Sarah Drew, Sarah Wright, Chris Pratt, Bill Romanowski, Sina Amedson, Erin Empey-Baxter, John Farley, Frank Gerrish, Gabe Grifoni, Kari Hawker, Molly Jepson, Jimmy Miklavcic, Maclain Nelson, JJ Neward, Rachel Nish, Kerry Pence, Tyger Rawlings, Greyson Richey, Weston Roberts, Hailey Smith, Melinda Sward, Sierra Dawn Thomas, Tisha Vaculin, Devin Wolfe, Robin Westover

Do you remember Kenan Thompson from the series ‘Kenan & Kel’ (1996-2000)? It was the chubby kid whose bosom friend Kel was crazy about orange prick. That series still had its funny moments with all the antics of the couple, especially Kel (Kel Mitchell). Unfortunately you can hardly say that about ‘Wieners’…

It all starts with a talk show from one Doctor Dwayne, an even worse version of Dr. Phil, played by Darrell Hammond of ‘Saturday Night Live’ (1975), here complete with a Southern American accent and accompanying know-it-all. There, Joel’s girlfriend (Fran Kranz) decides that she no longer wants to be with him. There is no such thing as merciless dumping and Dr. Dwayne is also more annoying than mean. Anyway, Joel lives in front of the TV for a month, only eating chips and not washing until he is taken on a road trip by his two best friends. The goal is to take revenge on Dr. Dwayne, but unfortunately this doctor is not made a real villain throughout the film. He is more annoying and you can’t speak of real revenge towards the end either. So why are they even going? Then there’s friend Wyatt who is eager to distribute free sausages for Oscar Mayer across America in his own sausage bus. But why he wants that so badly is not told, but we do hear that he was rejected twelve times for an internship.

Such a bland comedy does not require much content, but a clear and, for example, simple goal is a requirement. Something that binds the three friends and viewers, such as the search for the fast food joint in ‘Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle’ (2004) or the interception of a video tape in ‘Road Trip’ (2000). In addition, the jokes do not come out well or worse, they are often not fun at all. Like a Hitler joke and when there’s a bird on Joel’s hand. If you think Jenny McCarthy can make you laugh, you’re wrong. She’s just a filthy farmer’s wife who gets little funny to say or do and is soon out of the picture. A real shame. Combine this with well-worn poop, pee, fart and sex jokes and you’re left with little fun comedy.

The acting is really only good with Kenan, although here he runs around more like a screaming Chris Tucker. Zachary Levi and Fran Kranz act inconclusive several times. In fact, as a viewer you only empathize with Wyatt a bit. Andy Milonakis of ‘The Andy Milonakis Show’ (2005-2006) gets to play a bully from Joel’s childhood. But a victory of Joel’s demons is not shown either. Suddenly the switch flips and he has some sort of super powers when he attacks the competing tofu hippies. It’s all pretty meaningless and humorless (especially the ending). Nice to see is the comic contest of Ben (Zachary Levi) and the Wiener mobile. ‘Wieners’ has all kinds of ingredients, just like ‘Dude Where’s My Car’ (2000): bosom friends, strange characters and a cool sausage bus, but in the end it is just a weak bite.