Last Days (2005)

When considering the legalities of music publishing and the licensing of music for films—especially a film shining an unfavorable light on persons and corporations connected to Kurt Cobain’s estate, a biographically-accurate (and not an inspired-by-events) screenplay about a Generation X’s “Jim Morrison” seems a production impossibility.

The best explanation of this screenplay-to-film improbability of a narrative Cobain career chronicle sets in the work of Oliver Stone, who brought the tale of Jim Morrison and the Doors to the silver screen. When Mr. Stone began developing his football expose, Any Given Sunday, the unfavorable light the screenplay shed on the National Football League led to the organization rebuffing Stone’s request for involvement; Stone dreamed up an ersatz professional football league for the film.

A faux biopic analogous to Rock Star, a film loosely inspired by the career of Judas Priest’s Tim “Ripper” Owens—and not akin to the critically acclaimed box office bonanza biographies of Ray Charles or Johnny Cash—is the only way, it seems, a true Cobain biopic can appear on screen. (His daughter, Frances Bean, has since produced 2015’s Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, which is considered the most-accurate of the many Cobain-Nirvana chronicles, but it is still a documentary and not a narrative piece.)

Film productions have music consultants who prepare a film’s soundtrack; a film about the life of a controversial musician with an estate controlled by a widow who’s partial to filing lawsuitsand going on expletive-riddled rants on The Howard Stern Show about how everyone (including ex-bandmates) manipulates her ex-husband’s work, opens a plethora of legalities; as such, business entities cast in an unfavorable position are not licensing their music for such a film.

During our first “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” in July we reviewed Down on Us, the low-budget, exploitive tale on the Doors by Larry Buchanan that experienced similar licensing issues regarding the music of the Doors, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix; Buchanan contracted musicians to forge replicates of those artists for the film. Thus, Oscar nominated and award-winning director Gus Van Sant exceptionally and effectively executed this same approach with Last Days, his faux-Kurt Cobain docudrama concerning actor Michael Pitt’s eerily portrayed pseudo-grunge rocker, Blake, fronting the film’s scripted Nirvana substitute, Pagoda—featuring stunning Nirvana simulations composed by Pitt. (It all goes back to poet William Blake, one of Jim Morrison’s lyrical inspirations. The circle completes.)

As with his previous effort, Elephant, which was a thinly-veiled account of the Columbine tragedy, Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) crafted this faux-bioflick of Cobain’s “last days”; until his take, the only cinematic document on the troubled Nirvana leader was Nick Broomfield’s 1998 pseudo-document Kurt & Courtney (a chronicle, courtesy of Courtney Love’s perpetual legalese, turned what was to be a Cobain tribute into a tale of the sad hanger-ons of Grunge’s Sid & Nancy). It was Sant’s indie-pedigree and Oscar success, in conjunction with the Cobain subject matter, that led to Last Days becoming the debut release for Picturehouse, a joint-shingle between Time Warner, New Line Cinema, and HBO Films (which is why it plays incessantly on that channel) to create domestic art house, independent foreign, and documentary films.

And Last Days is definitely an “art house” film—to the point of being an “independent foreign film,” courtesy of its Felliniesque minimalism; this is Oliver Stone’s The Doors reflecting through a Michelangelo Antonioni transom. So, don’t expect flash; expect dead-pan scripting that concentrates on haunting cinematography and quasi-over-the-head symbolisms.

The narrative dispenses with the usual rise-and-fall tales of Taylor Hackford’s and James Mangold’s respective major-studio bios Ray or Walk the Line—with Michael Pitt (Hedwig and the Angry Itch) as the mythical-rocker, Blake, of grunge superstars Pagoda, living his last days in his Pacific Northwest home. The tale beings with Blake sneaking out of a rehab clinic and taking up residence in a forest with a makeshift, lakeside campfire; he walks around with a shotgun in his house pointing it at his band/roommates; he hangs up on phone-harassing record executives droning about tour date obligations. The story meanders through its entrancing simplicity (e.g., extended scenes of Blake making and eating a bowl of cereal, long, pondering (but beautiful) tracking shots across lawns and through windows, extended, stagnant shots of Blake writing-recording a song) until an electrician discovers Blake’s body in an apartment above the home’s garage.

Fans of Sonic Youth and watchers of the concert document 1991: The Year Punk Broke will notice bassist Kim Gordon in her dramatic acting debut (as a concerned record executive) while her band mate-husband, Thurston Moore (We Jam Econo), supervised the soundtrack (Sonic Youth also scored the French-made Demonlover, along with the Beatles “what if” Backbeat, Heavy, and Made in the USA).

Moore’s supervision assisted Michael Pitt in his crafting two Cobainesque songs for the film: “That Day,” the acoustic “Death to Birth,” along with an extended electric jam, “Fetus.” Lukas Haas (in the “Krist Novoselic” role) composed “Untitled,” while Rodriqo Lopresti (of fellow “Seattle band” The Hermitt) composed “Seen as None” and “Pointless Ride.” The DVD release features an additional song, “Happy Song,” along with a mock video for Blake’s Pagoda, which is a nostalgic return to the Seattle-styled videos that permeated MTV’s airwaves in the 120 Minutes-crazed ’90s. The film also features a soundscape “Doors of Perception” (know your Jim Morrison trivia).

There’s more grunge-era films to be had with our “Exploring: 50 Gen-X Grunge Films of the Alt-Rock ‘90s” featurette.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Saw II (2005)

For the second Saw film, Darren Lynn Bousman (he also directed Saw III, Saw IV and Repo! The Genetic Opera) joined Leigh Whannell to create the further story of Jigsaw. Bousman had been trying to sell a similar story called The Desperate that became the initial script for this film (Wan was making the underrated Dead Silence).

This time, the traps got bigger and more horrifying, the result of the increased budget. The puppet Billy had been made by Wan out of papier-mâché, but now he was a high tech creation able to deliver all of Jigsaw’s instructions.

Detective Allison Kerry (the returning Dina Meyer) finds a message for her old partner Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) at one of Jigsaw’s crime scenes. There, they find John Kramer (Tobin Bell), who has eight people trapped in a house, including Eric’s son Daniel and the only person to survive one of Jigsaw’s games, Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith). The other six are all connected because Eric has framed them for crimes.

All John Kramer asks of Eric is to talk to him and he’ll make sure that his son survives. But come on. If it was that easy, why would we have a film?

None of the actors were given the last 25 pages of the script and five different endings were shot. That’s how crazy everyone was about keeping the plot a secret.

Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005)

Mary Lambert has had an interesting directing career. She started in music videos, including “Like A Virgin,” “Borderline,” “Like A Prayer,” “Material Girl” and “La Isla Bonita” for Madonna, “Nasty” and “Control” for Janet Jackson and “The Glamorous Life” for Sheila E. before directing Siesta, two Pet Sematary movies, Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, the video game Double Switch and this, the third of the Urban Legends film series.

This urban legend starts in the late 60’s, as three high school jocks drug and kidnap their prom dates. When one of them, Mary Banner, tries to get away, she’s knocked out and left for dead, locked in a trunk. She’s the Bloody Mary of this film, who causes the main characters to disappear for days when they conjure her.

This film gets rid of the slasher nature of this series and delves into the supernatural while using urban legends of spiders inside pimples and killer tanning beds to commit the murders.

Kate Mara stars in this. You can see her younger sister Rooney, who would eventually be in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in a small role. Don Shanks, who played Michael Myers in the fifth Halloween film, also shows up.

This movie feels like Prom Night 2: Hello Mary Lou without any of the subversive fun and joy of that movie. In fact, if you’re thinking of watching this, just put that on instead.

Cursed (2005)

Consider this movie a precursor to next week’s deep dive into the horror films of the 2000’s. It’s an example of the creative voices of that era — Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson — whose Scream would lead to a renaissance of horror on screens — and Bob and Harvey Weinstein, whose heavy-handed production often led to films turning into hellish battles.

For example, there’s an entirely different cut of this movie, with two different versions of the werewolves by Rick Baker and KNB replaced with CGI and entire characters — Omar Epps, Skeet Ulrich, Mandy Moore, Heather Langenkamp, Illeana Douglas, Scott Foley, Robert Forster and Corey Feldman are all pretty much exorcised in the cut that ended up being released — being excluded.

The Weinsteins — beyond the numerous scandals — ruined plenty of genre films despite Dimension Films being a studio known for their release. Craven also had a career marked with movies that were taken over by studios and chopped up against his will.

Cursed would be the perfect storm of these two groups working together.

Star Jesse Eisenberg would tell Bloody Disgusting that there were so many reshoots — Judy Greer has said that it felt like they shot the movies for seven years — that they could have made four movies in the time and energy that it took to make this movie. These reshoots took the film from an R-rated film to a more PG-13 friendly version, but along the way, the film’s narrative cohesion was destroyed.

So what’s it all about? It all begins with Mya and Shannon Elizabeth’s characters getting a dark fortune from a gypsy, which comes true moments later. After a car crash with Eisenberg and Christina Ricci’s characters, a wolf comes out of nowhere and devours Elizabeth. As for Mya, she’s soon killed after flirting with Ricci’s boyfriend at a party.

The big reveal of all of this is that said boyfriend — Jake, played by Joshua Jackson — has passed on the curse of the werewolf through sexual contact, turning all of his one-night stands into monsters. The film also claims that the transfer of blood can make one a werewolf as well, which explains how the dog Zipper can become a beast.

I feel like every time I talk about a Wes Craven movie post-Freddy I have to include the phrases studio interference, reshoots, directorial cut and lost footage. You’d think after his successes — The Last House on the LeftThe Hills Have EyesA Nightmare on Elm StreetScream — he’d be allowed to do whatever he wanted. Instead, we have movies like Deadly Friend and this one, where scripts were tossed out and studio interference led to movies that tarnished his name above the film.

Pterodactyl (2005)

Let me sum up why you should watch this movie: Coolio has a machine gun and he’s shooting down flying prehistoric creatures. If that doesn’t win you over, well, I don’t know what to say.

Made for the Sy Fy channel, this movie has it all and by all, when I say that it’s a Mark Lester movie, you’ll understand. While it has a singular title, trust me that there is more than one pterodactyl in this movie. There are also teenagers who are camping in Turkey that discover a giant mound of pteropoop, which is when I would have left to go home.

Coolio plays the anti-terrorist squad leader Captain Bergen, who protects the kids from Russians when he’s not battling 2005’s best CGI that I could make on my iPhone today. He even says, “the music’s coming down and guess what I’m your DJ”, before giving his life for the kids. I regret that Coolio has one life to give to this movie.

Of course, another dinosaur soon emerges after all is well, but Lester is nothing if not ready to sell a sequel. There’s also the neat trick of having nearly everyone in the movie named for famous science fiction authors, such as Bradbury, Burroughs, Clarke, Donaldson, Heinlein, Herbert, Lem, Lovecraft, Serling, Yolen and Zelazny.

If you have nothing to do, by all means, watch this on YouTube.

Constantine (2005)

It seems like every ten years or so, there’s a rush of comic book movies. Lately, those films have been closer to the source material. Then there’s Constantine, a movie that most movie fans may not realize was a comic and also a film that fans of the original comic will instantly not want to see because of how different it is. I always wonder, why even spend the money to license the story if you’re just going to make your own movie?

Based on DC Comics’ Hellblazer, with plot elements taken from the “Dangerous Habits” and “Original Sins” stories, this movie is all about John Constantine, a magician who can see demons and angels. The character originated in the comic Swamp Thing and was created by Alan Moore, Steve Bisette and John Totleben. Yes, this is another Moore creation that was made into a movie that he probably despises.

I have a weakness for Keanu Reeves showing up in supernatural films, as he always seems bemused by the action that surrounds him.

In Hellblazer, he’s helping Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), an LAPD detective investigating the suicide of her twin sister. This, of course, brings him to Hell and into the orbit of Tilda Swinton as the Archangel Gabriel, who wants to unleash demons on Earth and Peter Stormare as Lucifer.

This movie is packed with some recognizable actors, like Shia LaBeouf as Constantine’s student Chas Kramer, Djimon Hounsou as nightclub owner Papa Midnite and Bush singer Gavin Rossdale as a demon named Balthazar.

The Spear of Destiny used in this movie is more than just the same occult object mentioned in Hellboy. It’s the same physical prop, too. That said — the Spear — which was used to stab Jesus’ side — has great significance to the DC Universe, as it was how Hitler was able to keep the superpowered heroes of Earth-2 from attacking his country, as Superman should have been able to stop the war with a few punches.

The demon Ellie, who was Constantine’s lover, was shot for the movie but is cut out. She was played by Michelle Monaghan.

Director Francis Lawrence would go on to make I Am Legend, three of The Hunger Games films and Red Sparrow.

One Missed Call 2 (2005)

One year later, One Missed Call 2 continues the story of cursed cell phone calls.

Kindergarten teacher Kyoko Okudera and her friend Madoka Uchiyama are eating at the restaurant where Kyoko’s boyfriend Naoto Sakurai works. The chef, Mr. Wang, gets one of the cursed calls from his daughter’s phone, which immediately sets his face on fire.

Yumi Nakamura — the survivor of the first film — is still missing ever since she killed Hiroshi Yamashita a year before. Now, the killings are about to start all over again.

These cursed cell calls are happening all over Taiwan, always leaving behind traces of coal. The truth is that Mimiko has not been stopped and neither has her reign of terror.

The second of these films is directed by Renpei Tsukamoto, who has spent much of his time directing TV miniseries.

This film is available on the One Missed Call Trilogy release from Arrow Video. Not only does it have all three films in high-def 1080p, it also features plenty of extras for each film. This one includes an alternate ending, the making of the movie, a short film by the director entitled Gomu, deleted scenes and a music video.

DISCLAIMER: This set was sent to us by Arrow Video.

xXx: State of the Union (2005)

Vin Diesel and Rob Cohen had signed onto a sequel before the first xXx movie even came out, but both dropped out as Diesel disliked the script. Cohen made Stealth, which was probably not the right move. Ice Cube then came in to be the new xXx, which wasn’t a great move either. Diesel made A Man Apart, which was a minor success.

The producers brought in Lee Tamahori, who had just had a success with the Bond film Die Another Day.

The movie starts with blowing everything up from the first one. Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel Jackson) is nearly killed and Xander Cage is murdered in Bora Bora. This means that a new xXx must come on board: former Navy SEAL Lieutenant Darius Stone. There’s only one issue; he’s in the brig at Leavenworth for disobeying orders and attacking General George Deckert (Willem Dafoe), who is now the Secretary of Defense.

Scott Speedman shows up as a fellow agent, Xzibit is in this and Michael Roof comes back from the first movie. Sunny Mabrey from Snakes on a Plane and Species III plays one of the villains and Nona Gaye plays a love interest.

A scene was filmed showing Xander Cage being killed in an explosion off-screen, with his severed body parts flying in the air. The scene was deleted, just in case Vin Diesel ever decided to reprise his role. Of course he came back.

The Amityville Horror (2005)

The only thing I could recall about seeing this in the theater is that one of my friends is the toughest wrestler I’ve ever met and he continually lept to his feet at every single jump scare.

Years of the Amityville films being direct to video didn’t stop Michael Bay, MGM and Dimension Films with charging  Andrew Douglas with directing this remake. He’s since gone on to helm episodes of Netflix’s Mindhunter.

For what it’s worth, the studios claimed that the remake was based on new information uncovered during the research of the original story, but George Lutz claimed that nobody ever spoke to him or his family about the project. His attorney contacted the studios to express the thought that they didn’t have the right to proceed without his input. The case remained unresolved when Lutz died in May 2006. Man, the only thing scarier than the devil is our legal system.

Instead of James Brolin and Margot Kidder, here we have a pre-Deadpool Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George. As for the kids, Jesse James plays Billy (no, not the outlaw nor the tattooed mechanic), Jimmy Bennett (the young Kirk from the modern Star Trek) is Michael and Chloë Grace Moretz is Chelsea. Phillip Baker Hall, who of course deserves better, plays a priest. And Rachel Nichols, who was Scarlett in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra plays the babysitter.

The new research is all about the fact that the house once belonged to a preacher named Reverend Jeremiah Ketcham, who killed plenty of Native Americans which caused the hauntings here at 112 Ocean Avenue. So yes, they set out to remake The Amityville Horror and made a turn into Poltergeist.

I love the Hollywood BS factory that spun stories that a dead fisherman washed up near the set, that Kathy Lutz died while they were filming and the fact that cast and crew members began waking up at 3:15 AM — the same time that Ron Defeo Jr. murdered his family. It gets so ridiculous that in 2008, Melissa George told Celebrity Ghost Stories that the terror she showed in the movie was real and that she was really being haunted.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime.

Mortuary (2005)

Tobe Hooper’s last US-produced film before his death in 2017 (he also worked on the film Djinn in Emirati in 2013), Mortuary tells the story of the Doyle family, who have moved to Santa Loraina, California to start over again after the death of their father. Now, his wife Leslie (Denise Crosby) and children Jonathan (Dan Byrd, who was in the remake of The Hills Have Eyes) and Jamie are trying to start over again. Leslie is to be the town’s new mortician, taking up in the antiquated Fowler Mortuary. Things, as they say, don’t work out well.

Jonathan gets a job at Rita’s Diner, where he meets Cal (Bug Hall, who was Alfalfa in the 1994 remake of The Little Rascals) and his girlfriends Tina and Sara. The trip abuse him as he works there, telling him the story of Bobby Fowler, an abused and deformed boy who once lived in the mortuary. Luckily, our hero also makes friends with Liz and Grady, who make his life a bit more bearable. Rita, the diner owner, spends most of the film telling us that she used to do a lot of drugs. Actually, a lot of this movie is about doing drugs in a small town, as that’s what Liz, Grady and Jonathan are doing when the Sherriff shows up, looking to stop more “graveyard babies” from being born.

Cal, Tina and Sara decide to spray graffiti all over the cemetery, but Bobby Fowler rises up and attacks them. He also infects the sheriff, leading everyone to have high levels of rage and throw up black goo. Even Jonathan’s mom is soon under the spell of the goo, which can make zombies, and then she serves them a dinner of it.

From then on out, our heroes are beset by the black goo and those infected by it. There are jump scares aplenty and lots of salt being thrown at zombies, which is a weakness they’ve never had until this film.

None of it really adds up. I don’t mean that in a charming way like some of the stranger movies that we cover. This just feels like a horror movie going through the motions, with CGI puddles of black goo swallowing up people and random moments of gore. I wish that it had more joy, because I really love Tobe Hooper. This was like going to see a friend’s band and then wondering the entire time what you can say to be a supportive friend without being a complete jerk about how bad they sucked.

Mortuary is available as part of the MVD Marquee Collection. The new blu ray also includes audio commentary and a behind the scenes feature with Hooper. Despite the film not being great, the quality of this release is top notch.

DISCLAIMER: We were sent this film by MVD, but that was no impact on our review.