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The Bottom Shelf #113

06.21.2007

These two movies have something in common. Can you spot it? If you can, well... I've got some brownie points for you.

BRAINSCAN (1994)
Directed by: John Flynn
Starring: Edward Furlong, Frank Langella

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Stop and ponder this for a minute. You're Edward Furlong. You've been discovered by Arnie while he was on one of his little inspirational visits to a Boys & Girls club. Your mother and father have essentially abandoned you and you're being raised by your aunt and uncle. You manage to impress Arnie, get a starring role in the TERMINATOR sequel and suddenly everyone knows your name. Hell, even your mother and father manage to remember it and petition to get you back. Well, your newfound money. What do you do? You file to become an emancipated minor and you start pumping out the flicks as quickly as the courts will allow you to do so, not to mention as quickly as you can get paid so you can turn around and give it all to your dealer. Along the way you squeak out a little number called BRAINSCAN.

A lonely misfit teenager obsessed with horror movies and kill-'em-all video games orders what is supposed to be the latest and greatest interactive computer game from an ad in Fangoria magazine. The game promises to be the scariest and most realistic thing that you've ever played. You have to imagine that you're a murderer, you're instructed to think like a killer. You kill someone in your first venture out and suddenly - it's a little too real. Well, aside from that strange looking dude with the funky crossbreed between a mohawk and a mullet showing up in your bedroom. Finish the game or lose your life. Ooooo... ominous.

And hilarious. This movie is one of those ridiculously bad flicks that you can't help but get tangled up in. I wish I knew what Furlong was on back in those days because it took him from being the little boy with the cracking voice to a stone faced rebel whose best emotional reaction came from being sprayed down with water so that it gave the appearance of being sweaty. Worse is the "villain" here and I stick that in quotes because the man called Trickster is little more than an evil cross between Rik Mayall in DROP DEAD FRED and Howie Mandel in LITTLE MONSTERS. Hardly frightening. Definitely entertaining in a "Let's squish the cockroach!" kind of way. You just gotta love a movie whose charm is derived from trying too hard.

Favorite Scene:

When Furlong is in the principal's office being given the lecture about why his horror club is bad.

Favorite Line:

"You look just like that one girl in that one video by what's his face. Only better."

Trivia Tidbit:

In two of the teenagers' bedrooms there are posters from the band Aerosmith's album Get a Grip. Edward Furlong starred in the video for "Living on the Edge," the first single released from that album.

See if you liked:

PET SEMETARY 2, WARLOCK, 13 GHOSTS

THE GREY ZONE (2001)
Directed by: Tim Blake Nelson
Starring: David Arquette, Harvey Keitel

-- click here to buy this DVD at Amazon.com --
-- click here to rent this movie at NetFlix.com --

For a guy who is better known as playing the odd looking best friend or semi-retarded brother, Tim Blake Nelson is a very strong director. I bet you didn't realize that he was the man behind the camera for the controversial retelling of Othello (simply renamed "O") moving through a difficult story with it being centered in a high school. I think he might have become known as a better director than actor if that movie hadn't sat on the shelves for so long, put on hiatus based on its initial release slated for just after the Columbine issue. He uses a deft hand with a subject even more grave than high school romance gone horribly awry.

During the second World War, there were Nazis and concentration camps, we're all aware of that. But THE GREY ZONE details one of the stories that most people haven't heard of. I had thought that the Germans were at the helm when escorting unsuspecting new groups through the gas chambers, but those duties actually fell on the shoulders of groups of chosen Jews, the Sonderkomandos as they were called. For four months these men would be in charge of stripping down their fellow Jews, reassuring them that they would be fine, all the while leading them to their deaths. They gathered up the dead bodies and burned them in the crematoriums. For four months they did what they could to survive those final 16 weeks until they were executed as well. The movie centers largely around the happenings with the 12th Sonderkomando, the group that successfully blew up more than half of the ovens in the camp in an uprising.

I have to admit, this movie is interesting but deeply flawed. While the story is something that I was fascinated with, it was the choice of actors and how they were handled that made me cock my head and lose concentration. While not huge stars, I think everyone can identify who David Arquette, Steve Buscemi and Harvey Keitel are. It's not just that they are recognizable faces, it's also the fact that they were all allowed to talk in their normal speaking voices (aside from Keitel who adopts a barely passable German accent). It definitely distracted me from the story, especially in the case of Buscemi. The guy is just too well known for playing a certain role to be a Jewish prisoner. This is a great story with some very tight direction and a good script (also written by Nelson), but I was off-put by the familiarity. For those of you out there who don't identify with these actors as much as I do, you have a better chance at fully embracing this flick.

Favorite Scene:

I find it quite depressing to think of a favorite scene in a movie about concentration camps. What am I supposed to say: "Oh, that one time when that guy got shot in the back of the head?" (That said, Arquette's explanation of what life is like in the camps is rather moving.)

Favorite Line:

"I never fully despised the Jews until I experienced how easily they could be persuaded to do the work here. To do it so well. And to their own people! They'll be dead by week's end, every soul. And we'll replace them with others no different. Do you know how easy that will be?"

Trivia Tidbit:

A 90% scale reproduction of the Auschwitz/Birkenau death camp was constructed near Sofia, Bulgaria, for the shooting of this film. The actual plans for the original Auschwitz camp were used to build the set.

See if you liked:

SCHINDLER'S LIST, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, SOPHIE'S CHOICE

What exactly ARE brownie points, anyway?? Do they actually give out points in the Brownies? Or does it have something to do with baking? There's another great question I'd love an answer for.

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