Smiley represents a paradigm shift from the old school, exclusive way of making films, to the new media template forged by websites like YouTube and Blip.tv. This movie is the result of Michael Gallagher parlaying his success with “Totally Sketch” into a film deal. That means this movie was not concocted behind closed doors by some studio snobs who all go skiing together. Instead, it was made by the people for the people. And it shows.
Cameos by the who’s who of the internet world abound, including Bree Essrig and Nikki Limo - familiar faces from Totally Sketch. Also, the characters who round off this cast of internet misfits feels more authentic than if you had forty-something executives guessing at it. For example, the actors in the first party scenes come in all shapes, sizes and colors and something about it just rings more true - not like the plastic-y, overly glammed actors you might see in something like Scream 4.
Smiley explores the urban legend of a stitch-faced killer who magically appears behind the unlucky victim of a video chat where the other person types “I did it for the lulz” three times. Ashley, played very nicely by Caitlin Gerard (I’ll always remember her as the girl Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker were ogling in “The Social Network” ) moves in with Proxy, spritely embodied by actress Melanie Papalia, as they start college. Proxy immediately introduces the naive Caitlin to the world of the underground interwebz - 4chan message boards, hackers, network security specialists, etc. - and takes her to a party where a number of LA-based members from an anonymous board are all socializing under their online nicknames. While there, Ashly, Proxy and a few others parses off from the crowd and put the smiley legend to the test in real time. To everyone’s surprise, especially Ashley, it works. Enter victim number one.
From there, the usual slasher flick type story unfolds. More people die while our protagonist wonders if she is imagining it all or if Smiley is real. The acting is solid in this movie, especially the leads. Andrew James Allen is especially good. I haven’t seen an asshole character this likable since Seann William Scott’s Stiffler from American Pie. The story is also intriguing and there is a meditative element brought out through classroom scenes where the teacher explores themes played out in the movie. I also liked the notion that all the evil brought about through the web has come into being through Smiley.
The biggest issue with this movie is, ironically, the lack of studio polish in terms of the look of the film. It just isn’t very pleasant visually - zero production design. But it is actually scary in parts, which gives it a leg up on most horror films produced these days. One appearance by Smiley toward the end of the film is especially unnerving. Let me just put it this way: you probably won’t be typing “I did it for the lulz” anytime soon in a chat room. Mission accomplished. :)
Cut to nine months later and Mandy has somehow assimilated into the in-crowd and is about to spend the weekend with them on a remote farm. Of course, muy killings ensue, but how it all unravels will no doubt surprise you. The movie is beautifully shot with liberal quantities of lens flare and golden hour lighting. Amber Heard, who plays Mandy, could not have asked for a better debut vehicle to showcase her classic, Hollywood good looks.
Here are the things that struck me about Mandy Lane. One, it’s got a nice build up. I happen to be one of those people who prefer the silly preludes before the killing sprees in horror movie, and this story unfolds nicely in that regard. Plenty of middle-aged wish fulfillment played out here with all the eye candy. Secondly, Amber Heard. Have I mentioned that this gun-toting lesbian is hot? Lastly, the direction, production, and script - this movie is just a cut above as horror flicks go. It’s not scary though – it’s more of a thriller.
So pick this one up on a Friday night if you can find it (it is quite difficult to find because it never got its intended US release). It’s a Digging-Thru-Crates gem.
Kether Donohue, who plays a reporter telling the story from some unknown location after it all went down. She’s one of the survivors. Of course we learn that greed is at the heart of all this, as a corporation tied in with local politicians has been dumping tons of chicken dung right next to the bay for longer than anyone can remember. The chickens were farm raised on steroids and their manure, consumed by the isopods, causes organisms to become faster growing, aggressive, human flesh eaters.
The movie got a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, which for once is about right. It’s not a top tier horror movie, but it’s definitely not bad either. Check it out.
This is not a fast paced movie. In fact, at nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes, it has a plodding and deliberate pace which, intentionally or not, serves to underscore the single-minded purposefulness of its heroine. If we’re fidgeting seeing the story unfold over three hours, imagine how tough it was to stay the course over a decade. This is especially true after you consider that politics, the death of team members, and hopelessness nearly brought the entire operation crumbling down. We see just how close Bin Laden, code named “Geronimo,” was to slipping away forever.
It turns out that finding Bin Laden came down to tracking down one of his top level couriers, Abu Ahmed, who was hidden away in Pakistan and believed to be dead due to misinformation. Of course, after all the research and intense, closed-door meetings, the movie comes down to the 30 minutes that recounts the night the SEAL team infiltrated Bin Laden’s compound. Interestingly, that part of the film is especially restrained and feels near documentary like. There are very few theatrics to the SEAL team’s mission, which was executed with cold, ruthless precision (note how each person killed was “engaged” multiple times, just to be sure). Having watched the fascinating 60-Minutes interview with SEAL team leader Mark Bissonette, I was especially interested to see this play out in the film. Honestly, I think his retelling might have been more gripping.
Jessica Chastain, seem like a bad ass. Lines like “I'm the motherfucker that found him” seem particularly corny after you’ve just shown us a brutal 10-minute segment of a suspect being broken down through water boarding torture. Chris Pratt, who plays the the commander of the SEAL team, seems to be good in just about everything he does, but his innate likability undermines his credibility as a stone cold killer. Jason Clarke as one of the lead CIA ops is highly compelling and, for me, was the real stand out in the movie.
Overall, thumbs up. I think Chastain’s performance is being overrated (although look out for her confrontation scene with Kyle Chandler - it has Oscar written all over it), but in the end ZD30 caps off an extremely good year for movies with a figurative and literal BANG.