Film Threat Review: Game of Werewolves

2012
Unrated
98 minutes

***

There are three types of comedic horror films: The films that are unintentionally funny, the genre parodies and the traditional horror films that happen to contain some jokes. “Game of Werewolves” is in the third category, and it’s a category that could use some new blood. Harkening back to Peter Jackson’s early horror period, Juan Martinez Moreno’s film pits an unsuccessful writer, his incompetent editor and a bumbling childhood pal against his cursed childhood town and the werewolf that stalks it. Moreno’s script is derivative at times and a bit of a sausage fest, but our protagonists are amusing enough in their ineptitude and the practical effects are a sight for sore eyes in this CGI-laden world.

An illustrated back-story brings us up to speed on the century-old curse that plagues the tiny town of Arga. When we meet Tomas (Gorka Otxoa), he is on his way back to his hometown to accept an award for being a Local Boy Made Good. Never mind the fact that he’s only sold two copies of his first novel. He accepts their gift of his expired aunt’s creepy old mansion so that he can concentrate on writing his follow-up failure in peace. Little does he know, the townspeople have brought him there as a key fixture in their one-and-only shot to break the curse and keep a second curse from taking effect. (Man, you do NOT want to fuck with gypsies.) Also on the wrong side of the townspeople is Tomas’ former best friend, Calisto (Carlos Areces). Calisto is a portly slacker who carries around a lot of baggage about his perceived abandonment by Tomas. Tomas’ editor, Mario (Secun de la Rosa), soon joins them and the shenanigans commence.

There are some familiar elements at play. Calisto is basically Nick Frost’s “Shaun of the Dead” character with a moustache. The werewolf suits are very old school (rubber hands, red eyes and a furry butt), and the transformation scene is straight out of “American Werewolf in London.” I wouldn’t necessarily label these parallels as negatives. Maybe it doesn’t look “real,” but what does a real werewolf look like, anyway? We all know computers can do amazing things, but I like thinking about the time it took someone to put on the makeup or set up an effect. That’s what impresses me more than someone pushing buttons. Yes, I realize how crotchety that makes me sound.

There are things that don’t work so well. Early on, there is a long scene which has Tomas engaged in a one-sided conversation with his dog for the very transparent sake of exposition. If Tomas grew up in Arga, and the curse has been around for 100 years, why has he never heard anything about a werewolf before now? You’d think a writer would be more observant. Then again, it’s implied that he’s not a very good writer. Sometimes, Tomas, Mario and Calisto are unbelievably stupid for the sake of a joke. Does Calisto really not know the difference between a candle and a stick of dynamite? Does Mario really not grasp the importance of opposable thumbs? These jokes are a little too far-fetched to play.

Yet there are also moments of ingeniousness. About 60% of the gags feel fresh which is enough to keep you engaged. The action is ceaseless for much of the film with explosions, gunfire and mauling a-plenty. Late in the story, Mareno introduces a very charismatic police officer character that deserves a film of his own. “Game of Werewolves” may not be an instant classic, but it will tickle you for a while and perhaps inspire someone to do it better.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

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Film Threat Review: Ira Finkelstein’s Christmas

2012 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION!
Unrated
90 minutes

**

“Ira Finkelstein’s Christmas” is an independently produced film, but it certainly doesn’t seem like one. It has all the brightly lit, dopey scored, schmaltzy scripted, hammy-acted qualities of a made-for-basic cable family special. But Seattle-based writer/director/producer Sue Corcoran of Von Piglet Productions apparently figured out that religious-themed horror comedies (“Gory Gory Hallelujah”) were nowhere near as marketable as religious-themed family films. And you thought we were just about Mumblecore in the Emerald City.

I actually feel a little weird even reviewing this film, as it is so not for me. I do have a kid, but she’s too young for something like this. Besides, I am raising her in an amoral urban community, so her first Christmas film experience will be a double feature of “Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas” and “Gremlins.” But for those suburban parents who park their kids in front of Hannah Montana and iCarly (or whatever), this will be right up their alley. Maybe they can all enjoy it together after they get back from dinner at the Outback Steakhouse. They can pop some Jiffy Pop and put on their matching Snuggies before settling in for the next 90 minutes. After that, it’s straight to bed (for everyone!). This hypothetical family will deem this movie “cute” and “touching” and maybe even “adorbs.” It will make them feel warm and fuzzy and accepting of all organized religions. I’m not trying to be snarky here. I’m honestly attempting to imagine the target audience for “Ira Finkelstein” because I’M NOT IT.

Let’s pretend that my favorite Christmas movie isn’t “Scrooged.” In that case, Elijah Nelson sparkles as Ira, the little Jewish boy who just wants to have a magical Christmas because being one of the Chosen People is just so dull. Sure, they get eight presents, but they don’t get a tree or garland made from stale popcorn or earworm carols sung ad nauseum. For years, Ira has been trying to convince his parents to let him celebrate Christmas. He almost gets his wish, as they prepare for a holiday ski trip. But then his party planner mother (Angela DiMarco) and small-time director father (David DeLuise) simultaneously stumble upon a potentially career-boosting gig, working respectively for and with a high-maintenance minor television star. They make the decision to send Ira to Florida to spend the holiday with his paternal grandparents. Ira is much less distressed over their neglectful parenting than he is their cancelled vacation. As his parents hurry him onto the airplane, all he’s thinking about is that elusive white Chrismukkah.

During his connection in Chicago, Ira meets another little boy with dashed Christmas wishes. Mikey (Justin Howell) would rather spend the holiday with his single mother, but she believes she has his best interest in mind by sending him to stay with his cousins in Christmastown, WA (a fictional town loosely based on the real Bavarian-themed Leavenworth, WA, where they also filmed). Mikey doesn’t think a Christmas in Florida sounds so bad. Luckily, Ira’s grandparents haven’t seen him (not even a photograph?!) in years. Likewise, Mikey’s cousins have only a fuzzy memory of his appearance. (Can you guess where this is going? Is the Pope a senile old man?)

Naturally, Ira gets a wild hair and decides that he and Mikey should switch places. Despite a lack of physical resemblance and Ira’s severe near-sightedness, the ruse is as simple as trading hats and “unaccompanied minor” badges. Airport handlers (and estranged relatives) sure are morons.

Both kids also have cell phones of their own, so they are able to keep up the charade when their parents call to check in. Despite minor slip-ups for both parties (Ira doesn’t know Mikey’s parents are divorced, Mikey doesn’t know anything about being Jewish and is much more athletic than Ira), no one is the wiser. But Ira soon learns that Christmastown might not be the winter wonderland he was expecting. And Mikey starts to get used to having adults smother him with attention. Will Ira have his Christmas (and the pageant he suddenly decides they should put on) before the whistle is blown? Will those bullies, pilfered straight from “A Christmas Story,” learn how their dickishness affects other people and stop being dicks? Will the holiday spirit melt the heart of Mikey’s goth cousin? Will any of the adults ever pull their heads out of their asses and realize that their children are more important than whatever stupid adult bullshit they have put first?

Yes. Of course they will. It’s a family movie about the holidays. It will have a happy ending and there will be lots of singing and smiling at each other across rooms and people will learn all sorts of lessons. You bet your jingle-belled ass that someone will say “God bless us everyone.” Also, Elliot Gould, as Ira’s grandpa, is the Jewiest Jew that ever Jewed and that chick from “Northern Exposure” (Cynthia Geary) frowns a lot. There is an audience for this film. It’s probably a huge audience. But I bet there isn’t a lot of crossover with Film Threat readers.

Note: My two-star rating reflects my enjoyment of the film. I’m fairly certain that someone in the target audience would give it three to four stars. Additionally, bah humbug.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).