Brandon’s Top Camp Films of 2015

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Yesterday, I posted my list for the best films I saw in 2015, but with the exceptions of a couple outliers like Magic Mike XXL & Mad Max: Fury Road the whole thing reads as a little too . . . stuffy, dignified. To get a fuller picture of what the year looked like, here were the 15 films I most enjoyed on the trashier side of cinema, the ones we slapped with a Camp Stamp.

1. Goosebumps – The same way films like The Monster Squad, Hocus Pocus, Witches, The Worst Witch, and (on a personal note) Killer Klowns from Outer Space have introduced youngsters to the world of horror (and horror comedy) in the past, Goosebumps is an excellent gateway to lifelong spooky movie geekdom. It strives to stay true to its half-hokey, half-spooky, all-silly source material, resulting in a film that’s genuine dumb fun from beginning to end, but still packs a sharp enough set of teeth that it might just keep a tyke or two awake at night.

2. Unfriended – This laptop-framed live chat horror flick is so ludicrously invested in its gimmickry that it comes off as kind of a joke, but the commitment also leads to genuinely chilling moments that remind the audience a little too much of their own digital experiences. As a dumb horror flick filmed entirely from the first-person POV of a gossipy teen operating a laptop, it’s both way more fun & way more affecting than it has any right to be.

3. Spy – Paul Feig & Melissa McCarthy’s latest collaboration updates the mindless excess of the superspy spoof genre (seen before in films like Naked Gun, Austin Powers, and MacGruber) with a surprisingly sharp sense of humor lurking under its crass irreverence. If nothing else, Jason Statham’s monologue in which he brags about his past adventures might be the single funniest (and most relentlessly dumb) scene of the year.

4. Furious 7 I watched all 7 Fast & Furious movies for the first time this year and can say with total confidence that this was easily the most over-the-top in its absurd disregard for physics, human nature, and good taste. What a fun, ridiculous spectacle of an action movie.

5. Turbo KidA cartoonish throwback to an ultraviolent kind of 1980s futurism that probably never even existed. It’s difficult to believe that Turbo Kid didn’t previously exist as a video game or a comic book, given the weird specificity of its world & characters. It’s a deliriously fun, surprisingly violent practical effects showcase probably best described as the cinematic equivalent of eating an entire bag of Pop Rocks at once.

6. Deathgasm – An authentic look into a metal head teen’s colorful imagination, Deathgasm is a gore-soaked, go-for-broke horror comedy about a high school metal band’s war against a zombie apocalypse. It’s delightfully gross & oddly sweet.

7. Krampus – Director Michel Dougherty’s first film, Trick ‘r Treat, was a comedic horror anthology devoutly faithful to the traditions of Halloween. His follow-up, Krampus,  thankfully kept the October vibes rolling into December traditions in a time where so many people do it the other way around, celebrating Christmas before Halloween even gets rolling. All hail Krampus,  a soul-stealing demon who acts as “St. Nicholas’ shadow”,  for bucking the trend.

8. The Final Girls – If you happen to be a fan of 80s “camp site slasher films” like Friday the 13th & Sleepaway Camp and you enjoy meta genre send-ups like Scream & The Last Action Hero, please check out The Final Girls as soon as you can. It not only participates in the trope-referencing meta play of Wes Craven’s Scream, but because of its outlandish movie-within-a-movie concept, it also adopts the dream logic of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Although the film’s main goal is undoubtedly a goofy, highly-stylized comedy, it also reaches for eerie, otherworldly horror in its central conceit.

9. Mission: Impossible – Rogue NationPretty much a repeat of what I had to say about Furious 7. I watched the entire Mission: Impossible series for the first time this year & the newest installment, Rogue Nation, easily stood out as the most over-the-top entry in the fairly silly action franchise yet.

10. Russell Madness – A family comedy “produced by” Air Bud about a Jack Russell Terrier who finds success as a mixed-species pro wrestler. Need I say more? The only flaw in its execution of what had to be the dumbest premise of the year is that they didn’t stick with what must have been the original title: Russell Mania.

11. American Ultra/Victor Frankenstein I can’t defend essentially anything I’ve ever read Max Landis say on the internet, but I can say that he wrote two of the most mindlessly fun, delightfully excessive examples of trashy cinema that I saw all year.

12. Patch Town – A horror comedy Christmas musical about an evil Cabbage Patch dolls factory, Patch Town sounds like the kind of Sci-Fi Channel dreck that would settle for a couple odd moments & a celebrity cameo, then call it a day. Instead, it milks its concept for all it’s worth. Its high-concept, low budget weirdness is calculated, sure, but it’s also surprisingly thorough in pushing that concept as far as it could possibly go & even better yet, it’s genuinely funny.

13. EverlyA scantily clad prostitute played by Selma Hayek attempts to reunite with her family and escape a life of indentured servitude through an onslaught of gun violence. Cornered in a condo, Hayek’s Everly has to shoot her way through an army of Japanese gangsters, bumbling bodyguards, and fellow prostitutes to achieve freedom. If this sounds stupid & gratuitous, it’s because it most definitely is. Everly isn’t a film where any themes or ideas are explored in new or interesting ways and the violence is a mere exclamation point. It’s a film where violence is the entire point.

14. R100 Late in the run time of this surreally campy BDSM comedy, the film addresses the audience directly by suggesting that, “People won’t understand this film until they’re 100 years old.” Even that timeline may be a little too optimistic. Directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto, the juvenile prankster who brought the world the cartoonish excess of Big Man Japan & Symbol, R100 initially pretends to be something it most definitely is not: understated. The first forty minutes of the film are a visually muted, noir-like erotic thriller with a dully comic sadness to its protagonists’ depression & persecution. It’s around the halfway mark where the film goes entirely off the rails genre-wise, dabbling in tones that range from spy movies to mockumentaries to old-school ZAZ spoofs. It’s doubtful that even 100 years on Earth will give you enough information to make sense out of that mess.

15. The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown – What can I say? I’m a sucker for pro wrestling cinema. The dumber the better. In The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown the unholy marriage of the title not only connects both The FlintstonesHoneymooners-style comedy and the WWE’s complete detachment from reality with their collective roots in working class escapism, it also revels in the most important element in all of wrestling & animation, the highest form of comedy: delicious, delicious puns.

-Brandon Ledet

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

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There’s an admittedly cheap, but remarkably effective result from committing a night at the opera to film. No matter how cynical or out of place its inclusion, the opera elevates cinema, especially genre films that can use a leg up. It elevates the romcom in Moonstruck, the deliberately dumb comedy in the Bob Sagat-directed Norm MacDonald vehicle Dirty Work, the slasher horror in Dario Argento’s (appropriately titled) Opera, and now in the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible series, Rogue Nation, it elevates the super spy action movie. In one of Rogue Nation‘s most elegant sequences our hero & the thorn in the government’s side Ethan Hunt infiltrates an operatic production to put a stop to four separate assassination attempts on a single Austrian dignitary. John Woo (embarrassingly) attempted to invoke a sort of rack rock opera in the climax of Mission: Impossible 2 fifteen years ago, but it wasn’t until Rogue Nation that the series’ operatic ambitions amounted to anything meaningful. The assassination prevention is a ridiculous, impossible mission, but it’s neither the first or the last of the film’s many over the top set pieces. The fact that the film’s literal operatic heights are almost forgettable amongst its other action-laden tangents is merely a testament to how eager it is to please as a popcorn spectacle.

As you may have noticed (presuming anyone out there might be paying attention), I have been superficially tracking my journey through the Mission: Impossible series by the length of Tom Cruise’s hair in the films. In the delightful first & third entries, Cruise was rocking a short, handsome hairdo that conveniently coincided with the films’ somewhat concise approach to action delivery & 60s super spy nostalgia. In the second film his hair got remarkably douchier in length, which was mirrored in the film’s awful late 90s/early 00s aesthetic, a mistake repeated in the fourth installment, Ghost Protocol, which I’m willing to forgive since Cruise begins the film in a Serbian prison. It’s more than excusable. It’s not like he’s the President of the Limp Bizkit Fan Club in the fourth film (I’m assuming he was in the second), so the terrible hairdo can slide. In Rogue Nation, Cruise’s hair length also goes rogue, striking an in-between balance that serves as a nod to both hair styles. Rogue Nation is a satisfying culmination of all the Mission: Impossible films, forming a single entity greater than the sum of its parts & Cruise’s hair length is a nod to that cohesion. You may scoff, but I swear it’s true.

There are, of course, less simplistic & much more dignified ways of tracking the Mission: Impossible franchise’s progress as a whole. For instance, the The Gang’s All Here mentality that never truly solidified until Ghost Protocol was put to to great use in Rogue Nation, at the very least comically speaking. Since the beginning I’ve heralded Ving Rhames’ presence as a saving grace, even through the John Woo dark times, and it’s here that he finally joins the Abbott & Costello duo of Jeremy Renner & Simon Pegg to form some sort of unholy trinity of comic relief. The small taste of Alec Baldwin doing his best Jack Donaghy is merely icing on the already too-sweet cake. Rogue Nation also acknowledges its franchise’s history in the way it combines all of its past female characters (the agent, the double agent, the super sexy/deadly assassin, the love interest & Ethan Hunt’s only hope) into a single convenient package that’s smart enough to take off her heels before battle, unlike one of this summer’s most egregious female leads (who we’ve already effectively ripped to shreds).

What’s most fun about Rogue Nation, though, is that it combines the main selling points of the third & fourth installments (that Ethan Hunt is a divine being among men & that he has a loyal team behind him that helps create the myth of that divinity) into a satisfying, cohesive whole. The Mission: Impossible ball didn’t truly get rolling until the third entry & it somehow didn’t reach its true apex until the fifth. Hunt’s crew of loyal super spies (and Ving Rhames) eat up much of the film’s runtime, but they use that platform to elevate their fearless leader as “The Living Manifestation of Destiny.” By limiting his screen time in favor of letting his talented supporting cast run the show (which as a producer he could’ve easily turned into a vanity project), Cruise made great strides in Rogue Nation to build his character up as something more than just the “dude with a dangerous job” he was in the third film. He’s an impossible character in an improbable world who has to battle an equally impossible “syndicate” of evil spies helmed by a cross between a murderous Steve Jobs & Eddy Redmayne’s wicked, eternally hoarse drag queen from space in Jupiter Ascending. It’s thrilling, but highly goofy stuff.

Cruise has a history of working with an eclectic list of directors in this series (Brian De Palma, John Woo, JJ Abrams, Brad Bird) & here he enlists Christopher McQuarrie, a relative unkown, but longtime collaborator who he’s worked with on in films like Edge of Tomorrow, Jack Reacher, and Valkyrie. McQuarrie holds his own here, not only crafting one of the most enjoyable entries in the franchise to date, but also continuing to solidify a somewhat messy series of films as a recognizably unique intellectual property. Rogue Nation is a relentlessly fun action pic that Cruise & McQuarrie should be proud of bringing to the screen, both as a campy espionage spectacle and as a continuation of a decades-old franchise that has finally reached the operatic heights it promised way back when rap rock was still a viable commodity.

-Brandon Ledet