Exam, Paul Williams Still Alive & The To Do List Movie Reviews

Happy Bank Holiday Monday to those in the UK who won’t be reading this since you’re not at work pretending to work while actually reading blogs! Then I think you Americans have next Monday off? So, since no one will be around the next couple of weeks, I figured it was time to do a few more mini-reviews of movies that I didn’t give enough of a shit about to review when I watched them a year ago. Sounds like fun, right?! πŸ˜‰ Here we go…

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Exam (2009)

Directed by Stuart Hazeldine

Starring: Adar Beck, Chris Carey, Gemma Chan, Nathalie Cox, John Lloyd Fillingham, Chuk Iwuji, Luke Mably, Pollyanna McIntosh, Jimi Mistry, Colin Salmon

My Opinion:

Exam is the best of these three movies, which doesn’t say much for the other two. I’ll say that Exam had a brilliant concept and I did appreciate that. It started out pretty great but got too far-fetched & silly by the end, which was disappointing since it had a lot of potential. I’m feeling lazy today so I’ll let Wikipedia give you the set-up:

The film is set in present-time United Kingdom in an alternate history. Eight candidates dress for what appears to be an employment assessment exam; they enter a room and sit down at individual desks. Each desk contains a question paper with the word “candidate”, followed by a number, from one to eight. The Invigilator, a representative of the company named DATAPREV, explains that the exam is 80 minutes and consists of only one question, but there are three rules: they must not talk to the Invigilator or the armed guard at the door, spoil their paper, or leave the room. If they do, they will be disqualified.

That sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? And it is – it’s why I watched this movie. And it gets even more interesting when the exam starts and the candidates discover the one question. The state of the world in this alternate history, which we learn a little about as the movie progresses, does help to explain the lengths that these eight candidates are willing to go to in order to get this job. But not quite… As to be expected, there are a couple of pricks who you’re meant to immediately dislike but none of the characters are very well developed and you don’t care enough about any of them to really care who will get the job at the end.

Had the characters been better instead of so one-dimensional and had the story been less far-fetched by the end, I’d have liked this one a lot more. I did really enjoy the mystery involved with the whole thing. It was fun seeing the candidates trying various ways to figure out what the hell was going on with the bizarre exam. In a world (shit, did I just use the “in a world” phrase?) where times are desperate, as in the story’s alternate history, you can almost believe that these candidates will do anything to get this very important job. However, the movie doesn’t manage to make us believe that “this could really happen”, which sucks as I think it could. Exam reminded me a lot of The Purge, which is another movie that I thought had a brilliant concept & so many ideas to be explored but never were. Like The Purge, Exam feels like a wasted opportunity (although I really liked The Purge and find myself always sticking up for it).

Don’t let my negativity discourage you if you like the sound of this movie. I think I may just be too picky in always expecting movies to have some deeper sort of meaning. If you don’t think about it too hard & are able to suspend disbelief, you may get some enjoyment out of Exam.

My Rating: 6/10

Paul Williams Still Alive (2011)

Directed by Stephen Kessler

Starring: Well, mainly just Paul Williams, his wife, and the director but there’s plenty of old footage with famous celebrities to watch. 

My Opinion:

What a shitty documentary. Hell, I think I could make a better documentary. The trouble isn’t the subject as I think Paul Williams is fascinating enough to make for an interesting documentary. But god the director, Stephen Kessler, is annoying! This reminded me a bit of the John Hughes documentary, Don’t You Forget About Me (which I reviewed HERE). In both films, the makers almost feel more like stalkers than like proper filmmakers.

I’ll say that Paul Williams comes across a bit grumpy in the documentary but that’s probably understandable as the director pretty much spends the whole film talking about how Paul Williams used to be a pretty big star but now he’s nothing (which isn’t true at all, especially since Daft Punk soon after declared their love for him & worked with him on their amazing Random Access Memories album). It’s ridiculous as Paul Williams has had a longer and FAR more successful career than Kessler (his only other movie you’ll have heard of is the crappy National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation).

As for Paul Williams, I know some people here probably know nothing about him although you may recognize his face. He was (well, still is) mainly a singer-songwriter but also an actor whose most famous work was in the Seventies. He wrote songs for people such as Barbara Streisand (Evergreen) and The Carpenters (We’ve Only Just Begun & Rainy Days And Mondays). Perhaps his most famous song, though, is The Rainbow Connection from The Muppet Movie (it’s certainly my favorite & in my list of My Top Ten Happy Songs). He was also in Smokey And The Bandit and the spectacularly mad Brian De Palma film Phantom Of The Paradise, which I reviewed HERE. Williams plays an evil record executive in Phantom, which is a mental “horror musical” that I enjoyed so much that I decided to watch this documentary soon after. Bah! Rubbish. Watch Phantom instead.

It’s hard to know what to rate this as it IS worth checking out if you’re interested in Paul Williams and don’t know much about him. There are plenty of old clips with lots of famous celebrities & the film is almost worth watching for that alone. Don’t expect the most in-depth documentary ever, though, and be prepared to feel as annoyed by the director as Williams sometimes clearly is. I’m glad I watched it but would like to see a better documentary about Paul Williams.

My Rating: 6/10

(okay rating more for the fact that Williams is an interesting character than for the quality of the documentary)

The To Do List (2013)

Directed by Maggie Carey

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rachel Bilson, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Andy Samberg, Scott Porter, Connie Britton

My Opinion:

How can a totally filthy sex comedy be so BORING and completely unfunny in any way? What a load of shit.

I’m thinking that maybe I truly don’t like Aubrey Plaza. I don’t have much experience with her (she’s in that Parks & Recreation thing, right? Never seen it). I didn’t mind her in the slightly pretentious Safety Not Guaranteed but then she mostly just got on my nerves in the disappointing Life After Beth. Well, I’d have to say I pretty much hated her in this. I don’t know if that’s entirely her fault, though, as I can’t say I liked anyone in this plus the movie is just plain bad. I honestly can’t think of a less funny “comedy” that I’ve seen in recent years. It’s almost as bad as a Jason Friedberg/Aaron Seltzer “parody” movie.

(Just go play with yourself instead of watching this movie – you’ll have way more fun)

So, in this movie, perfect student Plaza decides she wants to lose her virginity & do every sexual thing that she can before heading off to college. Or something like that – I don’t remember much of this movie now. Anyway, here’s her sexual “to do” list:

I wouldn’t call myself a prude so my issues with the movie have nothing at all to do with the subject matter. I do enjoy the occasional sex comedy. But what I require is for them to actually be funny. I mean, WTF is this shit?:

Aubrey Plaza’s character is beyond annoying in this movie & I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do any of the things on that above “to do list” with her. The only funny thing, looking at that list, is how it says “British?” next to “teabagging“. lol. Okay – that’s kind of funny. But the rest of this movie is NOT. This movie can go do all of the above things to itself. Yeah… Go fuck yourself, movie!

My Rating: 3/10

Now here’s the rather epic, totally 70’s prog rock-y Touch, Paul Williams’ song with Daft Punk on Random Access Memories:

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Phantom Of The Paradise (1974) Review

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Phantom Of The Paradise (1974)

Directed by Brian De Palma

Starring:
Paul Williams
William Finley
Jessica Harper
Gerrit Graham

Running time: 91 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A disfigured composer sells his soul for the woman he loves so that she will perform his music. However, an evil record tycoon betrays him and steals his music to open his rock palace, The Paradise.

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My Opinion:

This movie started getting a bunch of attention this year for its 40th anniversary and I’d never even heard of it before then. When I read reviews and saw that it was some weird sort of “rock opera horror” directed by Brian De Palma and starring the great Rainbow Connection Paul Williams and that it, basically, may be responsible for giving us DAFT PUNK… Well, I had to see it! I can’t believe I’d never even heard of this now-cult-classic before. Apparently, though, it was a major flop at the time everywhere other than Paris and for some reason Winnipeg, where they worship this film and have organized Phantompalooza. I’m not sure why the movie is suddenly getting so much attention but I suppose that it’s probably down to Thomas Bangalter and Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo (Daft Punk) declaring their love for it when collaborating with Paul Williams for their Random Access Memories album. Having watched it now, it’s obvious what a huge influence it had on them. Check out William Finley as the Phantom in the title:

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I finally saw this movie a couple of months ago and I still can’t quite decide if it’s a brilliant masterpiece or a big pile of shit. What a way to start a review, huh?! Maybe it’s just brilliantly horrible. Horribly brilliant? Either way, although I just called this a possible pile of shit, I’ll be giving it a 7.5/10 rating (so you can stop reading & just yell at me now, Brian). πŸ˜‰ I sort of feel the same way about this movie as I did about David Bowie’s The Man Who Fell To Earth. I know that, in a lot of ways, that movie was “bad” but I couldn’t help but be fascinated with it and it’s certainly one of the most memorable movies I’ve watched in the last couple of years and one I seem to come back to a lot when reviewing other movies that I liked yet can’t fully explain why. Phantom Of The Paradise was the same for me and totally worth being the only full price Blu-ray I’ve purchased for myself in ages, even if I WAS thinking to myself “what the fuck?!” the entire time I was watching it.

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Phantom Of The Paradise is a combination of The Phantom Of The Opera (obviously), Faust, and The Picture Of Dorian Gray. I’m not sure why it never achieved the success of two other similar films that both came out a year later – Tommy and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It certainly feels a lot more ambitious than either of those, which I suppose may have been the problem? There’s a lot going on in Phantom and it maybe tries to be too many things at once. The other two aren’t really any less strange than Phantom, though. Unfortunately, the biggest problem may just be that the songs aren’t as good. Sorry, Paul Williams! I think you’re awesome and I love what you did with Daft Punk and Rainbow Connection is my favorite Muppets song. But, unlike in Tommy or Rocky Horror, there’s nothing really memorable in this when it comes to the music other than maybe the main ballad which is pretty but not exactly catchy like Time Warp or even Pinball Wizard.

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I suppose I was a little upset that I was left unsure of how I felt about this movie once it finished as I’d hyped it up in my mind to possibly be some kind of undiscovered gem that I’d absolutely love. Well, there ARE things I really liked about it. Images such as the one above are what helped to convince me to watch this. The band is known as The Undeads, which is their third and best incarnation in the film as they keep changing their style to suit whatever record producer Swan (Paul Williams) thinks the public wants. This is in contrast to composer Winslow Leach, played by William Finley, who cares only about the music itself instead of fame and who (obviously) ends up the “Phantom” of the film. Paul Williams’ Swan is an evil & greedy record producer and owner of “The Paradise” concert hall. Williams is great as some sort of satanic little brother to David Cassidy. Check him out:

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The best thing about this film is the main story between Williams’ Swan & Finley’s The Phantom. I loved the cause of The Phantom’s disfigurement and, of course, THE scene that is clearly the one that turned those lightbulbs on above Daft Punk’s heads. (Slight spoiler but not really if you know Phantom Of The Opera): The Phantom’s vocal chords have been destroyed along with his face so he not only needs to wear the strange silver helmet but also must use an electronic voice-box to talk (and sing). I wish I could find a clip of the scene to share here but can only find some images:

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I should also give a quick mention to Jessica Harper, of Suspiria fame, who plays The Phantom’s muse Γ  la The Phantom Of The Opera and Gerrit Graham as a camp glam rocker. Both were really good in two fairly big roles and the below shower scene was pretty cool:

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Summary:

I know this review was far longer than my usual reviews but if I’ve talked at least ONE person into checking out this movie, I’ll be very happy. Is it good? Is it shit? I’m honestly still not sure. I’ve said it a few times recently but these are the types of films that actually make me want to run a movie blog. I’ll always watch & review loads of mainstream films but they rarely excite me in the same sort of way that the more “unusual” or artistic films do. I’d rather watch something extremely memorable like this than just another cookie cutter film made with a profit in mind. The main theme (of many) in Phantom Of The Paradise is timeless – art over profit. We need more Phantoms in this world but, unfortunately, there will always be more Swans.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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You know I have to end this with Touch, the Daft Punk/Paul Williams collaboration on Random Access Memories: πŸ™‚