The New Hampshirian gents (principally Matt Farley and Charles Roxburgh) who made the indie b-movie, Freaky Farley and were nice enough to send me a copy of it and ask me to review it, have a new movie they were nice enough to do the same thing for. This one also exhibits their affection for alliteration with a--I'm not gonna lie here--stupider title, Monsters, Marriage and Murder in Manchvegas. However, dumb title notwithstanding, this movie is a definite improvement over Freaky Farley.
Whereas with Freaky Farley I was more trying to appreciate the positive aspects of what, to me anyway, was, at times, a disappointing production, in the case of M, M and M in M, I can say confidently that I found this film to be just plain enjoyable. Perhaps one of the main reasons is that, although a basic influence from b-movies is certainly evident, the movie doesn't forgo its own narrative and degenerate into a straightforward homage as Freaky Farley sort of did, heavily paying tribute to Silent Night, Deadly Night Part II. Granted, it may just seem this way to me because I haven't happened to see the films that they might've honored here (one movie, The Pit, gets a lot of mentions in one of the behind the scenes featurettes), but, regardless, MMMM comes off as being more interested in telling a story and not just being ridiculous for the sake of it.
But hold on. I should qualify that statement. I mean, surely you must wonder how I can claim a movie with a title like this one is not just being ridiculous for the sake of it. Well, I'm not saying it's not more than a bit ridiculous at times. The fact of the matter is that these guys love their b-movies and it's not as though they've totally shunned that which they so admire. There are still people in ramshackle monster costumes, there are still people talking in ways no one actually does (e.g., "Finally, my beverages are here!" when one character brings another a bottle of water), and there are songs that have lyrics which describe the current action taking place within the film. What I'm saying is that, within the world of all this ridiculousness, they've cobbled together a cohesive and decent plot.
Sharon Scalzo is contractually obligated to do a skinny dipping scene in each film.
Now I've made it clear before somewhere or other on the Internet that I'm not the biggest fan of schlock horror so my tastes and the tastes of the filmmakers are probably somewhat divergent, but what won me over with Manchvegas is that everything about it--the writing, the acting, the whole composition of the film--just exudes charm.
With the writing, it comes through in the dialogue which, as mentioned before, is rarely written to sound anywhere near how people really sound when they speak to one another. Instead, very often the characters come across a bit more like (and I'm going to assume this is deliberate) an inner monologue in a novel. Some choice examples: "Don't be trepidatious, Mrs. Newman," "This whole expedition appears to be increasingly ill-fated to me" and "As a finishing school girl, I have an appreciation for courtship rituals." While characters talking in this manner maybe isn't an outright joke (though there are a few of those as well), being a language nerd of sorts, lines such as these made me laugh out loud just because they're so far removed from anything you'd ever hear anybody say in reality.
The script complements the acting. As with the previous film, we're dealing with a lot of people who rarely or have never acted before, but, I don't know, this time it worked for me more than it did in Freaky Farley. Sure, it's hardly natural or realistic, but then neither is the script. To come back to the charm of it all, it feels almost like nearly everyone on the cast was told to play their character as innocent and naïve (or people from New Hampshire are just all really that nice) and, coupled with the wordy lines they're given and the film's setting, it works. Although the general niceness of many of the characters are qualities that I might hate if these were people I actually knew, here, what can I say, it's charming as all get out. And though the acting is certainly not of a professional caliber, if you accept that it's ensconced within all of this innocence, some of the emotions and behavior come across as quite genuine (leading lady Marie Dellicker seems to be especially good at this).
In other words, despite the fact that this is a work of fantasy and is pretty well saturated in absurdity, I found these characters believable. Also, maybe I'm nuts, but I think the actors in this film who were also featured in Freaky Farley have improved a wee bit since their last outing, with perhaps the exception of the guy who plays the police officer. But watching him constantly stumble over his lines, yet electing to just keep on truckin' all the same is amusing enough in itself for this to be forgivable. I also need to give special mention to John Gelinas who plays Kip because it seems as though he might actually kind of know how to act and, also, he's got an awesome voice. I hope they can put him in some bigger roles in their future productions.
Another reason to give the actors some respect is that (as is revealed in a special feature) most of their acting is the product of one take. Why? Because these guys are actually shooting on film. For those of you who aren't aware, film is hellishly expensive, not to mention laborious to work with and is why people funding their own film will, these days, generally choose to shoot on video. Again, charming! There really is something totally different about shooting on film that you don't get with video and having such dedication to the cinematic quality of the movie is something you don't expect from such a low-budget production and something that, these days, you can't even always expect from theatrical releases. The substantial amount of behind the scenes featurettes you get on the DVD touch on a lot of the struggles the crew encountered during the course of the film and drive home what a labor of love it is for these guys to make these movies. Stories about how nobody showed up one day so they improvised a chunk of the script on the spot, how a hurricane hit them another day, and how numerous actors dropped out of roles before they managed to fill them at the last moment make the whole thing that much more endearing.
Kevin McGee's part calls for him to eat a sandwich in 80% of the scenes in which he appears.
So, overall, this movie is hardly groundbreaking, but then who's expecting that? What it is, however, is competent and entertaining, which is a much harder thing to be than most people probably realize. The predominantly synth-based soundtrack is, well, basically bad and the film is fairly dialogue heavy and can be slow-moving at times, but, clocking in at around eighty minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome. Unlike Freaky Farley, which I felt went a bit off the deep end at some point (as my friend described it, it would've been a fine movie if it had ended about thirty minutes earlier), this one, despite the inclusion of monsters labeled with the utterly bizarre moniker of Gospercaps, remains mostly plausible, fun, and more or less on track plot-wise, perhaps with the exception of the sudden inclusion of a lesbian(?) interspecies romance between one of the female leads and a Gospercap. Speaking of Gospercaps, I feel I should also mention that it would appear that the filmmakers actually went the extra mile to pen a whole new (at least partial) Gospercap language, again highlighting how much care went into putting everything together. Oh, and this movie also has more hot girls in it than Freaky Farley did, which I think is something of a prerequisite when it comes to b-movies.
The thing that needs to be realized is that, when you're dealing with a film this low-budget with a willingness to be more than a bit silly, the main requirement is that you need to be open-minded. This is not a bad movie at all. In actuality, considering how many people set out to try and make films and fail miserably because they can't come close to grasping the basics of narrative structure, direction, or pacing, this movie is a seriously amazing feat. But the fact remains that if you're a person who needs a high budget or rapid editing or actors that you've been told are talented or a special selection from Sundance, there's no need for you to look into this movie. However, if you're somebody who is willing to give truly independent film a shot and can respect that these guys have made a movie that the majority of us are probably not ambitious, prolific, and/or talented enough to manage, I don't see why you shouldn't have a good time with Monsters, Marriage and Murder in Manchvegas.
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