Sunday, January 21, 2018

Vulgar (2002) and Movies Where the Directors Also Act

The most important role in any movie isn’t the star that is in it.  A star might be the selling point.  They are the face of the movie that the producers use to get butts in theater seats or eyes on television screens.  But the actor is usually just a tool for telling the story.  They are used to play the character.  The most important part of a movie is actually the director, who makes sure that everything comes together.  They make sure that everyone else brings the scene to life.  They take what was on paper and translate it into something that can be recorded for later viewing.

There are times, however, when directors feel that keeping a movie afloat might not be enough for them.  They want an even bigger part in making the movie, and take on another role.  It might be editor, writer, or some other technical role.  Many times they go in front of the screen.  Some directors choose to direct their own performances.  They give themselves roles in the movie so that they can be both behind the camera and in front of it.

The Sunday “Bad” Movies has featured many movies where the director was one of the performers in their work.  Not all of the instances were as big as the others.  Sometimes there were multiple directors on the movie, and other times the acting role was a simple cameo.  For the sake of what will be covered, those examples will be left out.  The only movies that will be covered will include the director having a significant role in the film.  Let’s begin with this week’s movie.
Kevin Smith’s film universe, also known as the View Askewniverse, grew when his friend Bryan Johnson directed Vulgar.  IMDb says that it came out in 2000, but looking at the release dates, it was really released in 2002.  It was Johnson’s first and, to date, only directorial effort.  Will Carlson (Brian O’Halloran) was a clown who worked children’s birthday parties.  He wasn’t making as much money as he had hoped and tried to think of a new way to boost his income.  He came up with the idea of being a joke stripper for bachelor parties, coming in before the stripper as a cross-dressing clown.  This got him into hot water when his first customers gang raped him.  The rest of the movie was about Will dealing with what had happened to him.

The story of Vulgar was promising, dealing with what a victim goes through after experiencing a violent act.  The way that Will dealt with things felt realistic, though having not experienced anything like that, I wouldn’t know for sure.  He was angry at the world and didn’t care about himself anymore.  He was trying to come to terms with the fact that there are people in the world doing terrible things like this.  That was all good.  The execution of getting that from the page to the screen was where Vulgar fell apart.  The performances were underwhelming in most cases.  The cinematography, though decently enough framed, didn’t give off any look to make the movie appear to be more than shot on video.  I don’t know if it was shot on video, but it had that feel.  The direction seemed unable to nail down a specific tone to the movie, trying to be darkly comedic and horrific, but not blending the two.

The direction and acting came together with Bryan Johnson.  Not only was he directing a movie for the first time, but he gave himself a decent sized role as Will’s friend Syd Gilbert.  Syd was the voice of reason.  He told Will that the bachelor party idea was bad.  He was there for Will after the rape.  He tried to keep Will from going off the rails.  Johnson himself was a passable actor.  He wasn’t terrible in the movie.  The problem was that it was his first directed project and it may have been too much for him to do a good job in either role.  He didn’t have the experience to both direct and star, which brought everything down a notch.
The Room
How could this one not come up?  Everyone knows the story of how The Room got made by now.  Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau were two actor friends who moved to Los Angeles together.  Greg found some small success while nobody would hire Tommy.  He decided to make his own future by writing a script.  That script ended up being The Room.

Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) was a man in love with his fiancée Lisa (Juliette Danielle).  She began cheating on Johnny with his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero).  Johnny found out and decided to confront his fiancée and best friend.  In the end, he was torn up and went into a fit of rage, not dissimilar to one that was featured in Vulgar.

There’s a reason that nobody wanted to hire Tommy Wiseau.  He directed a terrible movie and gave a terrible performance in it.  There were no redeeming qualities to any of the work that he put in.  This one might not have been a case where it was too much work for him to be both the director and, in this case, the lead actor.  Wiseau couldn’t do either of them.  The movie that came out of it was a disaster, hence the book and movie about the making of it being called The Disaster Artist.  It was easy to see that he wanted to make something great.  His heart was on the screen.  He opened himself up to audiences.  But he’s not good.  He’s just not good.
The Single Moms Club
Tyler Perry is a fairly well known director.  His work finds an audience that most mainstream movies don’t target.  He’s got a solid following for his Atlanta based work, which has led to some great success.  Most notably, his Madea series of films, which see him star as the Madea character, have lasted longer than the time it takes many studios to reboot their franchises.  The Spider-Man franchise has been rebooted twice since the first Madea movie was released.  That’s how well his movies do.

The Single Moms Club wasn’t a part of the Madea franchise.  Tyler Perry still gave himself a role within the movie, though.  He played the prospective romantic interest of one of the mothers.  Out of all of the movies being covered, this one might be the best performance.  He doesn’t take away from the movie, nor does he add anything.  He’s there, as any actor would be in that role.  The experience that Tyler Perry has after doing so many films has given him enough skill to know what he has to do in his own movie.  He has not become an exceptional director, but he knows how to perform.  He has become a better performer than director at this point.
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead
Lloyd Kaufman has shown up in a lot of Troma movies.  In many cases, he was a talking head introducing a movie that they picked up.  In the case of Poultrygeist, he was one of the characters in the movie.  He was an important character, helping to shape the story of Arby (Jason Yachanin).

Arby was in love with Wendy (Kate Graham).  She broke up with him, so he got a job at American Chicken Bunker.  Everything was going okay, aside from the protest against slaughtering animals that was happening outside, until the chicken being served came back to life and began attacking the patrons.  Everyone’s lives were in danger from the zombified chicken.  There were songs, scares, and sexual acts.  It was a Troma movie.

Lloyd Kaufman has never been a good actor.  He has shown up in a lot of stuff (including Guardians of the Galaxy), but none of it has been for his talent.  The reason he has been cast in so many movies is because he’s Lloyd Kaufman.  He’s a patron of low budget, typically horror movies.  He helped the careers of many filmmakers and they repay the favour by letting him have a small role in the other stuff they work on.  The one redeeming quality of any of his performances is that Lloyd Kaufman is always having fun.  He was having fun in Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, which made it easier to overlook his poor acting.  It’s like most bad movies.  If it isn’t going to be well done, at least make it fun.
Dead Before Dawn 3D
April Mullen directed the first stereoscopic 3D movie that was a completely Canadian production.  That movie was a horror movie about a group of friends who fought off zombie demons while succumbing one by one to the virus.  It was called Dead Before Dawn 3D, and she also played one of the college aged friends trying to survive the outbreak.

The problem that most people have with the movie falls upon its script.  The problems aren’t about the direction or the acting, which are both fairly solid.  April Mullen learned how to be both the overseer of a movie and one of the performers through her career up to the release of the movie and it showed.  It might not be the greatest movie to ever be put to screen, but it’s a fun enough horror comedy that was weakened by the writing.
Fateful Findings and Double Down
Closing out the list of actor/directors is this double feature from the mind of Neil Breen.  The guy isn’t really good at any of the aspects that go into making a movie, but has somehow managed to carve out a career for himself.  He’s like Tommy Wiseau, though much less entertaining.  Instead of putting his heart into the script, he tries to come up with deep thoughts and ideas that get lost somewhere along the way.

Breen directed both Fateful Findings and Double Down.  They’re two vastly different movies.  Fateful Findings was about an author using his hacking skills to reveal the secrets of the government and the world’s corporations.  Double Down was about a hacker going up against the government.  Okay, maybe they’re more similar than I remember.  In each movie, the character ended up believing he had supernatural powers.

Neil Breen cannot act.  Neil Breen cannot direct.  Neil Breen cannot write.  This is apparent in both of the movies.  He runs, screams, and gives unintelligible voiceover.  The worst part of it all is that no emotion comes through the screen.  There were attempts to make things sad or suspenseful, but they fell flat in both the direction and the performance.  Neil Breen might be the most unsuited to any of the things that he wanted to do.
There have been many movies featured in the Sunday “Bad” Movies that had directors wanting to perform in their own work.  About half of the time, that seems to work out fine.  The other half, it falls completely flat and the movies are worse for it.  Perhaps the directors can’t handle the two jobs.  Sometimes they’re just terrible actors and it takes people out of the movies.  Other times, they’re bad at both jobs and shouldn’t be doing either.  Whatever the case, it happens.  Movies have directors taking on acting roles.

Vulgar was a movie that at least felt promising.  The execution might not have been great, but there was the potential within Bryan Johnson’s work to improve and make something better.  That never happened.  It has been fifteen years, and he has not directed another movie since.  It would have been nice to see him blossom into a solid director, churning out movies like Vulgar, but better.  More experienced.  That would have been something.

The directors that seem to be best at directing their own performances tend to be directors that come from an acting background.  Ben Affleck and Clint Eastwood are two that come to mind.  Knowing how to perform can help when performing in something that they direct.  But they need to be able to do both jobs.  The acting is important when trying to sell the movie.  The directing is more important because it keeps everything together.  If they can’t do both, they have nothing.
I’m not ending this post on nothing.  I’m ending it on these notes:

  • Vulgar was suggested by @FranchiseFred, who also suggested Officer Downe.
  • A few movies were mentioned in this post.  They were The Room, The Single Moms Club, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, Dead Before Dawn 3D, Fateful Findings, and Double Down.
  • Ethan Suplee had an important role in Vulgar.  He was previously in Rise of the Zombies, which was covered for the sixteenth week of the Sunday “Bad” Movies.
  • The lead actor in Vulgar was Brian O’Halloran, who had a small part in The Happening, the movie that was covered in week 185.
  • Finally, Scott Mosier had a bit role in Vulgar.  He had a small role in the week 209 movie, Free Birds.
  • Have you seen Vulgar?  What do you think of acting and directing in the same movie?  Let me know in the comments.
  • You can find me on Twitter if you want to talk bad movies or suggest something for the Sunday “Bad” Movies.  The comments are a good place to do that as well.
  • Sometimes when I’m watching bad movies, I share clips through my snapchat (jurassicgriffin).  Add me if you’re interested.
  • Next week is a big week for the Sunday “Bad” Movies.  It’s one of those franchise weeks.  I will be checking out the first three spin-off movies to the Air Bud series.  That’s right.  Air Buddies, Snow Buddies, and Space Buddies will be coming up next week for the Sunday “Bad” Movies.  Come back then to see what I have to say about that trio.

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