Quint has seen Don Coscarelli's John Dies At The End! Sundance 2012!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I’m running out of steam as I write this, having been up for about 20 hours on about 2 ½ hours of sleep and I have to be up in a few hours for interviews. So, forgive any hallucinations, bad grammar, typos, brain farts, incomplete sentences and other related signs of complete mental and physical exhaustion.
John Dies At The End was one of my most anticipated movies of the festival. I loved the book by David Wong and I’ve been a fan of Don Coscarelli’s since I saw Phantasm II on cable as a youngster. If you’ve seen Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-tep and know anything about the book you’d realize the director is a perfect match for the material.
The short description is this is a story about a substance called Soy Sauce, a very scarce drug that opens your mind to the point that you can see things only the most perceptive could catch out of the corner of their eye, know things you have no business knowing (how many grains of rice are on a plate in a Chinese restaurant, where that rice was grown, the nickname of the farmer who harvested it, for example). Sounds rad, right? The problem is you can’t choose to take this drug, the drug has to choose you and in this film we see the drug choose two quasi-loser best friends Dave and John played by newcomers Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes.
So begins a ride through their first exposure to this drug, which results in death, telepathic communication, a badass dog sidekick, a meat monster, an evil white gangsta kid, flying mustaches, phone calls from the past, present and future and inter-dimensional travel.
The story is framed as Williamson’s Wong (a white kid who legally changed his name to make it harder to be found since Wong is the most common surname in the world) recounts this epic story to a feature reporter played by Paul Giamatti, with flashbacks and flashforwards as he slowly wins over the skeptical reporter.
Coscarelli’s visual style is evident from the very first frame, which you can see in the trailer featuring Williamson hacking away at a corpse in the snow. The man knows how to squeeze a lot from a low budget and the first half of the movie rockets out of the gate. It’s hilarious, kinda creepy and always surprising. Like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas type crazy shit happens.
About halfway through the story becomes a little more complex and a bit more muddled, but Williamson and Mayes are so damn likeable and the world Coscarelli has built is so detailed and fun that you’re along for the ride.
The whole cast is great. Giamatti is… well, Giamatti. His work is effortless and striking, nailing every emotional beat laid out for him. Fear, contempt, pleasant surprise, hope, doubt… everything plays across his face without any seeming effort on his part. Clancy Brown plays Marconi, a celebrity psychic that can actually work real powers. Glynn Turman (the teacher from Gremlins and... well, the teacher from Super 8) is a cop obsessed with hunting down Dave and John in order to find out more about Soy Sauce. You also get small appearances by Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man himself), Doug Jones and Daniel Roebuck (Arzt from Lost!).
Lots of great character actors in there all turning in great work, but it really does rest on the shoulders of Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes who are superstars in the making. You’re going to see a ton from these guys in the future. They’re very funny and very natural. I never saw them “act” which I’ve seen a bit at this festival. Williamson in particular impressed me. I mean, the dude holds his own sitting across from Giamatti for huge heaping chunks of dialogue and is also able to sell internal monologue dialogue without it sounding cheap and cheesy.
There are lots of practical effects in the film and some digital ones towards the end that look a bit unfinished. Things get really crazy by the time the finale rolls around and I think the ambition might have exceeded the budget for these sequences, but no matter if the focus is Chase Williamson alone on a couch or Williamson and Mayes challenging a Lovecraftian villain that would give Guillermo del Toro a stiffy there’s always a sense of fun.
Brian Tyler’s score and Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography deserve some praise as well. I’ve liked Tyler’s work since Six String Samurai and his John Dies at the End score is rock solid. Gioulakis’ work is sharp, with deep blacks. He captures some really great stuff in the film, locking in the tone instantly and consistently.
I think with a few tweaks in the second half and maybe a little bit more money thrown into the digital effects you end up with a near flawless genre picture, an instant cult classic. It’s a unique film, mixing weird drug imagery with bizarre supernatural imagery all wrapped up in a comedic tone.
Very excited to see who picks this one up! Here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it yet:
Hope that read alright. I should be able to catch up on a few reviews tomorrow including Rodrigo Cortez’s Red Lights, quirky rom-com Save the Date and Mary Elizabeth Winstead alcoholism drama Smashed.
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Jan. 24, 2012, 4:58 a.m. CST
The book is a bag of crap but it has the potential to be a great film.
Jan. 24, 2012, 5:08 a.m. CST
by Simon Butler
Total rubbish from cover to cover... True it will probably become a cult movie, but the book came across as stoner drivel.
Jan. 24, 2012, 5:20 a.m. CST
...the book is brilliant. Sucks to be you!
Jan. 24, 2012, 5:32 a.m. CST
I've read better and funnier books. However it did have good concepts and ideas but I just didn't feel they were fully realised. Also I didn't like the episodic nature of the book (although I forgive it this as it was written this way). The character of John wasn't as crazy and funny as we were told he was on every other page either. The absolute best bit in the book was the hotdog conversation.
Jan. 24, 2012, 5:47 a.m. CST
by Papa CaveDweller
Seriously. Looks awesome. Can't wait to see tin.
Jan. 24, 2012, 6:18 a.m. CST
thought bubba hotep was great.
Jan. 24, 2012, 6:25 a.m. CST
by Human Tornado
These kids should have a shot at playing Kaneda and Tetsuo.
Jan. 24, 2012, 6:26 a.m. CST
I had no idea that Coscarelli was still making movies. But I loved Phantasm back in the day. I hope this movie gets wide release.
Jan. 24, 2012, 6:54 a.m. CST
Can't say it enough
Jan. 24, 2012, 7:11 a.m. CST
I haven't read the book, but by the looks of the trailer ... it looks God awful.
Jan. 24, 2012, 7:12 a.m. CST
Jan. 24, 2012, 7:33 a.m. CST
Jan. 24, 2012, 7:40 a.m. CST
didn't deliver anything genuine scary or funny. However, if this movie making 150 mil is what it takes to get Phantasm 5(I didn't even know Scrimm was in this and still you know, capable of walking) made then maybe I'll buy a ticket.
Jan. 24, 2012, 7:42 a.m. CST
So much so that when I found out David Wong was the chief editor of Cracked.com, I sent him an email saying how much I enjoyed the book and congrats on selling the rights for a film. I even got a very nice reply from him the same day. From that review, my fears on the movie have been at the very least calmed if not quashed. And to those that didn't like the book, your right it is your opinion. Your wrong, but it's ok to be wrong ;)
Jan. 24, 2012, 7:48 a.m. CST
Jan. 24, 2012, 9:07 a.m. CST
Jan. 24, 2012, 10:28 a.m. CST
Does nobody fucking proof read anymore?
Jan. 24, 2012, 11:42 a.m. CST
I'd really like a wrap up Phantasm movie And it needs to be done soon Angus Scrimm is 85 and not looking so well these days
Jan. 24, 2012, 12:08 p.m. CST
-- but it seems it has a real "made-up-as-we-went-along" vibe to it.
Jan. 24, 2012, 12:11 p.m. CST
by Anthony Torchia
I am glad it doesn't suck, Bubba Ho-Tep didn't work for me, although the guy I saw it with loved it. I love the trailer and hope I can see this with a girl on my arm (or in my lap)
Jan. 24, 2012, 12:24 p.m. CST
BUBBA and INCIDENT ON AND OFF A MOUNTAIN ROAD are both excellent. He should direct another Lansdale adaptation and make it a trilogy.
Jan. 24, 2012, 1:40 p.m. CST
So, forgive any hallucinations, bad grammar, typos, brain farts, incomplete sentences and other related signs of complete mental and physical exhaustion.
Jan. 24, 2012, 1:43 p.m. CST
Quint said... So, forgive any hallucinations, bad grammar, typos, brain farts, incomplete sentences and other related signs of complete mental and physical exhaustion. Dude, this is AICN. We're used to that by now.
Jan. 24, 2012, 1:55 p.m. CST
by Lummox JR
...is a musical genius. I was already prepared to love this movie to death before I found out he scored it.
Jan. 24, 2012, 9:55 p.m. CST
Please tell me that scene survived.
Jan. 25, 2012, 7:01 a.m. CST
I struggled through it, it definitely has a made up as it goes along feel - But I think it was, it was a blog before no? It had a soggy middle that picked up at the end - and I left it thinking a film would potentially really tie it up nicely, especially a Don Coscarelli film -I'm sure if Wong was writing it as a novel it would have been a bit tidier. I'm also getting that vibe from the later game of Thrones books.
Jan. 25, 2012, 10:31 a.m. CST
Yes the book was written as a "blog" (before that term was coined so it was more like a web correspondence back in the day) and he updated it Weekly while he was at his job. That is why the first half is so all over the place and is written with clear breaks in the chapters. It wasn't until after the Vegas part(that better be in the fucking movie) that he actually got time and some cash to sit down and write the last half of the book, and you can tell since there is a tonal shift to it.
Oct. 6, 2012, 9:05 a.m. CST
by dr geek
why did they feel the need to turn two unattractive losers into douchey hipster types for the film? One of the main appeals of the book is the two main guys are average people we geeks can relate to. Oh well. Gotta sell tickets I guess.
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