“John Dies at the End” review: A demented, dimension-hopping good time

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Some films are easy to review. You assess the director’s presentation of the story, note the highs and lows of the cast’s performances, offer some critique of the writing, set pieces, or any other standout elements of the film, and then call it a day.

“John Dies At The End” is not that sort of film.

Like “Naked Lunch” or “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” before it, “John Dies At The End” is a weird, wild, and wonderfully unique film that defies just about every convention that critics – and traditional media – throw at it. And while that’s usually a recipe for disaster, “John Dies At The End” somehow manages to make all of its disparate elements work together into a fun, crazy adventure that carries you along for the ride instead of making its audience feel perpetually left behind.

Directed by Don Coscarelli (“Bubba Ho-Tep,” “Phantasm”) and based on Jason Pargin’s trippy horror novel of the same name (published under his pseudonym David Wong), “John Dies At The End” follows a pair of slackers whose experience with a new drug called “soy sauce” reveals the existence of an interdimensional invasion occurring all around them. As they get caught up in thwarting the invasion, the drug’s effects on time and space push them into confrontations with all manner of strange creatures and leave them uncertain of what’s real and what is simply another hallucination.

The film stars Chase Williamson as protagonist and narrator David Wong, and a similarly unfamiliar face, Rob Mayes, as David’s stoner pal, John. Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, and Doug Jones highlight a short list of well-known actors who appear throughout the film in a variety of appropriately weird roles.

Not having read Pargin’s 2007 novel, I can’t speak to Coscarelli’s faithfulness to the source material, but given the surreal nature of the story, “John Dies At The End” deserves praise for somehow finding the linear narrative in what could’ve been a terribly messy, tangled adaptation. Instead of falling apart into a series of weird, sci-fi vignettes, “John Dies At The End” manages to constantly move forward with the story it’s telling – even when it seems like a plot point or timeline has veered off into tangent territory.

Coscarelli’s knack for putting an unsettling, sinister spin on just about any type of scene – one of the hallmarks of his “Phantasm” films – gets a heavy workout in “John Dies At The End,” as there’s rarely any certainty about what’s real and what Dave and John have unintentionally conjured from their drug-addled, reality-warping subconscious. Still, there’s an underlying sense that the pair are taming the drug as the adventure progresses, and by the end of the film the ratio of chemically-induced terror to chemically-induced heroism (a twisted, non-traditional sort of heroism, but heroism all the same) gradually shifts into their favor. It’s a subtle transition that could’ve been easily overdone – or even not done at all – but Coscarelli does a nice job of turning his aimless slackers into our dimension’s best hope for survival.

Williamson and Mayes both offer up great performances in their respective roles, with Williamson playing off Giamatti particularly well during their scenes together. Neither Giamatti nor Brown (or Jones, for that matter) have particularly meaty roles in the film, but Coscarelli puts them to good use providing a big dose of flavor to scenes that might otherwise be a little dry. The entire cast, in fact, seems to find just right the balance in their performances to sell the over-the-top weirdness going on around them.

Still, despite all of the diverging, mingling, and meandering timelines that constitute the narrative of “John Dies At The End,” the story being told in the film still manages to stay on a linear course that separates it from many other failed adaptations of unconventional stories. There’s no shortage of mash-ups out there that try to blend elements of horror, sci-fi, and black comedy – often with a heavy dose of the surreal to lubricate the mix – but few of them manage to pull it off with any success.

“John Dies At The End” is a great example of what can happen when a writer and director’s vision syncs up with that of the author of something very unique, and very special. Only time will tell if “John Dies At The End” will achieve as similar a level of under-the-radar success as Coscarelli’s “Bubba Ho-Tep,” but it’s hard not to believe the film is well on its way to becoming a cult classic.

“John Dies At The End” hits theaters in limited release Friday, January 25. The film is directed by Don Coscarelli, and is based on a book of the same name by Jason Pargin (written under the pseudonym David Wong).

Whats Eating Gilbert Grape

Depp Gets Real

10 Times Johnny Depp Was Great Without Makeup

Catch IFC's Nightmare on Elm Street movie marathon Friday, November 20th starting at 6P ET/PT.

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Photo credit: Everett Digital

Ever since Johnny Depp reached teen idol status as a pretty boy cop on the late ’80s TV show 21 Jump Street, he’s made a career of seeking out film roles that he could disappear into. In most of his career-defining films — like Edward Scissorhands, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the Pirates of Caribbean series — Depp has proven to be one quirky chameleon. For his fans that may have forgotten what he actually looks and sounds like, here are 10 times Johnny Depp was great without makeup.

10. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Depp was one of the sleep-deprived teens in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, and his character isn’t remembered for rocking a half shirt or being sufficiently freaked out by Freddy. Depp, who played the boyfriend to Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy, is remembered for being killed in glorious, horror film fashion. As Freddy’s glove springs through his bed, Depp awakens to get sucked in before blood shoots out at the ceiling like a geyser. Depp played a part in one of the greatest moments from the Nightmare on Elm Street series, except for once the other guy in the scene was buried underneath makeup.

9. Platoon

In another pre-21 Jump Street role before he became a household name, a young Depp was cast as “Gator” Lerner, one of the members of the platoon in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War classic. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role, which Stone cut down to be even smaller, Depp proved he could blend into an ensemble. It was one of the few times a Johnny Depp performance could be described as “subtle.”

8. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

After wowing audiences by believably portraying an outsider with scissors for hands and a knack for landscaping in Edward Scissorhands, Depp began a string of acclaimed dramatic roles in the early ’90s. Unlike quirkfests like Benny & Joon and Don Juan DeMarco, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape allowed Depp to play a relatable, not-so-out-of-the-ordinary twentysomething meandering through everyday life. In a movie where Leonardo DiCaprio received the lion’s share of the acclaim for his quirky portrayal of the always dirty, mentally challenged Arnie Grape, Depp gave a noteworthy, understated performance in the titular role that sets the tone for this highly likeable film.

7. Donnie Brasco

In this acclaimed crime thriller, Johnny Depp had his own undercover cop Serpico role that pitted him against the legendary Al Pacino in some highly charged dramatic moments. Depp’s character is based on the real life Joe Pistone, an undercover FBI agent who infiltrates the Mob. If you’re going to be playing someone who learns the ropes of the gangster life, you can’t do better than Pacino, and the duo have genuine chemistry. Depp’s Donnie Brasco battles his own conscience and allegiances as he loses himself in the Mafia world.

6. Chocolat

As Jason Segel’s character in I Love You Man said, it’s hard to argue that the cinematic bon bon Chocolat is “just delightful.” There’s a sweet (pun intended) tone to this adult fairytale of a film, and both Depp and Juliette Binoche play off each other well. Their flirty scenes fit the sweetness that Binoche’s chocolate shop begins to bring to the repressed French town she arrives in with her daughter. In Chocolat, Depp puts on the European charm as a suave traveler who falls for the effortlessly beautiful Binoche and for once he doesn’t chew scenery like so much delicious chocolate, er, “chocolat.”

5. Secret Window

In Secret Window, which is based on a Stephen King novella, all Johnny Depp plays a disturbed writer holed up in a remote cabin. Like Misery, Secret Window has the brand of psychological thrills that we’ve come to expect from King. Depp’s Mort Rainey is accosted by a stranger, played by John Turturro, who claims he stole his manuscript. It is Turturro who plays it creepy with the over-the-top accent, but by the end of this thriller the audience is taken on a ride into Depp’s own madness. Secret Window is classic King, and proof that Depp is due for a return to psychological horror.

4. Dead Man

Depp gives an understated performance in Jim Jarmusch’s moody Western where for once he’s the one reacting to the quirky characters. (It’s hard to be the “head quirk” in a film boasting cameos from Crispin Glover, Iggy Pop and Billy Bob Thornton.) An underrated film in Depp’s canon, and a good showcase for his deadpan comedic timing.

3. Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Once Upon a Time in Mexico is the final movie in the Robert Rodriguez-directed El Mariachi trilogy, and it lives up to the over-the-top action, gunfire and general baddassery of its predecessors. Johnny Depp’s CIA agent character Sheldon Sands steals every scene he’s in, creating one of his funniest and most likeably devious performances. You can’t take your eyes off of Depp, as his character becomes more entertaining after losing his.

2. Ed Wood

Even Depp’s most hardcore detractors have to admit that he gave one his funniest and richest performances as Z-movie director Ed Wood. In one of his least mannered and overtly “quirky” collaborations with director Tim Burton, Depp puts his stamp on a real person without creating an over-the-top caricature. His scenes with Martin Landau, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of horror icon Bela Lugosi, are some of the best work Depp has done in his long career.

1. Finding Neverland

After his comically on-point role in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Depp brilliantly took on as opposite a part as he could the following year, portraying famed Scottish author and playwright J.M. Barrie in this acclaimed drama. If you’re looking for the definitive great Depp performance where he’s not relying on make-up or a cartoonish wig to help bring his character to life, you’ve found it. (Even his Scottish accent is understated here.) Depp seamlessly embodies the Peter Pan creator with childlike imagination, as he forms a bond with Kate Winslet’s Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four sons. The chemistry between Depp and Freddie Highmore, as the real life Peter, is so heartwarming, even Captain’s Hook and Sparrow would get emotional in the scene where the two sit on a bench as Barrie comforts the boy after the loss of his mother.


Goon Squads

The 9 Most Unruly Hockey Teams in Movie History

Get on the ice when Benders premieres Thursday, Oct. 1st at 10P on IFC.

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There are heartwarming sports movies, and then there are hockey movies. Unlike the glossy nostalgia of The Natural, or the goofy shenanigans of Space Jam, hockey movies tend to have a bit more edge. And by edge, we mean crazed dudes kicking the crap out of each other. Here are some big screen hockey teams who left it all out on the ice, along with a decent amount of blood.

9. Thunder Bay Bombers, Youngblood

If Roadhouse proved anything, it’s that you don’t mess with Swayze and walk away with your throat inside your neck. But that didn’t stop the bad guy Bombers, whose goon-in-chief Carl Racki hit the dirty dancer so hard they had to put a plate in his head.

8. Monroeville Zombies, Zack and Miri Make a Porno

They may not be pros, but the rec league Zombies sure knew how to bring the pain. Particularly their goalie, who had the helpful habit of skating out and attacking opposing players.

7. The Annapolis Angels, H-E Double Hockey Sticks

When one thinks of Disney hockey movies from the ’90s, the first thing that comes to mind is always…H-E Double Hockey Sticks? Well, maybe not the first thing, but this ragtag group of underdogs also deserves a place in our hearts. They might not be as famous as The Mighty Ducks, but they did use their skills on the ice to save Matthew Lawrence’s soul from Satan in the form of Rhea Perlman from Cheers. Seriously. This is a movie that happened.

6. Lansing Ice Wolves, Tooth Fairy

The only thing more intense than the hits Ice Wolves star Derek Thompson (Dwayne Johnson) laid on opposing players are the life lessons he learned after becoming a real life Tooth Fairy. Sure, the rest of his teammates weren’t the most fully fleshed out lot, but The Rock is like ten men in one, so that’s an unruly team right there.

5. The “Saturday Game” team from Mystery, Alaska

This team of rowdy townies aren’t afraid to bang the mayor’s wife or shoot a guy in the foot. What do you expect when your leader is Russell Crowe? Mediocre pub rock and a phone to the head. Okay, I guess he does that too.

4. The Nuggets, MVP: Most Valuable Primate

The Nuggets exploited a loophole in the junior hockey league bylaws which didn’t expressly state that chimps can’t play hockey. You’d think that would’ve been implied, though.

3. The Mighty Ducks from The Mighty Ducks franchise

The Ducks stole pucks and hearts over the course of three hit ’90s movies thanks to the mighty fists of Fulton Reed, the superior goalie skills of Goldberg and the, uh, getting a DUI and being forced to coach a pee-wee hockey team abilities of Emilio Estevez.

2. The Halifax Highlanders, Goon

The Highlanders recruit a Masshole bouncer to crack heads in a movie that’s basically Road House on ice. Who says Canadians are nice?

1. The Charlestown Chiefs, Slap Shot

Glasses-wearing goons The Hanson Brothers brought The Chiefs to the championship by spilling a lot of blood on the ice.



SAW, Shawnee Smith, 2004. ph: Greg Gayne/©Lionsgate/courtesy Everett Collection

Saw's Death Traps

The Creepiest Death Traps From the Saw Movies

See Jigsaw's creepiest traps.

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The deathtraps featured in the Saw movies are basically what would happen if Rube Goldberg and Hellraiser had a demon hell child. Jigsaw (and his assistants) build devices of such staggering complexity that it’s a wonder what they could actually accomplish if they used their skills for good instead of for ironic punishment.

Before you catch the Saw movie marathon on IFC, check out the most creepiest traps from each movie which, of course, are very NSFW unless you work for Jigsaw.

1. The Reverse Bear Trap, Saw

The Reverse Bear Trap was the most visually distinctive contraption of the original movie and set the macabre template for the rest of the series. A large metal machine is connected to the victim’s face. If they fail the test, powerful motors will open their jaw to a truly fatal degree. It basically takes all of our dental surgery fears to a horrifying new level.

2. The Razor Box, Saw II

The Razor Box presents a serious dilemma: A poisoned victim sees a clear box containing an antidote. But if they reach in to grab it, razors cut into their arms. Just a few seconds of examination would have revealed the trap’s key on top of the box. It turns out that when you’re locked in a filthy pit of death traps by a lunatic, the most obvious solution completely goes out the window.

3. Amanda’s Test, Saw III

Amanda survives the Reverse Bear Trap from the first movie and goes on to work with Jigsaw. (And you thought your job interview was bad.) Unfortunately it turns out that most people building death traps don’t actually want their victims to survive. When Amanda shoots someone rather than releasing them from a shotgun collar, Jigsaw explains that that was Amanda’s test. Just after manipulating his other apprentice into shooting her in the neck.

4. See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Saw IV

Two men wake up wearing collars chained to a winding cylinder. One has his eyes sewn shut, the other his mouth, so they’re not really in a condition to take a calm look at the situation. The result is a perfectly brutal tragedy of miscommunication and mutilation.

5. The Fatal Five Teamwork Traps, Saw V

Five victims face a series of traps which can be non-lethally solved with the power of teamwork. (Jigsaw could’ve had a great side career as a corporate trainer.) Unfortunately for the five (then four, then three…) they compete with and kill each other until the final test, where they have to sacrifice a total of ten pints of blood to escape. With only two people left, it doesn’t go well.

6. Breathing Room, Saw VI

A health insurance executive and his company’s heavy-smoker janitor are locked into crushing vices connected to breathing masks. The more they breathe, the tighter the vices close, until only one survives. We’ll be honest; we love this because someone specifically built it so that the “breathing room” pun isn’t the most painful aspect.

7. The Love Triangle, Saw 3D: The Final Chapter

The many Saw sequels meant that Jigsaw and his cohorts had to get even more creative to keep their deathtraps fresh. The Love Triangle took things into the outside world by sticking three actual bodies in a mall display full of actual saws. How did Jigsaw install a murder machine and three actual living humans in a public display booth without being caught? And where is Batman when you need him? Jigsaw is really approaching Joker territory here.


Sweatpants 4 Ever

5 Great Moments in Sweatpants History

Spend Thanksgiving in sweatpants with IFC's Sweatsgiving Weekend.

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Photo Credit: United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

Ah, sweatpants. They give us so much and ask for so little. Before you pull out your sweats for IFC’s Sweatsgiving weekend, take a moment to remember some iconic moments in sweatpants history.

5. Regina George wears sweatpants in public, Mean Girls

Regina George Mean Girls

Head “mean girl” Regina George discovers the wonderfully elastic qualities of sweatpants after gaining weight from the Kalteen bars Cady gave her.

4. Meg Ryan watches TV in sweatpants, Sleepless in Seattle

Everett Collection

Everett Collection

In the ultimate meta movie moment, Meg Ryan watches TV on the couch in sweatpants while scarfing on popcorn. This process would be repeated a million times over in the real world with every Meg Ryan movie ever made.

3. Johnny Depp hangs out in sweats, A Nightmare on Elm Street

Johnny Depp A Nightmare on Elm Street

Johnny Depp burst onto the movie scene in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, forever immortalizing the sweatpants and a half-shirt look. And then he was never heard from again. Whatever happened to that guy? Be sure to catch his one and only film when A Nightmare on Elm Street airs Friday, November 27th during IFC’s Sweatsgiving weekend.

2. Rocky jogs through Philly, Rocky franchise

Rocky Balboa

Robert “Rocky” Balboa brought sweatpants into movie history thanks to his triumphant training montage in Rocky. The sweatpants returned in Rocky II and Rocky Balboa, hopefully thoroughly washed.

1. That time you hung out in sweatpants and watched awesome shows and movies, IFC’s Sweatsgiving Weekend

What better way to spend Thanksgiving weekend than in your sweatpants while watching your favorite IFC shows and hit movies? All weekend long starting Thanksgiving day, IFC is airing marathons of That ’70s Show and Todd Margaret. Plus, you can scare off the calories with Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist and Resident Evil movie marathons. And since you’re spending the weekend on the couch, be sure to tweet or Instagram a selfie while watching IFC with the hashtag #IFCSweatsgiving and you’ll be entered to win a sweet pair of IFC pants. Because if history has taught us anything, it’s that you can never have too many pairs of comfy pants.

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