The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Skull World

Every so often, a documentary comes along that introduces you to a uniquely quirky individual. Think Mark Borchardt in American Movie or Little Edie Beale in Grey Gardens. You can now add Greg Sommer to that list. Sommer is a Canadian man who lives his mother's basement, apparently has Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, enjoys heavy metal music, and occasionally partakes in recreational drug use. Imagine a thirtysomething, real-life version of Beavis and Butthead, and that's him. Sommer is the subject of Skull World, a pleasingly peculiar doc that focuses on the man's primary passion: cardboard.

For years, Sommers has been putting on a Halloween mask and calling himself Skull Man in a series of self-produced comedy videos. Under this guise, he is also a practitioner of something called Box Wars, in which participants make elaborate costumes out of cardboard, then beat the crap out of one another until the outfits fall apart. The game began in Australia, but he dedicated himself to advancing it in his native Canada. The movie follows him in this quest. With his ragtag band of co-conspirators, Sommer stages battles at schools and roller derby events, tries to launch his own TV show, and eventually makes his way Down Under to participate in the big Aussie event.

With his manic personality, headbanger fashion sense, and penchant for making abrupt, attention-getting proclamations, it would be easy to write Sommer off as a kook. That would be a mistake, though. Skull World shows that he is extremely dedicated to this activity. He has perfected a performance style, and he sees genuine artistry in Box Wars. Actually, it's hard not to. Some of the participants make impressively elaborate costumes and weapons. Oddball though it may seem, the scenes showing the battles are really fun. You sense the joy those taking part feel, and it's contagious. (Don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to join in.) I also liked the “little guy with a dream” aspect of the film. Skull World does a super job showing how Sommer works to spread his love for Box Wars, to turn it into something legitimate. Every battle is a chance to pique people's interest. There's something endearing about that.

Skull World was directed by Justin McConnell, a friend and business associate of Sommer's. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. On one hand, McConnell gets plenty of up close and personal footage of his subject and of the Box Wars themselves. (He even attaches a camera to his head and participates in an event.) On the other hand, he doesn't always ask the tough, probing questions a more detached documentarian might have. For example, McConnell at one point discovers that Sommers pre-writes many of the outrageous things he says, yet never confronts him about that. The same goes for Sommer's father, from whom he's estranged. We hear a brief phone call between the two and get the sense that the elder man's absence may fuel the son's determination, but the issue is quickly dropped.

No, it's not as psychologically in-depth as it could have been, but don't let that deter you from seeing this enjoyable, frequently funny film. Skull World still has plenty of details to revel in, as well as some awesomely crazy battle sequences. Greg Sommer is a guy you can't take your eyes off. He's sometimes obnoxious, sometimes charming, and always compelling. And I can tell you this: after seeing Skull World, you'll probably never look at cardboard the same way again.

( out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

Skull World hits Blu-Ray in a "Warrior Edition" that is packed with bonus features. You have a choice of two audio commentaries, the first from director Justin McConnell and Greg Sommer, the other from the Skull Man character himself.

There are twenty-one deleted scenes and seven extended scenes that give you even more insight into Skull Man and Box Wars. A premiere Q&A is also present, as are two music videos, a photo gallery, and several trailers. Last, but certainly not least, is the self-produced TV pilot for "Skull Man's Box Wars." All in all, the Blu-Ray is loaded, with the supplementary materials clocking in at four hours. It's an impressive package.

Skull World is unrated but contains adult language, drug use, and some sexual talk. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.

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