Crimson Peak

October 20, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

Period piece horror films are very hard to pull off. First you have to pull off the period piece. Everyone has to look like they come from that period, and they have to sound like they do. The mannerisms, the demeanor, all have to line up. Then, it has to have horror elements, atmosphere, and mood. If you can pull these off simultaneously, it’s quite an achievement.

As hard as Guillermo Del Toro works to execute this, the film falls short. I did believe the period, and I did believe the atmosphere. That is helped by a handsome cast including Jim Beaver who can always belong to the turn of the 20th century, rounded out by Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska. It looks like it should work, but something didn’t for me. The first thing I can point to, is when the horror elements are introduced for the first time. The CGI, to put it bluntly, simply clashes with the sets. Told in flashback, Edith Cushing (Wasikowska), tells the story of when she was a girl, was visited by the ghost of her mother. Her mother, who looks like a cross between a creature from “Pan’s Labyrinth” and the smoke monster from “Lost”, warns her about “Crimson Peak”, a mysterious place we know nothing about. This all should have the makings of a fun spooky horror film. But because the ghost is so obviously computer generated, and so unconvincing as a “scary ghost”, I was already out of the mindset necessary to enjoy the film.

It somewhat started to pull me back in with the introduction of Thomas Sharpe, played by Hiddleston, who is always a joy to watch. Sharpe is a young inventor of affluent means trying to persuade Edith’s(who is now grown up) father Carter (Beaver) to invest in a clay mining machine. I was a bit curious as to the idea of clay needing to be mined so much as to warrant a machine–but it’s a moot point, since Sharpe can’t really get it to work. He had tried in other parts of the world, and failed. So, Carter turns him down. Carter, who is a successful but “blue collar” businessman, is not endeared to Sharpe, especially because his daughter soon becomes so. A family friend, Dr. McMichael (Charlie Hunnan), also does not particularly trust Sharpe. It’s not just because of Sharpe coming from across the pond to introduce such a strange machine–but his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), is a bit strange and glowers whilst playing piano to entertain everyone in one scene.

But, Edith does fall in love with Thomas and she goes with him to England to live in his mansion, which is on top of a very large amount of clay. And, because the mansion is ancient, it has a typical horror movie gothic look. You already know it’s going to creak and leak and most likely be haunted.

The ghosts haunting this mansion frighten Edith, trying to persuade her to leave. These ghosts, like the ghost of her mother, are also computer generated and not at all frightening. They look a little creepy, and the hollow screams are sometimes chilling–but still, the film never made me feel “a part” of its world.

Edith begins to discover some dark secrets pertaining to Thomas and the mansion, and his sister–and the plot unfolds so transparently that you figure out what’s going to happen very quickly. But the film’s pace is so slow and plodding that it is almost like Del Toro thinks you won’t figure it out. If that’s the case, it’s a miscalculation at best. Insulting at worst.

Also, Chastain’s performance of Lucille is so over the top and obnoxious that it clangs like the seemingly collapsing house. The film’s climax, too, is very gory to an unnecessary degree, and feels like it belongs to another film.

Most of the other performances are good, especially Hiddleston who plays off of Chastain’s overindulgence well. Mia Wasikowska also is a credible and sympathetic character. But the structure of the film just doesn’t work very well, and in the end it feels very empty.

Guillermo Del Toro is a very gifted filmmaker, and a good storyteller as well. Perhaps they all got caught up in trying to tell a gothic romantic horror story, and forgot to actually show us one.

My rating: :(

The Lords of Salem

April 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

Rob Zombie’s first major feature film, “House of 1,000 Corpses”, was a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, it was an homage to the grindhouse 70’s horror era, and on the other, it was a drummed up feature length music video. It had some individual style to it, and it definitely marked Zombie as an intriguing filmmaker. Above all, it tried to be entertaining, not taking itself too seriously and having a little bit of fun with its macabre sense of humor. Then came “The Devil’s Rejects” which was, in a way, a sequel to “House”. Much bloodier, much more realistic, with more of a purpose. Though also flawed, Zombie showed a growth and maturity as a filmmaker, and it looked as though he was poised to take over the horror genre himself.

With the “Halloween” remake, he took a bit of a step back–however, he still proved he had the chops to make a good film. He made the “Halloween” film his own, and although the backstory he provided for Michael Myers was a bit predictable and thin, the climactic scenes in the film’s ending were extremely intense and nail-biting.

Since the “Halloween” sequel, and now with “The Lords of Salem”, I’m feeling doubts on Zombie’s film career. There’s no doubt that Zombie is a competent director. He has a visual style that’s appealing for horror fans and seems to truly get what the genre is about. But he hasn’t proven himself to be enough of a storyteller to pull off a film that can really be considered one of the “great” horror films. But maybe I’m putting a little too much pressure on him.

The film has an intriguing premise: a radio DJ (played amiably by Sheri Moon Zombie) receives a strange package from a group called “the Lords” and her and one of her co-hosts plays the record (which plays backward). Somehow it has a strange affect on her, and she starts having visions and strange dreams and can’t sleep. Meanwhile her landlord begins to take more of an interest in her, and an unrented room (apartment 5) starts to draw the DJ, named Heidi, into it. One of the show’s guests, a Salem historian named Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison), also takes interest in “the Lords”, which is revealed to be a coven of witches from the 17th century in Salem, that were burned at the stake. Straying from the idea that Salem witches were actually just innocent women, Zombie illustrates quite graphically that these witches were truly horrific Satan worshipping disciples.

There isn’t much else of a plot, however, after that set up. Much of the film’s third act simply is one long dream sequence that flaunts a lot of strange symbolism and imagery, some of which is startling, some is creepy; but some of it is also downright silly. And because Zombie never really sets up characters or conflict or an actual narrative arc, the film doesn’t serve much of a purpose except to try and shock you with its grotesque style. While that can work for a short film, this film begins to feel very long at the hour long mark–and at that time, you still have forty more minutes to go.

So, where does Rob Zombie go from here? I would hope he could recapture some of his sense of humor he showed in his first two films. This film takes itself too seriously. There’s no fun, or satire, or tongue in cheek moments. It’s a waste of an appearance by Ken Foree, who can usually effort a fun performance when given the chance. The film is just very drab, and very stale, and most of the imagery isn’t anything we haven’t seen from Zombie before. I hope he can return to form, which was still in development, at “The Devil’s Rejects”. I think he could use either a screenwriter, or some screenwriting lessons, however.

When Zombie was developing his idea for this film, he was on record as describing it as: “Salem radio station, blah blah blah, music.” Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to develop it past that.

My rating: :?


June 12, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

In 1979, we were introduced to a new kind of alien monster that we had never seen before in the movies. We were always used to aliens either looking like the “little green men” in flying saucers that were popularized in the 50’s, or possibly something tentacled. But in Ridley Scott’s alien horror film simply titled “Alien”, we saw a new kind of monster. It was terrifying, but also mesmerizing. This kind of alien wasn’t necessarily an “intelligent life form” like us; it was more like an insect. And it was simply a killing machine. The film spawned an entire franchise that had its ups and downs (mostly downs) and was finally put to sleep a few years back.

Then, someone had an idea. Ridley Scott admits that this new film, “Prometheus”, is somewhat of a prequel to “Alien”, but not entirely. I think that there’s enough evidence (especially at the end) that gives us an idea that it’s at least a companion piece. It begins mysteriously on an unknown planet with an unknown being that resembles humans disrobing and drinking some kind of sludge from what looks kind of like a petri dish. The being immediately begins convulsing and his status takes a horrible turn for the worse as he plummets into the nearby sea. In the distance there’s a giant ship just hovering above.

The hypnotic beauty and terror of that scene sets the stage for one of the most striking visual experiences you’ll have in modern film–after all, this is Ridley Scott, the same man who brought us visual masterpieces like “Blade Runner”. What’s lacking, however, is a good cast of characters and breadth of story to back it all up.

We’re soon introduced to two archaeologists in 2089, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) who, while on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, find some artwork from ancient civilizations that match up to others and think that this is an invitation to go find them. I don’t know why, but it’s comforting to me to know that the Isle of Skye is still going to be here in 2089. Fast forward a few years, and we’re on the Prometheus, an all-too-obvious name for the symbol of what this movie tries to be about. We’re then introduced to one of the more interesting characters (albeit inexplicably devious) named David, the resident android (played extremely well by Michael Fassbender). Besides the captain of the ship, Janek (played charismatically by Idris Elba), the other characters are mere throwaways–fodder for the upcoming monsters to gorge upon. The real disappointment is Meredith Vickers played by Charlize Theron. She’s icy, almost robotic (and at one point accused of being one), and she’s skeptical. But we never get a good idea why she is the way she is except for maybe a hint toward the end. She works for the company, the Weyland Corporation, that has funded the project. The owner, Peter Weyland (played under bad old man makeup by Guy Pearce), believes in the archaeologists and wants to find these ancient civilizations. But, like in all the “Alien” movies, his motives may not synch up to the good-natured intentions of Shaw and Holloway.

Once they land, the film really gets going and it isn’t too long before stupid crew members play around with things they shouldn’t and all hell breaks loose. This is where the film is at its best–Scott may be getting up there in age, but he still knows how to build tension, and create wildly chaotic scenes that are admirable in the way they push visual horror. The creatures they discover are incredibly hostile and certainly resemble the “xenomorph” structure we’re used to in the “Alien” franchise. There’s also the humanoid “Engineers” who speak in a different language, and we’re never really sure what their true motivation is. But they are hostile toward the humans, and seem to want to go to Earth and bring their slimy friends with them.

The mysterious qualities of the film are where it is most interesting. You can ask yourself a lot of questions about these creatures and what their relationship is to us. But what bogs this film down are the cliched ancillary characters, the predictability of the plot once it starts going, and even a clunky third act that gives you a few “Is it over?” moments that may make you shift in your seat. Be sure to stick around, though, because you certainly don’t want to miss the last scene.

As a monster movie, the film is pitch perfect. It has all of the ingredients of a thriller and it delivers on that. But as a philosophical movie about aliens, other worlds, ancient civilizations, the meaning of it all, it just gets lost in a lot of goo, gore, and derivative dialog. I wish the screenwriters (Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts) would’ve spent a little more time developing a more interesting plot and characters with more depth rather than try to mesh sci-fi mumbo jumbo with quippy one-note characters. Holloway’s character starts off with promise but quickly devolves into an alpha-male meathead. The “geologist” who looks like a futuristic cyberpunk is downright cartoonish. Even our “hero”, Shaw, is somewhat bland (Rapace is no Weaver). Comparatively, ”Sunshine”, which also featured a sci-fi space exploration crew, at least had more interesting and likable characters.

All of this makes for a good movie experience, but not a great one. I’ve heard there is more to this film that was cut for the initial release, and that there are plans for more films in this series. What I’d like to see is this lead up to a full on reboot of the “Alien” franchise to give it new life the way “Star Trek” did a few years ago. This “alien” can easily be given a fresh story and still be entertaining. With the right filmmakers and writers and cast, I think it could work. As it stands now, though, there’s a lot of work to be done.

My rating: :-)

The Cabin in the Woods

April 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

As a fan of the horror genre, I’m always intrigued by any filmmaker who sets out to tear down the genre and build it back up. Wes Craven achieved this with “Scream” back in the late 90’s, a film that was released during a desperate era for the genre, when it had been bled completely dry (pun intended) by the saturation of slasher franchises such as “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. We were starved for something new, and “Scream” provided a fresh but somewhat all-too-hip alternative to the routine slasher genre. It turned it on its head by being more self aware, while still telling a decent story and having a fun twist at the end.

Now that we’ve been inundated with remakes and “found footage” movies left and right, perhaps it’s time for another shot in the arm. That’s at least what Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon set out to do with “The Cabin in the Woods”.

But this movie may be one of the biggest miscalculations of a genre critique I’ve ever seen. Any fan of these types of movies should see right through the criticisms of Goddard and Whedon fairly quickly. And then we are left with a very arrogant, cynical, and extremely self-serving horror comedy that neither chills nor amuses.

First misstep: the characters are too bland and irritatingly stock to be made into funny caricatures mocking what we usually find in these kinds of films. We have the dumb blond, the jock, the quiet smart guy, the homely (but insanely beautiful) down to earth girl, and of course…the stoner who turns out to be right about everything. I guess Whedon wanted him to be the “audience”, catching onto every little inconsistency in a horror story. He’s played quite nauseatingly by Fran Kranz. I hope I never have to see this actor in another film in my life.

The second misstep can only be described while describing the plot: take a couple of kids and have them go to a cabin in the woods (because it’s the jock’s cousin’s), and then as the story progresses, illustrate that these kids are part of a scheme by oddly button down suits who are part of some cult that sacrifices people for ancient gods that will destroy the earth if the sacrifices are not executed (ahem). Did I just ruin the surprise for you? I don’t think I did, but even if I did, I did you a favor.

The idea is that these suits are going to control what happens to the kids at the cabin. They display all kinds of creepy things you find in these types of places. Creepy dolls, creepy paintings (which came the closest to actually scaring me), and of course…Pandora’s Box. So the kids actually raise the dead and the suits then try to make sure the kids die one by one until the sacrifice is complete.

I actually liked the premise of this film because it would give you a chance to make fun of the standard horror “cabin in the woods” story while still telling a bigger story with the real horror being that if these stereotypical things don’t happen, we all die. Unfortunately, Whedon and Goddard are far too interested in being cute and clever that once we’re let in on the joke, they’re already telling you how funny it is.

I think in a horror comedy, you have a very thin line to walk. You don’t want to be too jokey, because it becomes self aware and then you take the fun out of it. But you do still want to scare people. I think one of the best examples of when it works is the original “Fright Night”. Another would be “Evil Dead 2”. I can even point to Whedon’s introduction into the genre with his own “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. But here, this is beyond self-aware. This is purely self-congratulatory. Whedon and Goddard want you to know how cool they are by throwing in a ton of horror film references (everything from “Hellraiser” to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to “Night of the Living Dead” to “Aliens”) and how great it is that they are being critical of bad horror films that are full of cliches and bad dialog.

However, in their attempt to mock the genre, they simply just come off as snobs as far as I’m concerned. I’ll be honest–I love bad horror films. I love the stereotypes, the cliches. Why? Because these films aren’t meant to be film classics. They’re meant to be drive-in fodder. An excuse to put your hand around your date’s shoulder and make a move. In many cases, these films mock themselves already enough and become parodies of themselves to the point where “The Cabin in the Woods” is the equivalent of the NYU film school grad sitting in a showing of “Friday the 13th” and telling you how adolescent it is.

We get it, guys. How about instead of wasting time telling me what I already know, make your own film fun and entertaining? “Cabin in the Woods” has its own problems, too. Logically some of the steps these guys take to sacrifice people don’t make sense, and sometimes they’re too convoluted if the end result is supposed to be death for the ancient gods. Why would you give anyone a chance of surviving if it means the end of the world for all of us? Which by the way, leads to a very anticlimactic ending. All the while I kept thinking…what is really at stake for any of these characters? Can we really believe the world will end if these kids aren’t killed? What’s at stake for the kids is far more relevant and credible, and yet we already know what has to happen with them so there is no tension going into the third act of the film.

I wanted to like this movie and appreciate the level of detail that Whedon and Goddard took with the horror genre. If they didn’t try so hard to manipulate me so much, maybe I would’ve actually enjoyed it.

My rating: :(

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

August 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

Look out, Hollywood! The apes are back! But where’s Estella Warren? Hm? Where are you?? She’s gone…it’s all gone. It’s all been re-booted. In the totally original genre called “re-booting” franchises that was handled with brilliance like in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (which would have been a hated movie by me if I could have just stayed awake throughout it)…or wait, I think that was just a remake. This is a true re-boot. It’s like “Star Trek”; except, it’s different. There’s no Captain Kirk, for one thing.

So let me tell you the plot because it’s OMG so totally WeSoMEZZ (I just made that up; think it can become a meme?)

It’s about this guy (James Franco, who holds a record of being miscast in films; I think his streak is up to 5 now or something) who wants to treat his dad (the Harry-less John Lithgow, who trades Sasquatch for a chimp) for Alzheimer’s disease by creating a retrovirus called “113” and tests it on apes. The result? The chimps have a heightened intelligence. This is pretty amazing, of course. But it doesn’t impress his boss, played as standard as possible by David Oyelowo (say that five times fast! starting…now!), and so the project is scrapped. Well, there is a test subject that he takes home with him, named Caesar (named after the dressing), and this is no ordinary chimp–it’s a CGI! (Chimp Graphic Interface). Forgive the cheap joke.

Well, Caesar is quite limber and intelligent, and the film spends a few reels showing something that’s very akin to cut-scenes in a video game as we see Caesar grow up and become more intelligent; meanwhile, Dear Old Dad is given a dose of the medicine as well, and it actually works. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last forever…and he replases eventually. Meanwhile, the guy, Will, develops a relationship with a doctor named…oh…you know? I don’t remember. Why? Because she serves no purpose other than to say a few things to Will about how careful he should be. And they kiss at some point. Finally! The film lapses through about 8 years–this girl knows how to hold out.

Also, Caesar starts to really emo out. He gets lonely and sad, and wonders if he’s just considered a pet (which he is), and winds up taking out his self-loathing on a neighbor (who gets a few shots taken at him…but not enough payoff). He is sent to a little…monkey prison, where he is tormented by Draco Malfoy (well, Tom Felton, the guy who played him) to the point where Emo Caesar starts to really get peeved. He befriends the apes in the prison, and they basically break out and wreak havoc.

And that’s actually where this movie is so disappointing! Here you’ve got a pretty entertaining premise, and Andy Serkis is so good as a CGI actor that he’s basically a human special effect…possibly the best ever. But they go so by the book, standard, garden variety, no violence and no real tension…it’s not that it’s boring, it’s just that it’s so sterile! This movie could have had a lot of fun with itself, or gone the complete opposite direction and make it a real bloodbath. Apes just killing and pillaging and whatnot.

Instead, the movie feels like some kind of weird kid’s movie, which is confusing because kids would probably be scared to death of these chimps once they turn, and I gotta believe zoos better be aware that kids need to be told that A) the chimps in the zoo are not computer generated and B) not going to suddenly go America all over your ass.

Yes, the apes hold our attention more than the cardboard cut out human characters; but they’re also given very formulaic personalities that never really lets them breathe…so we get something that could be maybe enjoyed at a Drive-In; but it could have been a really fun movie if it wasn’t so Studio-tweaked.

I wanted to have fun with the movie; but it just didn’t let you in. It looks good, the CGI is well used, and the emo factor is fantastic–all Caesar is missing are the bangs. And maybe a Twitter account. But this movie just doesn’t explore any of the amazing possibilities (like Apes using Twitter) that it had, so we’re left with a very banal and standard action film that’s so synthetic that we can’t connect with any of it.

I can only hope the sequels do something more; but I highly doubt that’ll happen.

Maybe they could at least use LinkedIn though…

My rating: :(

A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)

May 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Michael Bay has quickly become the equivalent of a 1st Grade Elementary School Level Producer of Remakes. And even then, I’m probably giving him too much credit because at least a 1st Grade production of something has charm and innocence, something his “remakes” lack. While he’s not the filmmaker, he is the money guy and the one who usually puts these together. But along with “Friday the 13th” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “A Nightmare On Elm Street” joins the clothesline of butchered projects that are coincidentally slasher remakes.

It’s not that this film is necessarily bad. The acting is fine, the visuals are well done, and the make-up is credible. It’s just incredibly bland. And I think that’s actually worse than something being bad. I’ve seen plenty of bad movies. Some of them are just bad. Like “Pulse” (not the 80’s thriller, but the awful 2006 film–which was a remake, too, but not of the 80’s thriller), or “Boogeyman”. Then there are films that actually are charmingly bad, like “Final Destination 3” or “Troll 2”. The remakes of “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare On Elm Street” fall into the former, rather than the latter. They’re literally ghosts of what made the originals classics. While those two movies created bloated franchises that became unoriginal and trashy, the originals still resonate today as being legendary horror films.

This film strays a bit from the original, too. And I’m not sure why. They’ve made Freddy more of a pedophile/stalker than a child murderer, which was what he was in the original “Nightmare on Elm Street”. But the film does nothing with this revelation. There’s absolutely no personality to this Freddy. He’s seething, angry, armed with his knife fingers and a bass amplified “scary” voice. But he has no value whatsoever. Part of what made Freddy endearing was his sense of humor about being so diabolical and sickeningly evil. He was a charismatic villain. This Freddy is a real glum one. He is also a pervert. Who wants to see that? It just doesn’t fit.

There’s nothing really of value in this film. People get slashed up, there’s blood. There are a few moments of “suspense” climaxing into a burst of orchestral hits and loud noises that’s supposed to pass for “thrills and chills”. But this is an empty funhouse. Wes Craven was not involved in this remake, unlike “Last House on the Left”, and I think they really missed out on letting him at least be a consultant. After all, it’s his movie. I find it interesting that a good portion of his catalog has been remade. I don’t know how I’d feel about that if I were him.

Like Zombie’s unfortunate “Halloween” remake sequel (I did like the first one), there’s no ambition or creativity at all in this film. It’s there, and it’s got some spooky imagery. But it doesn’t do anything for me at all. I think Jackie Earle Haley (Freddy) is a really good actor. But he was given nothing in this script to really do anything with. He’s a monster, but he has no personality.

So, Michael Bay I guess will keep on churning these things out. My advice is to recognize that every one of his movies looks the same, and every one of his movies will feel the same. Empty.

My rating: :(

The Wolf Man

February 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Out of all the movie monsters we’ve been subjected to throughout the history of Hollywood, I still think the wolf man is one of the most haunting and frightening, and engaging. There’s something mysterious and horrifying about a wolf man for some reason. Lon Chaney, Jr. perfected the look and feel of what a wolf man would have to suffer and live through back in the 1941 film. In this day and age, with the advent of CGI, the question would be: can you have a synthetic wolf man FEEL real?

I think back to the two “Hulk” movies that were made in the past decade. It’s practically the same story, and both borrow from “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” anyway. The problem with both movies, though less of a problem in the latter film, was that the Hulk wasn’t played by a person. It was a CGI construction. While the second film presented a more realistic and poignant version of the Hulk, you could still tell it was computer animation, and not a person (“Avatar” suffered from this flaw, as well). I was afraid that this film would present the same issue.

However, the only time that the wolf man is all CGI is when he’s bounding around on all fours, which does look unrealistic. But sometimes you do have to ask yourself: am I really of the knowledge of how fast a wolf man can travel? Do I know any wolf men? Am I a wolf man?

CGI is also used during the transformation scenes–but they look great. I still think that the best transformation scene of any werewolf film occurred in “An American Werewolf in London”, but this one passes as well.

As for the story, it’s fairly run of the mill. It borrows a bit of the original story from the 1941 film, but there’s one little twist that’s different. You see it coming a mile away, though, so it’s not really all that effective. It involves a man, Lawrence Talbot (played by Benicio Del Toro) who returns to London after learning of his brother’s death (whom he only knew as a child) and meets his beautiful fiance, Gwen (Emily Blunt). Lawrence visits his father (Anthony Hopkins) who still lives in the castle that he raised the boys in. As the story progresses, details about his brother’s death (and his mother’s years prior) start to unfold and Lawrence’s life becomes ultimately more complicated when he is bitten by a werewolf one evening.

The performances by all four leads – Del Toro, Hopkins, Blunt, and Hugo Weaving as an inspector from Scotland Yard, are all top class. Hopkins just revels in seeing his son suffer, and Del Toro’s expression never strays from anguish and despair.

This film bounced around release dates for a while, and was pushed back several times. Typically this means the movie will be rubbish. But in this case, I still think it’s a solid film even if the character development is lacking and the relationship between Gwen and Lawrence is contrived (they share one moment skipping rocks and suddenly they’re in love)–the film still works. And the wolf man design is pretty terrifying. It’s loyal to the original design, and doesn’t look cartoonish.

It’s interesting that it was released on Valentine’s Day weekend. In a strange way, I guess you could call this a romantic movie.

Werewolves can be sexy too, no? Why do vampires get all the fun?

My rating: :-)


October 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

“When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”

That’s the famous line from George Romero’s classic horror satire “Dawn of the Dead”. I’m guessing hell isn’t full–or, that guy was totally wrong. There’s no such thing as zombies. Right?

Well, in the last few years, we’ve been introduced to a new kind of zombie. Richard Roeper, God’s gift to film criticism and wonderful hair, once stated that he likes this new angle of zombies–basically, the “this ain’t your daddy’s zombie!” attitude. Let’s make them fast and furious! But wait–were these zombies, that were “created” in “28 Days Later”–really zombies? I’ve had this debate so many times it makes *me* brain dead. No, they’re not zombies! At least, they’re not zombies in the Romero sense. They’re functioning people, they’re just “infected.” This worked in “28 Days Later” because like “Dawn of the Dead” and most of the “Dead” series, this was a social commentary rather than a straight up zombie movie.

The remake of “Dawn of the Dead” was a straight up zombie movie–and it got the idea all wrong, as fun as the movie was.

But here, in “Zombieland”, it kind of crosses the themes. We have people that are “infected” with some kind of virus that began with someone eating a rotten hamburger somewhere (I guess they had to come up with something…) and so they are somehow blood thirsty and want to eat people–you’d think they’d just have a hunger for lousy hamburgers, and just raid McDonald’s–but they’re also…zombies. They look dead, they have rings around their eyes, their mouths are full of disgusting ooze, and when they’re not rampaging, they’re making strange jerky motions that’s somewhere in between the zombies in “Night of the Living Dead” and Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”. In fact, in a way, you could say they look more like they’re possessed than “infected”.

But “Zombieland” is not really about plot. The movie is only about 81 minutes, so it gives you as thin a narrative as possible: a kid with many phobias is teamed up with an alpha male who loves Dale Earnhardt, and twinkies (inside joke about male sexuality/security? you decide), go on the road and wind up with two attractive and manipulative females and all of them end up being chased by zombies, and killing a lot of them.

There is also a very funny cameo by a great actor of our time–probably one of the greatest. And there’s a tie-in with the twinkie, for a moment.

So, the question is–does “Zombieland” work? Well, you have to look at it from this stand point to really understand what it’s getting at–do you find zombie killing funny? I don’t know that anyone’s really broached that before, not in a clear and crisp way. There always seems to be some kind of social satire muddled in the mix, and we have to wonder if we’re laughing at zombies, or ourselves.

Well, rest assured–there is no question here. The zombie killing is pretty hilarious. And Woody Harrelson as Talahassee (everyone’s name in the film represents where they’re from; i.e., Columbus, who is the kid with phobias) provides a lot of laughs because of his comic ability as an actor. Not every joke works, and some seem forced. There’s also a twist in something we learn about Talahassee’s past that seemed a bit morbid, especially when the scenes surrounding it are comparatively more comical. The pace of the film is a bit off, as well–sometimes it seems like we’re learning too much about people that are essentially placed in an arcade game like “House of the Dead”, just knocking off zombie after zombie, trying to come up with the Kill of the Week (but an old lady and a piano make the top of that list). You’d think for a film so short that clunkiness wouldn’t be an issue; but at times, some of the scenes do actually seem as though they drag.

As for the rest of the performances, Emma Stone (Wichita) is emerging as a fine young actress, and pulls of manipulative sexy just as well as she can pull of sweet and sensitive. Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus) proves you can out-Michael Cera Michael Cera, and Abigail Breslin (Little Rock) is good as well but I still couldn’t take her seriously as a schemer. Mike White (“The Good Girl”, “Chuck and Buck”, “School of Rock”) also makes an amusing appearance as a gas station attendant.

Probably the funniest element of the film comes from Columbus’ rules of survival: Cardio (rule #1), Beware of Bathrooms (rule#2), Seatbelts (rule #3), and Double tap (rule#4) among others. Each rule is given an example, and each time he performs a rule, a caption for said rule appears somewhere on the screen. It’s charming in its own way (and somewhat of an homage to Max Brooks’ “The Zombie Survival Guide”) and eventually, as always, some rules are meant to be broken.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable movie. It’s almost like a cute, dolled up Troma film. There’s just enough heart and just not enough gore, but it’s a good way to…ahem…kill…an hour and a half of your time.

And it really gives  you a craving for a Hostess Twinkie.

My rating: :-)

Halloween II

August 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

When Rob Zombie came onto the horror film scene in 2003 with “House of 1,000 Corpses”, I welcomed him fairly warmly. His film, while a somewhat derivative send-up of 70’s gorefest Drive-In horror movies, was, at its heart, a fun movie. It didn’t take itself too seriously, and it gave a much needed jolt into a horror genre on life support. He created a film version of a Halloween funhouse: something that would give you chills, some laughs, and entertain you throughout. His cast was likable, and his skills as a filmmaker were more than competent.
When he followed that up with “The Devil’s Rejects”, I knew we had a filmmaker in this guy. He took what made “House” strong and made it even better, adding a more serious side to “Devil’s” that gave it a sense of reality, and it was not only gritty and horrific, but endearing as well. But how would he follow that up?
Well, I was hoping he’d continue his quest in original filmmaking, but instead he went the remake route. I had never been in favor of remaking any classic film, be it horror or otherwise. You should remake bad movies, not good ones, I always thought. But the fact that Zombie signed on to do a remake of “Halloween”, I was intrigued. Unlike many horror remakes, this guy at least has a clue and a purpose.
And unlike a lot of people, I actually enjoyed his take on “Halloween”. I looked at both movies differently, and appreciated both for what they were. But I felt Zombie had done his job, and needed to move on.
Hollywood thought otherwise. He apparently didn’t want to make a sequel, but I’m guessing the Weinstein brothers threw enough money at him for him to sign on, and now we have a sequel to a remake, which should instantly make your head explode due to the fact that this is the ultimate deadly sin in filmmaking, in my opinion. But what more could Zombie do?
Unfortunately, this is 105 minutes of proof that the answer is: Nothing. Zombie can blame the producers for forcing his hand (which I still have no sympathy for the guy for), but he did write the script, and the script is very banal. He wanted to create a portrait of insanity by having Laurie Strode increasingly become more like Michael, or at least–insane like him, not a murderer.
But instead of a character film we just get the same hackneyed, cliche’d slasher film all over again–and this time, even the kills aren’t interesting. Scout Taylor-Compton is probably one of the most irritating actresses I’ve seen in the last few years, and while I could look past my own bias in the last film, it really couldn’t be ignored in this one. The laughably extravagant dream sequences, the insistence on hillbilly victims, and the trite “symbolism” with the White Horse and Mother Myers with Young Michael imagery didn’t work and showed that either Zombie had nothing left in the tank, or he is losing his touch. I’m guessing it’s the former over the latter, but Zombie deserves to be torched for this film because it’s lazy filmmaking, and he has always struck me as anything but that, as an artist in general.
There are a few things that save this film from ultimate suckage, however. There is a death scene that actually moved me. I won’t give it away but it involves probably one of the only likable characters in the film. The death scene is far from cliche and I appreciated the sad piano music accompaniment, and the delicate way Zombie handled it. It was the only time I’ve ever been emotionally stirred in a slasher film, I think. I also liked the scenes involving Dr. Loomis that revealed him as a fraud to the public, such as appearing on a late night talk show in which he is *following* “Weird” Al Yankovic as a guest.
Other than that, though, it just seemed like Zombie didn’t have fun at all with this one. I was hoping he’d move on to his own films after this, but apparently he is going to take on “The Blob” next. I’m hoping he will at least get a little more creative with that one. This is the most unnecessary “Halloween” film since…well, I guess anything after the original could be considered unnecessary. But not since “The Revenge of Michael Myers” (Part 5) have I been this bored and uninterested with the franchise. At least Halloween Water had a few funny moments.

My rating: :(

The Blair Witch Project: 10 Years Later

July 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

It was sometime in late April of 1999 that I first heard about this film. At that time, it wasn’t really known as a “film”; it was just known as “footage”. A guy at work told me, “Dude, there’s this movie coming out and all it is is this found footage of these kids who try to find a witch.” I wonder if that is exactly the same way it was pitched by directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. Of course, the film was independently produced, and didn’t find a major distributor until Artisan Entertainment came along after it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The buzz was coming around, but I didn’t hear much more about the movie until later that spring, when it was getting a release in a few select cities.

At the time, I was living in the Greatest State Ever, Delaware (or was it the…first state ever?), and there was no luck finding a theatre that was showing it. But I had to see this film. Luckily one of the theatres that was showing it in its “limited release” was in Chicago, and I was visiting the ‘burbs there with my sister that week. It was on!

So, let me take you back a bit. Weeks prior to venturing off to the Windy City, I wanted to know more about the film. As much as I could. In 1999, Google and Yahoo! were in their primal states, and offered only a single review from the Sundance festival, and a link to the film’s home web site. I glanced at the review, not wanting to know too much. The review didn’t really give much away, except–it did somewhat give away the ending. And I didn’t want to read that part, so once it started to spoil things, I stopped reading. I found out later had I kept reading, the whole movie would have been blown for me.

Instead, I delved into the web site. It was unbelievable. These kids were really missing. There were photos of the abandoned car, there were missing photos of the kids. I tried looking them up on the internet, too, and nothing came up. Even on the Internet Movie Database, they were listed as “missing, presumed dead”. Was I actually going to see a movie in which the “footage” is real? And what about the ending?

Does it show them die? Or are they still missing?

As the days led up to the screening, I found myself more and more obsessed with this film. I even caught the Sci-Fi Channel special “The Curse of the Blair Witch” just to find out more about it. I tried looking up whatever I could about the Blair witch, but only found what I could through the web site.

Then, on July 14th, it was released. I saw it that Saturday night with my sister, my best friend and his girlfriend. I remember the trepidation as we sat down. My sister and I were clinging to the arms of our chairs throughout the whole film.

Nothing had ever affected me so deeply. The last scene had me shaken. And then it came.

The end credits.

It was written and directed by…? It was written? What was written? This was footage.

I was duped. I was an idiot. I should have just read the review in its entirety. Or I should have just done some more research. But I will admit, that website was pretty convincing. And through all the promotions, not a word was said about it being faked. You would think that at this time, I would’ve reacted like I did when I found out there was no Santa Claus (that’s another story for another day).

But, this film still haunted me. I not only had nightmares, I had sleep deprivation from seeing haunting images for weeks–I couldn’t shut my eyes. The first night I got back from vacation, the day before I had to work–I amassed one whole hour of sleep. It was the single most embarrassing thing to go into my parents’ bedroom and ask if I could sleep on their floor, just to fall asleep. Actually, it was just one of many hundreds of embarrassing moments in my life. But it was noteworthy!

I couldn’t believe how stupid I felt for not only being this scared by a movie, but being scared by a movie that pretty much tells you at the end that it’s fake! That’s like a magician allowing the two bodies to jump out of the “cut” casket, and prance around in front of you–and you still leave going, “I can’t believe he cut that girl in half!”

The feelings that I had for this movie were shared by only the people that saw it that weekend, it seemed. Once the movie got the big release, it was everyone’s job to destroy it. Everyone started to hate it. I was defending it, saying it was the most terrifying movie experience I’ve ever had. Most people just complained about the headaches they got afterward.

The movie, of course, destroyed the box office, making quite a nice mint for Artisan, and the directors (though I hear the actors got a bit…snubbed). The fallout wasn’t so great for the actors, either. They couldn’t get roles because of the fact that this movie made them icons. They were typecast without even having a type–and they weren’t supposed to be cast! The directors seemed to be fat with contentment over this film’s success that they didn’t even see through their “trilogy”, and handed the sequel off to someone else to direct.

And of course now, the movie just seems forgotten. Maybe it gets a mention here and there, and some people my age or a bit younger will still tell you how much it scared them or whatnot. But the fact is, what killed this movie was selling out. This movie could not be made now. There’s too much leakage on the internet, and there is almost no way to keep a secret in Hollywood anymore. Even the most confidential scripts seem to make it out somehow.

But, even in 1999, there were ways of finding this movie out. There just weren’t as many. If this film came out in 1989, I think it probably would have had an even better chance of duping people for a while longer. It could have been closer to what “Cannibal Holocaust” did.

Instead, we have a movie that, unless you bury it for a while and don’t think about it, really doesn’t leave resonance. If you know it’s fake now, and know all about the actors and what not, can you really dive into it with innocent eyes and believe what you’re seeing?

And that’s really what determines whether this is a good film or not, and it’s something the filmmakers should have considered. In their hastiness, I think they forgot to actually make a movie. There are still scenes that are amazingly well done, and I still love the “confession” scene, and the last scene is still breathtakingly sad and scary at the same time. But I don’t think this will go down as a classic horror film, because it’s incomplete as a horror film. The film itself does not set itself up except for the line, “One year later their footage was found.” We already know this isn’t footage, so I would think the first hour of the movie is just boring to a lot of people who don’t know (or care about) the backstory. And do we expect future generations, when they want to watch this film, to go to the web site to psych themselves out, watch “Curse of the Blair Witch” and then put on this film to watch? Too many accessories.

It’s really a shame. I will never forget how scared I was by this film; and I will never forgive myself for being so deceived. That was almost scarier than the movie itself.

…and yet, in some way…the damn thing still haunts me.

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