Monday, December 15, 2014

Whiplash - Review

Andrew (Miles Teller) is an anti-social, freshman student at the Shaffer Conservatory in NYC. His drumming skills impresses the school's Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), who inducts him into the jazz band as the drum alternate, only to then verbally and physically abuse him to achieve perfection in his craft, which causes Andrew to further spiral out of control. WHIPLASH is an excellent thriller, generating a dark tale of the artistic relationship between a conductor and his performer and an electrifying musical romp of the delirious sensation that is jazz. Making a huge splash at this year's Sundance, this is the feature-film directorial debut of Damien Chazelle, who clearly has a great future ahead in this business. The editing is impeccable, the cinematography is brilliantly scoped, the story keeps you on your toes, and of course the musical score and sound mixing is an overdrive of exhilarating fury. But what clearly makes the film a true watch is the acting; Teller taps into some dark areas to show off his character's disturbing personality and fierce prowess on the drums while the absolutely amazing Simmons exhibits a chess-like mind and charismatically despicable behavior. Though I do praise Chazelle's script for its twisty nature and focusing on why jazz is America, it relies heavily on crazy circumstances and melodramatic blowouts. Plus, despite a breathtaking ending, the cathartic release of the film's tension already happens at the end of Act Two, so the story has to quickly assembly another "have your cake" moment. Still, this is a great release and a true highlight of this year in film.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Hatefest 2014 - The Descendants: Here Comes the Payne

Over at one of my favorite movie websites, The Dissolve, a couple of us commenters decided to partake in a group feature in the comments section of every weekday's Read On, a daily page where interesting articles from other sites and further movie news are rounded up. It's called Hatefest 2014. The title says it all; each scheduled commenter lays out an essay on why a certain popular film drives them crazy.

Any visitor of my site will know that I have an immense dislike for Alexander Payne's The Descendants. Naturally, this was my pick. You can click here to see my essay on the site, with some pointed remarks from my fellow cinephiles, or you can just read on below.

HATEFEST 2014: The Descendants - Here Comes the Payne

It's common knowledge for a cinephile that there's nothing more painful to sit through than a bad comedy. I like to add a little addendum to the end of that: in a crowded theater. Seeing a heinous laugh-show at a screening where every seat is taken and you're forcibly pushed into your small seat, unable to even have control of the soda-holding armrests, is like being thrown into the snake pit of idiocracy. People bellowing away, clapping like seals, and pointing at the screen while you stew away in sheer contempt. But I'm not hear to recount the horrors of experiencing the likes of Date Movie, because I'm focusing instead on a product that packed a theater to the gills but then proceeded to give no soul the joy of cinema. Furthermore, it's a movie that broke my heart and pissed me off royally: The Descendants.

Some personal background: My beloved local art theater was lucky enough to start showing the feature in its second-week of its limited release. I was overjoyed at this good fortune; seeing Alexander Payne's first film in seven years weeks in advance means no winter trip to NYC and no scheduling troubles around Christmas time. I quickly made plans to see it with my father, who I had a special night of bonding with after watching Alexander Payne's previous film Sideways in theaters. We get there, find some seats in the back, wait for the rest of the theater to be filled up and the picture to start. "Fox Searchlight Pictures" comes up. There's a big studio audience laugh at a joke involving the middle finger. The joke repeats itself and the laugh is now a minor tremble. A couple of smirks and chuckles, here and there. Total silence. The movie reaches its final scenes and there's no sniffing or anything. The end credits pop up and everybody slowly starts to leave. We bolt as well and we see that our fellow exiting audience members largely had the same reaction as us and made Louis CK proud: no "That was hilarious/great!" but a lot of "Well, that happened."

So, what exactly do I loathe about The Descendants? I could just say that it's nothing more than a work vacation for its cast and crew and possesses a story overfilled with white people problems but there's more to it than that. I have issues in every department of production but my biggest problem is with its award-winning screenplay, written by Payne and former Groundlings/TV stars Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. This isn't a black comedy like Payne's earlier and far better efforts nor is it straight-up certified Oscar bait. It's a dramedy sitcom pilot, a dreadful one at that, stretched out to two hours. It throws out a bunch of swearing from cute faces to incite some relief and delivers a Caligula-like fisting up your ass in order for you to feel its emotions.

Now with my full tank of hate and a few glances at the original novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, let's go through this travesty.

The movie kicks itself off with something very rare to see as an opening: an "in memory." It's a closeup shot of Elizabeth King flaunting a dumb smile, speeding away on a motor boat. I hope you enjoyed that brief 15 seconds of her because you never get to see any more of this actress again. Oh sure, she's in the picture as a comatose prop but we don't see more scenes of her active days. No flashbacks, no diaries, no memories, no narration a la Glenn Close in Reversal of Fortune. Instead, all of the other characters just tell you about this woman. Maybe if the three writers followed the book a bit, they could have shown us why Elizabeth is/was very assertive, strong-willed, and a so-called good mother instead of having George Clooney tell us that she is/was in the most boring, flat-lined delivery. Clooney gets better with his acting down the line but for these rough early goings, his pathetic voiceover skills are hard to sit through.

Clooney begins the show with the following line: "My friends in the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise." First sentence of the picture and already I'm gagging. Mr. Payne and crew, I have always known Hawaii is beset with the same troubles as us all (plus I despise hot and sunny weather), so you didn't have to write out that stupid trailer-friendly line, nor do you have to proceed onwards and show me some exploitative shots of miserable Hawaiians.

Clooney is playing the protagonist, Matt King. Get it? No seriously, do you get it? I hope you do because the movie is going to keep reminding you of his regal, imperialistic name, especially when we get into the major subplot. In the book, Matt actually hates the contentions of his name, especially since he's seen more as a white man than Hawaiian, but this was egregiously left out in the film. Anyway, Matt is shown to be a workaholic lawyer, who of course spent more time on his clients than his family. Now that his wife is in a coma from a boat accident, he has to be the real parent for his youngest daughter Scottie (Amara Miller). Miller is very Jonathan Lipnicki here. Don't get used to her because Payne certainly didn't, as he later sends her to background for the rest of the story, only trotting her out to the front stage in order for her to flip the bird, say the word "twat" in rapid succession, or some other obnoxiously bad behavior.

Scottie keeps getting herself in trouble because of her inability to cope with her mother's condition, including sending some rude texts to a fellow classmate. Now mind you, we never see her carrying around a cell phone, nor near a computer at all, so this issue was seemingly pulled straight out of the writers' asses for one sole reason: to have a random character (that being the classmate's mother) come in and drop the exposition dump of the secondary dilemma, which is Matt's decision with regards to the forced upon sell-off of 10,000+ acres of land on the island on Kauai. This pissed-off mother also brings up another troubling ill light to the film, that of there being practically nil cast members who aren't Caucasian. Her and later Scottie's hospital pal Reina are the only two people of a different race in the entirety of this film and both are treated as cold, smarmy assholes.

As the two drive away from the house, Clooney's flat narration comes back in order to flesh out this plot line, including how his cousins flushed away their trust money already, hence why they feverishly want the sell-off to go through without a hitch, and how he's the reasonably thinking one and that he shied away from spending his trust fund, only using his own job-earned money, because they would have told his kids that they are "spoiled and entitled". So, after spending a day at a luxurious country club, they hop a plane to pick up Alex (Shailene Woodley), who's currently staying at a $30,000-a-year boarding school. Yep, you sure did taught 'em, Matt. They find her in a self-destructive state, playing some golf at night with some other drunk friends. After seeing the sight of this, Matt laments how, "all the women in my life want to destroy themselves", and proceeds to individually criticize their crazy behavior and how he can't handle that as a man and a father.

One great omission from book to screen: Alex previously was a teen model and had her pics placed all over Hawaiian tourist crap, which causes Matt to act like Tony Danza circa She's Out of Control. Unfortunately, by removing this icky aspect, the film makes it look like Alex is drinking and doing drugs simply because her parents don't pay attention to her ("You didn't go to [my] play…", she laments at one point), reminding me very much of those awful juvie movies like I Accuse My Parents and The Violent Years. Matt corners her in the pool and tells her the news that her mom isn't going to come out of her coma and they need to notify everyone and make preparations. What follows then is pretty much the best moment of the movie, the heartbreaking underwater shot. Phedon Papamichael's composition, the realistic sound design, and Woodley's acting chops make it utterly distressing.

Alex then drops the bombshell on Matt that Elizabeth was cheating on him, but not before he awkwardly brings up the mom-daughter fight around Christmas in a line that should have been cut from the first draft. What follows is of course the famed running scene. I still don't get it. It's edited clumsily, shot and blocked poorly, Clooney has absolutely no expression on his face other than he's physically winded, and it isn't funny at all. After passing by a random goat on the front lawn (?!), Matt confronts his and Elizabeth's two best friends at their house, where Mary Birdsong stupidly decides to defend her cheating, divorce-seeking friend and her own refusal to inform Matt. Rob Huebel instead talks like a monotone meta hipster, calling this fight an "unique dramatic situation" (who talks like this?), but provides Matt with the guy's name, Brian Speer.

Alex's friend Sid (Brian Krause) is introduced. I loathe Sid. He tags alone for the entire misery adventure on a flimsy reason and literally brings nothing to the story. He does, however, have a major part in the next sequence, which is the absolute low point of the entire film. They inform Elizabeth's dad (Robert Forster), who expresses his grief by calling Matt as a miser and practically slut-shaming Alex. Payne follows this aggravating scene by trotting out Elizabeth's Alzheimer's stricken mother and have the audience laugh at her through Sid. We are technically supposed to laugh at Forster punching Sid out but no, we are also supposed to mock the mom for confusing Elizabeth with Queen Elizabeth. Some members of my audience shockingly did, fun fact. Now, how to make Sid even more hateable in the next scene? Let's then have him mock "the retarded" and how slow they are. Fucking hell.

They find a picture of Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard) on a real estate sign on their way home. Now we finally have the chief complaint with the film for every viewer: Elizabeth was going to leave the 2-time Sexiest Man Alive and the kids behind for Shaggy Rogers? Really? I don't mean to be that shallow but this is highly absurd to take in. The next day, Clooney is given his best and meatiest scene, where Matt lashes out at Elizabeth. It's the first moment since the scene with the family friends where Clooney escapes from the emotionless husk he's been displaying since the beginning of the film. But of course, this refreshing bit needs to instantly be nipped in the bud because Matt suddenly becomes a hypocrite and yells at Alex for daring to speak ill of her mother. Alex has her own personal issues and emotional baggage with this horrible person but Matt wants not of it and proceeds to spank her. Scottie responses with the timely declaration, "you've got served!" This scene also makes it clear that Scottie is out of the loop with what's going with mom. Matt thinks it's a great idea and will not have any future repercussions to keep the death sentence hidden from Scottie's cone of vision. What's one of the scenes right after this, mind you? A giant "She's Going to Die!" party with family and friends. Are you kidding me?! I'll get back to this later.

The movie finally gets going, as the group hop the island to search for the missing Speer and inform him of Elizabeth's demise. Let me repeat: They leave the bedside of Elizabeth's at a crucial time, for the medical staff, family, and friends, in order to go on a mini-vacation at an expensive hotel just to find the philander. Plus, they bring Sid along for no explainable reason! Well, there are two reasons. First, the makers knew that they can't have Matt and Alex leave Scottie to her own devices, so Sid was included along to act as her guardian while they go on searching. Yep, the guy who later looks at her 10-year-old boobs and says the sand makes them fatty, is babysitting. The second and real reason for Sid to come along was that there finally needed to be a scene where he and Matt bond over their individual losses and how children act bad sometimes. Let me be clear, I have nothing against Nick Krause; he does his job sadly well as an ignorant dullard and does a good job with this heart-to-heart talk. I just hate the character.

I said the movie now starts but really, it continues its sloth-like pace. Matt may hate the idea of Hawaii being labeled as "paradise" but the makers don't because this section of the film is nothing more than a series of new stock footage for travel agencies. We see the sacred land Matt needs to sell, the beaches, golf courses, a sunset, etc. It all rings hollow for me. Additionally, any form of plot or characterization is hidden away by these visuals and drown out by the excrucitating, nondescript, generic Hawaiian score that marches forever onwards.

Eventually, Matt locates where Brian is staying at (a King-owned beach house no less) and the film suddenly turns into a stalker thriller. Matt literally plants a towel right in front of their section of the beach and patiently waits for someone to come out. In an impressive shot where the background figures come into the same focus as Clooney and the camera pans/dollies quarter-circle right, Matt sees his prey. It's Brian's wife (Judy Greer) and he takes a gander at her bikinied bottom. Later on, he gives her a full-on kiss goodbye, so I'm not exaggerating Matt's skeevy behavior. He acts like a creep to her but can't pump out any info, instead later getting more notes from a loser, drunk cousin (Beau Bridges), who tells him that Speer is the brother-in-law to the Hawaiian developer the King clan is in the majority to sell to and that Speer will get rich from commissions. Matt is so blown away by this, Payne and editor Kevin Tent have him drop on to a seat two times. It looks incredibly amateurish.

That night, Matt and Alex agree to bum rush Brian while they have the chance. WIPE TO THE LEFT. What the hell was that, Payne?! We are the climatic scene and you start it off with one of the worst types of scene transitions? We have had nothing but cuts and dissolves and now you use this? How did this get an Oscar nomination for Best Editing?! Anyway, they confront Brian on the spot and tear him up verbally, all the while Mrs. Speer goes in to look at lasagna. The lasagna that's in the kitchen, which is about eight feet from the open screen door, where the three are having a hearable argument. During this heated discussion, Matt says something that always drops my jaw. He tells Brian that the doctors unhooked Elizabeth from the machines this very morning, so there's a limited time left to see her. Again, these people on a mini-vacation (at least according to everyone else) when the most hellish, soul-crushing moment of a hospitalized loved one has already happened. They leave and hop the plane back to their island, where Sid proceeds to call Greer, "the dumb bitch".

Elizabeth had been moved to the hospice area and now, now Clooney thinks it is the right time to tell Scottie about her mom's fate. Of course, he can't do it himself, so he has a female doctor instead do it for him. Payne milks every exploitative thing he can with this scene, by having the entire audio removed (except when the doctor says, "she will die."), closeup on Miller's crying face, and bumping up that dreadful Hawaiian score. Some of you may think this is the right course of action, since Scottie is 10 years old and you need to be delicate with these matters. That may be so but it doesn't work on me because I have been in this scenario. I was 10 years old when a family friend fell down a flight of stairs and went into a coma. I thought that he would be okay, since there were plenty of news stories of people surviving and it always happens in TV shows and movies. My parents, however, sat me down at the beginning of the ordeal and frankly told me with no sugarcoating that that wasn't the common case and that many don't come out of it. Sure enough, they had to pull the plug on him and my parents told me when the time came for it, not lie the entire time and then finally explain a week or so before like Scottie here.

Meanwhile, in plot B, the King cousins come together to vote on the proposed land strategy, with the majority voting in favor of selling to Speer's brother-in-law, Don Hollitzer. Up to this point, Matt has continually said to all of his cousins that he would agree with the final say. But like a spoiled child, he reneges on the deal at the very last minute. He wants to still own his land, even though he still legally has to sell it in the next 7 years. Obviously, you know since the introduction of this subplot that Matt was going to refuse because that's the morally good thing the hero needs to do but the makers didn't plant the seed of this reversal in thinking. Payne keeps showing Clooney gloomily looking at framed photos of past generations and have him very briefly staring at some fleeting golf courses when on the road but none of this truly equals a fully changed mind. Clooney's middling-to-poor acting in these moments and the maker's lack of focus on this subplot ultimately make Matt more unlikable than before, choosing to save the land not for the greater good or for Hawaii but just to stick it to Brian one last time.

We finally reach the endpoint, with everyone saying goodbye to Elizabeth. As much as I don't like this melodramatic conclusion, especially when Forster comes in to complain and again everybody refuses to tell him about Liz's infidelity, I will say that the cast and crew all do a very good job. After a painful goodbye between spouses and a brief interlude, it cuts to Matt, Alex, and Scottie placing her ashes into the ocean. Matt says, "Well I guess that's it", and the three place their leis into the water, where they spell out "OCY", and fade to white. Perfect way to end. Oh wait, I said this is like a sitcom, so the ending credits needs to be place over a final gag, that being the three eating ice cream and watching March of the Penguins. Way to spoil the moment.

At the 84 Academy Awards, The Descendants only received the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, much to my own chagrin. While Payne and Faxon tried to deliver a speech, Rash swayed out his hips and flaunted his right leg, which was a visual dig at Angelina Jolie's awkward pose earlier in the night. This Oscar highlight reel moment is the true legacy of this movie today. Payne fans seem to forget its own existence, at least in my own estimation, especially when Nebraska came out to major acclaim. I've heard more people praise Clooney for his other 2011 film The Ides of March than this movie since the awards season ended. On the other hand, the movie did give Woodley a breakthrough performance and gave a prime dramatic opportunity to Lillard and Greer. For that, I'm grateful but even with a re-watch, I still can't bring myself to liking this emotionally manipulative movie.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas - Review

KIRK CAMERON'S SAVING CHRISTMAS easily jumps all the way to the very top of the "worst of" list for this year. This utterly insane, scarcely competent film is less of a commercial product and more of a glorified home video and a YouTube rant. It begins with smug boy himself, Kirk Cameron, talking straight to the audience for a good five minutes, about how Christmas is being attacked by sourpusses and the true meaning of the holiday has never been fully explained. So, he rattles off this scenario (the film is sickeningly meta) where his brother-in-law (writer/director/the real main actor Darren Doane) dared to not have fun at his own Christmas party and only Cameron can educate him on its values. In the span of a hour set only in the insides of a car, where the only visuals are a monotonous loop of shot-reverse shot and uncontrollable weather ruins the audio, Cameron proceeds to ramble out multiple deranged theories about the symbols of Christmas that could only have possibly come from someone who just took LSD and did some puff-puff-passing. I'm talking straight-up goofball material here, like how a Christmas tree is actually Jesus' wooden cross, or how Jesus was supposed to totally die upon his birth, or how St. Nick was kicking heretics' asses while motivated by dubstep, or how Christmas presents are like New Jerusalem. I'm not joking. It even gets more weird when Doane later includes a scene where the token black guy and his buddy proceed to go through an entire list of conspiracy theories but in a mocking manner, including insulting Fox News at one point. That pathetic cable channel is the only network willing to give you free publicity for your Christian crap, Cameron and Doane, and you proceed to shit on their open hands and say they are the crazy ones?

A baby wielding an iPhone could have created a better film in every department. The acting is certifiable garbage, with Cameron and Doane often coming across as serial killers. The camera routinely goes out of focus and shakes all about. The film quality jumps from piss-poor 30 fps, then to 24 fps for the Errol Morris-like lucid stories, then to full-on abuse of slow motion. There are several scenes where Doane fades out and then fades back in on the exact same image. One opening sequence is repeated wholesale later in the end. Continuity is beyond shot. The entire musical score is made up of production music. The animated opening credits were cribbed from someone else. And finally, to conclude the picture and stretch it out beyond belief, we have the most whitest, long-winded breaking dance scene ever shown in cinema, where the dancers have no sync yet continue to show off their atrocious skills and where the background kids constantly look bored and refuse to take part in singing an insidious Christmas rap tune. Though it was toxic and needs to be treated exactly like Chernobyl once on video, I was luckily enough to laugh my way through with this travesty. Because I have experienced what has to be death knell of the Christian film industry on its grandest stage.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fury - Review

A wet-behind-the-ears desk clerk (Logan Lerman) is assigned to replace a fallen soldier, who was previously the front gunner of a battle-hard, five-men-operated tank, led by a ruthless but still sensitive Sergeant (Brad Pitt). David Ayer's FURY is satisfactory at best. It's simply an old-fashioned WII pic but with some more "fucks" thrown in, plus the addition of green and red lasers. No joke, the gunfire looks like it came straight out of the G.I. Joe cartoon and proves to be very distracting to this viewer. Anyway, though the action is violently brutal and the film ends with an exciting final stand, the script possesses no new incite into the war beyond some kid soldiers and a few quotable lines. It also doesn't help that you pin point every outcome and twist in the story, including an excruciatingly long scene in an apartment. All of the characters are just basic stereotypes (Stern teacher, preacher, Mexican, Southern boy, virgin) but thankfully the five actors are able to scrounge up some individual talent (Pitt and Jon Bernthal being the best) and show off some good chemistry with each other. Additionally, I will say that my screening was plagued by bad speakers and sound mixing, so the loud warfare scenes came off more flat and quiet. But even if management fixed the issue, FURY is still only an okay feature, worth it if he pay for cheap tickets or the eventual Redbox rental.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Sparks - Review

Set in a stylized version of the 1940's, a vigilante superhero with no powers (Chase Williamson) tells his crime-fighting story to a reporter, starting from his Bruce Wayne-like origin, to his brief team-up with female icon Lady Heavenly (Ashley Bell), to his current predicament of being railroaded by a psychotic preacher (William Katt). SPARKS is absolutely loathsome, soaking in a pool of utter misogyny and crass storytelling. It crams so much plot, murky details and vile towards women into a 90 minute running time that it keeps forgetting to actually have its heroes do, you know, heroic things. While am I harping so much on its treatment of its female characters? Because Christopher Folino's script frankly will make Mark Millar, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and the DC Comics editorial staff blush. Let me lay it all out: Pregnant women are violently killed, the hero's grandmother is murdered by goons when his identity is revealed, Lady Heavenly later is raped and has her lower body mutilated off-screen, and then the titled character walks away from his partner/girlfriend in order to hook up with a shapeshifter (Marina Squerciati), who he gladly bumps and grinds with when she's transformed as his former flame and later pimps her out to anyone with $20. Blegh! Even if you're a sadist and tolerate this heinous material, you still have to sit through a ton of bad green screen shots, an Act Two that is completely pointless, and a mystery that is unreservedly easy to solve. Stay far, far away from this miserable mess if you know what's good to you.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Tops of 2014 - November

THE BOXCAR CHILDREN wasn't as bad as I thought it would be but it still possessed some creepy animation.

JOHN WICK could have found some other way to get Keanu Reeves to kick ass other than dog killing but the movie is a rare action treat.

JODOROWSKY'S DUNE fudged some facts but it still spun a great overview of a a great movie that was never made.

BIG HERO 6 continued Disney's domination of animation.

THEY CAME TOGETHER is a very polarizing product but I was laughing my ass off.

ALAN PARTRIDGE will be confusing for those without any knowledge of the Steve Coogan's character but it's still very funny.

EDGE OF TOMORROW was a pretty cool mixture of video game logic and Groundhog Day.

GONE GIRL was an amazing adult movie in this day and age. Absolutely phenomenal.

NIGHTCRAWLER was a big disappointment for myself. Had a great lead and is overall good but I was not feeling its lame view of local television.

RAZE had brutal women fights. That's it.

As per usual, my on-going best and worst lists are now hidden from public view. They will pop back up and be fully completed in the first couple of days of 2015.

Raze - Review

Several women are forced by a secret society to fight each other to the death, for their own amusement and to bring glory to a female figure-head. RAZE is nothing more than 87 minutes of rampant female on female violence, possessing no unique spin or true purpose to its torturous exploitation. There are several things I did like about it: solid B-movie acting, bloody practical effects, cool opening credits, and an uncommon musical score. But again, I can't really bump up my grade with these factors because I had an overall miserable time sitting through the film. The script is high school stupid, never truly explaining how this bloodthirsty group gets away with the massive kidnappings, bumping off the human collateral if their fighters refuse to go for the jugular, or how they even implanted all of these security cameras inside all of those houses. And of course, the majority of the characters were victims before being sent to the bricked-up arena, suffering from mental ailments or were assaulted/punished by men in their previous lives. You are better off hitting the stop button right after the prologue, simply because it's the short film that helped funded the feature length version; it tells the story better and leaves out all of the further dumb ideas.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Trailer Review - Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Forces Awakens aka Star Wars Episode VII
1st Teaser Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: John Boyega as a Stormtrooper stuck on Tatooine, Daisy Ridley as some frightened woman on a bloated space vehicle, Oscar Issac (I guess) as X-Wing pilot, and someone (Adam Driver?) as a Sith Lord.

Scene Pop: Don't have to pick one because every geek will be salivating over every frame.

Briggs Breakdown: The Millenium Falcon, two TIE fighters, a drop-ship of Stormtroopers, a robot ball, and a bizarre Sith lightsaber with mini sabers on the side.

Effective?: Yes but it's just a basic teaser with absolutely no context or story to inform us.

Check it Out?: Of course I'm checking it out. It's a new Star Wars movie! However, I need more info, J.J. Abrams, not another one of your mystery boxes. Maybe if I was a kid I would be bouncing off the walls with this teaser but I'm frankly just have minor excitement right now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Nightcrawler - Review

Dirt-poor, psychotic buck Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds his calling in the profession of "nightcrawling": driving out to crime scenes (preferably the white suburbs of L.A.), capturing the bloody aftermaths on video and then rushing to sell it to the local TV stations before the 6 AM broadcast. As he advances in his dangerous career and establishes a deep connection with a ratings-starved news producer (Rene Russo), he begins to further heavily shape the crime scenes as he sees fit for public consumption. NIGHTCRAWLER has a killer premise but barely makes a dent with its plot or themes. The "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality of the script is so incredibly 90's and comes off more as a paltry fan sequel to NETWORK. Additionally, Bloom's descent into the muck of videotaping violence takes a long while to start itself up; once he has a $30-dollar-a-night intern (Riz Ahmed), a suped-up car, and engages in a mini-feud with the one who gave him the taste of life in 30 fps (Bill Paxton), the pic finally burns rubber. Another big compliant is the bizarre musical score, which tries to be ironic and/or underline writer-director Dan Gilory's supposedly satirical elements but is often just a pathetic bellow of horns. But again, the second half of the movie does save the overall product; it is far more juicy to bite into, with some chilling/humorous wordplay and two thrilling action set-pieces. I of course can not end this half-hearted approval for NIGHTCRAWLER without giving major applause to Gyllenhaal's unnerving lead performance. His bugged-out eyes, fast delivery, and constant display of sheer discontent of normal human interaction give the young actor an easier chance to grasp a Oscar.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Gone Girl - Review

Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a NYC-to-Missouri transplanted writer and the inspiration for a popular children's book character "Amazing Amy", goes missing one afternoon. Thanks to the 24-hour news media and many significant clues, the likely perpetrator is her husband Nick (Ben Affleck), who displays awkward behavior in front of the cameras, crowds, and the police and has the most to gain from Amy's disappearance. GONE GIRL had a lot of hype around it thanks to the mammoth popularity of the original novel and its film adaptation has passed the test with flying colors, preferably all in shades of crimson red. This is an amazing pulpy thriller that keeps you on your toes; each twist, turn and piece of narration piles up the suspense into a massive tower up to the very last chilling shot, with no chance of ever falling down thanks to original author Gillian Flynn's own script duties. Plus, in a noteworthy departure from director David Fincher's usual fingerprints, i.e. 15 years since FIGHT CLUB, this movie possesses a great brush of black comedy throughout it, allowing the audience to breath a little easier and letting the characters to be fresh and knowledgable of their current predicament.

Now I must hamper any further plot discussion, in order to keep those still in the dark away from spoiler talk or figuring out the puzzle before their screening begins. So let's run through the workers who brought their A-game: Fincher's direction is of course stellar; Jeff Cronenweth once again operates Fincher's camera in order to craft ominous frames of terror and deliberately ugly lighting schemes; The entire cast is worthy of praise, with Affleck and especially Pike delivering some impeccable performances; and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross write out a familiar sounding but still bitterly cold score that knows when to lay low and then firmly stand itself out. My only small issue with the final product was with Kirk Baxter's editing. Third time wasn't the charm completely for him, as all of the off-putting fades as well as the Sonic-the-Hedgehog-fast opening credits detract a bit from the criminal proceedings. That being said, he does cut together and showcase some great moments of tension and short laughs, to further help make GONE GIRL a true must-see of 2014.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Alan Partridge - Review

Realizing that he may be fired from his midday disc jockey position by the new owners of his radio station, the titled character (Steve Coogan) persuades them to instead can the other old DJ, his good buddy Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney). When Pat returns to the building with a shotgun and takes his co-workers hostage, it's up to the pompous dullard to save the day. American viewers who are not aware of the cult British comedy character Alan Partridge at all will have a hard time fully engaging with the film and/or be able to stand the selfish boob for 90 minutes; I personally have only seen bits and pieces of Coogan's creation before embarking but I able to push aside my lack of knowing the full canon of the character. As for ALAN PARTRIDGE itself, it's a sloppy yet rip-roaring action-comedy, thanks to Coogan and Meaney's performances, a wry script, and a pretty killer soundtrack of radio favorites. It has some problems with its overall tone, going from a DIE HARD scenario to a watered down ACE IN THE HOLE, but it's able to right itself with some black humor and chaotically comical confusion. Perfect for the BBC America crowd.


Monday, November 10, 2014

They Came Together - Review

Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) recount to a fellow couple how they and the city of New York (which is like a character in itself, when you think about it) were all caught up in a love affair that sounds like it came straight out of a romantic comedy. Similar to how they thoroughly ripped apart the conventions of 80s camp flicks with WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, while also alluding to their previous rom-com parody THE BAXTER, creators David Wain and Michael Showalter wanted to mock the shallow foundations of the "chick flick" that we have sadly subjected ourself to again and again by Hollywood. For the most part, THEY CAME TOGETHER is a very humorous spoof, expertly throwing tomatoes at genre favorites like YOU'VE GOT MAIL and ridiculing the standard tropes utilized, such as banal sharing of interests ("You like fiction books?!") and the break-up/make-up plot structure. Wain and Showalter also wanted to throw in, amid all of the weird and great cameos that pop up, their beloved use of black comedy, with the best examples being when Joel visits Molly's parents and his own grandmother. These moments, plus the consistent self-awareness, will drive many viewers absolutely nuts and make them quit the film within the first 15 minutes. While I do agree that the meta didn't always work, I was still laughing all the way through it. Rudd and Poehler are both fantastic, the talented supporting players all deliver, and it's endlessly quotable. Thank you Wain and Showalter, for making me laugh about Hollywood love... again.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Jodorowsky's Dune - Review

Cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky (EL TOPO, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN) and several other figures recount the two-year journey they all came together on during the 70's, in order to craft and pitch a trippy adaptation of the Frank Hebert sci-fi classic. The biggest issue I have with this film is that despite the amazing premise, director Frank Pavich largely filmed and edited the film to be more like a DVD special feature. There are ill-fitting fade-ins and outs and cuts amid interviews that just severely injure the flow. However, I still found this nerd-friendly doc to be both a delectable exploration of a nearly-green-lit movie project and a fun yet dark look at an 85 year old auteur who's still brimming with creative and outlandish energy. I don't know what was better, Jodorowsky's extravagant, Baron Münchhausen-like stories of how he found his dream cast and crew (Orson Welles, H.R. Giger, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dalí, etc.) or the long animatics developed from the thousands of storyboards generated by the director and Mœbius. The film also educates to the uninitiated that even though the film was never made, its ingredients would later be sprinkled into other works and help craft and/or inspire some of the best movies ever made. And yes, they do briefly discuss the infamous David Lynch adaptation. It fudges and forgets some crucial facts, such as how Dalí was asked to leave after making some pro-Franco remarks, and it does feel like a 90-minute commercial for an amazing pre-production book that no one can get their hands on but JODOROWSKY'S DUNE is a worthy mind-trip and a cold lesson on how some dreams die.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

John Wick - Review

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is overcome with grief at the loss of his cancer-stricken wife. Despite a modest turnout at her funeral and a brief chat with an old co-worker (Willem Dafoe), he remains in his own shattered existence. One night, he is gifted with a dog named Daisy, specifically picked for him by his departed soulmate. Unfortunately, this sense of hope for him is curb-stomped on to his floor the very next night, as a trio of Russian punks attack him at his home and kill the dog. Their sole goal was to steal his '69 Mustang, a car their leader (Alfie Allen) spotted at a gas station and wanted to be buy off his hands, only to spurned by a Russian insult by Wick. But because they are designed to be total worthy-to-die dicks, and the makers wanted to win emotional points through a grim animal death, these three needed to go further into unlikability. Unbeknownst to the young Russkie, who just so happens to be the son of a major mob boss (Michael Nyqvist), he and his two buddies pissed off John frickin' Wick, alias "The Boogeyman", a legendary hitman who's able to make the odds ever in his favor and will stop at nothing to take him and his father's protective empire down.

JOHN WICK is incredible in its action but a little stiff in the story department. It's a basic revenge tale, hitting the standard points of every theatric bloodbath that graced a VHS tape or luckily enough to be projected on the big screen. However, the film tries to change it up a bit by speeding up the proceedings and reach its proper conclusion at the end of Act Two. The makers then seem to realize that they ate their appetizers and dessert first and quickly attempt to craft an entree, only to not give it the proper ingredients. The conclusion features another "killing in the name of" motivation for Wick, solely for an action-packed finale but it's such a sloppy hail mary pass and it isn't helped by the lack of characterization given to the martyr. Adding to the finishing problems is a series of hastily bowed subplots, which prove to be pretty unsatisfactory.

Despite these grievances with Derek Kolstad's script, the story did contain an amazing world that help give the movie a vibrant sense of style, amid all of the blue-gray lighting schemes and the odd subtitling. Doing justice to the term "honor among thieves", a good section of the film has Wick staying at The Continental, a narrow-in-the-streets hotel where all of the professional hitmen and assassins hang out in peace (or else) and get to lay low during missions. Here, Reeves gets to share some quality screen time with a great collection of actors: Lance Reddick, Clark Peters, Ian McShane, and Adrianne Palicki to name a few. In order to do business with the hotel management and other services, such as making a "dinner reservation" i.e. body cleanup, the gun-toting contractors spend and exchange gold doubloons, which are far more valuable than paper money and are a noble display of humility and prowess. But again, we get just a taste because Kolstad and directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski know they have a goldmine with this material.

Other than this intriguing world-building, what makes JOHN WICK a good time in the theaters and a great time again and again later on video is its extravagant violence. With two stunt actors/directors at the helm, you know that there will be a lot of expert action choreography and some delightful gunplay, which Leitch and Stahelski have in spades. Their crown jewel is the long sequence at the Red Circle dance club, where Wick systemically takes out all of the goons from the basement to the second floor. Set to the EDM beats of Le Castle Vania, this stretch of film is absolutely breathtaking, overflowing with impressive takedowns, brutal deaths, and a few moments of black comedy. Some may be underwhelmed by the presence of CGI bloodshed but it's easy to forgive that slight when so much incredible feats are on display. Acting all around is fantastic, with Reeves getting some proper time to shine and allowing Nyqvist to portray a ruthless yet occasionally humble and humorous tyrant.

Will there be more JOHN WICKs to come in the future? Perhaps. Right before he leaves to embark on his revenge tour, attentive viewers will spot that Wick has several more rows of coin to go through. Should Reeves and his buddies continue on? It wouldn't hurt. I'm looking forward to further development of the world the makers have established here and the American public should be rewarded with more high caliber, superhero-less action movies. Plus, I can possibly see this potential series going the same way as my experience with THE RAID franchise: an entertaining, slightly above average first entry that then later spawns a magnificent opus. Good luck, gentlemen.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Boxcar Children - Review

Based on the popular, long-running children book series, a group of orphaned siblings (two boys, two girls) searching for a place to call home find it in the form of a derelict boxcar in the middle of the forest. THE BOXCAR CHILDREN is nearly conflict-free, slowly strolling along with its kid antics and offering little to no danger or suspense after a badly thought out opening chapter with an evil baker's wife. You would think that the children would suffer some suitable-for-kids-watching blights like minor starvation but the money is always plentiful and bland leader Henry keeps bringing new groceries to the others. The animation style is of course pretty old-fashioned and frankly creepy yet the plastic-like CGI eventually becomes acceptable to take in. That is, after you fully bring yourself to accepting the floating fabrics, the characters' inability to truly eat or drink, the syncing issues, and the sheer fact that the family dog is way too big. Despite not really enjoying the film, I obviously know that this wasn't created for my age demographic and mental prowess. It's perfectly suitable for kids, allowing them to imagine themselves into the worn-out shoes of the Alden crew, and it can easily pacify the twerps for 81 minutes.


Friday, October 31, 2014

My Tops of 2014 - October

THE EQUALIZER was a satisfactory action flick, badly lit finale aside.

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES was a welcome throwback to pulpy noirs and featured another great performance by Liam Neeson.

ROAD TO PALOMA was the 2nd most pretentious vanity take of Easy Rider I have ever seen.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE has a game Eva Green but it's a boring video-game-like action-fest.

A HAUNTED HOUSE 2 was an unbearable laugh-free movie and made me long for another Scary Movie.

OCULUS brought some chills with its mirror play and parental abuse.

THE ROVER was a basic revenge tale but the acting and its sci-fi elements gave it some life.

NURSE is my most hated movie of 2014.

KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM had some charm to it but was mostly ruined by its producers' philandering with the film.

DEVIL'S DUE was yet another bad found footage horror movie and it will eventually disappear into the ether.

BANG BANG! rehabilitated Knight and Day and brought a lot of fun to the table.

OBVIOUS CHILD had a honest and funny take on modern romance and pregnancy drama, largely thanks to Jenny Slate's phenomenal lead performance.

12 films this month. In the next 61 days, I'm going to have to play catch up fast.

Still no re-watch of Under the Skin. I'm a bad 'lil boy.

Similar to what I experienced last year, I seem to avoid the movie theaters during October. I've been kicking myself for still not paying a ticket to see Gone Girl, The Boxtrolls, Fury, and The Book of Life.

Best Films of 2014

1. The Lego Movie

2. The Raid 2

3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

4. Snowpiercer

5. Guardians of the Galaxy

6. Boyhood

7. The Grand Budapest Hotel

8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

9. Muppets Most Wanted

10. Under the Skin

11. Obvious Child

Worst Films of 2014

1. God's Not Dead

2. A Million Ways to Die in the West

3. Atlas Shrugged: Part III

4. A Haunted House 2

5. Nurse

6. The Other Woman

7. Heaven Is For Real

8. The Amazing Spider-Man 2

9. Winter's Tale

10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

11. I, Frankenstein

12. Son of God

13. The Legend of Hercules

14. Tarzan

15. Enemies Closer

16. Welcome to the Jungle

17. The Nut Job

18. Devil's Due

My Horror/Halloween Hit List

Throughout this month, I have been watching and reviewing horror or horror-themed films in honor of the Halloween spirit. Along with the mandatory film of the day, as well as any additional movie added to a certain day. This is all of the movies I watched for the first time or re-watched:

The ABCs of Death
Argento's Dracula
Creepshow 2
The Dark
Deep Red (Profondo Rosso)
Devil's Due
Dog Soldiers
Garth Marenghi's Darkplace
The Giant Claw
Halloween II
A Haunted House 2
Jack Frost
Mad Ron's Prevues from Hell
Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge
The Prowler
Q - The Winged Serpent
Return of the Killer Tomatoes!
Rifftrax Live!: Anaconda
Terminator II (Shocking Dark)
Toy Story of Terror!
Trick 'r Treat
The Undying Monster
The Ward
White Zombie
Witch's Night Out
Witchfinder General (The Conqueror Worm)
Zombie Lake

37 works this year. Pretty much everything I said in October of last year can be copied and pasted: the fun daily reviews took time away from writing up 2014 film reviews, didn't watch a whole franchise yet again (Final Destination was my choice), and I missed out on watching several movies I wanted to do (Stephen King's It, The Loved Ones, The Strangers, Let the Right One In, Jim Mickie Double Feature, New French Extremity, etc). Will I do it again next year? Perhaps.

To end this trek in grand fashion, let's hand out some awards!

Best Film (First Watch) - Trick 'r Treat
Best Film (Re-Watch) - Seven
Worst Film - Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated
Worst Horror Film of 2014 - Nurse
Best Kill - Shotgun head explosion (The Prowler)
Worst Kill - Any of the deaths from Killdozer
Most WTF Kill - Death by giant mantis (Argento's Dracula)
Best "Gotcha!" Ending - The protagonist gets his dick ripped off! (Pieces)
Worst "Gotcha!" Ending - I'm in the medicine cabinet! (The Ward)
Best Film Score - Deep Red
Worst Makeup - The zombies in Zombie Lake
Best Flying Monster - Q - The Winged Serpent
Worst Flying Monster - The Giant Claw
Best Episode of Darkplace - "Hell Hath Fury"
Best Shorts in The ABCs of Death - "D", "O", "Q", "R", "T", "U", "X"
Best Trailer in Mad Ron's - Carnage
Best Dancing Scene - Mark Patton moves to Fonda Rae's "Tuch Me" (Elm Street 2)
2nd Best Dancing Scene - Mädchen Amick rocks to The Contours' 90's take of "Do You Love Me" (Sleepwalkers)
3rd Best Dancing Scene - The patients groove to The Newbeats' "Run Baby Run" (The Ward)
Worst Dancing Scene - Brian Krause and Alice Krige swoon to Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk" (Sleepwalkers)
Best Dog - Sam (Dog Soldiers)
Best Cat - Clovis (Sleepwalkers)

Horrors of October - Killdozer (#31)

Killdozer (1974)

Yeah, I know, not exactly a horror classic to watch on Halloween but that's what happens when you're busy with work and parties. A bulldozer hits a giant meteorite, causing it to emit a blue light and seemingly transfer an alien soul into the construction vehicle. It then goes on a rampage, picking off a small group of workers one by one. KILLDOZER is best remembered to this day for it ridiculously awesome title, which has helped make it one of the most memorable TV movies from the 70s boom. However, anyone who has ever watched it certainly knows that it not only doesn't live up to the shallow hype but it's actively a boring watch, even with a 73 minute running time. Character actors Clint Walker, Neville Brand, and Robert Ulrich just deliver the bland dialogue as stiff as a man who has taken four Viagra pills. The direction is flat and the action is pitiful to say the least, often featuring the dozer slowly wrecking havoc and the human characters performing absolutely stupid actions like crawling into a loose pipe or keep sitting in a car. Also, the possessed vehicle somehow understands the methods of human survival and is able to sneak up on his prey multiple times, despite lumbering around like a mechanical sloth and emitting noise and ground vibrations. You're better off reading the original novella than sitting through this.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Horrors of October - Rifftrax Live!: Anaconda (#30)

Rifftrax Live!: Anaconda (2014)

I just got back from the event, so you're getting my initial impressions. Broadcasted live in select theaters through Fathom Events, the Rifftrax crew returned to the big screen to do a thorough ribbing on the 1997 B-movie ANACONDA. If you compare the show to their previous live events, it's certainly a lesser comedic showing from Mike, Bill, and Kevin but it still delivered plenty of laughs. The show kicked off with the timely short "Halloween Party", where the titled event only comes at the very end and it's pretty pitiful. Most of the jokes center around its strange protagonist, the vicious-looking German Shepherd who saves a Ron-Howard-looking kid from a lifetime of the embarrassment by destroying his paper bag mask of a cat-man thingy. To make lemonade out of lemons, his mother dresses him up as, and I quote, "Lady Scarecrow". A very weird short that helps kick off the festivities. The trio then followed that up with a couple of announcements: another event in December to re-do the MST3K favorite SANTA CLAUS and another television special on the National Geographic Channel. Their preview for the latter was some riffing of the show "Man V. Monster"; they mercilessly destroyed it back on April Fool's Day and they once again here targeted the bullshitting Englishman and his stupid journey to find mythical creatures that do not exist at all. When the deadly monster was revealed as possibly being a snake, the guys then segued into the main feature, but not before Bill flubbed humorously by saying that it starred Jennifer Lawrence. The majority of the time was spent on heavily mocking Jon Voight's infamous accent and utterly bizarre mugging. However, the biggest guffaws came from sex jokes, whether it was when Eric Stoltz "flashed" Jennifer Lopez, the running gag of Owen Wilson being horny, or Ice Cube freaking out at the possibility of a fish entering through his dick. Personally, I've always enjoyed this creature feature, haters be damned, yet I still had a fun night watching it be torn to shreds.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Horrors of October - Sleepwalkers (#29)

Sleepwalkers (1992)

Stephen King wanted to do something really special for his first screenplay written for the screen. Maybe he first thought about doing a werewolf feature but knew he would have a hard time topping Joe Dante and John Landis' visions, giving them cameos in the eventual film instead. Then one stormy night, he got his brilliant idea: werecats. Not just any werecats but werecats that are incestuous, need virgin blood to survive, can cloak themselves and objects somehow, have unexplainable psychic powers, and look like giant fetuses in their true form. He followed all of this up with their one true weakness: a scratch from a normal cat! By this point, you can probably tell that SLEEPWALKERS is a gloriously stupid disasterpiece. King spun out a ultra weird world where nothing makes any sense and director Mick Garris heightened the strangeness and cheap quality by shooting the film on studio backlots. However, the real issue with the picture is that it's never scary; there are several shots of an ever-expanding collection of cats surrounding the werecats' house and the only human response to it is sheer laughter. If you drop your taste buds and let the bad acting talent of Brian Krause, the tortuous dialogue, the crappy one-liners, and the dumb kills flow all over you, you will surely have a blast with the film. To be fair, there are a couple things that save it as a serious film, such as Mädchen Amick's perkiness, Alice Krige's slow-burn insanity, and a soundtrack that contains "Sleepwalk" and Enya's "Boadicea" (aka the beat to Fugees' "Ready or Not"). Nevertheless, this one stinks oh so good.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Horrors of October - Q - The Winged Serpent (#28)

Q - The Winged Serpent (1982)

The mythical Azteca god Quetzalcoatl is rampaging the rooftops and skyline of NYC, that is when people actually come into contact with it or able to spot the giant flying lizard. The superbeast may have to do with some human sacrifice-like murders that are being investigated by two cops (David Carradine, Richard Roundtree), but the only one who can truly save the city is a money-hungry wiseguy (Michael Moriarty). Cult film director Larry Cohen definitely knows how to make a cheeky low-budget monster movie and keep the action going. The movie instantly starts off with a window-washer getting a fly-by decapitation and goes full blown gonzo from there, producing a gruesome flailed corpse and even a precursor scene of RESERVOIR DOGS. The movie has an absolute breezy tone to it, often juxtapositioning the monster's terror with random New Yorkers shooting the shit or being mildly inconvenienced by the creature. The innate humor can even be easily seen by gleaming the title; knowing that many potential viewers would have a hard time pronouncing the bird's name at the ticket booth, and shown with Carradine's own struggle to say it and still be seen as a serious detective, Cohen simplified it to just a letter (the subtitle was added later to further help identification) and tied it with a clever tagline. Of course, there are times where the lightness of the plot doesn't generate much momentum or suspense, such as when the authorities locate the serial killer, and the special effects are very outdated and crudely made. But you can forgive those shortcomings, especially with the witty rapport among the actors. The only actor capable of being as deliciously showy as the stop-motion lizard is Moriarty, who does a great job layering his character with different dimensions, making you laugh at him one minute, annoy you the next, and then either break your heart or go absolutely cold. Give this enjoyably absurd film about an absurdly named diety a watch.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Horrors of October - Mad Ron's Prevues from Hell (#27)

Mad Ron's Prevues from Hell (1987)

Not to sound like a cranky old man but back in the day, before the internet was everywhere, you couldn't really find or learn about many rare horror movies beyond a lucky cassette at the video store or in a movie book/magazine/fanzine. Finding footage of it or a trailer was even more of a pickle. Released in 1987, MAD RON'S PREVUES FROM HELL would have certainly been one of the few dream rentals, a true horror buff's golden idol during the video boom. The independent direct-to-VHS movie is a compilation of horror trailers and TV spots, from the iconic "It's only a movie..." preview for THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT to the obscurely artsy cut of CARNAGE (aka BAY OF BLOOD) to pure junk like THE GHASTLY ONES. It's a hour and half soaked in vicious slashers, theatre gimmicks, graphic gore, blood spills, freaks, corpses, and plenty of spoilers. And it's all preserved in that glorious tracking-heavy SP quality, even on DVD and streaming. To push the running time, the makers added some shot-on-video segments with a movie buff and his zombie puppet, cracking lame jokes and doing bits while making sure to sedate the large group of zombies who have invaded their movie theater. While all this might sound like a perfect video to air continuously during your Halloween party, this strictly is for hardcore fans only. Not only is there a lot of movie viscera throughout, there is some footage of real animal killings and dead human bodies sadly sprinkled in, mostly from the utterly distasteful AFRICA: BLOOD AND GUTS. Then there's the weird ones, like the necrophiliac LOVE ME DEADLY and non-applicable porno WILDCAT WOMEN IN 3D. Plus, there's one trailer that is nothing more than a seizure-inducer. Though I won't blame you for fast-forwarding through these nightmare fuels, the rest of the movie is worthy of a watch for those who seek the grindhouse experience. Also, do not check out its 25-years-in-the-making sequel CELLULOID BLOODBATH; it's very boring and is more of an interview clipshow than a bundle of trashy trailers.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Horrors of October - Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (#26)

Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (1988)

Taking place several years after the first film aka "The Great Tomato War", evil mad scientist Prof. Gangreen (John Astin) experiments on the banned fruit/vegetable in order to create an army of tomato-Rambos and take over the world. But he's distracted and distraught by the disappearance of his human-tomato assistant Tara, who with a fuzzy tomato named F.T. shacks up with a pizza maker, who just so happens to be the nephew of war hero Wilbur Finletter. I'm actually a fan of the infamous cult film ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES! and I have always enjoyed this, the first sequel to a franchise that would have otherwise stopped after the first one. The majority of the horror-comedy's jokes are self-referential, constantly poking fun at the film's low budget, the quality of its storytelling, and its basement-level special effects. In its most famous moment, the film literally stops and the makers go on camera to argue about how to keep the project going; the only solution, as thought up by George Clooney (yes, that one), is rampant product placement. Cut to a gluttony of winking and pandering to products like Pepsi and Corn Flakes. The one who generates the best laughs is Olympic Gold Medal Winner Steve Lundquist, who plays Gangreen's other assistant Igor, who's actually a would-be news reporter that prays at the altar of Diana Sawyer. Now, of course, this B-movie buffoonery can't glean over the movie's faults, with the biggest issue being that it never really focuses on Gangreen nor establishes him as a big threat until the last act. Plus, the weird nonsensical humor and hard-to-swallow premise will have the easily offended quickly turning it off. Results will certainly vary on this film, so you can take my high review grade with a grain of salt (get it?).


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Horrors of October - White Zombie (#25)

White Zombie (1932)

A soon-to-wed couple vacationing in Haiti come into contact with a voodoo priest (Bela Lugosi), who wishes to add the pure-white bride to his collection/army of "the living dead". Though more well known nowadays as the inspiration for the name of the 90s metal band fronted by Rob Zombie, WHITE ZOMBIE was the first full-blown horror movie to explore and utilize the concept of a zombie. Here, the undead creature is still associated with its roots in voodoo and supernatural beliefs, acting more as an unexpressive goon/toy for Lugosi instead of the later popular view of a rotting cannibal. For the most part, the movie draws a lot of scares and creeps from its unsettling sights. The best of director Victor Halperin's ideas are the recurring image of Lugosi's intense stare, which certainly makes a grand entrance into the picture, and a ghastly human-like screech from a vulture. Also, since the movie came out before the strict enforcement of the Hays Code, it matches the haunting sets and dark lighting with twisted sexual themes and grim violence. But not everything truly works in this horror classic, such as the severely lackluster main protagonist and the all-around bad acting (excluding Lugosi of course!). It also suffers from moments where you can't exactly figure out what's going on, like when Lugosi just stands there doing his finger thingy in front of his opponents, even though he has no zombies left to throw at them. However, the biggest issue with watching the film was its public domain print, which contained several jump cuts that ruined several important and impressively shot scenes. Still, if you really want to watch the grandfather of the zombie genre and see one of the icons of horror in a different sinister role, look no further than this.