Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why Horror Films Matter

Why Horror Films Matter
Happy Halloween everyone.

As this month begins to quickly come to a close, the kids will go home with bags full of candy, the aisles in stores will take down their Halloween stuff and add Christmas stuff, the prices for fun-size candy will drop below 50% and next September, it will start all over again. One of the main draws to Halloween, is the scary stuff. People love the sensation of getting scared. Why, well for me its all about the thrill. In many different ways, I love having fun in any form it comes in, and I have always been drawn to scary things. That means horror films, and I know I am not the only one. There are many horror movie buffs out there. 

Despite the popularity of the genre, horror films seldom ever make a dent at the award season. Horror films rarely crack a top ten list at the end of each year by major film critics. Why is that? Some could say that a great horror film hasn't been made in some odd years. Fair enough. I guess it has been awhile since something resembling "The Exorcist" came out. Even the great horror films coming out now, like the recent "The Conjuring" do not really compare to the great ones, like "Psycho" and "Rosemary's Baby." But even when great horror films were coming in the 1930's, 1960's and 1970's, those are barely registered as classics. So if we know there are some great horror films and the genre is popular, why does the cinematic world largely ignore it? I certainly don't ignore it, because horror films matter. They matter for a lot of reasons, and on this Halloween, I am going to discuss why they matter.

First of all, people have been passing down dark stories for ages, literally ages. Look at mythology, I can't even look up a picture of Hades without getting the shivers. Monsters, death, incest...all creepy stuff, all shaped the way we tell stories. Have any of you heard a fairy tale. I am not talking about the Disney, "happy ever after" versions of them, I mean the tales written in the years they were published. The first version of "The Three Little Pigs" had the big bad wolf blowing down the straw house and the stick house of two unsuspecting pigs, but in the original version, he ate them. When the wolf got to the brick house, he tries to bring it down and he fails. Passed out on the road, the last pig drags him into his house. He then proceeds to kill, cook and eat the wolf. When you think about it, not only did the last pig eat the wolf, but he ate his two brothers. In the original "Little Red Riding Hood," the wolf ate the Hood's grandmother, waited for Hood to get there, then ate her too. When Hood's brother came with an ax, he killed the wolf, and the guts of his family spilling out on the floor. Not how you remember the tales? Original fairy tales were graphic, and what's really disturbing is that they were meant to be children's stories. This is all my way of saying that the "horror" genre is in our blood. As much as storytellers embraced the light, they embraced the dark as well. That embrace is etched into our psyche and will possibly be there forever.

Second of all, the horror genre is nearly identical to the sci/fi genre, the best of the genres have something to say about us. They make social commentaries, they are affected by the world around them. Take the classic Universal monster era of the 1930's. They all revolve around a monster feared by the rest of the world. This reflects how the world change after the first World War. G.I.'s were coming home missing limbs, looking completely disfigured, nearly shunned by the rest of society. Our world has feared things it doesn't understand and that couldn't be more clear in those early horror films. As the 1940's and 1950's settled in, horror meshed with science fiction. The thought of a weapon decimating a whole city, a third world war to end all world wars, and communism were all great fear of those years. That is a film like "Them!," a horror movie about giant ants born from radiation was so scary. That is why films about alien invasion were popular during these decades. The audience switched aliens for communists in their minds and that created a world of fear. That fear was only heightened as our nation moved into Vietnam. As America moved into the 1960's and 1970's, America had grown panicked and stern. Economic collapse, proxy wars, the Cold War getting worse, people literally thought we were reaching world's end. So its understandable to see why "Rosemary's Baby," "The Omen" and "The Exorcist" made such reactions to audiences. The Antichrist is the very definition of Armageddon and that was where people thought we were headed.

Horror films say a lot about what is happening in our culture even today, even if we realized it or not. Looking back at 2004, 2005 and 2006, those were the years Hollywood looked at how much America had changed. The film industry thought about 9/11, it thought about it, picked at it and there were glaring results. Take Eli Roth's "Hostel" for example. That movie is more than a slasher film featuring shrowd business men. It paints a picture of an unsafe foreign world, it tells us to stay in our homes, it begs us to bury our head in the sand, it tells us the only people we can trust are our own countrymen. "Hostel" is a very xenophobic film and that ignorant feeling is what makes "Hostel" scary.

Lets think about even more recent years, why is the found footage genre so popular? The answer might be coupled with why Youtube is so popular. Did you know that when tragic events happen around us, the average person is more willing to record the event rather than help people it affects? If you channel surf on a given evening, you will likely find many shows that resemble "World's Most Shocking Events" or "World's Most Dangerous Police Chases" or the like. Facebook has created a world entirely on the internet, giving people access to showcase their entire lives for billions of people to see. We live in a world without privacy now, and when I see an image of a suburban American couple being stalked on a recorder by a demonic entity they can't see, I can't help but see the parallels to our own world. Found footage is a reaction to our digital age and it couldn't make more disturbing comments.

The bottom line is this, this genre is built to last for many reasons. Horror has evolved into more than just monsters, graphic killings and lots of blood. The best of the genre holds a mirror to who we are as a culture and a society. The best horror films also dig deep into our psyche and tells us what our true anxieties are. But most of all, for me personally, beyond the death and macabre of most horror films, they teach me the meaning of life and how precious it truly is. 

What do horror films mean to you? I hope this article opens a conversation about you think about the genre, what yo take from it and how it effects your life. I have also added some highlights below from Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments, my favorite thing to watch every October. Yes, the channel has much more to offer besides real housewives and millionaire matchmakers. The entire series isn't on Youtube, but most of it is and I posted the best. I hope you enjoy the videos and I hope you enjoyed the article.


Here's Part I


Here's Part II

Here they talk about Audition!

Here They talk about The Exorcist!


number 30 was "Blair Witch Project"


Number 1 was Jaws!


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The American Scream Review

The American Scream Review
We all have passions for something. As you can tell, I love movies, I have all my life. I fee like I was building towards a movie blog or something like it my whole life. No matter how small an addition I'd make in the movie world, I wanted to make one. It was the death of Roger Ebert which finally got me to wake up and do something I crave passionately. But there is more to me that just movie watching. I like running, I like eating and cooking, I like basically anything with a Frisbee, etc, there is a lot to my personality and character (I'd at least like to think that.) But movie watching and movie discussion is very significant in my mind.

I love documentaries that showcase a particular piece of American culture that I can't necessarily find in the backyard of my home state. "The American Scream" tells the story of a few families who create haunted house thrill-rides in their very own households. That's right, no need to drive all the way out to the middle of nowhere and pay out your wallet, if you live next to a someone like in this documentary, you can get chills for cheaper. I found it fascinating how in-depth these "house haunters," get with decorations and actually trying to scare folks who walk through their houses. This is definitely not just a hardened passion for these three families, this is an art. They have perfected the art of house haunting, and its engaging to learn all about it. The detail in the props, accessories and costumes are all spot-on. Rather professional-looking for families who didn't grow up doing this sort of thing.

The documentary also highlights how these people as individuals and I thought that was very important. The longevity and drive these people have for this particular passion is both interesting and at times, heartbreaking. Consider a family of four, a couple with two daughters. One daughter is openly accepting of her father's passion, however it affects her too. When a huge amount of this family's budget goes toward house haunting, some other things in a person's life fall by the way-side (i.e. a tree-house for Christmas.). There is also a father-son duo, family so close they consider each other best friends and not just father and son. Its a beautiful look at a particular family, but you can't help but feel for them too. These two men are so captivated by this hobby that they really have no social life because of it. Humanizing these families was a smart move and makes the documentary more provocative.  

I liked "The American Scream," because I learned something new. I like this small yet sincere insight into a piece of Americana I never knew existed. As October quickly begins to end, I think this is a fitting film to check out, I think its very interesting.

FINAL GRADE: B

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Weekly Top Ten- Best Foreign Horror Films

Weekly Top Ten-#28

Best Foreign Horror Films
Sorry for being a little behind, I've been itching to write this list for awhile now, but I've been busy these past few weeks. Sometimes, as much as I LOVE this blog, I like getting away from it and doing other things. I am really excited to post this top ten of my favorite foreign horror films.

For as long as I am blogging, I will always champion foreign films. I love that the market is finally gaining traction. I like we as Americans are getting more and more access to the cinematic world around us. Its healthy, its a rich world and we deserve to see it. Foreign horror films are fun to watch because they are so daring, so willing to take it audiences to places of real discomfort. They go places our censorship laws would never let us dare to go, which is part of the reason why need foreign cinema in our diet. This list represents my favorites from the foreign genre.

10. Shaun of the Dead, Great Britain
Okay, its true. This is a little bit of a fun one. But one thing "Shaun..." gets right is it doesn't let up from the conventions of zombie movies. This film is bloody and gory, but its sincere, heartfelt and very funny.

9. 28 Days Later, Great Britain
Lush and realistic cinematography blends with great acting and fearsome effects make for a great horror film. I love the look of the apocalypse in this film, how humanistic the characters are and just how scary these "zombies" were when they run. 

8. Funny Games, Austria
Sometimes, the scariest thing in the world is human nature. This film maps out what  happens when two intelligent sociopaths break into your house and make sure they are in control.

7. Pan's Labyrinth, Mexico/Spain
What makes this movie stick out is how balanced the horror is. Not only is the fantasy world scary, but so is the graphic depiction of war. When you are assaulted by both sides of the story, its truly captivating.

6. Ju-On: The Grudge, Japan
One could say, that this is just the Japanese version of the remake. That is true, but this is the original and its about a thousand times scarier.

5. Ringu, Japan
Ringu is exactly like Ju-On, its the original and it is much scarier, much bigger on mood.

4. AntiChrist, Denmark
The images you see in this movie are nearly unforgivable. Director Lars Von Trier is a monster and should be locked up for human violations. But a film that piercing earns a spot on this list, the film is creepy, surreal and relentlessly disturbing.

3. Audition, Japan
Like I said on Sunday, this is completely nightmaric...if that's even a word!

2. Let The Right One In, Sweden
I know this got remade awhile back, but this is film is much better. Creepier atmosphere, better actors, and more startling imagery.

1. The Devil's Backbone, Mexico/Spain
Made by the guy that directed "Pan's Labyrinth," the use of creepy imagery is the most solid of any foreign horror film. The parallels to Spain's history is undeniable. The make-up effects are nightmare-inducing. Everything about it is great.











X-Men: Days of Future Past trailer!!!!

I've been looking forward to this all day.

Ever since I heard that Fox would be adapting "Days of Future Past," into a movie I was psyched. When I heard the direction they were going to take this movie, I was a little hesitant, but hopeful. I knew it was either going to be bad or good, no middle ground would be involved. I have dying, dying for a trailer for quite awhile. And now its finally here.

And good lord, is it good. Its very, very good.

Best part of the trailer: It focuses on the characters and less upon the special effects. This could be the most character driven X-Men movie yet, and I look forward to that. Another thing I liked how we never saw any scenes with the Sentinels. I mean, we at least know what they will look like if you've been paying attention to this film's viral marketing campaign. But I love that we didn't see them yet. Though my imagination are running wild right now.

All the actors look great. It'll be interesting to see Hugh Jackman front and center for this movie. It looks like Shawn Ashmore, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy will shine next year. We only got glimpses of Omar Sy as Bishop and Peter Dinkage as Bolivar Trask, but I am glad they didn't spoil us with scenery.

Overall, I am in love with the trailer. Will this be the best X-Men movie so far? We shall see, but right now I am calling it.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Overlooked Film of the Week- Audition (1999)

Overlooked Film of the Week- #28

Audition (1999)
Due to my natural diet of horror films, I find Asian women in white very scary. I favorite place for foreign film is Asia. I know I have glorified Asian cinema before on this blog and surely I will do it again. They push the envelope on every genre, with every picture. All credit that gets heaped upon them is well-deserved. "Audition" is an exercise in style just as much as it is an exercise in horror. It taps into a fear that I believe is very relevant, especially today. 

"Audition" is about a seven year widower (Ryo Ishibashi) who is urged by his son (Tetsu Sawaki) to begin dating again. The widower finally gives into his son's demands and has a movie producer (Jun Kunimura) devise a mock audition where the actresses will "audition" to play the widower's wife. The widower is instantly captivated by Asami (Eihi Shiina). The movie producer becomes suspicious of Asami, as none of her resume contacts check out. However, the widower is so enchanted by Asami that they begin to date. The widower begins to suspect that things are not what they seem.

Things aren't what they seem, and when things start to get bad for our poor widower, they get very bad.

"Audition" works as a horror film because it has it all. There are great boo-scares. Take the scene after the auditions, when the producer says they will get back to Asami. We then follow Asami back to her apartment, which is completely empty except for a phone and a sack. The goosebumps settle in as we watch Asami star at her phone for hours, waiting for the call that she got the job. Once her phone finally rings, the sack suddenly moves and we hear a noise from it before the scene cuts away. Freaky. The movie works as blood and guts tale too. The torture scene and the revelation of the sack's contents is harrowing. The final 20 or so minutes of the film is some of the most grisly, bizarre and horrifying imagery I have seen in any horror movie. Director Miike Takashi deserves mad credit for never holding back, never going tongue-in-cheek. The film also works very well as a mystery, as the producer and widower do work to find out more about Asami's past. The mystery kept me enthralled and engaged throughout.

The acting is superb. Eihi Shiina is the real standout, her transition from cute and innocent to cute and deadly is well done. The way she takes childlike glee from ripping limb after limb off someone's body is enough to give you nightmares for weeks. There isn't a lot creepier things compared to somebody dismembering you with big smile on their face. Ryo Ishibashi, Tetsu Sawaki, and Jun Kunimura also all do strong work, and shouldn't be forgotten.

Add in creepy music and "Audition" is a delight. The movie is notorious all around, when it first premiered at American film festivals in 2000, it had its fair share of walkouts. A woman attending a festival went as far to tell Miike Takashi that he was evil. If that isn't incentive enough to check this movie out, I don't know what is.

Curse of Chucky Review

Curse of Chucky Review
When I was younger, posters for the Chucky movies used to give me nightmares. I could never comprehend that dolls and toys could be evil, and the idea of them being evil really gave me the shivers. The first couple "Child's Play" films I thought were very effective. So effective that I can't even remember finishing either of them when I was growing up. I remember, even at a young age, not being very impressed with the third film. When we got to "Bride of Chucky" and "Seed of Chucky," I felt the entire franchise was doomed and done for. Chucky became plastic version of Freddy Kruger. He lost everything that made him scary and he became a harmless joke, something disturbingly funny to laugh at every Halloween. I am still entertained by the character, I just haven't been frightened by him in quite awhile. 

I find it sad to report that "Curse of Chucky," doesn't change anything. After viewing this latest offering, it comes as no surprise that was a direct-to-video sequel. This Chucky movie is the least daring, least imaginative, and least scary film in the entire series. Brad Dourif continues to be very effective as the voice of Chucky, and he hits lots of dark comedic punchlines, but that doesn't add up for everything. Setting Chucky loose in an old house isn't clever or scary. For "Curse of Chucky," the filmmakers have essentially merged the haunted house movie with the slasher movie, and the result is quite boring.

Brad Dourif's daughter, Fiona Dourif, plays Nica. A wheelchair-bound college dropout who lives with her mother. In the beginning of the film, a box is delivered to their house. The contents of the box is...you guessed it...a Chucky doll. The doll instantly kills Nica's mother, and as the opening credits roll, the rest of Nica's family comes to Nica's house to discuss funeral arrangements. While the whole family is together, Chucky goes on his rampage. It is also later discovered that Charles Lee Ray, the serial killer who possessed the Chucky doll, has a connection with Nica's family.

Fiona does fairly well with her character, but the rest of the acting is pretty mediocre. The entire production feels like a direct-to-video movie, it has that direct-to-video glow. There is plenty of blood and guts throughout the movie and some interesting kills. But the story is rather silly and doesn't add anything of real weight to the Chucky mythology. Its just an excuse to let the character out of its box to kill people. There is a nice nod to the past films after the credits, had the movie focused on that then I feel like I would have liked "Curse of Chucky" just fine. But all the sequel adds up to is a slasher movie with Chucky in it. Not as interesting.

FINAL GRADE: C-

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines Review

The Place Beyond The Pines Review
Before we get too far in this review, I want to note that this is going to be a short write-up. Not because "The Place Beyond The Pines" is a bad movie, its about as far from bad as a film could get. There is plenty to discuss and talk about but for those of you who haven't had the pleasure to watch this need to see it cold turkey. Be completely innocent from all discussion, all hype, all rumors, all of it. There are film experiences I can't believe I had sometimes, experiences that blindside me. I was blindsided tonight by a powerful new motion picture by director Derek Cianfrance. I was taken on a ride that felt like a huge journey across several lifetimes. This is what great film-making is all about, and I hope you all lay eyes on this brilliant film as fast as possible. 

One thing I will say though, this film is heavily marketed as a Ryan Gosling film. Its not a Ryan Gosling film. Nor is it a Eva Mendez film, or a Bradley Cooper film or even a Ray Liotta film. This isn't a movie that belongs to one actor, this is a movie that makes it hard for the audience to distinguish who the leads are and who the supporters are. This is a movie that feels like a anthology about a certain group of people. "The Place Beyond The Pines" is a movie about consequence, how are actions not only effect ourselves but the future of everyone in our orbit. It could be family, could be friends, could be people we don't know. No matter what we do, we effect everything around us. Even if we try to right the wrongs of our lives, the damage is already done. The people we effected are already effected, they have lived with it, it has molded them into the person they are. There is no turning back after the decisions we make, they stick to us. "The Place Beyond The Pines" articulates that message in huge strokes and the story that plays out is crushing but mesmerizing in equal measure.

The place beyond the pines isn't just some landscape that Luke (Ryan Gosling) rides to after learning some deep information. Its the place where Luke decides to be apart of his newborn son's life and support the woman he left so many years ago, even if that means becoming a bank robber. Its the place where Officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) senses corruption in his police department and decides to end it. Its also the place where Jason (Dane DeHaan) puts a gun to the head of the future Attorney General of New York for wronging him. The place is symbolic, and each character that enters this place beyond the pines was affected by the people who were there before them, and they will cause the affects for future guests. The film paints a perfect portrait about the passing of time and how it plays in all of our lives. 

All the acting is solid. Ryan Gosling is proving with each film why he's the new Hollywood badass, Eva Mendez isn't playing the sexy femme fatale we are used to seeing and she crushes it. Bradley Cooper is also compelled to betray his old bag of tricks and play a character completely out of his comfort zone and I loved it. The rest of the cast does extraordinarily well. The rugged, rural New York backdrop only heightens the acting and the great script turns these characters into actual people given a voice by a glowing cast.

That's about all I want to say about this movie. If I spoiled the plot details, I don't think I could forgive myself. This is a movie built on emotions, and they carry this movie a long way. I could never guess where this story was going and it left me edgy. I loved that feeling and I hope you will too. I hope you enjoy everything "The Place Beyond The Pines" has to offer, and if you've seen it already? Let me know. We have a lot to discuss.

FINAL GRADE: A

The Essentials- The Shining

The Essentials-#28

The Shining
I have had quite the relationship with "The Shining," the 1980 book adaptation of the same name. The book was written by Stephen King, and like I mentioned this week in my review of the "Carrie" remake, I love King. He was the very first author I remember loving, keeping on my radar of things to look out for in the future. His stories are disturbing, bizarre, terrifying and yes, even brilliant. There are many King fans were disappointed by the Stanley Kubrick adaptation in 1980, with the biggest complaint being it wasn't the book that Stephen King wrote. 

Well, those fans aren't wrong, this adaptation really doesn't scratch the surface of what King was trying to say in his book. As far as book and film comparison, I usually think books are better. There are inner thoughts, ideas, and emotional beats that I just don't think translate out onscreen, no matter what book it is. Books, to me, are always better so I can't hold that against Kubrick's adaptation. But with book adaptations, filmmakers at least try to get the basic themes of the book they're adapting down. Stanley Kubrick kind of just did his own thing with King's story, and that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. At first, that list of infuriated fans included me. But after time, I kept revisiting the movie, it may not have been King's story, but something was compelling me to return to it. Even though Kubrick's film isn't a faithful adaptation, its a great exercise in mood and style.

As the film opens, the music sets a great tone for the movie you're about to see. That's correct, filmmakers can reel an audience in just by choosing the right music. The music in "The Shining," is completely perfect for the story its almost scary. The opening theme mixed with the flying shot of the state of Colorado is both breathe-taking and horrifically beautiful imagery. Great music plagues the whole movie and give "The Shining" that extra bit of great.

What also makes the film effective is the acting. Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, a man who interviews for caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in Boulder, Colorado for the winter. He is told in his interview that there have been many murders and obscenities over the lengthy history of the Overlook, but he still accepts. He needs this job for his family, he needs this fresh start. He has a wife named Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and a son named Danny (Danny Lloyd). Danny is a particular boy who has strange powers, if you thought Cole's powers to see dead people was terrifying in "The Sixth Sense," get a load of what Danny Torrance can do. Jack is a broken man haunted by an unforgivable past, and when he moves his family into the Overlook, what Jack is suffering from is put to test. The transition from family man to crazy guy is transcendent and Nicholson makes us buy all of it. One could say that this is typical "Crazy Jack," but I disagree. This feels a lot different from that sort of character Nicholson usually plays and he does very well and scares me fully. Lloyd does very good work as Danny and should be credited for it.

The films use of boo-scares, make-up and scary timing is all effective. The bathtub scene when Jack Torrance walks into the forbidden room is disturbingly memorable. The transformation of the ghost is handled in such a matter-of-fact way that it sticks with you, disturbs you. What also makes "The Shining," scary is the stuff that's never explained. Take the scene where Wendy is running through the Overlook and happens upon a man in a tuxedo performing some kind of sex act with a man in a bear suit, completely freaky if you ask me. Even the design of the bear suit seems like it was meant to scare. The film features a lot of ticks which make the entire film feel off, and it all adds to the flavor of "The Shining."

Stanley Kubrick's film may not have been King's book, but it definitely created a legacy that we still feel today. Earlier this year, before I was a dedicated blogger, I saw a documentary called "Room 237." The entire documentary is about various reactions to Kubrick's "The Shining," and all these people try to detect what exactly it was Kubrick was channeling when he made this movie. Its a very interesting documentary, something I recommend highly. Kubrick was a talented filmmaker with a golden filmography, and "The Shining" adds nicely to that career.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Lords of Salem Review

Lords of Salem Review
Usually, when the casual celebrity decides not to keep their day job, that can mean trouble. But for Rob Zombie, its honestly been quite the experiment so far. Rob Zombie is a heavy-metal-star-turned-film-director whose career has been intriguing at most. "House of 1000 Corpses," "The Devil's Rejects" "Werewolf Women of the S.S.," the "Halloween" remake and its sequel...he's created quite the list of films, yet all of those films don't come to mind when I meditate upon the best modern horror films. 

"Lords of Salem" is a giant leap forward for the director. A film that substitutes blood and gore for mood and atmosphere. "Lords of Salem" is a horror film whose boo-scares really get you. This is something that is darkly original yet very much in the vein of Zombie's former filmography as well. I speak with no hype when I say that this is the highlight of his filmmaking career so far. Definitely not something I expected to watch tonight as I sat down to view it.

Sheri Moon Zombie, Rob's real life wife, takes center stage as Heidi. Heidi is a disk jockey living in Salem, Massachusetts. One night she gets a wooden box containing a vinyl record, a box that mysteriously found her at work. As she begins to listen to the music (the creepy, disturbing music I might add) she falls into the most horrific hallucinations and bad dreams that I have seen in awhile. For an entire week, Heidi gets involved in some kind of awakening of an old witch coven. She needs to break free of it before this coven can do...whatever. No matter what that "whatever" is, it surely isn't good.

Sheri Moon Zombie has been featured in all of her husbands movies, but we've never seen her like this before. She really jumps right into the role becoming somebody who is barely recognizable. She is satisfyingly strong as Heidi. The real scare comes from Meg Foster, who is completely disappears into her role as Margaret Morgan. (Morgan is the leader of the old witch coven from the 1690's.) She is evil incarnate in this movie and she disturbed me deeply every time she shambled onscreen. The cinematography by Brandon Trost is once again effective. It gives "Lords of Salem" the usual, Zombie grunge look which makes the film much scarier. Add the good performances, scary music and creepy story...then you've got a sleepless night.

The only misstep is the usual misstep from every one of Rob Zombie's movies...he can't stick the landing. The ending creates an unsatisfying whole to a movie that really revved its engine throughout. I wish there was a little bit more closure to the whole thing rather than more tense imagery. The creepy mood he creates turns into something strange and weird at the end. No matter what sense "Lords of Salem" makes in the end, whether you like it or not, I'll be shocked if you're not effected by it. Rob Zombie really let loose on his fetishes here, I just wish he could finally write an ending that complimented the rest of the journey.

Overall, I think its safe to say that "Lords of Salem" is Zombie's best so far. I hope he can take his strengths and continue to multiply them. I hope he is able to make an ending that can create a story that feels whole. We have not seen Rob Zombie's masterpiece yet, but when we do, I think I'll be in therapy afterward. I can't wait to see what he has in store next.

FINAL GRADE: B

Frankenstein's Army Review

Frankenstein's Army Review
When I look back at 2013 in a couple months and create a list in my head of the weirdest experiences of that year, "Frankenstein's Army" will be near the very top. How weird? Have you ever seen a reanimated humanoid creature whose head was a propeller blade from an old-school airplane?

The film centers around a group of Russian soldiers during World War II. Their mission is to locate a German scientist, capture and detain him, and finally bring him back to Russia for questioning. As the soldiers move through Nazi territory, they happen upon a strange, run-down factory. This factory just happens to be the breeding ground for some of the weirdest zombiefied creations I think I have ever seen captured on film. Even though the creatures are deadly and high in number, the soldiers press on to find their maker.

Right upfront, the creatures are very cool looking. Grotesque, crude, and yes even somewhat horrifying. There are creatures with knives for hands, some with metal casings, and some with hammers. These creatures are crazy creations and they make this experience somewhat fun. Even though this is a fun horror movie, some parts are kind of scary. The ideas of fascists and/or communists creating mutant armies to create far-right or far-left utopias is kind of scary. Some of the film's goofiness outlined some funny outlines and for a found footage film (yes, you read that right, more on it later) the acting is well done. There are a couple left turns I didn't expect the movie to make. Other than that, its hard for me to call "Frankenstein's Army" a movie at all. 

I think the found footage aspect works against this movie rather than for it. It seems the device was shoehorned into the film instead of giving a clever explanation to why all of this is being filmed. I think the film would have been much stronger overall if there was no found footage aspect to it. Plus, for the characters to be using 1930's style cameras, the film is a little too slick looking. Plus, the entire film suffers from video game syndrome. When the monsters start attacking the soldiers, there is a lot of running and covering, shooting and running, all of it feeling like the clearing of checkpoints. All the dialogue in the movie is all driven to push the story forward, with no real character development or depth. I half expected this but when we see the same thing over and over, a hour and a half movie begins to feel longer.

Overall, "Frankenstein's Army" is a lot of fun, but that fun gets halted as it never leaves that video game territory. This movie felt like watching somebody play zombies on "Call of Duty." As that began to happen, the fun began to slip away and sheer boredom began to set in. Never a really good thing, no matter how impressed I am with the rest of the production.

FINAL GRADE: B-

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Escape Plan Review

Escape Plan Review
Believe it or not, the action genre can be very tricky. Some people may think they can throw together some big explosions and witty one-liners and call it popcorn art. Many audience members can enjoy an action movie based upon simple visceral impulse, while others want a little more thematic meat to their action films. Me? I fall somewhere in the middle. I love classics of the genre; such as "Aliens," "Die Hard," "Lethal Weapon," "The Road Warrior" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, I have also loved "The Expendables," "Rambo" and "Con Air." I find a happy medium in the genre, and when I sit down to watch an action movie, one of the main things I look for, whether this the plot is silly or not, is do I care about the characters?

 "Escape Plan" feels like an 1980's movie that has been sitting on the shelf all these years, something that is so blatantly up the alley of both Schwarzenegger and Stallone that its almost funny. Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a man whose job it is to be sent to prison in order to break out of them. He tests the security of prisons around the globe to see how strong security is at those prisons. The film opens with Stallone pulling off a daring escape at some random maximum-security penitentiary, the thing is...this escape is so elaborate that I highly doubt the common criminal has the brains to pull it off. But we aren't suppose to think about such things during a movie like "Escape Plan."

Breslin is approached by a CIA agent to be imprisoned in the top-secret super-maximum security prison, dubbed The Tomb. Breslin is offered a huge payday for his work that he can't help but say yes. When he gets ready to go into The Tomb, things get wary and it seems he's been set up. His only friend in the prison is Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) and together they plan to break out of The Tomb and find out who set Breslin up. Right away, there are some big logic issues. But I always allow myself to look past them, not everything has to be Oscar-worthy. I liked "2 Guns" over the summer for what it was. "The Last Stand," an action movie that came out this year also starring Schwarzenegger, was great and fun for what it was too. No matter how hammy an action film gets, I can enjoy on its own terms, IF the film crew allows me to care about the characters. Does director Mikael Hafstrom pull that off? Well, yes and no.

I will say one thing about "Escape Plan," this is the most acting you'll likely ever see by Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's given the juiciest role in the entire production and he seems to run with it. Let's be honest, Schwarzenegger is a walking, talking, breathing gimmick. Schwarzenegger usually appears on Best Action Star lists, not Best Actor lists. But when he nails a punchline, its great and he handles his character with care. Stallone does his recent thing...he's sluggish, silent yet somehow endearing at the same time and I guess he's fine in this.

In a film like this, the villains are always important. No matter how zany the villain antics are, if there is clear motivation, it'll work. Both Eric Roberts and Jean Claude Van-Damme were good in the Expendables movies because they had a clear motivation they strive for, its what made them bad. In "Escape Plan" Jim Caviezel plays the warden of The Tomb and Vinnie Jones his sociopaths guard. As much as I like both Caviezel and Jones, they were only bad for the sake of being bad. Caviezel in particular isn't a very good bad guy. I mean he played Jesus Christ for goodness sake, he's no villain. With no real motivation, they do not come off like characters, they come off like types. 

I thought the action and cinematography was striking, but The Tomb setting seemed particularly low-budget looking.  Besides the prison setting, everything else was quite good looking at a technical standpoint. I thought the idea of a guy who gets himself put in prison to check how secure they are is a cool idea and it could have made for a fun movie. But the screenwriters wrote all the fun out the script and gave us characters we never really come to know. As much as no motivation plagues the villains it also plagues Stallone's character. We learn he does what he does because of an incident with his deceased wife and child. Yet, we never learn what that incident was. Too bad, that could have been a dramatic linchpin for the film to play upon. 

"Escape Plan" has some good ideas and some good stuff going on in it. Sadly, the whole of the thing doesn't work. Sometimes, I don't always require the big story beats in order for a film to work for me or not. But there needs to be some genuine effort involved if I am going to care. "Escape Plan" gets it half-right, but I'm just not sure half-right is enough.

FINAL GRADE: B-

Captain America: The Winter Soldier trailer!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier trailer!
I have seen the first trailer for "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and it looks good!

Even though "Iron Man 3" didn't get me as psyched for Marvel Phase Two as I had hoped, and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is off to a slow start, I am still excited for Thor 2 and Captain America 2. This trailer sold me even more. What I was most intrigued by going into this second Captain adventure was how a old guy would fit into a modern world. In the comics, there were many things Captain America didn't approve of as he started to put his life together in a modern world. It seems like there is going to be some of that in this sequel, throw The Winter Soldier in and we've got a hell of a movie!

I know I've been talking up 2015 for awhile now, but I think 2014 is going to deliver some great experiences as well, I hope this is one of them.

Check out the trailer below!


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Anchorman 2" trailer 2!

It can be tricky to make a sequel almost an entire decade after the first film. Usually those sequels are seldom great, most times they suck. "Anchorman 2" comes out this December, the first "Anchorman" film came out in summer 2004. Its apparent that a sequel is long overdo, but can the film still be good after so much down time? Is there a point where the flair and motivation for something ceases after a long hiatus?

I am reading all over the net that this isn't the case, I am reading that Ferrell and the rest of the Channel 4 news team has still has some steam in its engine. That is music to my ears, and viewing this second trailer, I think they may have another winner on their hands. I loved the first "Anchorman" film and I hope this could open the door to a great, comic series.

Check out the trailer:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Carrie Review

Carrie Review
I have been a lifelong Stephen King fan, and the first book of his I ever read was Carrie. Carrie is like a warped version of "Cinderella" that only Stephen King could manufacture. About a young girl who gets bullied in high school then has to go home to constant repenting with her overly-religious mother. When Carrie gets asked to her senior prom, her mother immediately declines, calling it sin. She goes anyway, and all is well until she gets a horrific prank performed on her. Only then does she let her true colors show...and..well...lets just say she lets the bitches have it!

The book was superb and the 1976 movie starring Sissy Spacek as Carrie was equally superb, easily one of the best King-adaptations ever imagined. If you read my Weekly Top Ten last week, then you know how much Spacek's Carrie effected me. It left an everlasting sensation that perhaps not everything needs to be remade, some gold needs to be left alone and not traded or bought, it needs to remain at Fort Knox.

Overall, the 2013 remake of "Carrie" is okay. Not good, not bad, just okay. Its too bad because in the right hands, this could be magnificent. Immediately as the film begins, something is off. From the opening scene at gym class to the end where Sue Snell visits a grave, everything feels like 1976. It seems this remake only wanted to copy Brian De Palma's legendary version of the story instead of standing on its own two feet. I know there are classic moments from the book and I understand how well De Palma adapted this story. But bullying has changed a lot since the 1970's. There are moments in this remake where smartphones and Youtube are used for bullying purposes, but its not enough. If you are setting this movie in 2013, then the story had to reflect on Carrie White living in 2013, not 1976. Bullying has come a long way, and the filmmakers didn't showcase that at all. This doesn't feel like a updated version of the story, just a story that wants to mimic the Sissy Spacek movie.

Another big problem is Chloe Moretz as Carrie White. I think Moretz is a talented actress, but she just doesn't work as Carrie. Before the movie began, I felt Moretz's overall filmography would be distracting. When Carrie starts destroying prom night, I have expected Carrie to start spitting out the most vulgar of profanity at the bullies. For being so talented, Moretz makes Carrie rather one-dimensional. Plus, I just don't buy Moretz as a high school student, she still looks like the 12-year-old Hit-Girl from "Kick-Ass." The bullies in Carrie's life are just plain cartoony. If I were still in high school, I wouldn't be intimated by these overblown Hollister models. 

There is still some good stuff though. Nothing could keep Julianne Moore from being perfect to play Carrie's mother. Moore creates a fascinating portrayal of a creepy, religious mother without turning her into a cartoon. Not really an easy thing to do, but Moore handles it with grace and joy. Carrie's mother has quite a few ticks that made me cringe in my seat, and Moore handled it all incredibly well. Judy Greer played Mrs. Desjardin, Carrie's gym teacher who is always very sympathetic toward Carrie. Greer is a charming, adorable actress and she brings all of that to create a wonderful character. The cinematography and special effects are well-staged, but all of that is really window dressing after all.

In the end, there are just too many dissenters which work against this remake. The biggest problem with a lot of films in 2013 is that they do not want to live up to their ambitions, some don't even want to try. "Carrie" definitely suffers from that. This remake doesn't want to have its own voice, its own convictions, its own style. It only wants to be like De Palma's 1976 movie. But a 1976 Carrie in a 2013 landscape does not work thematically. I was reminded of the 1998 remake of Psycho (remake as in they literally shot the same movie frame-per-frame, I shit you not.), this remake is anything but original. Also, if you don't believe in the main protagonist as well as roughly 80% of the antagonists, then something is very wrong.

FINAL GRADE: C

The Grand Budapest Hotel trailer

The Grand Budapest Hotel trailer
Last week, I gave you all a look at the poster for the "The Grand Budapest Hotel," the next film by Wes Anderson. Today, we have our first look at a trailer for the film.

It looks like a typical Anderson film, which isn't a bad thing. The movie looks elegant, colorful and quite quaint. I think I am going to like it a lot, I certainly like the cast. The last time Anderson made an international film, it was "The Darjeeling Limited," which, to me, is one of Anderson's very best. I am hoping for another film to add to his favorites next year.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Home Sweet Home Review

Home Sweet Home Review
Home invasion horror is a dime a dozen these days. "The Purge" came out earlier this year, and there are seemingly hundreds of others before it. I can understand what draws people to the genre. Nobody likes being unsafe in their own home. The one and only place you should feel safest all of a sudden becomes very unsafe for you...its upsetting. It isn't a thought I like keeping in my brain for a long time. However, to my astonishment, there are very few good examples of the sub-genre.

I thought "Home Sweet Home" would be different. From the beginning, it felt different. As the film opens we listen to a answering machine full of voicemails frantically trying  to reach a couple. Apparently this couple hasn't been answering their phones, all the while small snippets of blood and terror fill the screen. Then we begin to pan around a nice home until we reach the front door. Then a man whose face we cannot see enters the house. I knew exactly what was happening, this guy was breaking in. The next 15 or so minutes is preparation time. This guy is making his plan foolproof. What his plan is? Who knows. All I knew was that this 15-20 minute opening had me. It felt so different from other home invasion films. It created a tense style that was hard to shake. Once the couple (Meghan Heffern and Adam MacDonald) come home, I was ready for anything.

Sadly, after that we don't get much. There is crazy build-up that leads virtually nowhere. We get the usual dumb boo scares in which couple scares themselves on accident. Once the killer begins to put his plan into motion, the film boils down into a simple torture porn type film. Not exactly my type of horror. For a movie that is roughly 80 minutes, the film drags after its strong opening, which really bummed me out. The movie starts moving at such a slow pace that the experience feels numbing. There is no tension, no pulse-pounding moments, just a couple getting abused by some dude in a mask. What a wet blanket.

I like my horror movies filled with motivation and mystery. "Home Sweet Home" features none of that. There is nothing mysterious about the killer, there is nothing that really connects him to the couple. When it is revealed at the end who the killer is, it lands with a big thud which made the entire film feel like a cheat. I wish I could comment on the performances but these actors only do what any actor could really do. Scream. Run. Hide. That's it. There isn't any greater motivation for anybody, so I lost interest quick.

"Home Sweet Home," is a big disappointment, especially after its strong opening. "Home Sweet Home" has the same problems "The Purge" does. Its way too afraid of its own convictions and ambitions. Which makes for a painful experience for the audience.

FINAL GRADE: D

"Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" trailer

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones trailer
If you saw "Paranormal Activity 4," and if you stayed after the credits, then you saw the post-credit scene. Somebody is filming in a Latino supermarket somewhere in Los Angeles. Suddenly a man yelling about witchcraft runs through the supermarket then leaves. As the camera crew begins to leave, a gypsy-like woman says that this was only the beginning. After the fourth films release, we learned that we would soon that a Latino spin-off of "Paranormal Activity" would be released. 

When I first heard this news I didn't know what to think. I remained patient and waited for the first trailer. The teaser we got this week has some good things and questionable things. I like that they are connecting this movie to the original franchise, hopefully some long-standing questions might get answered. One thing that makes me hesitant were some images of the trailer. I didn't know if I was watching a trailer of "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones," or a a trailer for a sequel to "Chronicle." 

Anywho, it gives me hope that this movie is within the same mythology as the other films and it isn't a stand-alone copycat. Lets keep our fingers crossed that this turns out to answer questions and not just more of the same. "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" will be released sometime in January. Here is the trailer below.




Sunday, October 20, 2013

Weekly Top Ten- The 10 Creepiest Movie Characters

Weekly Top Ten-#27

The 10 Creepiest Movie Characters
There have been a number of films featuring some very off-putting people. Characters that would shock us in terror if they happened to be real. There have been many characters that have gotten under my skin over the years, characters that haunted my dreams, that burned themselves into my psyche. Since October is quickly coming to a close, I decided to make a list of the 10 creepiest characters from the gargantuan list of films I have seen. I'm sure you'll agree this is a list of some of Hollywood's biggest creepers.

10. Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory
Even though the Roald Dahl's book was intended to be a children's tale, the book had its creepy moments. I think those moments came to life well in the 1970's Willy Wonka movie. Those moments were brought to life blissfully by Gene Wilder. There is always something constantly off about the character, and his big moment when he takes his guests down the chocolate river really pays off in a huge way. Its a strange scene, but effective nonetheless.

9. Issac, Children of the Corn
Children in horror films? Creepy. Children who systematically killed every adult in a small town because a pagan version of Jesus told them to? Even creepier. Issac really milks out the terror more so than the other children. His cold, dead eyes, sinister glare is enough to give anybody nightmares. Even though "Children of the Corn" never reached the bizarre terror the short story reached, Issac was enough to leave an everlasting watermark in the horror genre.

8. Mystery Man, Lost Highway
Imagine going to a party with friends and a creepy, clownish, guy coming up to you and telling you everything going on in your life? Yeah rather upsetting in the least. The Mystery Man is just another powerful presence in another bizarre, disturbing David Lynch movie. But like in all of Lynch's best works, the creepers stick out like a sore thumb and disturb me deeply.

7. Annie, Misery
If your somebody semi-famous, my best guess is that a stalker is scary. I am sure overly-obsessive stalkers are even scarier, but how about somebody who is willing to break your legs so that you never leave their side? I can't imagine that being something you'd want to think about. Kathy Bates makes the role memorable for being absolutely subtle. A truly remarkable performance.

6. Carrie White, Carrie
Carrie White was the first female character who truly haunted my dreams. The mixture of the powerful direction as well as Sissy Spacek's wide, blue eyes created an unforgettable character. Her innocence and tender mannerisms only made the character more horrifying, because when the inevitable prank happens, her sudden turn to terror is instantly disturbing.

5. Frank Booth, Blue Velvet
When a psychopath is naturally unstable, that can be pretty freaky. But when an unstable psychopath breathes in psycho-juice on a regular basis? Oooh, not good at all. Frank Booth is a deranged invention, and Dennis Hopper was definitely the right man to bring this crazy character to life, his precision with the character is a marvel to watch. Only Hopper could make Roy Orbison scary.

4. Jack Torrance, The Shining
Jack Nicholson has a particular talent for bringing big creepers to life. Arguably, his best work comes from "The Shining" as his transition from family man to possessed madman is great acting and powerful writing. To describe the creepiest scene in this movie involving Torrance is a tough one. Nicholson really captured the character from the book well, but also made something genuinely original from it. 

3. Buffalo Bill, The Silence of the Lambs
Everybody likes to say how creepy Anthony Hopkins was as Dr. Hannibal Lectre. However while the performance was brilliant, there was a slickness to the role that made it easier to identify with Lectre. That I feel made the character a lot less creepy. Buffalo Bill, on the other-hand, always creeped me out. That insidious voice of Ted Levine brought great life to his character. The character had strange mannerisms and odd tendencies which electrified the screen. I mean Bill dancing to Q Lazaraus? Yuck.

2. Man Behind Winkie's Mulholland Drive
Let me just say that the character was involved in the greatest boo scare in all of movies. I remember showing this movie to a house full of girls one night in high school. When the character's big moment occurred, each girl jolted back and let out a shriek, all in unison. One of my guests dug their fingernails rather hard into my wrist as well. 

1. Norman Bates, Psycho
"Psycho" was a movie that was ahead of its time, which is why its one of the best movies of its genre. Alfred Hitchcock tapped into something primal when he adapted "Psycho" into a film. The bold choices he made created an instant classic, especially the portrayal of Norman Bates. Its a powerful creation brought to life by Anthony Perkins. His work is very creepy throughout and even for a 1960's film, it scares today. There isn't another image like the final disturbing smile before the credits roll, and that mix of smile and skull has burned itself into my memory forever.

There's my list. Who is on yours?

Captain Phillips Review

Captain Phillips Review
I recently read a book called "No Easy Day," which chronicles the preparation and mission which took the life of Osama Bin Laden, the book was written by a real Navy Seal who went on the mission to get the most wanted man in the world at the time. This particular Navy Seal also served in the rescue mission to retrieve Captain Richard Phillips from the custody of Somali pirates. The Captain Phillips story is merely touched upon in the book, but it gave me enough intrigue to want to learn more. When I heard that a "Captain Phillips" movie was to be released later this year, starring Tom Hanks, I was hooked. 

I'm glad to say the movie ended up being filled with piercing drama and incredible tension. Tom Hanks gives a flawless performance as Captain Phillips, whose cargo ship was crashed by Somalian pirates in 2009. The actors chosen to play the Somalis are extraordinary as well. What makes "Captain Phillips" so good to watch is that it isn't black and white. Not only does the audience humanize with Captain Phillips, but we also humanize with the Somalis. In "Captain Phillips," the villains aren't just cartoons who wear all black and twirl mustaches. We get a glimpse into the world of Somalian piracy, and it isn't what you'd expect. I give director Paul Greengrass credit for creating villains who seem like real humans and who are fleshed out just as much as our hero is.

Barkhad Abdi plays Muse the leader of the pirates. There is already faint Oscar talk for the actor and his role. If he sneaks into the Supporting Actor category next year, I hope he gets the win. Its so refreshing to see an underdog take the award, and he more than deserves the golden statue. Muse is a calm, collected, villain, but there are moments of sheer terror and even moments of dark humor. There is a scene in the middle of "Captain Phillips," when the pirates take over the ship. Muse tells Phillips to look into his eyes and accept that Muse is the new captain. That scene was ad-lib, not originally in the script. When you see Tom Hanks' lower lip tremble, that's not acting, its terror. Hanks was genuinely scared of this man, now that is true acting at its finest.

Paul Greengrass also directed "The Bourne Ultimatum," so you can expect miraculous tension which works well for the film. The only odd moment within the entire movie is the opening moments of the movie. When Phillips is being driven to the airport by his wife (Catherine Keener). I like both actors a lot, but the scene kind of came off like a deleted scene. It does nothing for the film as a whole and doesn't do much to flesh out the characters. We never hear from or see his wife again, so what's the point? Other than that, this movie was a great watch. You should definitely see this in theaters.

FINAL GRADE: A-

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Homefront red-band trailer

Homefront Red-Band Trailer
No, this isn't a film adaptation of the video game that came out a few years ago. This is a Sly Stallone penned script for a movie starring Jason Statham and James Freaking Franco.

Yep, James Franco will be the villain in an action movie, and based upon the trailer he maybe well-suited for it. This character doesn't look like a cartoon like his character in "Spring Breakers" was. There seems to be a calculated malice to him and I hope it sticks. I hope the movie turns out well, I can imagine the cheesiest of one-liners featured in a Sylvester Stallone film, but his movies are usually fun. 

check it out, let me know what you think.