Thursday, November 19, 2015

A good thing...

  With how much The Collector impressed me, I knew I was going to be watching it's sequel the same day. Lo and behold! Here's a decent sequel that tries hard and manages to be well worth a watch. The Collection is Aliens to The Collector's Alien. It's bigger, louder, nastier, and there's just... more. Especially more blood and guts. Does this mean it's better? Well... no. It's not. The first one almost had an elegance in how simple it was, it effectively utilized every second of screentime and delivered so much raw suspense and tension, it legitimately had me squirming in my seat. This one is a gore fest with some great sets, but it's rather lacking in the suspense/tension department. It feels a lot like Saw II as opposed to Saw. In this one, they find the lair of the villain from the first movie and a privately funded team of mercenaries go in to rescue the daughter of a very wealthy man. Oh boy.

  I hate to reference yet another movie not remotely connected to this one, but... The entire look and feel of this movie reminded me of a very specific scene from a movie called The Cell. There's a scene in that movie where the protagonist is rooting around in the mindscape of a serial killer via the wonders of sci-fi technology, and she comes across an archive of... human dolls. Or something. The style, the aesthetic, all of it- it reminds me so very much of The Collection. That is one of my favorite scenes from The Cell, and it's unfortunately a very brief one. If that was a brisk jog through the mind of a serial killer, than The Collection is a casual stroll through the park. The entire movie looks like that one scene as our protagonists are trapped in the halls and rooms of the killer's hideout.

  Despite having a lot more to look at, and far more opportunities to showcase a very creepy style, The Collection doesn't seem to have the same level of creativity as it's predecessor. Which is weird, because this movie gets very elaborate with it's traps and kills. But maybe too elaborate? The sheer amount of traps, regardless of how innovative they were in the first movie was in and of itself creative. I can imagine the writers had a problem on their hands here though. Do they do more of the same? More of what they already know works? Or do they try to open up the scale a bit and do more? They clearly chose the latter and I don't blame them. They did a very good job with what they had to work with.

  The movie has it's fair share of scares and gory moments, and it's still overflowing with style like it's predecessor. It's not bad by any means. However... despite the plot managing to facilitate the return of Arkin, he's saddled with the aforementioned mercenaries as they've all but forced him to be their guide through the killer's lair; an old abandoned hotel. This is fine in concept, but the mercenaries are such unlikable meatheads that they might as well have 'disposable' stamped on their foreheads. There needs to be a severely unkind word for cliche. What 'fuck' is to 'sex', we need one like that for cliche, because that's what these guys are. All except their leader maybe. He was an interesting character, and I don't even think he was actually a mercenary at all.

  Anyway, the problem with the mercs isn't their disposition at all, it's simply the fact that they weigh the story down. The Collector was so brilliant, a word I don't throw around very often, was because you didn't have a bucket load of dispensable characters. The majority of the movie had Arkin dodging and avoiding traps on his own. Sure, there was the family, but they weren't disposable. He was desperately trying to save them. You kinda felt sad when one of them died. In here, there's nothing of the sort. Not only do we as an audience not care about these mercenaries, Arkin doesn't either. He actively tries to ditch them over and over for his own good.

  Just going through the motions with them was a slog. Also, this movie is probably only an hour long if you took out all the flashbacks. It's only an hour and thirteen minutes long everything included, before the end credits roll. You'd think the movie would be more useful with it's time given that it only really even has an hour. But, that's backwards logic. The length of the movie is determined not beforehand (usually) but by how much usable material you end up with. This could easily be retooled to be the last act of the first movie. Sure, the movie would probably be a little over two hours, but whatever. I'm getting off topic. It's a short freakin' movie. That's not necessarily a bad thing though.

  Given that most of the characters are cheap, the only two that really count is the kidnapped girl and Arkin. Both are exceptional. The girl was a little underdeveloped but she made up for it by being a rather kick ass character and a well acted one at that. Arkin once again proves himself to be an out-of-the-box thinker, using his brain when everyone else around him isn't. He saves as many people as he can, and gets some time to shine during the fantastic climax. Which brings me to this movie's greatest strength- it's visuals. There's some downright stunning cinematography in this one, possibly even more than in the original. I shan't forget some of these eye catching scenes anytime soon.

  The Collector and The Collection neatly go hand in hand, even if this one feels more like a companion piece than a full sequel, I still think it's worth a look if you liked the first one. If more sequels were at least this good, then... you know, there'd be less movies that suck. Like, overall. Which is a good thing, and so is The Collection.

Simply fantastic

  Apparently it's possible for a total gem like The Collector to completely fly under the radar of an obsessive movie watcher/horror buff like me. Before anything else, the movie pulled me in with a really mysterious and horrifying hook within the first five minutes. Then... the opening credits. Right away the movie hit me with it's stylish editing and vibrant visual flair. It has the energy of a hardcore music video for a grungy, ear-shredding, genre song. Once the plot kicked into gear, which didn't take long at all, this movie is exceptionally well paced, things go crazy and only get crazier as the movie goes on. I'm kind of dumbstruck by how good this flick was. I had no idea it was going to be so good, but boy am I glad I watched it.

  You know you're in for a treat when the name of the song that plays over the opening credits is "Shut Up and Bleed". Nuff said. Anyways, our protagonist is hard working ex-con named Arkin, who's in a tight spot when his ex-wife, and the mother of his daughter, is in deep with some loan sharks and doesn't have the money to pay up. So he decides to resort to what he knows best: burglary. Only, the house he decides to burglar, one he was sure would be empty, turns out to have already been invaded- by a mask wearing homicidal psychopath no less. This could've been a very cliche and boring movie, but writer and director Marcus Dunstan turns a simple concept into a fresh and creative horrifying gauntlet of blood and booby traps.

  This psychopath who's captured the family in the house, has been torturing them in various ways and has rigged their whole house with tons of traps. The creativity is endless and the movie makes fantastic use of the premise, being as much of a labyrinth as the house in the actual movie was. Arkin might be a thief, but he's not a bad guy- he sticks around to try and help the family- and considering how horrific the situation is, that says all I needed to know about him. In the scenes where he's first realizing the scope of what's going on, he runs through the house, trying to find a way out and instead only finds more traps. A frantic person would've triggered said traps but Arkin is calm, scared for sure- but still calm. He uses his head and thinks on his feet.

  He's a refreshingly smart protagonist even if you don't realize it right away. The family in the house is rather two dimensional unfortunately, but they're not bad or unlikable. In fact, the father is a pretty nice guy. The mom seems like an image-obsessed trophy wife, their teenage daughter is a rebel, and their little daughter wants to be a mermaid who has tea parties. See, it's typical stuff- but familiar. Familiar enough that we don't need them to be incredibly deep characters. They're archetypes, and that's okay. Arkin is the main character and he gets 99% of all the relevant development here. That's not a problem though, because it's a foregone conclusion that (spoilers...? I guess?) nice guy Dad and trophy wife Mom are goners from the outset.

  The villain is pretty interesting as well, especially because we only ever know so little about him. He's incredibly meticulous and thoroughly prepared for just about every eventuality. We know he 'collects' people, but only ever 'just takes one'. Where does he keep the people he 'collects'? I assume he has a collection. As the title of the sequel would seem to suggest. The air of mystery around him is great. His motives and backstory are irrelevant because this movie is about one thing: survival. Arkin is trying to keep these people alive, and somehow manage to survive himself- but this guy hasn't made it easy on them. Razor wire, acid slime, nails galore, locks, switches, tripwires, knives, fishing hooks- you name it. This guy has rigged a trap out of it.

  You could kill yourself fifty ways from Sunday in this house, just walking around in it. How the killer managed to set all this up himself... I'll never know. Yet, it seems like an irrelevant detail. If he's meticulous and smart enough to devise all these traps, it's not that big of a leap to assume he's most certainly capable of rigging it all up himself as well. His mask is creepy, his eyes are creepy, and he never says a word. Though he's always accompanied by horrific sounds. Speaking of which, the whole sound scheme in this movie is awesome. It's really unconventional and creative, using mundane and ordinary sounds, as well as screams and crying, mixed into the music score- and all that somehow gives a terribly creepy vibe to the movie that's with it from beginning to end.

  On top of that, the cinematography is insane. The camera often bobs and weaves through a scene, turning and tilting with the motions of the characters, but you know what we never see here? Shaky cam- thank god. Everything in this movie is plainly visible in that regard. Coupled with superb lighting and a vivid color scheme, The Collector is a real visual treat. Moreover, it's one that realizes that gore isn't scary. Sure, the movie is quite the bloodbath- but the real scares come from the nonstop nerve-shredding tension that builds throughout the movie. It's literally a non-stop ride once Arkin gets in the house. I had to remind myself to breathe at one point. So amazingly suspenseful.

  Even though the movie is one long set piece once Arkin gets in the house, it manages to divide a lot of this up into smaller sequences, and even segment off a hell of a climax. I really really like this movie.  So much so, I already consider it a genre favorite. It's fast, brutal, merciless, and overflowing with style and atmosphere. What more could you want? Sure- despite all that it's still not high-brow, but it's not a dumb movie either. If anything, I would've liked a bit more closure- but I can accept the way it ended just fine. I really can't wait to watch the second one though. As for this one, I give it a full recommendation for genre fans.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Genuinely sad, spectacularly revolting

  There's a scene in this lurid, gross-out, sci-fi tale in which Jeff Goldblum's character- Seth Brundle, has discovered he can wall-crawl. Without the heroic pomp and circumstance a movie like Spider-Man would have, all we see is a scared man who's turning into something horrifying. But, my point is specifically about the wall-crawling. This movie was made in the era before CGI became the go-to medium for special effects. When Seth is crawling around on the ceiling, I was looking for wires or bolted down furniture- tell tale signs of an upside down set, that would obviously give him the illusion of being on the ceiling. Except, he starts to descend... down the wall, and seamlessly starts walking across the floor. The effect is so good, I forgot for a second I was looking at an effect.

  Special effects like this are at the heart of The Fly, and sometimes they're almost too good. I was so enamored with this seamless and impressively effective trick, that I kinda lost sight of the heart of the scene. Though this problem is immensely amplified with computer effects. See, the practicality of the wall-crawl effect looks so damn good, it's impossible to see the trick. Whereas with computer effects, there's always that feeling that what you're looking at is not real. No matter how good CGI is right now, it'll be better in ten years and your movie will be full of outdated effects faster than you can say The Mummy Returns. The Fly doesn't have that problem. It's problem is of an entirely different nature.

  You could say I'm overanalyzing it, or that I'm just looking for flaws, but there's a particularly gruesome shot at the end where (spoilers) Seth's Girlfriend is forced to shoot him because he's become a hideously deformed monster with no trace of humanity anywhere to be found. She's sobbing, bawling, the music is intense, she fires the shotgun- and immediately we cut to see his head explode in slow motion. This little gory tidbit looked fantastic to a gorehound/practical effects nut like me, but it undercut the emotional intensity of the scene. Which made me realize, the whole movie is like this. It's so hellbent on showing you how hideous and gross Seth's transformation into this giant man-fly is, that it's far too easy to get hung up on the icky bits and overlook how devastatingly tragic the whole thing is.

  At one point, Brundlefly takes the opportunity to reference a bit of Kafka, "I'm saying I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it, but now that dream is over and the insect is awake," It's undeniably one of the most emotional moments in the movie, and we could've used more like it. The Fly is horrifying because of it's graphic gore effects, the psychological horror of losing all touch with one's own humanity is there- but it's overshadowed by explicit nastiness. It's a delicate balancing act that I'm afraid leans too far to one side, for me at least. I still think the movie is great, and that it's horrifying and disturbing no matter how you slice it... but...

  Gore effects are exploitative by nature. They have little to do with actually scaring someone for the most part. It's gross, not scary. It's a cheap and quick way to make people uncomfortable. Humans have a natural knee jerk reaction to seeing blood because hey, that's supposed to be inside our body- not outside. But, to really scare someone you need tension, suspense, dread, fear, and if you have a disturbing concept you can drill into their heads- all the better. The Fly has all of that stuff, but it only ever takes center stage during the middle of the movie. The beginning of The Fly is all about the budding romance between Seth and Veronica, the middle is about him discovering the changes to his body. The last third of the movie is the real splatterfest, but instead of being scary, for the most part it's just exceptionally icky.

  Body parts getting melted, acid vomit, a man-fly creature, and lurid monstrous deformities are just some of the delightfully exploitative ingredients of the last act, and while I love all that stuff in a movie, consider for a second the last act of Alien. Ripley is alone on the Nostromo with a vicious creature. It's arguably the most blood-free section of the movie, and yet, the scariest. The Fly's true scariness isn't in how realistic it's melting limbs look- but instead it's in how we see Seth lose his humanity. How he clings on to it right up until his insect half takes over completely. It's horribly sad and it really affected me this time around, but the continual scenes of him losing body parts and transforming could've been handled in a less exploitative way.

  Maybe I'm missing the point of the graphic shock effects employed here, but to me, the heart of the story was so emotional and scary that the movie almost loses something by continually focusing on it's gory bits in such a coldly matter-of-fact way, like a porno displays sex. Sure, director David Cronenberg knew what he was doing, and whether you're into the more character driven side of things, or you've come for the world class effects, you won't be disappointed either way. The Fly is a masterclass effort in both categories. It does so much with surprisingly little, and manages to be so effective when all is said and done.

  Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis have excellent chemistry, and we feel for them both. They fall for each other in a natural and genuine way, knowing that their romance is going to end in blood, tears, and a bio-molecular abomination is just devastating. The movie has a great music score, some great cinematography, and great special effects. It's hard to review having seen it well more than a handful of times already, and even now all I can say is that the graphic nature of it's icky bits is at odds with it's more disturbingly introspective and thoughtful moments.

  Maybe it's balance is a bit off, but that doesn't stop it from being fantastic. I'm mainly just picking nits, because this is how remakes should be done. I loved it. It's both gruesome and heartbreaking. It's a sad story about mad science and an ill-fated romance. The Fly never fails to turn my stomach, and then rip my heart out. I've got little else to say about this eccentric little frightfest except that I consider it a true classic of the genre and one of Cronenberg's best.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Convoluted, yet pretty fun

  Terminator 2 is one of my favorite movies, ever. Easily in my top three of all time. It's predecessor, is in my top ten. Terminator 3, and it's successor aren't even in my top 250. The short answer? Neither is this one. Except... it's still better than 3 and Salvation. I don't hate the casting but it's generally pretty bad. I think at this point you could've actually had Edward Furlong come back as John Connor and it would've been okay. But Jason Clarke? Really? The guy is about as threatening as a sitcom. He's arguably a worse casting choice than both Christian Bale and Nick Stahl. Of course, this is me- Terminator 2 fanboy arguing that nobody is able to live up to the standard set by a preteen from the early 90's. In fact, that's my whole attitude towards this whole movie.

  All you can even do is pick apart the story and report on how well the characters are casted. Well, Jai Courtney does alright with what he's given, but he's nothing special. Emilia Clarke is the one stealing the show, and even though she is way too pretty and young looking to play Sarah Connor, she's the one turning in the best performance. She's a tragic character and if nothing else, the movie seems to understand that. Byung-Hun Lee has the most minor of roles totally maybe less than five minutes of screentime but for anyone who doesn't think that's enough to make an impression, let me refer you to J.K. Simmons' character. A cop who has had a crazy theory about time travellers and robots ever since he ran into our main characters back in the 80's, and then again in the near future of 2017. He's fantastic. He's all heart and brings a lot of welcome humor into the mix.

  Again, he's only around for maybe five minutes, but he's one of the most memorable characters in the movie. Not that that's a gigantic accomplishment, the movie is entertaining but nothing wholly special. Sarah, Kyle, and their terminator ally- (a role Arnie could perform in his sleep at this point) have good chemistry and their scenes as a unit save the movie from being a total waste. It's plot, it's story- both are kind of garbage. The story is ludicrous and the plot is so convoluted that even the characters in the movie seem to be aware. There's a not-so-fine line between complex and complicated. A complex movie is a movie that will make sense if you take the time to decipher and understand it's intricacies, whereas a complicated movie is one that just doesn't really know what to do, so it does just about everything.


  There's a scene in which a character remembers a memory of his childhood that never happened from an alternate timeline, and uses that as the basis for his motives throughout the movie. That's beyond thin, that's absurd. Off the top of my head I could've come up with a better story, and I did. Multiple times. Terminator Genisys knows that it's story is bullshit, so it smiles and chugs along at a breakneck pace to keep you entertained enough to not care. And, Jesus Christ- the pacing. Holy shit. For a two hour movie, this felt like 90 minutes, if that. They crammed so much in there that the quiet and reflective moments that mark some of the most emotional moments of the franchise are barely afterthoughts here. There's... bits and pieces, but more detail was paid to the special effects and the general over the top absurdity of the action scenes that they forgot we need to care about what happens.

  That is why T2 is one of my all time favorites. We care. That movie made us care, to the point of having "allergies" in our eyes, about a big clunky robot, a bratty-ass teenager, and his psycho drill sergeant of a mother. Somehow, the most emotional moments of Terminator Genisys happened in time frames we don't get to see. A core concept of the movie is that a terminator was sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor when she was a child. This would've made for a more compelling story overall, even if it is a retread of T2. A terminator raising a child? Come on! Where was THAT movie when we needed it? Protecting Sarah through the years from who the hell knows what? That was the sequel to Judgment Day nobody can admit they'd love to see.

  It would've been total fan service, sure, but it would've been great. It's what we wanted to see happen with John and his terminator. Instead, we had our hearts crushed (in a hydraulic press?) as the T-800 explained how he can't cry, and then lowered himself into the molten steel. This movie has a moment like that, but we get to have our cake and eat it to because when Arnie says he'll be back, at this point... we should just believe him. Terminator Genisys isn't bad enough to be offensive, nor is it good enough to redeem the franchise, but it actually does give me a bit of hope. They got enough of the tone and the feel right to warrant a watch, and maybe even more movies.

  There's enough interesting concepts in this movie to sustain the franchise for years to come. A biquel (bi-pre-sequel?) about the terminator raising Sarah perhaps? I'd watch the hell out of that. When all is said and done, Genisys never let me get bored. It's a slick and well packaged movie that knows it can't be taken too seriously. They play up the emotions where they can, amidst lengthy action scenes brimming with CGI, slow motion, and lots of explosions. There's plenty of wink-wink references for longtime fans, and enough clever bits that you'll have enough to stay interested. I enjoyed it, I can't say I didn't, but it didn't affect me in any significant way.

  Terminator 2 was one of three movies that literally changed my life. One could say my standards and expectations for the franchise are unreasonably high, but if you can't meet those standards... you're not doing anyone any favors making a new Terminator movie. I had a fun time with Genisys, but it really wasn't great. It's not as bad as it could've been, but it's ultimate Achilles heel is the story. Too convoluted to make sense, and that's not okay. Otherwise, it's fun in a shut-off-your-brain kind of way, but little else. Come for Arnie shooting stuff again, stay for Emilia Clarke being amazing. If you're watching for any other reasons, you're likely to be let down. Somehow I'm hoping for a sequel though. How weird is that?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

better, marginally

  The most impressive thing about Wrong Turn 4, besides it's great practical gore effects, is how it manages to make me despise a group of 20-something party brats more than the bunch of vicious convicts from the previous movie. They're almost as annoying as the 'rookie soldiers' from The Hills Have Eyes 2. They're nothing but obnoxious sex machines. I couldn't care less about who lived or died, save for maaaybe two characters. Also, just like The Hills Have Eyes 2, this is a movie that punishes intelligent thought. When a character suggests playing it safe, or being logical, everyone scoffs at him like he's an idiot. These aren't just college brats, these are stupid college brats. Imagine for a moment how fast a movie like this would be over if the characters were actually smart?

  In the first few movies, the scenarios were set up in a way that it didn't matter how smart the protagonists are, they only had one course of action available to them, ergo... But, this movie plays to almost every single cliche imaginable, at least for the first half. There's much more to like about this one than the previous one. It actually has an atmosphere, and a seriously creepy one at that. Due in no small part to the fact it takes place in a mostly-abandoned sanatorium. Firstly though, the movie has a fantastic opening. Lets just say the crazies get let loose in the crazy-house. It's freaky, creepy, disturbing, and properly gory. Even though there's a huge lull of uninteresting crap after that for a good lengthy third of the mood, the movie picks up soon enough and bodies start dropping left and right.

  There's one scene in here that seems to break people, a really really stupid part where all the characters make a collectively stupid decision which causes nothing but more inevitable death and mayhem. Yeah, it is a pretty dumb scene but these characters are poorly written to begin with. The scene was annoying, but the movie is full of predictable nonsense like this. This particular scene was just par for course. None of the characters really edge out as more interesting than any of the others, and overall they're all fairly boring. I did feel a twinge of sympathy for a few of them here and there, but that's because of the horrifically gruesome nature of their demises. Which are the highlights of the movie.

  If Freddy Krueger has his knife-glove and Jason has his machete, the hillbillies in the Wrong Turn movies have barbed wire. While nothing here is as creative as their spring/winch trap in the previous one, they still use plenty of barbed wire to slice, dice, rip and maim their victims in various ways. It's quite creative at times and perfectly gruesome. There's also a white-knuckle scene in which one of the protagonists is strapped to a table while the hillbillies slice chunks of his skin off, and eat pieces of him while he's forced to watch. There's also some graphic goriness at the hands of a massive industrial drill that one of the hillbilly's wields.

  The movie is rarely dull after the halfway point, and is full of enough action, gore, and general gruesomeness to keep an undemanding genre fan entertained. I enjoyed the setting and the story a lot more here than in the previous. Despite rolling my eyes at the retarded nature of the characters early on, though thankfully... they got a lot more bearable as the movie progressed. The opening, while short, actually provides a lot of interesting backstory to the three recurring cannibal hillbillies. It's enough to flesh them out a bit more without giving too much away. There's still a fair bit of mystery to them.

  The atmosphere, the fantastic gore effects, and a handful of creative scenes contribute to a fairly grisly and creepy vibe overall- which helps when all is said and done. I think this one had more potential than it cared to exploit, but for a direct to video effort, it wasn't bad. It's by no means a good movie, but it's better than the third one at least. It was entertaining in it's own basic way. As a guilty pleasure fan of the franchise thus far, I can safely say this was decent. It's not awful, but it is sometimes silly and stupid. If you can suffer that, and are still interested, you might find a decent little bloodbath here.

  It's not as good as 1 or 2, but those were exceptional flicks. Wrong Turn 4 is fun but not necessarily... good. It can qualify as a decent guilty pleasure if you're a fan of the genre, I can't imagine anyone else getting much enjoyment out of it. Recommended if you're making your way through the franchise, or are starving for more content from the genre.

Monday, November 9, 2015


  Not as stylish and atmospheric as the first, nor as crazy as the second, Wrong Turn 3 just seems to... exist, and little else. I suppose the way odds and such go, that even bad movies can have a few really good moments in them. Even an interesting concept behind it all. Wrong Turn 3 seeks to juxtapose a ruthless criminal against the hillbilly mutant cannibal known as Three Finger. "I don't know who's worse-" a character points out in one scene. The problem is, it's a no brainer. No matter how bad the ruthless criminal is, he won't stab you and then start eating you alive. He's motivated by survival, not a homicidal sense of fun.

  Having said that, I can see what they were trying to do- but they didn't really accomplish it.  There's some really neat moments in this one, like a spring-trap involving a winch and a whole lot of barbed wire. The opening was also pretty gruesome in some fairly creative ways. There's also some disturbing bits towards the end involving the heroine being held captive in Three Finger's... meat locker, I guess? Regardless of what it's called, it's pretty creepy. If I'm comparing sequels all across the board, I'd say this is a damn sight better than The Hills Have Eyes 2, which I still can't believe made it to theaters. I suppose my expectations were more properly aligned for this one though. The iMDB user reviews section is just page after page of one-star scathing reviews.

  Naturally, I expected a terrible movie. Wrong Turn 3 isn't terrible. It's just bland for the most part. The characters are better than the ones from The Hills Have Eyes 2, but not by much. They're not necessarily annoying, thank god. Yet, they're also incredibly standard. Not much more than walking talking cliche's. You've seen these characters a thousand times in a hundred different movies. Angry bald Aryan, violent Mexican crime lord, hyper car thief, altruistic do-gooder police officer guy, bland no-story damsel in distress, and for the icing on the cake... overweight too-old-for-this-shit-small-town-sheriff. Tell me those ALL don't sound painfully familiar. Ergo, when they start getting picked off, you don't really care. Which is not necessarily a bad thing either.

  Like the previous movie, this one also comes with a whole host of characters ready to be slaughtered. If only this one put serious effort into making their deaths more creative, it might be a bit cathartic even. The second movie had people that didn't deserve to die getting killed in variously way far more grisly than anything you might find in this one- which is full of escaped convicts making their way through the woods. You want most of these guys to die, and fast. When they start getting picked off, the movie gets better- but it lulls right back into petty arguments and run of the mill angry-convict-holding-other-people-hostage situation.

  The movie could've had them band together to fight Three Finger, but that never happens. The movie could've played up the divide and conquer aspect, but that never happens. The movie is just a bunch of bitchy convicts getting killed off one at a time. I can safely say the movie is never offensively bad, it's worse offense is some stilted acting and squandered potential. I gotta say though that bad writing and cardboard acting are kind of staples of flicks like this. It's really par for course with stuff like this. So I'm not gonna fume about stuff I'm jaded enough to actually expect at this point. You don't rank movies like this on acting and writing unless it's really amazing, unique, or abysmal. Everything in the middle is just rather expected.

  So what do you rank movies like this on? Creativity and effects. If it's short on those two things, atmosphere and style. Wrong Turn 3 is bankrupt on the two latter, and sparse on the former two- but it's not without those two things entirely. Like I've said, there are some cool moments, but whether or not those are enough to sit through heaps of boring mediocrity is up to you. I can easily see this movie being an afterthought inclusion in a marathon- like a halftime show on the football game. Some people don't pay attention, and you're really not missing much if you don't. Wrong Turn 3 isn't horrible by the standards of the genre, but it's nothing special either. The barbed-wire spring trap was easily the coolest thing in the movie and one of the most creative kills I've seen out of the first three movies, so that- plus a few other neat scenes almost earn this movie a pass. Only if you liked the first two though.

  I can see how maybe the story was recycled or salvaged from scrapped ideas that got tossed around in the writing phase for 1 and 2, but maybe they should've stayed scrapped. They're not remotely fresh. Nothing but microwaved leftovers really. I got no ill attitude towards this movie, but probably only because The Hills Have Eyes 2 was monumentally worse. If they invested just a bit more time in adding more action, and creativity into this one, it could've rivaled the second. But, the odds are stacked against anyone having a good time with it. It's a shame it's not better but makes decent background noise if you're doing stuff I guess.

  If you have no soft spot for the genre or movies like this, you'll probably hate this flick. It's simply not consistently entertaining enough to merit a standalone watch. Yet it's not wholly devoid of entertainment either. At best it's harmless and occasionally neat. At worse it's contrived, slow, and boring. Take that for what you will. I don't regret watching it. It was an alright time killer. If you're curious, and can stand fake looking CGI and a made-for-TV feel than you might find something to like here. If you do, you'll be one of the few who do. Wrong Turn 2 was so crazy and fun I bought it right after I finished watching it. The only way I'd purchase this one is in a box set... on sale. I do have a sneaking suspicion though that this franchise might be my new big guilty pleasure. Who's up for round four?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Simple, fun, and colorful

  Ant-Man is Marvel's latest stylish entry in their cinematic universe, and by far it is one of the most fun. Not saying it's one of the best, but certainly one of the most enjoyable. It has one thing going for it that none of their movies have had since the original Iron Man, and that would be the fact that it's simply uncomplicated. Sure there's easter eggs and nods to the other films in the franchise, but Ant-Man works independently of those movies. It's also not a dog and pony show like the Avengers movies. It's just a fun little adventure flick. With Daredevil darkening things up on Netflix, and Age of Ultron complicating the hell out of things on the big screen, it's nice to see a Marvel movie that does neither- it's just pure Saturday matinee fun.

  The cast is uniformly great. It's nice to see Michael Douglas in a movie again and kudos to the special effects team for that prologue scene in which he appears to be in his early 40's again. Tron Legacy tried the same thing with Jeff Bridges a few years ago and nothing about the effect looked natural. He looked computer generated. Whereas here, I had a five minute argument with my mother about whether or not it was practical makeup, CGI, or according to her... a fantastic face lift. That's saying a lot. Obviously, this is a movie full of CGI special effects. To start off strong with an effect that by it's very nature and intention shouldn't stand out, in a movie full of eye catching over-the-top CGI, was very cool. It was the first "Wow!" moment in a flick chock full of them.

   Douglas himself looks like he's having a blast in the mentor role of Hank Pym, training ex-con career thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to be a hero. Of course, nobody can tell Hank that Scott is wrong for this sort of daring-do faster than Scott himself can. But, Scott has an ex-wife and a young daughter who he cares about immensely- so Hank points out to him at one point, "It's not about saving our world... It's about saving theirs." This is another reason why Ant-Man works so well, the motives of our hero are reduced to something personal, relatable, and emotional. Scott Lang is just a man who wants to be the hero his daughter already sees him as. This is obviously an uphill battle, but Scott is endearing because he's willing to fight that battle.

  This is the essence of a good superhero movie. Scott's personal and emotional battle has become transposed into a save-the-world context full of laser beams, fist fights, explosions, evil monologues, and super-suits that can shrink to sub-atomic sizes. Thus, by saving the world, Scott proves himself to those he loves. It's simple. It works. We aren't tracking the emotional development of a whole team of characters- just a few. Scott also isn't the only one lending an emotional core to the story, there's something to be said about the dynamic between Hank and his estranged daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly). As both of them mold Scott into hero material, they find themselves having to confront their own demons. None of this stuff is game-changingly emotional, but it works. It's a big focus of the story instead of being crammed into a few throwaway scenes (Cough. Age of Ultron. Cough.)

  The writers of these stories should be able to make them as emotionally compelling as they are visually. Though their style and action sequences are beyond reproach, I'd love to come back from a Marvel movie and say it was genuinely moving. I'd love to say it genuinely affected me. After all, why not? Blockbuster action movies these days are learning and picking up on that. Guardians of the Galaxy, despite how bloated it was, understood the need for an emotional core. Ant-Man gets it as well. Plenty of Marvel's past efforts fall flat in this category. They're so needlessly over-plotted and so much attention to visual detail is paid, that the real emotional core of them are often lost in a jumble of explosions and one-liners.

  Marvel wants us to be invested in characters who are currently only being taken as seriously as their latest costume update. There's glimpses of emotional depth in all of them, but it's not being exploited enough. The easter eggs and post-credits stingers are great, but now that the point has been well and thoroughly proven that you guys (Marvel Studios) can make a comic book movie without botching it like someone who's never read a comic book in their life- how about trying to make some next level stuff? Daredevil and Captain America: The Winter Soldier transcend the trappings of their own niche genre and managed to be pretty fantastic. Imagine if this wasn't the exception to the standard, but rather the standard itself?

  Ant-Man for me, was close but still felt like typical Marvel fare. Which is still plenty of fun and full of some of the most "wow" worthy visuals ever seen in a comic book movie... but what's stopping it from being more? That's a much larger discussion that I will probably dedicate a whole post to someday, but for now, let me wax a bit more praise on the visuals of this movie. The world from the perspective of an insect is incredibly fascinating and Ant-Man never fails to realize that. It's a movie full of style, color, and breathtaking scale. For all it's simplicity, it's visuals are top shelf stuff. When all is said and done, Ant-Man is a clever and creative action-adventure flick full of eye candy and wall-to-wall CGI used in the best ways possible. I had a lot of fun with this movie and I don't see why anyone else can't as well, but I'm waiting for Marvel to step their game up. Simple Saturday matinee fare is fine, but there's so much more potential in there just waiting to be unleashed.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Brutal and cathartic!

  I gotta admit, the poster art (sampled in the banner above) for Avenged (a.k.a. Savaged) really caught my eye and got me to look the movie up. Though granted the poster is a shoddy Photoshop job upon closer inspection, but still... it did it's job, and I tip my hat to the designer accordingly. Because this movie is friggin neat. I can tell it was a labor of love, and by one man above all. This movie was written, edited, and directed by Michael S. Ojeda. I've never heard of this guy before, but I'll be keeping an eye out for his movies in the future. He spun a wicked tale of murder, rape, and revenge and all with a big supernatural twist. Avenged is part romance movie, part horror, part fantasy, and part action movie. What more could you ask for?

  The movie is about a deaf woman named Zoe who while on a road trip to meet up with her fiancee, gets abducted, savagely raped and eventually murdered by a gang of racist rednecks. The twist is, when a Native American medicine man tries to bring her back to life, the bloodthirsty spirit of a betrayed Apache warrior is brought back as well. The spirit uses Zoe to exact his revenge, and hers, on the men that killed her. It's I Spit on Your Grave meets The Crow. The rape/revenge genre is not exactly a high class one, and it's one that's gone kind of stale in this modern age of political correctness- but sometimes you just wanna see a bunch of really bad people get what's coming to them. Avenged does that with spectacular flair.

  I gotta say though, I'm not fond of Ojeda's editing at all. The movie seems overly edited right away with random slow motion, dropped framed and weird cuts. The first ten or so minutes of the movie were tedious and odd. I stuck with the flick though because why not? It might get better, and it did. A lot better. The over-editing tweaks seem to calm down after a while, and just when the movie gets interesting too. The revenge scenes are fantastic little action/horror set pieces. They're full of practical gore effects and it all looks great. There is a bit of CGI here and there, but it was used well and I have no complaints. There's some downright shocking parts here where I literally sat up and said "Woah..." I thought Avenged might be a neat little flick, but it really surpassed my expectations.

  It's a big bloody blast with lots of flashy effects, graphic violence, a great music score, and some surprisingly good acting. The villains were vile, maybe cartoonishly so- but Zoe and her fiancee are the real stars of the movie obviously. They seem genuinely in love, and my heart broke for them. This isn't the kind of movie that lets you think there'll be a magical happy ending somehow. Zoe's fate is sealed, the only thing left to do before her body completely rots away is just to get even. She makes great use of everything from broken bottles, snapped pool cues, her bare hands, a hunting bow, hatchets, knives and guns. She's a one-woman army with the ferocity of an old school barbarian, and a body impervious to damage like Eric Draven in The Crow.

  As badass as all that is, the movie is still a tragedy from beginning to end. It's not a feel good action flick, it's a horror movie as much as anything else, and a real sad story to boot. She's a top tier killing machine but she's also rotting away regardless. Despite the fact her spirit and mind are alive, her body isn't on the same page with them. She's continually having to patch herself up with whatever's on hand, leading to some graphically unnerving moments that truly made my skin crawl. The movie might borrow from a bunch of other flicks, but the way it does what it does makes it feel unique and fresh. It also has a strong emotional core to it that again I can only liken to The Crow.

   When all is said and done, Avenged feels like somewhat of a sophomoric effort, but it's a damn good one at that. It's low budget, but resourcefully made and looks good. The practical effects are a major highlight of the movie, ranging from badass and cathartic to gruesome and disgusting. The set pieces are often thrilling and well constructed. Combine all that with a tragic and endearing protagonist and you've got a winner. Avenged won't be for everyone, it's pretty brutal and graphic, but I for one loved it. Can't wait to buy a copy and add it to my movie collection. I give this revenge flick a full recommendation if you're in the mood for an nastily cool genre-bender.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Visual Masterpiece

  Sure, Crimson Peak might be predictable and people are taking issue with that because the movie carries itself like a mystery but I think in reality it's little more than a showcase of style and atmosphere. On those terms, Crimson Peak is fantastic. It's a brooding and lurid romantic tragedy with ghosts, murder, sex, and lots of eeriness. It's plot might not be it's strong suit, and the casting might be a little stale in some areas, but the majority of Crimson Peak is something to cherish. I've heard plenty of people say this isn't really a horror movie, and I guess they're right to a large degree- but it's more legitimately frightening than a lot of horror movies that consider themselves as such. Why the distinction? Crimson Peak is many things. It's a period piece, a romance, a drama, a fantasy story, a ghost story, and most certainly a horror movie. But, above all... Crimson Peak is simply great.

  Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston have enough chemistry to keep two movies afloat, and they play the leads here with flair and the right hint of melodrama to make for compelling viewing. It also helps that they're both fantastic actors. Wasikowska is no stranger to gothic romance and mystery. I'd direct anyone to seek out Stoker, a great flick, and the Jane Eyre movie with her in it, I hear from trusted sources that it's also pretty damn great. Just about everyone and their mothers are familiar with Tom Hiddleston from his portrayal of Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Probably the only truly compelling villain to come from that entire stretch of movies. That's really saying something too.

  I found the best part about the movie to be the atmosphere. Director Guillermo Del Toro uses every tool in the kit to create an absorbing and haunting world for these characters to inhabit. Long creepy hallways, ornate architecture, slow-falling snow, and masterful use of lighting and shadows. I could wax praise on the atmosphere the visuals ad nauseum, but that wouldn't be a fair assessment of the whole movie. The story isn't really that compelling unfortunately, and with lesser actors the movie wouldn't be that great. The actors work in tandem with the visuals thus the movie is never boring. It's a blend of raw emotion and stunning visuals. That works just fine for me.

  The special effects are fantastic and it's a real treat to be able to praise CGI effects, but the ghosts in this movie are beautifully realized and truly scary. I do feel compelled to point out that this movie is not a ghost story. Unlike garbage like The Uninvited, there's no shitty twist that pulls the rug out from under our feet specifically regarding the ghosts. They are a part of the story, but the story is not about them. The movie itself has a fun way of pointing that out to us early on. Wasikowska's character, Edith, has written a book, and in the book there are ghosts. But, as she explains, it's not a ghost story. See, the ghosts are metaphors for the past according to her. That's really a really neat way to address it and the movie never relies on the ghosts to be the only thing worth watching for.

  Jessica Chastain turns in a chilling performance as Lady Lucille Sharpe, the sister to Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston). The plot kicks into gear once Thomas wins the affections of Edith and marries her, stealing away with her to his creepy old mansion. The movie is rather obvious that Sharpe may have ulterior motives, and afterall- would there really be much of a movie if he didn't? I imagine this will end up being a footnote movie in Del Toro's filmography, but it's a good one nonetheless. It's not a masterpiece but it is masterfully made. There's plenty to like in this one and I had a blast with it.

  It's a mysterious little thriller with fantastic production design, stunning visuals, and great acting. It's also more pulpy and bloody that I expected it to be. It really reminded me of a modern day Dario Argento movie, but maybe a little more low key. You won't be disappointed unless you're expecting a great mystery. It's a good story, but a rather standard mystery. Unfortunately it's easy to figure out, but like I've said, this movie is like a beautiful painting. It tells the details and nuances of it's story through visuals and it's great. Superb use of color and lighting make Crimson Peak a feast of eye candy and one that's so well made, it's absolutely worth seeing. Recommended.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


  Oh man, if liking Wrong Turn 2 made me question if I've grown fond of crappy horror movies, The Hills Have Eyes 2 had the answer, and the answer is a big resounding "No." I don't see how anyone could like this one. In this 80 something minute slog, there's maybe 5 minutes that are actually watchable and borderline good. If you lower your standards even more, maybe- just MAYBE you could possibly find the last 20 minutes approaching something resembling 'interesting'. But, in all honesty this is one of those movies that you either feel you have to see, or you're a sane person and stayed the hell away.

   I cannot even begin to adequately express how much of a crime it is that Wrong Turn 2 got stuck with a direct-to-video release, while this saw the light of day in movie theaters everywhere. This feels like a made for TV movie, whereas Wrong Turn 2 had some decent production value more or less. Either that, or they just made better use of what they did have regardless. First of all, the characters in this movie are the most annoying and insipid assholes I've seen in a movie in quite a long fucking time. Things like common sense and bravery are punished in this movie, not by the villains, but by our protagonists' commanding officer. Oh, didn't I mention? All the "protagonists" this time are soldiers-  and, "Rookie soldiers" at that.

   I'm taking a deep breath right now, just so you know. The plot of the movie takes place some time after the first one. Some on screen text before the movie starts lets us know that the military stepped in after the events of the first movie and that there was some search and destroy missions into the hills where the Hills' clan lives. In a kinder world, THAT would've been the actual plot for the movie, but it's not. It's the... prologue? Or something? No, we don't get anything so logical as a story that directly deals with the consequences of the previous movie- no no no, that would make too much sense. Instead, there's a team of... scientists up there? Doing God knows what, with a military escort of course, but still.

  Anyhow, our rookie soldiers are tasked with delivering some equipment to the scientists out there and when they get there, everyone is dead. This 'plot' is paper thin, insultingly stupid, and it seems like it was intentionally angled so that the writer could avoid having to do any research about anything at all- namely the freaking military. These guys seem as immature and as petulant as a group of 'problematic' high school students. They start fights among each other, call each other names, a few them are always trying to steal away so they can fuck each other, and there's no sense of teamwork whatsoever. Did the writer think calling them "rookies" would adequately explain all that? 'Rejects' would've been a better term! One little switched detail and the plot would've made more sense. If these soldiers were troublemakers enduring some sort of official punishment, that would've made for a more interesting story as well.

  No such luck here. We're stuck with these "rookies" as they poke around the hills looking for survivors. Again, anyone in the movie who voices an idea with any iota of common sense is reprimanded and treated like an idiot. I was getting tired of this movie not even a full 15 minutes into it. This didn't feel like a sequel to The Hills Have Eyes remake, which was actually a gritty and terrifying flick with style and plenty of gore. Amazingly, it's sequel has less gore, but more disposable characters. 90% of the movie is just the soldiers wandering around while things dart around behind them set to "creepy" crescendos in the score.

  When the two big highlights of your movie are a grotesque, graphic and context-less birth scene, and then a horrific rape scene... you know your "horror" movie is in trouble. There was so little creativity here, not even a sense of bloody mayhem. Things just didn't even really happen until the movie was 70% over. People got attacked here and there, but somehow it was just... boring. That rape scene I mentioned? One of the ONLY scary parts in the whole movie. Maybe the ONLY scary part, and it's only scary because rape is scary. Not because the filmmakers tackled it with any tact or skill- just that rape is scary and disturbing whether or not the filmmaking behind it is competant in the least. It's cheap and insulting because rape doesn't need to be well written to be frightening- it just is. I give the makers of this movie no credit for that white-knuckle sequence, but I do take my hat off to the actress that had to endure it.

  Not to mention it seems to go on forever. We see it start, and then shortly after it starts we cut away. Like, ten minutes later we cut back to it and it's still going on! When we exit that scene, it was still happening. It was gut wrenching. From that point on, (which was about 14 minutes to the end of the movie, including the runtime of the end credits) the movie gets watchable. Emotions run strong and the actors seem to discover how to actually... act. Yelling and screaming, pure fear and lots of tears. The last 12 to 15 minutes of the movie are... passably watchable. They waited til the end to show off the only interesting set in the whole flick, what appears to be the Hills' clan meat locker/butchering room. It's a horrific and disturbing set piece loaded with disturbing imagery and gross-out gory props. No wonder we only have to spend a minute or two in there.

  Because why would this movie want to even remotely gross us out or scare us? No, it just seems content to bore us until the very end. If you liked the first movie, like I do, and feel strongly compelled to watch this mind-numbingly mediocre follow-up, please just... don't. Or if you really really want to, for whatever Godforsaken reason, at least spare yourself a majority of the boredom and just skip around until you get to maybe the last 20 minutes. Even though the mutant cannibals had a bit more diversity this time, and there were some really cool designs, it was all wasted on a lame story fueled by horrible writing, terrible characterization, and some of the most uninteresting death scenes in history. There's no reason to watch this flick. Skip it. I only wish I had listened to the naysayers myself.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A bloody great time!

   By all known laws of the universe, this movie should be a horrible piece of crap. It's a direct-to-video sequel to a modestly successful horror movie that had one vaguely recognizable actress in it, and this one virtually has none. So how is this one so friggin fun? Either some serious magic went down behind the scenes here, or I've become keen on shitty horror movies. I'm much more inclined to believe the former. I think the first thing this movie does right is that it never takes itself too seriously. It's a ridiculous movie and it's aware of this. It seems very conscious of the fact that it should be crap, and they must've had a blast defying all those expectations.

  Let me clear a few things up first. For all intents and purposes, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End isn't a good movie. It's story is creative, but paper thin. The acting is rarely better than adequate. Most of the characters are never more than cannon fodder, and the plot is little more than a thing to chain set pieces together. By all standard... standards, this is just a middle of the road less-than-average flick that's not going to do much for anyone looking for some genuine scares. Yet, like I said in my review of the first movie, these aren't really horror movies. They're "splatter-horror". It's a gross-out sub-genre that exists solely to showcase top shelf practical gore effects and to see how creative death scenes can really get. By those standards... Wrong Turn 2 is a total blast!

   Amazingly this has a better setup than the first one in a lot of ways. For one, the premise is more creative from the outset. A reality show called Ultimate Survivor: Apocalypse (or something, I don't know) is gearing up to starting filming in some remote areas in the woods of West Virginia. The same woods from the first movie. This premise not only serves up a ready-made cast of characters ripe for the picking, it's also tailored to introduce us to the characters better than the previous movie was. Instead of perfunctory meet-and-greet scenes, the basics are taken care of via snippets of the intro for the reality show. It's effective.

  More than that, the concept of this post-apocalyptic survivor show ends up keeping a lot of the contestants ignorant to the very real dangers lurking in the woods- which are now readily mistaken for just being part of the show. This illusion doesn't last for long however and contestants start meeting their bloody demises posthaste.  Which leads us to some of the best scenes and set-pieces in the movie. I mean, creative kills are the bread and butter of this genre but this movie ramped up the gross-out factor past even that of it's predecessor. What it lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in gruesome production design and the gnarliest sets you could imagine.

  Again, returning as the villains is a family of inbred mutant cannibals. We're given a fair bit more info about them this time, and the movie also gives them a lot more clear-cut personality. In fact, this seems a lot more like the Hills clan from The Hills Have Eyes remake- much more of a literal family unit. Granted the makeup work done on their deformities isn't on par with it's predecessor and certainly not with the Hills' remake- but this is compensated for by how much more we get to see of them and how much more we get to see them actually do. Overall, this movie trades the atmosphere and the ominous gravitas of the first movie, for more gross in-your-face repulsiveness.

   Considering what must've been a limited budget and a very average script, I'd say the trade-offs worked in it's favor. I took no issue with them for the most part. Not only do the villains get more personality, the protagonists do too. Consider one scene where one of the contestants notices how diverse the cast of the reality show is- he manages to list them off. "He (the director) wanted a show for middle America, but he hired a lesbo, a sensitive joke, a bi-polar vegan, an extreme fuck-up, and Miss Hollywood!" It's a rather meta moment, because not only is he listing off contestants- he's also listing off the characters in the movie as well. Somehow almost all of the main characters get some actual character development and backstory. This is due in no small part to the backdrop of the reality show premise, and it keeps paying off throughout the movie.

  But, again, the real star of the movie is the gross-out moments and the gore effects. Sometimes those two things go hand in hand... and sometimes they don't. Some of the inbred mutant freaks get turned on by violence, so I'll let you think about that for a moment. Then there's also a birthing scene, and nobody wants to see what a third generation mutant inbred newborn looks like- unless you're watching this movie, then of course you do! And, you're in luck! The movie exploits every chance it has to be as gross and weird as possible and it's so much fun. But, I'd be truly remiss if I didn't mention the host of the reality show. A total Rambo type who used to be in the military. I knew right away his character was either a for-real badass, or a poser who would be first to die. I'm so glad he turned out to be the former because he ends up being one of the coolest characters in the movie.

  Wrong Turn 2 is a hell of a fun time if you're looking for blood and guts with a dash of creativity. There's so much more right about this movie than there is wrong. Sure it's cheesy and ridiculous, but for me it's part of the charm. I could ramble on about this flick for another few paragraphs, but I'll spare you. If you're looking for a crazy, over-the-top splatterfest where people get sliced, hacked, disemboweled, eaten, shot, shot with arrows, split in half, ground up like meat, eaten, tortured, and blown the hell up... look no further than this wild ride. I give it my full wholehearted recommendation. I had way more fun with it than I expected to.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Supremely suspenseful!

  Another blind buy from last month's impulse grabs, this white-knuckle thriller took me entirely by surprise. I'm learning new lessons every day, and this movie taught me not to judge a book (or in this case, a movie) by it's cover. It's not a new lesson per se, but it's one that's easy to forget- or at the very least, fail to heed. For all intents and purposes, The Green Inferno should've blown me away, and this should've been a turd. Quite the opposite in point of fact. I feel bad, because in the past- I took one look at all the young hip and ridiculously photogenic actors on the poorly photoshopped DVD cover and dismissed it as lowest common denominator drivel from an era of movies that nobody is going to give a shit about in ten years.

  Granted, that's a lot from a glance, but still. There are still plenty of sucky movies out there that can be spotted by the same telltale signs. Unfortunately, I have the feeling I've also probably been missing out on a lot of perfectly good movies. Like The Hills Have Eyes remake and Wrong Turn from last month's horror-thon, Joy Ride is right up there as a movie I would've brushed off a couple years ago without a second thought, but lo and behold they've all turned out to be a blast. Though for my money, Joy Ride is probably the best one.

  The movie is about a guy, Lewis, (Paul Walker) who drops everything to go rescue a girl he likes, Venna, (Leelee Sobieski) from the depths of despair, and take her on a road trip to forget about her troubles. However, on the way to Venna's, he ends up having to pick up his troublemaker older brother, Fuller, (Steve Zahn) and out of sheer boredom, the two of them end up pulling a practical joke on an anonymous voice over their CB radio. Bad move. The movie is tightly paced and expertly plotted. It does a lot with so little, and once the plot kicks in things start getting very tense.

  Of course, if you've seen any road thriller movie, you might be able to predict where this is going- but not how far it's going. The sound design and cinematography are great. They often created a sense of feeling panicked and trapped. Lewis, Fuller, and eventually Venna- are all dragged into a psychotic cat and mouse game orchestrated by a deranged trucker, and it's absolutely hair raising. This could've been a very standard, boring, or even cliche movie- yet against all odds... it wasn't. It was masterfully crafted to be a pure no-nonsense thriller of the best sort.

  Joy Ride is able to generate such raw suspense and tension that I was squirming in my seat. It does all this without needing gore, a high body count, or any jump scares. Not that those things should ever be go-to tools for a good suspense thriller, but when used smartly, and in moderation they can be effective. Joy Ride doesn't even need them. It has some scary imagery and a couple bloody moments, but nothing outright gory. It's not a slasher flick, lest you think it was. It could easily be classified as horror because of the sheer amount of psychological terror the protagonists go through.

   Paul Walker's wide-eyed youthful charisma is actually more endearing than I expected it could be. It gives him a leg up on the lead character of Wrong Turn for sure. Not that those movies should be compared in any significant way, but the thought sprung to mind that both movies kinda start the same way. Lewis is something of a unique character now that I think about it. He has the looks of a pretty boy ladies man, but he's a nice guy and rather low key at that. He's not the luckiest in love because he's been hung up on the one girl who doesn't think of him like that. It goes without saying a lot of this information is useless to the main story, but it's a fair bit of decent character development that was rather welcome.

  Venna and Fuller are fun characters but they're no more developed than Lewis, and probably a fair bit less so. On the other hand, we have the true mysterious character of the movie- the trucker who goes by the handle: Rusty Nail. All this guy is to us is a disembodied voice, and a big rig truck that seems exceptionally menacing and monstrous simply because it's all we can see of him for the most part. The truck is not just a truck, it's his weapon. This massive hulk of steel and blinding headlights bent on running our protagonists into the ground. I should point out that this is not a car chase movie. It's a stalker thriller more than anything, just one that takes place at roadside hotels, bars, empty fields, and of course the open road. All these settings are made eerie sooner or later as our trio realizes there is simply no escape from this violent maniac.

  If you like thrillers and appreciate some good old fashioned suspense and tension, Joy Ride is a must-see. It reminds me a lot of Vacancy but with the forward-moving dynamic of Speed. It's a dark movie, but a fun one. It takes it's time to build up, and the payoff is fantastic. The last act will have you gripping the armrests of your chair, or biting your nails. Such a great little flick that I have a feeling will unfortunately continue to go largely unappreciated. It's uncomplicated yet intricate and incredibly intense. This is one twisted Joy Ride you'll want to go on time and time again.

Tame, but not bad

   Director Eli Roth has a big reputation for making extremely gory movies, and the prospect of him tackling the cannibal genre tickled me pink. Especially since Cannibal Holocaust is one of his favorite movies, and probably one of the most disturbing and notorious cannibal movies ever made. How could this possibly go wrong? Right? Well, lemme just say right now I enjoyed The Green Inferno. I thought it was alright. Is it great? Not really. It's kinda silly to be honest. It's little more than a soft-pedaled intro into what's usually a much bloodier genre. Newcomers to cannibal flicks might enjoy it a lot more than veterans would. But, when all is said and done it's not a bad movie. Just an underwhelming one.

  There's maybe one exceptionally gory scene in the whole movie. A movie that I expected to be full of goriness. The Green Inferno is less intent on showing you blood and guts and more concerned with showing you lots of fear. A group of young ideal do-gooders go to the Amazon to try and stop some land developers from destroying a local village full of still-wild natives. Of course things end up going south and the do-gooders end up captured and put on the lunch menu by the same tribe they were fighting to protect. It's a cruel irony and the first scenes with the native tribe people are harrowing and terrifying. I couldn't help but put myself in the shoes of the protagonists, and wonder how insanely horrified they must be.

   That whole sequence is the pinnacle of the movie, it's never gets as good as that again- which is sad because this premise had a lot of potential. In retrospect, there's a handful of really intense scenes, but too much of the movie is just the group of protagonists arguing about how to escape their little bamboo cage. It got tedious real fast. The pacing in this movie is all over the place, and pound for pound it's far less brutal than you might assume. I know some people reading this might be scratching their head, wondering how much more brutality I expected from a movie like this. Well, to be frank, I expected more personality for starters.

   There's a couple standout 'villains' in the movie so to speak, a couple of the cannibals who look fantastic. They're scary and frightening to even look at, but even that fear wears thin pretty fast from the audience's perspective. I think Roth should've been less concerned with any sort of authenticity and gone full blown theatrical. I remember being more freaked out by the sacrifice scenes in Apocalypto, which is much more intense and probably bloodier too. The difference is, this movie was supposed to be a gorefest. That's the impression I got from all the promotional schemes. It's really not. In fact, it's only moderately scary for the most part, and only really freaky in a couple scenes. This could've been compensated by lots of blood and guts, but there's not really even much of that.

  So, what you're left with is a slick and violent thriller that not's consistently brutal enough to blow anyone away nor frightening to become a must-see. Which is sad because I was really hoping this was scarier. I would've loved to have waved the banner for this movie and sing it's praises. I love me a good splatter-fest, but this wasn't it. It does a great job of showcasing the characters' gut wrenching fear and desperation, and there's some great shots in here regardless. Like I said, the centerpiece of the movie involving the first scenes with the cannibals are great. Which is total like a solid 15 minutes out of a 100 minute (approx.) movie.

  Overall I can give this flick a pass. It's light viewing with some gory scenes that are entertaining despite not reaching the heights I expected it to. Most of the movies I watched last month were as bloody if not bloodier. I expected more from The Green Inferno but it's exploitative nature is at odds with what it ends up being, which is just a really dark adventure movie. People should've been wading out of the theaters, knee deep in rivers of blood by the time this was over. Instead we got a lot of gross-out stuff, a couple gore scenes, and a really odd last act. I should reiterate that I still think it's a decent flick, I'd even buy it and watch it again. It's just not the blood-feast I hoped it would be.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Plain ol' fun

  This was like a splash of cold water to the face after watching practically nothing but horror movies for a whole month. Swinging back into action is Ethan Hunt and his IMF team. This time, there's a whole anti-IMF agency called The Syndicate. They're set up as a major threat, like Spectre is to Bond and MI-6. Only the Mission: Impossible movies don't have that kind of franchise-long dedication, so we know by the end of the movie the Syndicate will be brought down. If you think that's a spoiler, you haven't been paying attention to these movies. Nevertheless, Rogue Nation is a fun thrill ride with plenty of familiar faces that have definitely become franchise mainstays as much as insane action sequences and death defying stunts.

   Ethan Hunt is still a rather static character, he's defined solely by how outrageous his plans and action scenes get. He's not Jason Bourne, and he's not Bond. He's Tom Cruise. Like an action figure in the hands of a child, fueled by his imagination- Hunt does the impossible. Over... and over and over. Rogue Nation would be no different except for the fact that this time, all this is actually acknowledged to some extent. Ethan Hunt could very well be a madman here. His plans are so crazy that even his teammates and friends have to second guess him. His dedication veers dangerously close to crazed obsession. So, is Hunt nuts? Or is he just that good? That's as much character development as you can expect from this franchise because M:I:III was a one-off that worked around a premise rather un-conducive to an ongoing serialistic mentality.

   I have no problem with that to be honest because I don't need these movies to have an abundance of depth. They feel like episodes in a TV series with the depth of The A-Team but with ten times more action and adventure. It's exceptionally well crafted excitement with a blockbuster frame of mind. Things like story, plot, and character development only get in the way to be honest.  The plot is only ever an excuse to set up a few action sequences and a couple major stunt centerpieces. On those points, Rogue Nation functions like a well oiled machine. It's also worth mentioning that it's sense of humor is fantastic, understated yet well written. One of the most sly entries in the series so far.

   Rogue Nation also feels like a throwback to the original. Things are scaled back a bit, because after you scale the tallest building in the world... you can't really say there's nowhere to go but up. This one is a bit more contained, leaner, meaner- and much more like the first movie. The opening credits flare to life with the classic theme and set the mood for the rest of the movie. This is old school Mission: Impossible in a lot of ways. Even the setup scene as Ethan and his teammates discuss how they're going to infiltrate yet another highly guarded building to do another impossible thing- it feels just like a very similar scene from the original. Familiarity is very welcome at this point in the series.

   I always feel slightly betrayed when I'm about to watch one of these movies and the classic theme has been remixed or rescored for the opening credits. Rogue Nation doesn't mess with that, or anything else that works. It's villain is evil, and the supporting characters are fun and engaging. It's not quite as over-the-top or humorous as Ghost Protocol, but it's fun nonetheless. In a lot of ways it's full of old fashioned spy thrills which is something lost on the franchise save for this one, the original, and maybe part of the third one. Rogue Nation has a lot of details and twists and turns, and I lost track of what was going on a few times, but in the end it all gets sorted out obviously.

   What's a Mission: Impossible without the possibility of another one? It also raises the question of what's going to happen to the series once Tom calls it quits- if he ever does. If we ever found another performer like him, a total do-my-own-insane-stunts guy with leading man charisma, I'm all for Cruise passing on the baton. Mission: Impossible may only be a five movie series at this point, but knowing when a new one is right around the corner always makes me happy. It's not quite nostalgia, but something close. It'll never be the 007 franchise, and even the Fast and Furious movies leave it in the dust, but there's just something about these movies that put a smile on my face. They're uncomplicated fun, and the day there's no longer a place for that in the cinema, the world will be a little more boring.


   What a way to end October and kick off November! I'm probably going to be spending most of November revisiting horror faves of mine that didn't make the cut for my October horror-thon, which most likely means I'll be digging up the original Evil Dead movies. Not to mention I just ordered the Shout Factory release of Army of Darkness, so hell yeah. Bring it on. But, even more exciting than that was the premiere of Ash vs. Evil Dead. It marks the return of Bruce Campbell to his most famous role, that of Ashley J. Williams, the protagonist of the Evil Dead trilogy. I don't know what inter-movie connectivity they have going on since the Evil Dead remake, which was apparently not necessarily a remake at all. (Scroll a little more than half way down on the page that links to) So... what does that mean for this show?

   Well, first and foremost... Ash is back! No matter your thoughts on the movies, the not-remake, or whatever- He's back and as badass as ever. He's still the same selfish, cocksure, asshole-hero he was by the end of Army of Darkness. Also carried over from that movie is a lot of the humor. There's buckets of gore in here much like the first two movies, so there's a balancing act going on there for sure. Watching Ash crack wise is as much fun as watching Ash kick ass. It's a wave of much welcome nostalgia for fans, and I'm sure it'll be a blast for newcomers as well. What feels sort of odd to me here is that... this is probably the most downtime we've ever seen of Ash. The Evil Dead movies never lingered long on the normal bits of his life. A bit of driving in the first movie, some tedious work related stuff in the third... and that's it. Barely a full five minutes altogether.

  This pilot episode shows us what life is like for Ash when he's not slaughtering deadites or terror-assing around the middle ages. He lives in a trailer, picks up chicks in bars, lies about how he lost his hand, and works as a stockboy in a value mart. So much exposure to Ash's day to day life was sorta odd. Not that it was tedious or boring in any way, the episode clicks along as a decent pace setting up characters, subplots and story threads it will inevitably revisit later on in the season. There's some really cool moments in here, but if I had to pick a not-so-obvious one, it would probably be when Ash is telling his 'story' to another character, and clips from the movies are splashed across walls and objects in the room via a projector.

   It looks really neat and was a visual treat for sure. At the same time, it was also a neat treat for fans and a cool way to do a recap for newcomers. Beyond that, there's a standout sequence in an old house with a couple of police officers getting a taste of the series' mainstay brand of violence and gore. Fantastic stuff. Then of course there's the climax of the episode which sees Ash step back into the swing of things. It was like watching Clark Kent turn into Superman, Bruce Wayne rise from his chair as he sees the Bat-Signal, or Arnie donning his Terminator shades. It was just badass and made me wanna cheer. The whole episode is equal parts new stuff, and familiar stuff. A welcome balance of both to be sure and I liked it a lot.

  My problem was that none of it (with a very slim possible exception) was scary. We all like the humor the franchise grew into, but it never wholly forsook it's scary roots. Even Army of Darkness had some truly scary moments there. Admittedly not many, but if you're going for a horror-comedy vibe with equal parts scary and humorous- look no farther than Evil Dead II. Why was that tone so hard to nail here? Sam Raimi even returned to direct this! There's a rock n' roll vibe that permeates the whole episode, as if it's wholly unconcerned with being the slightest bit scary- we're only here because Ash is an ass-kicking machine. True, but there has to be some element of seriousness, of danger.

  When the soundtrack is more classic rock, and less bombastic ominous scary stuff- there's a problem. There was no tension or suspense, maybe a few of the uninitiated will react to some of the jump scare-ish moments, but they fell rather flat for me. The episode introduces a lot of cool concepts and has some great moments, but if it has any hope of being a horror-comedy, and not just a flat-out comedy, they need to work on their scary stuff. Gore isn't scary by itself, especially not when set to slammin' classic rock tunes.  This is where they could've borrowed from the tone set in the not-remake, which was definitely creepy as hell.

   All in all it's a no-brainer that I'm in for the long haul. Scary or not, Ash is a fun character to spend any amount of time watching. Whether it's 90 minutes for a movie, or 45 minutes once a week- I'm always down for more. I really do hope they find a scarier vibe to contrast the humor and heroics, but I can't seriously complain either way, I'm so giddy right now it's hard to stay objective. The episode has plenty of gore and badassery even if it's short on scares, this is one bloody good time that no genre fan should pass up. Ash is back! Groovy!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Timelessly scary!

   As a movie buff in general, there's always a whole heap of classic films I feel guilty for not watching. When weighed against a lot of the junk I usually watch, it's almost a crime. With my October Horror-thon and Halloween itself coming to a close, I decided to end it with a bang. What better flick to cap it all off with than one of the original creature features? It was a no-brainer actually, and one I had been planning all month. I dimmed the lights, popped the popcorn and started the movie up. It's breezy 80-ish minute long runtime left no room for sluggish pacing. Almost right away, Creature from the Black Lagoon was proving it's reputation with frightening gusto. This is definitely the penultimate granddaddy of all creature feature flicks.

   The movie is about an expedition up the Amazon river to unearth a rather unusual and mysterious skeleton that looks part human, part amphibian. Only, the intrepid researchers get a lot more than they bargained for when they end up face to face with the real live counterpart to the skeleton. It's a snappy little set up and one that works well. It's sad that a lot of people think 'old' and 'boring' are synonymous when it comes to movies. In no time at all, this movie was cranking out creepy imagery, violent action scenes, and gorgeous scenery all set to a fantastic score, ranging from adventurous to downright scary! The movie clicks along at a quick pace, keeping the creature from full view for a while- but it doesn't take long for us to realize this Gill-man isn't camera shy.

   The Gill-man steals the show whenever possible. Only the most jaded and cynical viewers could possibly say this looked like a man in a suit. The stuntmen inside the creature do an amazing job of bringing it to life with animalistic mannerisms and plenty of personality. What's unique about the Gill-man is that he's also a rather sympathetic creature. He can be quite menacing, for sure, but he's also just responding to a bunch of people invading his territory. He's also quite possibly the only one of his kind, and is clearly fascinated by Julia Adam's character, Kay Lawrence. Who knows if he's ever seen people before? Let alone a woman for that matter. I firmly believe Jaws owes a lot to this movie, but the shark in Jaws doesn't have a face.

   An important distinction between Gill-man and most horror movie creatures. Even the xenomorph in Alien lacked any discernible humanoid facial features. As terrifying as he is, the Gill-man is never portrayed as evil. I felt that was a very smart and sophisticated angle for a story like this to use. It's an animal from a forgotten and bygone era of history, time has seemed to pass it by. Though it's quite at home in the eponymous Black Lagoon, right off the Amazon river. It's a place that's haunting and gorgeous all at the same time. The sounds of the wildlife accompany the score with screeches and howls. It all contributes to an exceptionally eerie atmosphere. There's a lot to appreciate in this breezy little creature feature, but special mention goes to the underwater scenes.

   Whole action sequences take place underwater, and it's all the more harrowing because you know there's no special effects trickery going on here. I read somewhere that the stuntman playing the creature often had to hold his breath for up to four minutes at a time. The director (if I recall correctly) didn't feel like the Gill-man would have bubbles coming from his mouth because he wouldn't be breathing the way a normal human would, so there was no oxygen tank fitted under the suit. That sort of detail is admirable, and the crew's willingness to go through with it is... scary. Regardless, it adds yet another layer of danger and suspense to the movie, albeit a very real one. When you know there's a real element of danger to a movie, it becomes all that much more engrossing. This movie is no exception.

   The leads are all great, but I really wished Kay had more of a leading role. She's relegated to doling out screams here and there whenever Gill-man shows up, and while she has a great set of lungs I felt like her character had a lot of unexplored potential. Alas, this was the 1950's. Women in movies were going to be damsels in distress or eye candy- and usually both. Even so, Kay is a smart woman and brave. For the most part she's treated like an equal member of the expedition. I can only hope that if this is ever remade (which I don't think would be an awful idea, if in the right hands) that Kay is made the absolute main character. She is the one that the Gill-man becomes obsessed with after all.

   Nevertheless, Creature from the Black Lagoon is a surprisingly smart and effective creature feature even decades later. It's directed with jolting efficiency and has an intensely energetic vibe to it. It's tightly paced and a real delight any way you slice it. I can't imagine this flick boring anyone of any age. It's a classic that certainly lived up to it's massive reputation. Timeless, gorgeous, scary, and full of action, this movie was a blast. I loved it, and look forward to future re-watches.

Creepy and haunting!

  Now here's a movie with a ton of exposure. Ringu is the victim of at least two remakes, one prequel that I know of, and a few sequels so far. So, in the wake of all of that... how does it hold up? Exceptionally well actually. It's far from what I expected, and much better to boot. I thought this was going to buckle under it's weighty reputation a lot like The Exorcist did for me, but that wasn't the case at all. Ringu is a horror movie in the sense that it revolves around horrific things like a deadly supernatural curse and murder and stuff like that- but... Ringu is nothing like a conventional horror movie.

   It's antagonist has been over-exposed, the concept has been done to death and even parodied, but going back to the source- the original, I found a haunting and methodical drama/thriller with a creeping supernatural pulse in it. The movie is about an investigative reporter named Reiko Asakawa who's been doing a story on a 'cursed video' that's been the topic of much discussion among lots of youths in the area. At first, brushed off as urban legend, a bit of digging turns up articles, news footage, and facts that seem to corroborate the rumors. As the gossip wheel goes, it gets around about a group of friends that all died 7 days after watching this 'cursed video'.

   The details seem to vary slightly from person to person, but Reiko ferrets out the source and discovers the actual video. Curiosity gets the better of her and she watches the damn tape. She absolutely believes she will die in 7 days now, and the movie is on the same page as her. Some movies try to angle the plot to make the audiences unsure if the curse or whatever is real or not. Ringu doesn't do that. The curse is real. Reiko is going to die in a week unless she finds a loop hole. She immediately seeks help from her ex-husband who helps her analyze the video, but of course this means he ends up watching it to. The movie is a race against time as now both protagonist's have an expiration date on their lives.

  The movie is full of research and melodrama. It's a very macabre outing full of death and creepy imagery. The more Reiko and her ex investigate the video, the more strange it seems. Even after we discover what it really is, the tension and the suspense doesn't fade. If anything it's more scary. That's a lesson more horror movies should learn. More often than not, the twist of a horror movie undercuts the tone and theme it's been cultivating all along. Especially in ghost stories. So often will I find ghost movies where the ghost that's been portrayed as evil all along is actually not evil at all. Whatever. It's horrible. Ringu doesn't do that. What's evil at the start, is evil at the end- even if we understand it a lot more.

   The real star of Ringu is it's atmosphere. It does so much with so little that I was completely impressed. Key images are scoured for detail as Reiko rushes to find out more about the video, and those images stay with us throughout the movie. Then we have the tried and true use of lighting and darkness. Creepy hallways, eerie rooms- a distinct sense of dread. Never does Ringu stoop to being bloody or graphic. It's a movie dripping with the most rich and eerie atmosphere imaginable. It doesn't need to dole out jump scares or splash blood at our feet to frighten the viewers. It's much more sophisticated. Though you wouldn't think so from it's reputation.

  Ringu is a mystery thriller at it's core, and it's a damn good one at that. I was genuinely curious about what was going to happen to the main characters, and the movie finds ways to consistently up the stakes as things progress. There's no chase scenes, there's no maniac with a knife, there's no blood splatter, and no scream queens- yet Ringu seems closer to the essence of what horror movies should be about than most horror movies actually are. If you knew you were going to die in a week, how would you act? With every second of every day ticking away, bringing you closer to a horrific death... could you even compose yourself enough to do the desperate research Reiko must do to find an out?

  The concept of Ringu is fantastic and is scarier than any amount of butcher knives and fake blood. The movie is psychologically scary, forsaking easy scares for more thoughtful and introspective ones. There's also a strong emotional core to the story and it made it easier for me to invest in the characters. If you haven't seen Ringu before, I recommend you give it a shot. It's not the unbearably horrifying movie it's been made out to be, but instead it's more of a creeping sense of dread, an impending and inescapable feeling of doom stretched out over it's 90 minute runtime. What could be scarier than that?