Opus (2011)

SEPTEMBER 30, 2011


In the past I have always missed the opening night movies at Shriekfest due to work, but this year I had the early shift, allowing me to see what sort of movies they think are worth leading the festival off with. As I no longer have time/energy to write up full reviews of every movie I see at a festival, I decided whichever of the three opening night films I liked the most would get the review; as it turns out, Opus - the first of the three - was my favorite.

Right off the bat I was on board, because while I knew it was a "7 people trapped in an isolated location" movie (i.e. a theoretical Saw ripoff), it didn't START with them already there, not knowing how they got there or who the others were. No, as we learn via reality show style testimonials, our seven heroes have agreed to star in a mysterious horror film, and are driven there on their own free will. It's only after they enter the house and sit around for a while that they realize something is amiss, as there's no director, no lights, and seemingly no cameras.

Of course, that's not actually the case. The entire film is shot through cameras that seem to be placed inside wall vents and lighting fixtures, all placed perfectly symmetrical (no annoying high quarter angle shots like Bryan Loves You). It gives the film a very unnerving atmosphere that kept my interest throughout the runtime, at least until the final 10 minutes when the movie shoots itself in the foot with a dragged out setpiece featuring a character that we had assumed was dead.

Spoilers ahead!

Now, what might bug people about the climax is that we never get the answers (i.e. who is the director, how is the mistress of one character involved, etc), but that didn't bother me at all - any answer they come up with out of nowhere is likely to disappoint anyway. The problem is that they had a perfectly good ending but kept the movie going, showing us what this thought-dead character was doing the whole time. If they revealed he was the killer, fine, but instead we just see him doing the same sort of shit the other characters were doing throughout the rest of the film, albeit by himself, and ultimately it doesn't provide any more insight. Hell, it doesn't even set up a sequel! Essentially it's just a clunky, pace-killing way to tie up a loose end, one that was already more or less addressed by one of the characters earlier.

See, the hook of the movie is that they seem to be "acting out" a pre-existing script for a traditional horror movie, which leads to some minor Scream style meta humor (the resident horror movie expert* points out that the only black guy was the first to be taken out). Well, most slashers have a character that disappears only to either turn up dead or as the killer, so all we would need is a quick shot of this guy's corpse at some point in the final reel to be satisfied. For the life of me I cannot fathom why they chose to dedicate the entire last 5-10 minutes of the film to this character's non-journey.

(Also, instead of the "we're acting out a script" thing, I would have reversed it - having someone write down everything that happens as they turn on each other and fashion it into a "based on a true story" script. We need more cynical endings in horror!)

Production-wise, it was by far the most professional of the films I saw tonight. None of the actors were particularly great (one's performance was intentionally terrible, I guess, but even when his true colors show through he's still bad), but it looked terrific and had a very atmospheric sound design, with the whirring motors and fluttering of the auto-iris (I think some of the cameras were meant to be motion activated?) constantly reminding us of what we were seeing the movie through without keeping annoying camera graphics on-screen (i.e. the battery icon and "REC") - those are used sparingly more to keep track of how much time has passed. The score is also quite good (if a bit "Hello Zepp"ish at times; if intentional it was a poor choice since the scenario alone is already recalling Saw II), and director Micah Levin (plus DP Elie Smolkin) should be commended at keeping the movie visually interesting despite rarely even having the opportunity to move the camera beyond minor zooms.

And after the third film, Millennium Bug, what I really appreciated about Opus was that they kept the story within the confines of what was probably not a particularly big budget. Bug was fun, but throughout the movie I was sort of kept at arm's length from it as they clearly shot the entire thing on a set and didn't have the dough to show the monster doing much (or the ability to go into a wide shot - they later explained their set was only 600 square feet). With a few million this could have been a really kick ass movie (the script was pretty great; a blend of Wrong Turn/Hills Have Eyes type horror and a 50s monster movie), but instead it felt like the world's longest pre-vis; a demo in order to secure the necessary budget. Opus, on the other hand, never felt hampered by its budget or resources; any more money probably would/should have just gone toward hiring better actors (I should note that the film was largely improvised, which was likely the intention from the start - another reason why hiring better performers could have improved things).

So even while not perfect, it at least proves that there is still some life in the "let's trap a bunch of strangers somewhere" sub-genre, and even though it dips into torture territory briefly, anytime I can watch one of these things without constantly being reminded of Saw (not counting the score), especially now that we're coming up on Halloween and there's no new entry (boooo!) I am satisfied.

What say you?

*Who has a framed Dead Pit poster in his room. Brett Leonard was an executive producer here, and while the homage is cute, it seriously undermines his credibility as a horror expert, especially since it's the only really horror thing we can clearly see in there (looks like he has some Living Dead Dolls or something way in the background too).


Sleep Tight (2011)

SEPTEMBER 29, 2011


If you follow me on Twitter (and I apologize if you do), then you’re probably privy to my minor problem with cockroaches at the Homestead Suites I stayed at in Austin (my complaints netted me a free night’s stay that I probably won’t use). And thus it’s a good thing that I saw Sleep Tight (Spanish: Mientras Duermes) once I was safely back at home, as one of the terrible things that the main character does to a girl he is obsessed with is to purposely cause an infestation of the damn things in her apartment. It was hard enough to sleep in my second room (the first I refused to stay in since the cockroach was seriously big enough to take an actual chunk of flesh); it would have been impossible after seeing this particular sequence.

On the other hand, I’d be more relieved that the staff there seemed too incompetent to do what Cesar the creepy concierge does in this movie. Had they had the ability to do simple things like check me out when I left (the person on duty didn’t know how), I might fear that they too would sneak into guests’ rooms, drug them, and do terrible things to them while they slept, having all of the keys and the illusion of trust on their side. There are minor spoilers ahead, and I think this is the sort of movie that works best the less you know, so stop reading if you don’t already know the plot!

As terrible as The Resident was, I’m now glad I saw it, as Sleep Tight covers similar territory. See, I know how badly this sort of story can be told, and that just makes me appreciate this movie all the more. Rather than reveal the true intentions of the “villain” via an overlong flashback montage a half hour in, the reveal here is much more subtle and thus more successful. In the brilliant opening reel, we see Cesar get out of the bed he is sharing with a beautiful woman, get dressed, and head downstairs to take his post as concierge. A few minutes later, when she comes down and makes small talk with him before going to work, we realize that she has NO IDEA that he was there. SO CREEPY!

In fact all of the reveals in the movie are along the same lines, letting the visuals slowly tell you what’s going on instead of beating you over the head with them. We see Cesar giving some money to a little girl, and later we realize why. There are a lot of great “question and answer” actions in the movie, such as the aforementioned infestation. He doesn’t just walk in with a box of roaches and dump them all over the floor – we just see him smearing what looks like dirty K-Y jelly all over her bathroom cabinet and such, thinking “What the hell is he doing?” and getting our answer a few minutes later. Hell even in the film’s one kill, something is dragged out for a while and it’s not until the conclusion of the sequence that his actions make total sense. It’s a terrific approach to this sort of thriller, which usually favors cheap thrills and an abundance of over-the-top theatrics over this sort of restrained sense of impending dread (again, like The Resident, or maybe The Roommate).

I also like how director Jaume Balagueró managed to make me anxious for such an awful person. As can be expected, there’s a sequence where he gets trapped in the apartment as a result of unexpected developments (namely, she doesn’t fall asleep when planned), and has to sneak around to get to the door without being seen by her or her boyfriend. It’s a wonderfully queasy moment when you realize that you’re hoping he gets out OK, and not discovered/beaten to a pulp, which is what SHOULD happen. It’s a testament to both Alberto Marini’s script and the performance of Luis Tosar as Cesar that even when you understand how far he’s been going, he’s still sort of likable and sympathetic.

And I really dug how smart he was. While most of these characters turn into blubbering morons whenever questioned by authority, he mostly manages to come off as unquestionably innocent when the cops talk to him about a few of the strange goings-on. He’s got a logical answer for everything and never really raises their suspicion any more than it already was – it’s a nice change of pace. Usually they start making up ridiculous stories and the cop will sort of play along in order to get him later, but here I got the impression that the cop was successfully convinced of his innocence. Or at least, not further convinced of his guilt.

I’ll keep this (relatively) short because I feel like I’ve already spoiled too much, and if the movie has one flaw is that the 3rd act feels a bit stripped down, which I can’t really go into without REALLY spoiling things. So let’s just leave it at this: Balagueró has made his best solo film yet here (and that it’s the first he didn’t also write might be a clue to further success), and while it’s not a traditional horror movie, it’s actually creepier and scarier than the full blown horror efforts I saw at the festival. Recommended!

What say you?

P.S. The soundtrack is great and surprisingly all English language, including a Buckcherry number, of all things. I hope that the songs are retained for the film’s US release. The subtitles were also among the best I saw at Fantastic Fest – shouldn’t be something I’d have to point out but alas, most of them were awful.


Sennentuntschi: Curse Of The Alps (2010)

SEPTEMBER 28, 2011


I can’t recall if I had the chance to see Sennentuntschi: Curse Of The Alps at Fantastic Fest and opted for another movie (or rest/food at the Highball), and if I did I wish I had taken it. Not only was it one of the better horror movies of the lineup, but I could have immediately turned to my seat neighbor and discussed it, since I’m not sure if I “got” everything that went down in the film. Also, I might have had time to watch it again (maybe on the plane or something), but now with Shriekfest starting up and my DVR already half full from the new season, I just don’t have that option (that it’s in another language keeps me from putting it on in the background and listening, too).

As with Revenge: A Love Story, it’s the fractured timeline that caused me some confusion, coupled with the fact that I’m seeing too many movies in such a short period of time, often while very much tired. My brain is just not equipped to handle two hour jigsaw-puzzle narratives at this current time; something like Saw IV might actually cause an aneurysm if I tried watching it for the first time today. Luckily the subtitles were the best I’ve seen out of the fest – I can’t even imagine trying to watch this one if they were as bad as Penumbra or whatever.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not a particularly complicated story – it’s just HOW the story is told that confuses things. There are two timelines (three if you count the bookending modern day scenes; the bulk of the story takes place in 1975), but they overlap a bit, and even with Saw-esque flashback montages near the end (even set to pounding guitars) helping clarify the timeline a bit, I’m still not sure where all of the pieces fit. If someone wanted to edit the film in chronological order for me, I’d be most indebted to them.

But in a way that just makes the film’s merit even more impressive – I was consistently engaged by it, despite what seemed like an overlong running time and a bare minimum of horror elements. It’s actually more of a mystery, with the town’s one cop trying to figure out the connection between a dead priest and a girl (the Sennentuntschi, played by the gorgeous Roxane Mesquida from Rubber) before the townsfolk find her and lynch her for what she allegedly did. Meanwhile, a trio of farmers get drunk on Absinthe and make a sex doll of sorts, which according to some tradition will turn into a living girl if they say the correct chant. Also, the youngest of the three appears to be the same dimwitted boy who a little girl saw 35 years later.

In other words, it’s not the most traditional plot for a film. Even if you can figure out a twist or two, the script wisely takes its time intriguing us with seemingly random events while building up sympathy for its characters, making it much easier for us to go on the ride when the action ramps up and things start falling into place. The farmers aren’t the most likable guys in the world, but the cop is a terrific lead, torn between his desire to solve the case and also be less of an outcast in the community (no one seems to respect his “authority”). His relationship with Mesquida is also interesting, especially once we learn that she’s essentially a living sex doll (OR IS SHE?).

Oh, and there’s a shot of a penis. I swear, I’ve seen more junk in the past week than I have in my entire life (not counting my own). There was a short attached to You’re Next called All Men Are Called Robert that featured a naked dude running full speed through a forest, something that consistently terrified/astounded me. I’m afraid that the damn thing will brush uncomfortably against the bathroom sink counter when I get out of the shower, but this dude is sprinting around with branches and rocks and all sorts of potentially dangerous things – how did they find this guy? Juan of the Dead and Revenge also had “something for the ladies”, and I’m sure Human Centipede II did as well (didn’t see it, but with the main character being fond of masturbating with sandpaper, I’m sure his member made at least a cameo). Many of the others had gags built around urinating, now that I think of it… what the hell, programmers?

Back on point, as with every film at the fest, it was wonderfully shot. I’m so used to seeing bad indie horror films at festivals that also look like ass thanks to sub-par digital camerawork and/or transfers, it was nice to go in and see a bunch of films that, regardless of whether or not I liked them, were all shot professionally and presented with the utmost care. Even Livid’s first twenty minutes, which had to be projected off a screener blu-ray, looked better than what I even get at AMC half the time. Very few of the films were on 35mm, which is a shame, but at least I wasn’t suffering through crushed blacks and pixelated faces for four days.

Even more of a nice surprise, this is actually the first horror film from director Michael Steiner, who has mostly helmed dramas throughout his 15+ year career (this is his 6th or 7th feature). Again that pesky “lack of time” threatens to make it impossible, but I’d love to check out one of his other films if anyone can recommend one over the others, though not until I watch at least one of Nakamura’s pre-Boy And His Samurai efforts. It’s always nice to see someone trying a horror film after having a career far removed from the genre, as I think they can bring the sort of “fresh take” on the genre that we could always use. And it very rarely occurs; I can’t imagine Cameron Crowe or John Madden taking a break from their dramas and romances to go make a slasher movie for Screen Gems anytime soon. Usually it’s the other way around, with guys like Cronenberg more or less dismissing horror once they make a few well received non-genre films.

Hopefully this will find release in the States soon. It’s one of the most interesting movies I saw out of the FF lineup, and I’d love to give it another look and see if a few more of those pieces fall into place (I can almost guarantee I’ll feel dumb for not having it all figured out after one viewing). Also, while I didn’t really discuss it much, a lot of the films I saw failed to stick the landing; starting strong but falling apart in their third acts (Livid and Lonely Place To Die being the most prominent offenders), so the fact that this one started off good and kept my interest the entire time was much appreciated.

What say you?


Fantastic Fest: And All The Rest...

SEPTEMBER 27, 2011


As with previous festivals, I just don’t have the time to write up full reviews of every movie I saw, and a couple of them weren’t really horror anyway. Also, with many of them still seeking distribution, it’s no fun to go into detail about a film that I wasn’t all that impressed with. But folks like to know, so here’s a bunch of capsule “reviews” of the other movies I saw while I was there.

Revenge: A Love Story
One of my favorites of the festival, but also not really horror at all. This revenge tale, told out of order (sometimes confusingly so), seems to be influenced by Kill Bill in some respects, but is far from a ripoff. Juno Mak is terrific as Kit, a simple man whose even simpler (read: mentally handicapped) girlfriend is brutally attacked one evening. The identity of her attackers and why he is doing what he does is best left for you to discover, but I will say that while it’s not the most original story on a base level, the way that it’s told makes it a winner, as does the subdued but still valid ideas about the uselessness of having an “eye for an eye” type mentality. Also features one of cinema’s best “gunshot + gas tank” scenes ever.

A Lonely Place To Die
Like The Descent, this movie could have been a perfectly gripping thriller if it was just based around the survival aspects, in this case being underprepared for weather and climbing conditions on a particularly tough mountain. But whereas Descent just got better and better as the monsters showed up, Lonely Place gets needlessly convoluted, and writer/director Julian Gilbey’s script makes the mistake of switching the action from breathtaking and scary mountains/rocky rivers to a police station and a friggin house. Star Melissa George is as great as she always is, but the late introduction of key characters sort of leaves her on the sidelines for too much of the third act, and by the time we’ve been introduced to our THIRD group of supporting characters (mobsters!) the movie no longer offers any true excitement; if you were on the edge of your seat for the first act, you’ll be sitting normally and lazily by the third.

You Said What?
I reviewed this for Badass Digest if you want to check it out, but basically it’s a very sweet, charming, and frequently funny romantic comedy in which a guy pretends to be holding a casting call for a movie just so he can find a girlfriend (he got the idea from Audition), only to decide to actually make the movie once he finds the girl, figuring it was easier than telling her the truth right away. Somewhere along the way Peter Stormare gets involved, playing himself. A terrific “date movie”; deftly blending romance with a funny “misfits making a movie” tale.

The Corridor
A frequent theme of the movies I saw was that they were good for their first two acts only to fall apart in the third, and none exemplified that issue more than The Corridor, which started as a contender for my favorite movie of the festival. After an opening scene tragedy, we flash to a few years later, as a group of friends gather at their childhood “retreat” (a cabin in the woods owned by one of the character’s now-deceased mother). Trust issues, “we’re not as close as we used to be” drama, and a very low-key sense of impending dread turn this into a more successful version of Dreamcatcher for quite a while, bolstered by terrific performances by the unknown cast (though James Gilbert’s physical similarity to Bradley Cooper was quite distracting). The title refers to a “hot spot” of sorts in the middle of the woods that at first just makes them feel at ease and possibly grants them special “powers” (a reveal about their increased hearing skills is one of the best “jumps” I’ve seen in a while), but ultimately just turns them into raving lunatics. And it’s at that point that the movie starts going off the rails, trading suspense and character-based drama for bursts of unexplained violence and Richard Kelly-esque visuals, plus a brief excursion into “is this all in his head?” territory, at which point the movie lost me entirely. By then, I actually began wishing I WAS watching Dreamcatcher, which also went batshit insane but in an amusing way.

I should note, however, that apart from You’re Next, this was the only English language movie I saw the entire time that I was at the festival.

The Squad
Miraculously, the only time during the entire festival that I fell victim to my usual “cinesomnia” was during this movie, and I think I’ll chalk it up to the fact that I’ve essentially already seen it. Whether the writer just watched Deathwatch a hundred times or just once, I don’t know, but I would need him to submit to every polygraph test in the world before I believed the similarities between the two films was just coincidence. Group of soldiers investigating an abandoned post, turning on each other, audience left to interpret if it was psychological or supernatural in nature… all the same beats, and without Deathwatch’s opening “cast crawl” to help us tell the similar looking characters apart. At 107 minutes it was also one of the longest films I saw, and ultimately I wished I had stayed asleep longer (I think I was only out for about 10 minutes – not bad considering I was bored and operating on less than four hours’ sleep). Waste of a great setting and a potentially unique backstory (witchcraft is suggested as the cause of the film’s events).

A Boy And His Samurai
As I mentioned earlier, this became my favorite film of the festival, and the great thing about it is that I didn’t even plan to see it originally. Unlike Frightfest or Screamfest, Fantastic Fest takes over an entire multiplex (six screens), and thus is able to show movies more than once. So after hearing about how good it was from a previous screening, I decided to check it out once I saw tickets were available (also different than those other festivals – having a pass doesn’t mean you get into every film; you have to go down in the morning and get one of a limited supply of tickets for each screening you want for that day). And while this causes some understandable issues (i.e. people not getting in to see movies they “have” to see if they can’t attend every day), it does allow for word of mouth to get around, something that you can’t do at another festival where movies only show once. If you miss the unreleased movie showing on Tuesday night at Screamfest, you won’t get another chance.

Anyway, all of the folks who talked it up were right. The film is almost impossible to dislike; I was moved to applaud and/or cry multiple times as writer/director Yoshihiro Nakamura told the story of a Samurai who suddenly found himself in modern day Tokyo. Largely (and wisely) skipping over the usual nonsense (he adapts fairly well to his new surroundings; apart from misunderstanding the sound of a phone ringing, there aren’t any stupid scenes of him being confused or frightened by televisions or whatever), the terrific Ryo Nishikido becomes a father figure to Tomoya and discovers a hidden talent for baking while handling the “domestic affairs” while Tomoya’s mother tends to her important software job. As with You Said What, it was a refreshingly charming and simple story, expertly told and largely sidestepping any possible language barrier. A badass samurai using his inherent discipline to bake a perfect flan is just terrific fun in any language. Seek it out at once.

Unfortunately, as I was only there for 3.5 days, I felt obligated to watch movies as much as I could instead of going to Fantastic Fest events such as the debates (where a real debate on a subject is followed by the two debaters duking it out in a boxing ring) or the awards ceremony (where my You’re Next pals took home 4 awards). However, I did check out the Fantastic Feud, a largely horror-based version of Family Feud hosted by my pal Scott Weinberg, who was inexplicably dressed as Mario from Super Mario. I even got a shoutout from Devin when the #1 pick for “Guilty Pleasure Movies” turned out to be Armageddon, something I consider insulting (guilty of what? Being FUCKING PERFECT?). I do wish it ran a bit longer, however – the game was done before we even got our checks.

I also went to the first of two large-scale karaoke events, where my original choice of “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” was vetoed by Alamo/FF guru Tim League, who is apparently sick of the song. Naturally, my vindictive nature inspired me to shoot back, opting for an even longer and more obnoxious song (“Anything For Love”), which he admired enough to let me go on even though the list was already too long to accommodate everyone (for those who didn’t get to sing – I apologize, but in my defense I didn’t realize “AFL” would be nearly the entire version (10 minutes). However, a bunch of folks sang along, so that’s always a good sign. If you saw it, I hope you were entertained, though I had nothing on Devin’s rendition of “Too Drunk To Fuck”, Evan Husney’s “Highway Star”, or Sam Zimmerman’s “Teenage Kicks”. And I was followed by a wonderful rendition of “Summer Lovin” by pretty much the entire attending cast/crew of You’re Next. Damn fine time if I do say so my damn self.

In other words, there’s a lot more to the festival than just watching movies, which really separates it from others I’ve attended. While you can always “make your own fun” wherever you go, at Frightfest I was sort of baffled by how many folks would opt to go to the Phoenix and drink (not for free, mind you) instead of watching movies. Here, the events being sanctioned (and again, with the films all showing multiple times), it felt far less of a “waste” to opt for one of these non-movie events. If I was there the whole time I would have certainly opted for more of them, because they certainly added much to my overall experience. I only really loved 3 out of the 11 movies I saw, but I still had a, er, fantastic time. Hopefully I can make it back next year.

If I do though – can you guys lay off the goddamn cigarettes? As I write this I am sipping tea because my throat feels like it’s going to close shut, as every time I went outside to chat with friends after a movie I felt like I was stepping into a boardroom from the set of Mad Men (I am allergic). Rest assured – if I only spoke to you briefly outside before hurriedly walking away, I wasn’t trying to be rude – just breathe. Try the fucking patch, huh?

What say you?


Penumbra (2011)

SEPTEMBER 27, 2011


When the best thing I have to say about a film is that the opening/closing credit animation is really cool, then it’s probably not a good sign. I heard a few good things about Penumbra, but for the life of me I can’t comprehend what folks would enjoy about this movie after sitting in a theater to watch it. At home I had the option of pausing it for a while and focusing on something else, and it was STILL driving me crazy with its lethargic pace, obnoxious dialogue, and hateful main character.

Let’s break those down one by one. I’m actually spoiling things by saying it’s a cult, because they don’t make their intentions known until the film’s final 10 minutes or so. Not that it’s too hard to figure out (has there ever been a horror movie centered around a total eclipse* that didn’t involve some sort of cult activity?), but the first hour or so is nothing but our heroine (for lack of a better term) yelling at everyone she encounters as she waits around for someone to show up and sign a lease for the apartment she’s trying to rent. At times it almost feels like the movie version of a very strange play, as the same 5-6 characters keep walking in and out of a central set, carrying on with misunderstandings and sneaky behavior, and perhaps in that setting it would work if they cast a bunch of great character actors and actually made it funny. Instead, we just get boring, over-explanatory conversations about where cell phones went or how boxes appeared in elevators. And trust me, it’s even less interesting than it sounds.

It also mirrors the pace of House Of The Devil, but that film mostly worked because the main girl was likable, which meant it wasn’t the worst thing in the world to watch her in non-action. The other difference (spoilers!) – it does not have AJ Bowen (or his Argentinian equivalent) showing up and shooting someone in the face to buy the movie some goodwill. The only bit of action in the movie prior to the finale (which, like House, is rushed and vague) is when Marga gets into a fight with a homeless man who she thinks is harassing her, only for the other folks around and a cop to take his side. And can you blame them? She’s attractive, sure, but the woman is just plain hateful from start to finish; the closest she gets to being warm in the entire movie is when she’s making plans to meet up with a lover, something that would be totally charming if not for the fact that he is married.

It does equal House’s success in one regard, however – terrific cinematography. Even on this lo-res screener, I could tell that they did the best job anyone could for a dull film set entirely in a run-down apartment building on a very hot day. You can feel the heat coming off the screen, with the sun-drenched visuals providing a very unusual look for a horror film. Plus I’m always amused by scope widescreen framing for a movie that mostly takes place in average sized/looking rooms. It’s not like Panic Room or whatever – there isn’t a shot in the movie that will really “wow” you on its own, but it’s clear that the film’s problems lie with the script, not the production.

Back to the ending – what the hell? Did they run out of dough, or is there a Penumbra Dos coming along? Once again our anti-heroine is accused of making stuff up, and then it ends without clarifying if she really is crazy or not. A vague ending is fine when the movie is exciting or interesting throughout, but when it’s pretty much the only thing of note in the entire flick, it’s pretty dang insulting to leave it up for “debate”. Plus, why would anyone want to think about this movie once it’s over?

Another major problem is their subtitler, who should be banned from ever providing as much as an exclamation point to another foreign language film ever again. Nearly every single line in the movie had some sort of error, be it typographical (“pitty”), bad grammar (“where are the phone you put?”) or just plain botched, with words cutting out on the left and right sides during particularly long sentences. It never gets to the point that you can’t follow the plot (er, “plot”), but it’s a huge distraction all the same, and I pray for the filmmaker’s sake that IFC (who acquired the film before its screening at FF) puts in some dough to hire someone who actually knows what the fuck they’re doing to replace them. This movie does/will have fans, and as much as I can’t fathom why, I fully support their right to have it presented in a professional manner.

In short, pretty much the weakest film of the festival of the ones I saw, and I’m glad I didn’t choose it over whatever I saw at the same time it was playing. Slow burn movies need a good payoff, and even if Penumbra had one, it wouldn’t make up for the hateful lead character. Even the dude in Last Screening was more pleasant and he was a damn murderer!

What say you?

*Perhaps this is why Tim League didn’t want to hear “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” at karaoke – it might inadvertently remind him or the patrons of this movie and ruin their mood. If so, I hereby forgive him.


Juan Of The Dead (2011)

SEPTEMBER 26, 2011


A few months back, the otherwise awesome Umberto from Latino Review inadvertently held me “hostage” by hinting that he had a major scoop coming up that horror writers should pay attention to. And since Brad “Mr Disgusting” Miska was at the doctor’s or something, he asked me to keep an eye out so we could post the news (because, you know, god forbid we post something 20 minutes later than it could have been posted). So I sat and sat and eventually was late for work waiting for this scoop, until Brad finally got home and was able to take over. Finally, a couple hours later, we learned that it was merely the trailer for Juan Of The Dead (Spanish: Juan de los Muertos), which was basically just another damn zom-com but with the added bonus of being the first Cuban horror film in over 50 years. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly worth being late for work for, and I got up early* today to make sure that I saw it so I could yell at Umberto if the movie also sucked.

Luckily it was actually pretty charming, and is actually one of the better zombie films I’ve seen in a while (best since Zombieland, I think?). It runs a bit long, and a middle section where Juan finds a way to profit from the growing zombie problem is almost obnoxiously repetitive, but Juan is a unique hero that I enjoyed following through this experience, and even though I know little about Cuba’s political/social problems, it was easy to see and appreciate the film’s underlying social commentary of Cubans trying to hold on to the place they call home as things beyond their control constantly threaten to destroy it. Of course, this is best exemplified by the film’s final scene, which spins a very typical zombie movie ending (where a beloved character is doomed due to a bite during the big action finale) into something much more original and crowd-pleasing.

The fun thing about Juan is that he’s not a very noble hero. When we meet him he’s banging a neighbor’s wife, telling a kid that his dad is a sodomite, and can’t be bothered to stop his best friend from pleasuring himself while he peeps at a couple making love through a window across the way. But nothing depicts this aspect of his character better than the first big zombie scene, as he and his equally shady pals sit and listen to a neighborhood watch group discuss a recent string of stolen car stereos (one of them is to blame). Suddenly, a single zombie attack results in pretty much the entire group being decimated/turned, but rather than help, Juan just points out that now they won’t be too concerned about the stolen stereos, and shrugs off the carnage as he heads back home. Thus, he’s not an unlikable asshole – he’s a guy who’d rather not get involved, which is a lot easier to identify with (and like).

And while the movie has a good deal of zombie action, including a terrific fight between Juan and his buddy vs a giant swarm of the undead (with a terrific payoff – they started the brawl on purpose), it’s the on-target humor and strong character work that keeps it above the scores of Shaun wannabes that have peppered video shelves for the past 5 years. I’m not sure if I believe the director when he says that Shaun wasn’t an influence (there’s even a zombie dispatched by a random pipe sticking out from the ground in a backyard, and a “heart to heart” scene between Juan and his burly, less heroic best friend ends in a juvenile gag), but this isn’t a slacker comedy with zombies – Juan is a guy who has been in a couple of wars and does what he needs to do to survive. At one point he realizes he can make a few bucks by killing zombies that are former “loved ones” of paying customers (who can’t bear to do it themselves), and again, it could have been cut down some, but it’s still a far cry from Shaun, whose best idea was to simply go to the bar.

Also there’s no romance. Juan’s buddy Lazaro is constantly seeking a quick lay, but Juan’s primary goal is to protect not a love interest but his daughter, who is about 20 and estranged from him (she doesn’t even call him “Dad”). Of course they will re-bond over the events of the film, but the traditional arc of their relationship doesn’t make it any less interesting, and gives Juan a real way to redeem himself by being there for the daughter he never really knew at a crucial time. And his way of dealing with her possible attraction to one of his hoodlum buddies provides the best laugh in the entire film, I think.

Speaking of the laughs, it’s kind of obnoxious how many of them were sort of ruined by the subtitles. For whatever reason, the company that did them put multiple parts of a dialogue exchange on screen at once, killing the timing on jokes where the pause in between the two lines is what made the joke work. Since its human nature to read the entire subtitle section as soon as it appears, you get the punchline long before it’s actually said on screen. Basically it just causes a strange disconnect, and I hope it’s corrected for the film’s regular release.

As for the zombie action, it’s nothing special. There are some inspired gags (crossbow!) and a wonderful massacre near the end, but the makeup is pretty bland and there are very few gore/prosthetic effects of note – I assume this is a drawback of the fact that there apparently hasn’t been a Cuban horror film made since such things became part of zombie movie tradition. Actually, if the “50 year” absence is correct, then that would mean the last horror film made in Cuba was before Night of the Living Dead – i.e. the birth of what we know as a zombie film. So I guess I can forgive them for the lack of any eye-popping gore, but it should still be noted for those who watch zombie movies specifically for such things (instead of “boring” stuff like characters and theme). Less easy to forgive is the continuing gag of buildings collapsing – how the hell does that occur as the result of a zombie outbreak? Do buildings require living occupants to remain structurally sound? Or do these particular zombies feast on human flesh as well as foundation?

With some trimming (the aforementioned “heart to heart” scene should have been cut entirely) and maybe one more big setpiece, I think this could be a bona fide classic. I’m also unsure if Alejandro Brugues should have informed us who he wanted to play the English speaking priest that shows up near the end of the movie – I’ll never be able to watch this actor’s performance again without wondering how much more awesome it would be (swipe to read if you want: George Romero). But it’s a damn solid effort from a novice (this is only his second film) who has never made a horror movie before, and a charming way to watch the deaths of hundreds. And hopefully Cuba will produce a few more horror films – I’m always happy to see underused locales in my horror movies!

What say you?

*As I described in one of the other posts, having a pass to the festival doesn't mean you get into the screenings - you have to reserve individual tickets on the day it shows as well.


Two Eyes Staring (2010)

SEPTEMBER 25, 2011


Weirdest thing about my time at Fantastic Fest so far? I haven't fallen asleep once during a feature (I dozed during one of the shorts during the Short Fuse horror block yesterday, but it was actually out of choice during an overlong and dull piece). I haven't been sleeping much, and I've been watching a lot of subtitled movies, and not even drinking anything caffeinated in excess, but yet I've caught every frame. Even the painfully slow and not very good (and subtitled!) Two Eyes Staring (Dutch: Zwart Water) couldn't break me, despite the fact that the movie seemed to be TRYING to induce comas at times. Very weird. I may consult my doctor.

If you obtain a DVD and have the ability to play the film at 1.5/2x speed while still being able to hear the audio, then maybe the film will be a decent enough time killer*. It hits all the familiar beats of a "Family inherits giant house and becomes privy to its secrets" movie; the cramped initial home life they leave behind, the little girl who misses her friends, the rooms with items that should be left forgotten, strange sightings, etc, etc. For these sort of movies, the devil is in the details, so as long as the back-story is interesting and a few of the jump scares work, then I can forgive the familiarity; berating this sort of movie for having a scene where the little girl is accused of something the ghost did is like berating a slasher movie for someone taking a shower in the middle of the night for no reason.

The problem is that it's too damn drawn out, clocking in just under 2 hrs to tell a very traditional and uncomplicated story, with precious little atmosphere or well-rounded characters to make up for it. There's a good twist near the end, but even that gets too drawn out, and if you consider its ramifications on the previous 100 minutes, it's even sort of insulting (I could actually list this under another genre tag but it would be spoiling part of the twist).

Now, ordinarily I don't care much about child actors' performances - they're often cast more for their look/resemblance to the adults playing their parents more than anything else, and as long as they hit their marks and aren't bratty, I'm fine with them. But the girl here I think was a poor choice, because she has the most complex role in the film and apparently doesn't have the skill to pull it off. Young Dakota Fanning or the girl from Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark might have been able to sell this better, but this kid just has one mode: distant and seemingly depressed. Whether her character is being terrorized by a ghost, ignored by her mother, or making breakfast with her dad, she always looks/acts exactly the same. It's the sort of thing that you might not notice/care about if the movie was moving along nicely, but when you have a 2-3 minute scene of her just walking around or watching her parents talk, it starts to become a bit too bothersome.

Oh, and they kill a cute bunny, violently. I can count on one hand the number of "necessary" pet deaths in movie history, and this one certainly doesn't make the cut. Plus it's telegraphed by the fact that they buy her the damn thing just to make amends for a previous "accident", which just tells us right away that poor Daisy is not long for this world. At least if it was a long time pet it might not stick out, and it might even be a more successful moment; killing something that she has a lifelong attachment to is not the same as killing a pet that she's had for like a week.

I was also annoyed when a coworker of the girl's father suddenly became Captain Exposition in the third act, as until that point he wasn't even really a character, just a nameless guy who worked in the same factory as the dad. The dad is sitting at work, smoking/stressing out re: his daughter, and the guy just comes over and starts explaining about possession and exorcisms. It's like, who the hell are you, buddy? Couldn't they have introduced him properly and actually created a relationship between these two before he was required to advance the plot? Though I guess that would just make the thing longer, so I guess either way it's a trouble spot.

Saving the affair was a great short that played before the film. The Candidate was written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, and directed by first timer David Karlak, and stars Feast 2/3 star Tom Gulager as a guy at some sort of sales corporation who longs to see his coworker fired for incompetence. And then Robert Picardo (yay!) shows up with an unusual proposition... Saying more would be spoiling things, but even though I figured it out a bit sooner than I think they'd expect, it was still a wonderfully tight and darkly humorous piece. Picardo is always a welcome presence, and his repartee with Gulager is quite entertaining. Supposedly this is intended to be an abbreviated first act of a feature length story - I would fully endorse seeing where the story would go, as long as Picardo is still around (whether Gulager can carry an entire film is a question mark, though I guess he deserves a shot - he was one of the most enjoyable supporting characters in the Feasts). Plus by being so good it kept my mood elevated for a sizable chunk of Two Eyes Staring; it took me 35 minutes or so to say "Hey is this movie running on slow motion or did they just forget to make it interesting?"

Oh well. It's the most disappointed I've been with any feature so far, and it wasn't even a total loss (looked nice, and I liked the actors playing the parents), which is much better than my last travel festival (Frightfest, where the SECOND movie I saw was also pretty much the worst). In other words, if this is as bad as it gets, I'd have to say that the programmers for Fantastic Fest were really on their game.

What say you?

*Apparently Charlize Theron plans on remaking the film. While I'm usually opposed to these sort of quickie "let's remake it in English" endeavors, if they fix the pacing and get a good child actor in the role, this COULD work. I'll give Theron the benefit of the doubt since she rarely does genre work and thus wouldn't just appear in any old thing at this stage in her career.


Last Screening (2011)

SEPTEMBER 24, 2011


The nice thing about hosting HMAD screenings is that I pick the movies and thus really like them (well, maybe not Terror Train - that movie does NOT work in a theater at midnight), so I don't have to worry about coming up with Q&A questions for a movie I wasn't all that in love with. But after some scheduling snafus resulted in the moderator having to bail on Last Screening (French: Dernière Séance), the great Scott Weinberg needed an emergency substitute, and thus I agreed to help him out even though I hadn't seen the flick.

Also the Q&A was with the actor. While I have nothing against actors, I find it very difficult to come up with questions for them; I'm just not interested much in their process and that sort of stuff. Even when I interviewed Chevy Chase - my damn hero - I had trouble coming up with more than 1-2 generic questions. And to make matters worse, the actor, Pascal Cervo, was French and had a translator, which meant my usual dry humor approach wouldn't work.

Oh and then I didn't love the movie.

It wasn't terrible or anything, but it really had nothing to it beyond the two line synopsis: a lonely manager of a failing repertory cinema spends his nights killing random women and taking their ears as a trophy. What he does with the ears is revealed at the halfway mark, and WHY he does it near the end, but neither answer is particularly interesting. And it's also shockingly conflict-free; at one point there is a witness to one of his murders, and later the guy shows up at the theater and gives him the "I know it was you" look, but nothing comes of it. What could have been a cool little tense subplot is just abandoned, which is a big problem in a narrative that is already too slim.

I was also a bit miffed that the writeup described it as a Giallo - it was not even slightly like one other than the fact that most of the victims were female. As Ryan Rotten pointed out, a Giallo has mystery to it, whereas this had none. And not even the director could defend that the kill scenes were stylish - most of them were off-screen entirely, and only one (in a car after a long take) had any real spark to it.

What keeps it entertaining is the surprisingly sweet budding romance between Julian and Manon, an equally shy actress who falls asleep in the theater one night and thus comes back to see the film again, sparking his interest in the process. The actors either really were nervous around each other or just had a terrific ability to convey that sort of "chemistry", and since my favorite film of the festival to that point was the rom-com You Said What?, I actually wouldn't have minded if the killing part of the plot was abandoned and they just focused on the far more interesting romance - apparently I was "in the mood".

Also, the idea of setting a film around a repertory cinema is awesome to me, and unlike Midnight Movie or others I've seen, they depict the reality of such places quite well. A subplot about the owner wanting to sell the place and turn it into a store hit home (the New Bev nearly fell victim to that very thing until Quentin saved the day), and there's also a character named Mr. Paul that reminded me of New Bev patron saint Clu Gulager, a film lover who frequents the theater and sticks around to talk about it once it's done. It adds a very welcome layer of authenticity to the film that I very much appreciated, though I was a bit puzzled by the theater's seeming lack of a concession stand.

But the fact that it kept dropping story points drove me nuts. I mentioned the witness, but in addition to that is the fact that Manon apparently has a boyfriend at one point, but he's never mentioned again. There's a very vague sequence where he watches some hookers, one of whom is apparently beaten up by a potential john, before killing one and then staring at traffic from an overpass for what seems like five minutes (we spend a lot of the film staring at Julian's back). And his method of taking care of the "theater is closing" subplot doesn't really make any sense if you think about it - does this place simply not follow through when its employees fail to show up the next day?

It did succeed at creating a sympathetic killer with an actor that I was not familiar with (on screen or off! I didn't meet him until the movie had ended), something that is not always easy. A movie like Theatre Of Blood might not work if not for the fact that we as moviegoers love Vincent Price and thus can side with him for killing a bunch of critics just because they gave him a bad review. But apart from the fact that Cervo resembled a young Dudley Moore, I had no attachment to this guy whatsoever, yet I was hoping he'd get his shit together right until the end.

However, I wanted a little more meat on the bone. Good performances and a unique setting for the main thrust of the story can't make up for the fact that they were seemingly using a "Guy you sort of love is also a killer" template and forgot to put in their own stuff. Thus, it sort of became the world's longest short film, where describing the basic plot is unfortunately just the same as providing a complete synopsis.

What say you?


Livid (2011)

SEPTEMBER 23, 2011


Had I known the schedule when I booked my flight, I would have opted for a red eye the night before so that there would be no worry about making the start time for Livid (French: Livide), the new film from Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, who were behind one of my favorite horror films of the past decade: the amazing Inside. With the film at 8:45 and my flight not even landing until 6:45, it was going to be tough, especially since I have never been to Austin, had no idea who to talk to to get my badge, etc. Luckily, thanks to the combined heroic efforts of Devin Faraci (who secured my ticket) and AJ Bowen (who picked me up from the airport and got me to the Alamo with enough time to eat), my fears quickly disappeared.

Even before the filmmakers referenced the film directly (a moment that I laughed hysterically at - sorry, Alamo, for being disruptive), I started thinking that the film resembled what might have been an entry in the "anthology" version of the Halloween series that Halloween III had started (and killed thanks to no one liking it - fools!). It takes place on Halloween, has some nice holiday atmosphere, references a few traditions of the day ("Will o' the wisps" are featured) and tells a very Hallo-centric story of three teens sneaking into a big creepy old house on the outside of town in order to find a treasure that they heard was locked up somewhere in one of its many rooms. That Bustillo/Maury are obvious Halloween fans (they were even up to do a sequel to Rob Zombie's remake at one point) certainly didn't hurt my theory.

And like Halloween III, the 3rd act has some craziness that you either have to go along with or else the movie will be a complete failure in your eyes. And while I certainly preferred the more atmospheric and slow burn approach of the first hour to the crazy, slightly too-"French" (read: random artsy stuff) act, I can always appreciate not knowing where a movie is going after the first ten minutes. Love it or hate it, you can't tell me that the opening reel of the film clearly pointed to ending on automaton ballerina corpses and stuffed deers wearing tuxedos.

I also appreciate that the film didn't really resemble Inside on a surface level - even though both of them are set largely inside a house, they operate under different genres and the scares are more old-school jumps (they get a lot of mileage out of the stuffed animals) rather than bursts of shocking violence. There are a couple of seeming homages though; a pair of scissors once again makes a deadly appearance, and a character is introduced with some anti-smoking dialogue. But it's the theme of motherhood that really ties the films together; our heroine, Lucie, has lost her mother, and the villain is seemingly a mother who is unable to let go of her dead daughter. Most of the reveals and specifics are third act items so I don't want to get into it too much, but suffice to say that Lucie's arc is a little more interesting than the opening of the film would have you believe.

Especially when you consider how rather weak the whole "treasure hunt" aspect of the story is. Lucie hears that the place has treasure, tells her boyfriend and his brother about it, and then they all go off. Not at any point before or during their trek through the house do they consider the possibility that the treasure might not actually exist. It's fine at first, but when they begin risking their lives to find this alleged fortune and still not considering "hey, maybe she put that shit in the bank", it gets a bit silly.

Also, it should be noted that the left turn of the 3rd act could easily kill the movie for you, because the first 45-50 min is just the three of them making their way to and then wandering around the house - slow burn stuff only works if you enjoy the payoff. It's not painfully slow - there are a couple of good jump scares, and the house is definitely one you want to see explored, plus the chemistry between the three is fun. But still, there's not really a lot to that initial hour beyond appreciating the gorgeous widescreen visuals and a couple of well executed but hardly mind blowing jumps.

Also, a good chunk of this section appears to be told in real time, something I always dig. But I can't help but wonder if the 3rd act might have been a bit more successful if the flashbacks it presented were threaded throughout the entire film instead of lumped together after spending a solid, unbroken hour with Lucie and her friends. It'd be like if Memento only started being told backwards in its 3rd act - sort of too late to be playing with the basic structure of how the story is told, no?

I also wish the subtitling was better. We actually got a Franken-screening, as the first reel had a problem with the subs so they had to play a screener with burned in subs (and a guy's name! Daniel Metz will forever be etched into my memory of this film) before it switched to a superior version with the "live" subtitles. But the irony is, the "Daniel Metz" subtitles were better! Not only were the "real" ones ridden with errors (words like "here" instead of "hear"), but they also skipped over things like plaques on the wall that were obviously important enough to get a closeup. Also, you could tell from the two sets of subs that the original one was also closer to the original language; their dialogue noticeably became more "Cliff's Notes"y after they switched to the allegedly superior print.

I know this one's a bit vague for me, but again, it's a slow burn movie with some fun (if not always successful) twists in the end, and since it's not out in general release yet I'd feel guilty about discussing them, even with spoiler warnings (I debated even putting it down as a vampire movie until I was told that their official stills clearly gave that much away. Overall it was not as successful as Inside, but a solid followup, and it certainly proved that they are worth keeping an eye on. Let's just hope it doesn't take them another four years to get something off the ground.

What say you?


Bleeding Rose (2007)

SEPTEMBER 23, 2011


If anyone still has any doubt over whether or not I take this whole “horror movie a day” thing seriously, the only reason I watched Bleeding Rose on the plane (instead of sleeping or reading) was because I wasn’t sure if I would make Livid on time (note – I did) and didn’t want to use that as an excuse for blowing my streak. I even brought my damn portable DVD player along for no other reason than to watch this movie! ALL FOR YOU!

Anyway, it’s a perfect airplane movie, in that it’s not particularly good or bad, but just sort of there. Being an independent (student?) production, I wasn’t expecting much in terms of acting, camerawork or production value, nor did I get it. However I was happy to see that they actually made attempts to clean up their poor soundtrack, which fits my whole thing about making the best version of the movie you can instead of just tossing it onto a DVD once you realize that it’s not the masterpiece you saw in your head. Simple things like “dubbing poorly recorded actors” actually proves to me you give a shit, which in turn makes your movie a lot easier to watch.

The story was also fairly interesting for this sort of thing. Our heroine is plagued by visions of a violent ex-lover, who has seemingly returned from the grave and is targeting those closest to her. Or is she doing it herself? Or is it someone else entirely? I admit that I wasn’t quite sure where it was going, and while the ending was rather disappointing (and obnoxiously “happy”), for a good hour or so I was more or less drawn in to the movie instead of just glancing at it while people watching on the plane (or plotting to kill the stupid woman in front of me who managed to step on my foot with her heels and not notice/apologize).

I also could have been distracted more by my beloved Rachel McAdams, who was on the in-flight screens via Midnight In Paris, which I would have watched had I not seen it already. Granted, she plays a bitch in the movie, but she looks damn good doing it, and the poor digital video/lousy transfer of Rose was hardly easy on the eyes, making it difficult to keep my eyes focused on my portable instead of one of my “freebies” in fetching formal attire just a few inches above. This particular film did cause a momentary bout of confusion for me though; I was starting to nod off a bit when a character in Bleeding Rose mentioned Owen Wilson, who is of course the star of Midnight In Paris. My half asleep brain blended the two, thinking that the Rose characters were suddenly in Paris, and it took a few minutes to sort it out in my head.

I also rewound to make sure I heard it right, because, come on, Owen Wilson? Fairly random actor to bring up under any circumstances, but it’s even more random in this particular movie. Our heroine says “Guess who I saw?” and her friend guesses Wilson, and then goes on and on about how “fine” he is. Um, do they mean Luke? I have nothing against Owen (in fact, as an Armageddon co-star, I will defend him against anyone who DOES), but I don’t think I’ve ever heard him described as “fine” by a horny young lady. Very peculiar choice; my guess is that Wedding Crashers was on cable while they were writing and they got him mixed up with Crashers’ pre-bloated Vince Vaughn. That or they just pulled a random name from the IMDb.

I was also a bit tickled by the movie’s subplot about recording some R&B music, which pads the runtime out some and is most likely not as random a subplot as the mention of Mr. Wilson. While the cop dialogue is laughably generic, the recording stuff seems pretty detailed, so my guess is someone involved actually does this sort of thing for a living. It’s not a BAD thing, per se, but unless the movie is about a band or the song has some sort of tie to the plot of the film, it doesn’t really make for interesting cinema. Plus it has no real payoff; it’d be like if Blow Out didn’t have that final scene where Travolta finds his perfect scream but we still got all of the scenes of him trying to find one. In fact they sort of go out of their way to abandon it; rather than play the song over the end credits, they put on this alt rock ballad that was a bit generic even for my tastes (note – I have a Lifehouse CD in my car stereo as we speak).

I usually could care less but it was kind of interesting that this was my second movie in a row that was largely populated with African American characters, however the two couldn’t be more different. While this one was a fairly dramatic tale, dealing with abuse (100 Feet came to mind once or twice, though this film predates that one) and love triangles, April Fools had a guy killing people because his nickname was Poop. However, April Fools ignored Caucasians entirely, while this one has a couple, all of whom are pretty much represented as dopes or evil. The evil ex is one, and I began to wonder if he was the only white guy they could find and/or if simply hiring the best actor regardless of color would have been beneficial, since he has zero presence and even less chemistry with the heroine, which really bones their flashback scenes when they’re supposed to be in love. A shot of them kissing looks more awkward than when two guys (or two girls) are forced to kiss in a comedy for whatever reason, and this is supposed to be what she’s FONDLY remembering?

Also, there’s a bit where a character is about to die and just says “You?”, which drives me insane in movies. If you think about the reality of the situation, no one would say “You!” unless they didn’t actually know the person but merely recognized them from a bar or something (i.e. “You?! The guy who kept staring at me?”). When it’s someone they actually know personally, as she does, a human being would say the person’s name – it’s one of those things where the characters are doing things that are directly for the purpose of preserving a surprise from the audience, and that sort of thing always takes me right out of the movie. Just have them keep quiet! Let them recognize their attacker with their dying breath, when they can’t talk anymore.

But whatever. The movie is 4-5 years old and isn’t going anywhere better than an Echo Bridge budget pack, so who cares about the specifics? All that matters at this point is whether or not the entire film is on the DVD (it is), if you can hear it (you can), and if it actually counts as a horror movie (sure). Going any further with my “analysis” is a waste of time.

What say you?


April Fools (2007)

SEPTEMBER 22, 2011


You know, I could beat up on Netflix a bit, since the transfer for April Fools was abysmal even by their standard – the damn thing kept switching in and out of anamorphic (and it would occur during shots so it wasn’t an issue with the camera or a stylistic choice). But they’ve had a tough week what with Qwikster and all, plus I doubt that even the best blu-ray transfer in the world would produce a quality presentation for this movie, which I am pretty sure has establishing shots that were filmed with the very first camera phone.

It’s also a terrible movie, but it’s so short (72 minutes, with lots of easily skippable padding) and lovingly stupid that I can’t really muster up the energy to go off on it. I mean, when the killer is revealed and the last girl asks him why he did it, his response is “Look at me! People call me ‘Poop’!” I mean, I don’t know about you, but any movie that contains this particular line at what should be a scary moment in the climax is sort of exempt from serious ridicule and critique. It’d be like berating an infant for not knowing how to drive.

Back to the length, it’s hilarious how they race through the plot in order to keep everything confined to the titular holiday. The plot is yet another “Bunch of friends kill an outcast in a prank gone wrong and then a year later someone seeks revenge” deal, most specifically like Slaughter High which also occurred on April Fool’s Day, but there’s no dilly dally. We go directly from the accidental death to one year later and our first revenge kill scene - none of that boring crap where we see how the tragedy has affected our core group.

In fact, they go through this so quickly that whenever we DO meet up with one of our accidental murderers, we get a black and white flashback to the murder so we can remember who they were, as if the filmmaker knew we’d already forget who was who because their “introduction” was so vague and brief. Some of them even get two such flashback sequences, all the better to pad the movie with. Also, at one point we are treated to not one but two complete hip-hop performances; the killer is walking around the club during the second one, which gives it SOME justification, but nothing happens at ALL during the first. Then we get a third during the credits. Well, BEFORE the credits – the video is shrunk down to the side of the frame as if it should have credits running alongside it, but they don’t actually start until the video is over. However, I suspect their title guy simply didn’t know what he was doing, as he actually leaves a “?” in for at least one crew position, and the “Special Thanks To:” section doesn’t actually have any names/businesses under it.

As for the kills, zzzzz. It’s obvious they didn’t even have a makeup guy at all, let alone a good one, so they’re pretty much off-screen or (not very convincingly) staged in a way that we are supposed to THINK we saw, say, a pipe of some sort sticking through a guy’s neck, even though we can plainly see he is nowhere near it when he falls. The action is very clumsy and over-the-top as well – I particularly liked how a guy very softly throwing a football at a guy’s butt from a few feet away somehow made him topple over. The killer’s look ain’t too bad for this sort of thing though; it’s a very basic, Urban Legend/I Know What You Did Last Summer type appearance, but it works – there’s even a pretty cool shot where he enters a door down the hallway from our fleeing heroine. For like 5-6 seconds it looks like a real slasher movie!

But man, the dialogue. For every “poop” type line there are a half dozen that are just plain terrible, or awkward. Our heroine’s father is a cop, and at one point his partner runs over while they are talking and says “We have to go!” The father says “OK”, the partner takes off, and then he turns back around to the girl, who says “Let me guess, you have to go.” Now, if he had taken a phone call or received a text, this response would make sense – but why would she have to “guess”? She was standing right there when the other guy said exactly that! That not a single person in the film can act – with the exception of Obba “Black Dynamite” Babatundé as the cop - doesn’t help matters any.

The half-assed approach to dialogue results in some (presumably) unintentional humor though, such as when a couple of them very casually ponder if it’s a “coincidence” that one of their close friends was killed one year to the day that they accidentally murdered a guy. The idea that they’d even CONSIDER it to be merely coincidental is funny enough, but that they seemingly don’t even care that the girl is dead makes it hysterical. The two girls then discuss their plans for the evening, one of them busting out a rap for no discernible reason. Stop wasting time with these two! Get back to Poop!

The film was written, produced, and directed by Nancy Norman, a woman with a very slim and random IMDb page. This is her sole directing credit, but she also produced Love and a Bullet and played “Task Force Agent” in something called Random Acts Of Violence. But those are both from 2002, so in the past decade, her sole credited contribution to cinema is poorly directing her badly written 72 minute slasher movie where the killer is nicknamed Poop. I don’t want to be cruel, but perhaps she should explore other avenues. Unless this was some sort of experiment to see if an entire film could be shot in a day (it certainly seems that way – if any of this shit was a SECOND take I’d hate to see the first), in which case I commend her on almost pulling it off!

What say you?


DVD Review: Supernatural Season 6

SEPTEMBER 21, 2011


Having been on board with Supernatural since the show premiered back in the fall of 2005, I was very skeptical about this 6th season. For starters, its closest cousin, The X-Files, fell apart starting with its own 6th go-around, and they had the benefit of a new location (they moved from Vancouver to LA) and more money. But even more worrying was the fact that Supernatural was more or less designed to be a five year show, with a very specific overall arc building toward what would be the ultimate fight between good and evil, pitting brother against brother in the process (with Sam on the evil side and Dean on the good).

But dammit, people just love the show too much, and even though its ratings are never impressive, it must make enough dough for the CW to keep it going, so the last couple episodes of Season 5 were reworked a bit, leaving a cliffhanger for the 6th, unplanned season. Also, it apparently worked OK enough, because S7 starts in two nights, so those among you who STILL haven’t given it a chance are up for another year of being asked why (no, seriously – why? If you read this site you like horror, right? Supernatural has offered up consistently good/great horror on TV- for free - for 6 years now).

As somewhat expected, the season got off to a shaky start. The show always had its initial plan to fall back on, and now they were sort of back at square one, albeit with continuing story threads to guide them a bit as opposed to the actual beginning, where the characters weren’t really well established yet and there was no beloved supporting cast (Bobby, Castiel, Crowley, Rufus, etc) to pick up some of the slack. Thus, episodes like “Weekend At Bobby’s” were much needed diversions; taking chances that fans could appreciate while the producers/writers worked out the kinks behind the scenes. And really, it’s about damn time that Bobby got his own episode! Offering up a sort of Rosencrantz and Guildernstern style take on a typical monster of the week tale, the episode largely ignored Sam and Dean (in the latter’s case, this allowed Jensen Ackles to direct for the first time) while showing a case from Bobby’s point of view, which means a lot of sitting around looking through books and making phone calls while the boys drive around and have all the fun. But it also has a fun B-plot that has nothing to do with anything (a female neighbor who has taken a liking to Bobby), while also resolving a nagging plot thread from the previous season.

Basically, it’s the sort of episode that makes up for a stinker like “Two and a Half Men”, which actually has some lame Three Men and a Baby humor and just sort of treads water, plotwise. Or “Live Free Or TwiHard”, which has a few amusing (if easy) jokes at Twilight’s expense but seems to exist solely to reveal a tiny clue about what happened to Sam during his stay in Hell, and the nature of his seeming resurrection. These episodes are problematic in two ways, in fact. One, they weren’t all that great in terms of action or cool monsters, with "TwiHard" seemingly just swiping plot points from Blade II at random, making them letdowns on a week to week basis. But also, they don’t really work in the season as a whole once you know how everything has turned out. The idea of the “Alphas” was basically abandoned around the halfway point of the season, and Sam’s actions don’t fully jive with the later reveal (spoilers ahead).

As we learn in episode 607, “Family Matters”, Sam has come back sans his soul, which is an interesting plot idea and introduces both great ideas/episodes as well as some fun spins on the usual dynamic between the brothers (particularly when Sam doesn’t understand why he can’t just go bang some local girl while Dean is missing and he has no leads to find him). The problem is, the way that Sam acts prior to the reveal is very different from after, which doesn’t make a lot of sense – why would a guy with no soul put on an act? It’s like in 24 when they introduce a plot twist near the end of the season that renders pretty much everything that the character did earlier in the day to be highly illogical if not downright idiotic. I understand the need to draw out the mystery a bit, but they could have handled it a bit better I think.

Luckily once all that stuff is out of the way and the season’s real arc begins, things pick up. The nice thing about having less of a plan in mind is that they were seemingly willing to take more chances – this season has more “high concept” episodes than in any previous one. In addition to the Bobby ep, there’s also a Western (“Frontierland”), an all Castiel episode (“The Man Who Would Be King”), and even a comedic meta episode called “The French Mistake” in which Sam and Dean are tossed into our world, where they are the actors Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, starring in a show called Supernatural. The show has always flirted with meta humor, going all the way back to S2 or 3 when they visited a haunted film set and made jokes about Gilmore Girls (Padalecki’s former job), and of course the character of Chuck has been turning their adventures into a series of novels for years. But this one blows it wide open, mocking not just the actors but the behind the scenes crew as well (Eric Kripke is called in to solve a problem even though he’s busy with his dream project: Octocobra). It’s the sort of thing that you just have to go with, which I gladly did (it’s worth it just for the scene where they try to act – Padalecki in particular is wonderful with his body language here).

And the great thing about this show is that these high concept episodes actually fit into the overall mythology – it’s not like they just reset at the end and forget all about it. For example, the Western episode, while it has its own self-contained, Old West-centric story, the driving force behind it is Sam and Dean’s need to obtain Phoenix ashes in order to fight an enemy in the present day. In “French Mistake” we discover that their little trip was the result of Balthazar using them as a decoy to distract one of their mutual enemies away from him while he put things in motion that build toward the end of the season. On X-Files, it always seemed like the alien threat was forgotten about during the monster of the week episodes, so it’s nice to see that they have found a way to keep the show’s serialized nature much more consistent. You can miss an episode or two and still keep up (the show’s lengthy “Previously” clips at the top are a big help), but there are no throwaway tales either – every episode offers SOMETHING toward the big picture.

OK, well then why should someone buy it on Blu-ray if they’ve already watched them? Well, for starters, the image quality is vastly superior to the HD broadcast (and without annoying bugs or promos for Smallville crowding the bottom of the screen!). As I’ve said numerous times, I think this is the best looking show on TV, and I loved seeing it in full high def glory (especially the episode with the goddess Veritas, for obvious reasons). The sound mixes won’t blow anyone away, but again, they are an improvement over their broadcasts.

As for the extras, I think it’s a pretty good selection. At first I was a bit bummed to discover that only two episodes had commentaries (I’m currently going through the Community DVD set, in which every single episode has commentary, so maybe I’m just spoiled), but the two that are there are kind of dull. Both have the same participants (Sera Gamble, Robert Singer, and Ben Edlund), and both have lengthy gaps of silence as well as a load of ass-kissing. Maybe the die-hard fans who pay 230 bucks to get photos with the boys at the Creation cons will eat this shit up, but I’d rather hear more about the FX, how the actors respond to the material, etc (or they could just let the hilarious Misha Collins do a couple, which would probably be the best thing on the disc). Likewise, I was excited to check out the Anime episodes that were created in Japan and remake the events of the first two seasons, but after about 10 minutes of one I gave up – it’s awful. The boys don’t really have the same spirit they do in their live action performances (nice way of saying that they just read the lines), and apparently Ackles is only on a couple of episodes anyway, leaving a standin for the rest. The animation isn’t even all that great either, so I just fail to see the point – why watch stripped down remakes of existing episodes? At least if they told new tales I could see some appeal, but trust me, you’ll want to stick with the real deal.

The rest of the stuff is better. Outtakes on “The French Mistake” are just as funny as what’s left in, and there’s a nice 30 minute piece on Ackles directing debut. It’s a bit fluffy (apparently, he never ran into a single problem! Good for him!) but it’s still a fun look behind the scenes, and much more in depth than I was expecting. Then there’s a pretty interesting look at the nature of the soul, in which we hear from some theologians and other “experts” for a while before they segue into discussing how it applies to Sam/the show. The gag reel seems a bit in-jokey (I think it was put together for the crew) and runs a bit too long, but it’s got a number of good laughs.

And exclusive to Blu-ray is a “Hunter’s Guide”, which is also the best of the lot. Set up as an interactive replica of their leather guide, we get two pieces on each episode; one that runs 3-4 minutes, the other 1-2. The long one will focus on one aspect of the show (location scouting, the score, the editing, the FX, etc) and go into detail of how it applies to a particular episode (not always the one its linked to in the menu; there are like three that focus largely on “Frontierland”). The other is usually a quick interview or outtake of some sort, or just a lame ass photo montage, but still adds some insight/context to the episode that the other features do not offer. It’ll take about two hours to go through it all, but it’s worth the effort (there’s no “play all” – keep your remote handy). Watching everything also unlocks a few Easter Eggs, which are more behind the scenes clips that you can access on the “back page” of the guide. I unlocked three, not sure if there any others.

So overall it’s not the show’s best season, but considering that they were a bit rudderless being the 6th year of a 5 year show (and also having showrunner Kripke take a backseat to Gamble), it could have been a disaster. After a shaky start they found their footing and delivered a season that was consistent with the others, and while I wasn’t a big fan of the final episode’s reveal, it certainly sets up an interesting concept for Season 7 – can’t wait to see how they handle it.

What say you?


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