Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Random Movie: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

Let me just start off by saying how thankful I am that there is not another colon before the ‘Ghost Protocol’ subtitle. I think that would irritate me beyond belief, potentially to the point of not even doing a review at all. Whew. Crisis averted. Now as far as big-budget action franchises go, Mission: Impossible has always been all over the place for me (and a lot of folk by the ratings and reviews). The first had its moments but was decried by some for its handling of establish characters from the TV series. I didn’t care about that so much but it had long stretches of nothing that my 14-year-old brain didn’t like. M:I 2 was much the same but with far too little talky parts and far too many random explosions and whiplash-inducing edits. M:I 3 I rather liked but I’ve only ever seen that once, on TNT or something, at 3 in the morning. So I’m not too qualified to make a firm declaration on that one.

As Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol got underway at the helm of Brad Bird (you know, the awesome director from likely your favorite Pixar films) and Jeremy Renner joining the cast, I was tempted from the start. The initial, and somewhat ongoing, talk was that Renner’s character Brandt was likely to take over for Captain Insano himself for any future installments. Anything that results in less Tom Cruise in my life is always a good thing. Sadly, I did not get to see this in IMAX which means that I didn’t get the TDKR prologue (damn!) nor to experience some of the moments that others raved about. I can certainly imagine that those scenes would have been quite amazing in IMAX but I don’t think that the lack of a super-huge screen detracted from my enjoyment … at least not as much as the story.

At the start. we find Ethan Hunt (Insano Cruise himself) stuck in a Russian prison as the team of Jane (Paula Patton) and Benji (the returning Simon Pegg) are attempting to break him out. Of course they succeed since the opening credits have not even begun and Hunt is quickly thrust into a mission to retrieve files from the Kremlin. Things go awry, the Kremlin blows up, and the US government initiates ‘Ghost Protocol’ which is not a version of Call of Duty, but the shuttering of IMF and basically stranding Hunt and his team on their own with a new IMF analyst, Brandt (Renner) tagging along.

If you’ve seen Alias, any James Bond film, or most any other “spy/covert action” movie, you could probably guess there is a deranged man with a major weapon that requires the team to travel to exotic locales to track down clues and contacts and ultimately stop World War III. As far as the story goes, there really is not a lot of new ground broken in this installment sadly. Please do not mistake the rote steps I described for boring as writers Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec use those genre tentpoles as effectively as possible while transitioning between the exposition and the action very seemlessly. Unlike another recent action-y/spy thriller Salt, the big sequences and showdowns feel naturally inserted into the story instead of a loose plot written around said sequences.

Bird as director deserves a lot of credit for this as well. Perhaps the many years managing the doubtlessly painstaking process of an average Pixar film is a much better training camp for action directors than say, music videos and commercials. Ghost Protocol is almost the antithesis of a Michael Bay film as you actually have a firm grasp of the setting and the blocking so you can tell what the hell is going on. Those transitions between the dialogue and the action and then back again are quite fluid for lack of a better word which is more desirable than the typical “throw in as many cuts as possible to confuse the audience into liking it” sense that seems to permeate action films nowadays.

Since 1996, Cruise has been the face of the M:I series so that sadly has not changed for now but he does well-enough with his smarmy, smug persona to pull off Hunt as well as before. Patton has a few decent scenes but nothing too spectacular. The main standouts for the cast are Pegg and Renner, and that statement might be only slightly partial since I am a fan of both. Pegg does little wrong (I haven’t seen Paul so I can’t say no wrong) so his portrayal of the new field agent Benji is just the right amount of smart and confident with a bit of naivete to him that serves as a great comedic foil for the mostly stone-serious cast. Renner may be among those serious characters but I’ve liked the guy in everything I’ve seen him in and he is quite versatile as an actor with action, drama, and a hint of facetiousness coming through here. While the villains are too blase to remember their names, the dynamic from the ex-IMF team as a whole made up for them. And Anil Kapor was excellent, although not too important in the grand scheme of things.

As a whole, Ghost Protocol doesn’t come together quite as well as I remember the last installment and it may not stick out as a great action film along the lines of Die Hard. But that’s no bother. The pedestrian story aside, there is more than enough here to satisfy with some great performances by Pegg and Renner as well as the type of pacing and structure that action films should strive to abide by.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Random Movie (Again!): Breaking Dawn - Part I (2011)

Look, I’m not ashamed to admit that I spent deflated U.S. currency to see this big-budget teenage soap opera in theaters. Well, no, I am a bit ashamed. But that won’t deter me from finishing up the series that has pained my sensibilities for years now. Bella and Jacob are all grown-up, Edward is technically still a creepy old man, and no one ever seemed to ponder whether or not a vampire can knock-up an awkward teenage girl. Now, the world knows the truth as Breaking Dawn: Part I attempts to lay the old vampire-human sex myth to rest once and for all and so the women in the house can get their fix for pale vamp-y boy or ripped, shirtless wolf-y boy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Random Movie: The Summer of Massacre (2011)

The Summer of Massacre
Written by: PBF

The Summer of Massacre will arrive on DVD and Blu-Ray on January 10th 2012 via Breaking Glass Pictures. It is 5 stories so bloody; so full of carnage that it is apparently in the Guinness Book of World records for highest body count recorded in a film. I am too lazy to verify that, so, you know, go ahead and Google or Wikipedia that. Whichever one you use to tell you what to believe.

You ever wanted to know what it would be like if Clive Barker took mescaline and then made a film? Joe Castro provides us with a pretty good guess. This film is ultra violent about 98.7% of the time. We have 5 chapters of dizzying images, ear piercing sounds and nonsensical industrial house music, and blood flowing like urine from a pissing contest atop Mt. Everest. I mean if something or someone could bleed, they did, as if their lives depended on it (!).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Random Movie: Alien 3 (1992)

To prepare for the upcoming "Epic Finchercast," I revisited Alien 3, or Alien Cubed if you so prefer, since I haven't seen it since the early 90s after its debut on HBO. Since I was but maybe 10 or 11 at the time, I cannot hold myself too accountable for my disdain for this film since of course, at the time, I had not yet experienced Se7en, Zodiac, or Social Network. On the surface, Alien Cubed is a decent follow-up to the Alien saga. When viewed with the rest of director David Fincher's body of work, this was just the beginning.

The main consternation of Alien 3 seems to be around the death of Newt and Hicks. Now, I love Aliens (and Michael Biehn) just as much as the next guy and at the time I was sad to see them perish off-camera in rather rudimentary ways. But as the crew's ship crash lands onto a Company-owned maximum-security prison/iron works/whatever, this time I began to see why that decision was made. Hicks was basically incapacitated and Newt, while cute and all, was still just a pesky pre-teen girl that would have otherwise been surrounded by the rapists and murderers on Fury 161. It's tough to say but those characters had outlived their usefulness but Ripley, of course, has not.

Say what you want about the Alien series proper as a whole, but Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has always been the backbone and Alien 3 shows exactly why. As she is told by the medical officer Clemens (Charles Dance) that her companions have perished, Ripley still has the nagging thought that an alien is behind their demise even though she is curiously restrained in explaining that. After the bodies of Newt and Hicks are cremated and a rescue team has been summoned, Ripley receives confirmation that an alien was on-board and has likely infiltrated the small camp of prisoners and corrections officers.

Having watched the theatrical cut and the "assembly cut" back-to-back, the omissions that were made are puzzling. Even knowing about the longer, fuller cut in advance, the theatrical version seems either far too sloppily edited or too truncated to do the film any justice. Out of the twenty five remaining in the facility, only a handful are ever given any characterization (such as Charles Dutton's Dillion) or even names (like the survivor Morse) in the regular cut, leading to the bulk of the film just an alien chasing random dudes down dimly-yellow-tinged hallways. The "assembly cut" or as close to Fincher's director's cut that we will likely receive is about twenty five minute longer and features not only more prominent characterizations of the important inmates but also a quite enthralling plot point that was completely omitted from the final film.

Since I have watched an ungodly amount of Fincher films in the past month, it is easy to see the visual style that he would hold onto with following films. The low- and high-angled shots, the yellow hues that permeate, and even the emphasis on character rather than flashy visuals that would define him almost two decades later are present in Fincher's debut film. Sadly, that mostly holds true for the "assembly cut" rather than the theatrical version since a good chunk of the story was left out in the latter version. Even the other little details like the grimy set-pieces or the ruthless anonymous thugs speak toward Fincher's other works and they certainly stand out here as Fincher seems to be more interested in the visual than the constantly changing narrative.

Even though it has been largely criticized by the movie-watching community, Alien 3 is a worthy follow-up to James Cameron's Aliens in that it is almost completely different in its execution. Aliens was more focused on non-stop action whereas Alien 3 is more of a melding of its two predecessors. There are many horror-esque moments especially as the prisoners do not know about the threat but yet still many action sequences such as the alien chasing men through endless corridors, all while it is scaling walls and ceilings. Those chase scenes close to the finale, and even those throughout the film, are captured with almost a raw intensity that defy you to be nonchalant during them. Even the assembly cut ending which still has Ripley sacrificing herself is more impactful as the queen does not bust out just before. It not only is more fitting for the ending of a Fincher film but also makes Ripley's journey more impactful.

There's tons of stuff to beat this movie up on from the cruddy CGI to the underdeveloped characters but Alien 3 was nowhere near as abysmal as I feared it would be. The assembly cut is the one to watch if you have the chance but even through the studio fuckery, the theatrical cut is still a pretty powerful film on its own, and one that tries to stand up to its bigger brothers in the franchise.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Random Movie: Breaking Dawn: Part 1 (2011)

Written by: Tabitha Johnson

So the choice has been made: ‘Team Edward.’ Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) made the decision to be with Edward (Robert Pattinson) until death do they part, as per an ironic moment at the altar. Breaking Dawn: Part I covers the wedding, the honeymoon, and the pregnancy as result of their marital bliss. Oh yeah, and there’s a pack of werewolves that want to destroy their unborn child that they consider an abomination. If the first movies were about abstinence, this is a pro-life film if there ever was one.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Random Movie: New Moon (2009)

You might have noticed that it was over a year ago that I reviewed the first and third parts of the Twilight soap opera, err … saga, but not this one. That isn’t by accident nor is it entirely due to my extreme laziness. As much as I kind of liked Eclipse and was sort of okay with Twilight, this movie did absolutely nothing for me to the extent that I wished to rewatch and review it. Yet, the gap in reviews for the series has constantly bugged me and with a forthcoming review for the newest installment (hopefully not by myself), I figured I would suffer for the loyal fan or two that we still have and watch New Moon. And I hate myself for it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Random Movie: Halloween (2007)

After the last creatively bankrupt installment of this franchise, it’s no wonder that the Weinstein boys decided to go back to the drawing board and reboot the Michael Myers saga with Rob Zombie‘s version of Halloween. Or is it a remake? Or a re-imagining? Much like the most recent Nightmare on Elm Street film, I was confused as to the point of it all. Are we trying to fill in needless backstory about Myers and his upbringing? Are we updating the tale for a more contemporary potty-mouthed audience? Does anyone have a clue at this point?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Random Movie: Attack the Block (2011)

I was quite disappointed when Attack the Block did not receive a proper screening anywhere close to the Movie Scum headquarters, especially after hearing so much advance acclaim from the gazillion festivals and select screenings it had. Yet, the film is now in reach at your local Redbox or Blockbuster and I highly recommend a viewing for many of the same reasons given before: this is flat out a fun movie experience.

Think back to when we (proverbially speaking of course) were kids and there were globs of adolescent empowerment films about kids saving the day while the adults were just sitting on their thumbs. Writer and director Joe Cornish is clearly a member of that generation as the best description I can give of this film is The Goonies meets Alien. Set in a not-so-nice part of downtown London, our core cast consists of a gaggle of delinquent youths, some legitimately of the tougher sort, some not. The gang, led by Moses(!) (John Boyega) holds up the meek and defenseless Sam (Jodie Whittaker) on her way back to her block, otherwise known as an apartment building for all us ignorant American-types.

The mugging is interrupted by a projectile that destroys a car nearby and Moses is attacked while scrounging in the car by an unknown creature. Moses, not the kind willing to turn the other cheek, hunts down the being and kills it. The group brings it to Ron (Nick Frost) in an attempt to identify it as a hairless orangutan or something else. While there, they top off with ample amounts of weed since Ron runs the cannabis business inside the block for Hi-Hatz. It is not too long after that more things fall from the sky right outside the building and the tough youngsters suit up to wage war. Little did they know they were up against a few dozen feisty aliens who target the kids wherever they may go.

I’ll warn you now that you may want to turn your subtitles on while watching this. I blame equal parts poor sound design (the music drowns out the dialogue in quite a few places) and some contemporary English slang that I was quizzical on until I had the proper context. Nevertheless, Cornish quite effectively crafts the characters by way of these terms unbeknownst to a guy like me. I’m no expert and this may or may not be representative of the linguistics of London’s young adults but the many dialogue exchanges (especially in the early parts of the film) feel genuine, especially with the delivery from all of the actors. Seriously, the cultural barrier may be a factor, but there is not a single performance that I doubted during the film.

Even though the film takes place entirely in a single building and in its immediate surroundings, it is quite an adventure as the group of kids are chased around from floor to floor, apartment to apartment, with little down time in the mix. What down time there is usually provides some quick comedic bits especially with Ron and Brewis as they sit and ponder an alien invasion while getting stoned or the preteen troublemakers Probs and Mayhem as they desperately try to keep up their delinquency with the big boys. The rest of the time though is used to effectively weave elements of action, sci-fi, and horror all together as those darn aliens creep up at the most inopportune times.

I must give Cornish and the special effects teams mounds of credit for the aliens as well. Their design is very minimalist yet effectively menacing and creepy especially as you see their pronounced features in the backgrounds of dimly-lit hallways or outside of windows. There are quite a few moments that, while not “scary” per se, are very tense with the monsters popping out after the group. While some of the cast is either in too few scenes to make a difference, there are many characters that stick out, either with random quips or complete character arcs. Of all, Boyega as Moses is one of the more compelling written and performed characters in a while as he gradually learns to embrace responsibility and self-sacrifice.

There is a ton more that I quite enjoyed in this film that I just briefly touched on, but suffice to say, all of the hype and acclaim that Attack the Block received is well-deserved. As a bonus, you can even make an effective drinking game out of the abundance of times bruv, fam, or innit are said.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Random Movie: Zodiac (2007)

Way back in Episode 20 as we discussed movies based on true events, PBF brought up Zodiac saying it was well-directed, well-acted, and quite engrossing in spite of its lengthy runtime. Now, having seen the movie, I agree with all points above. And that is my review. Good night!

Well, I might be able to get into a bit more detail. Centered around the Zodiac killings of the late 1960s in California, the David Fincher directed thriller is more based on the act of catching a killer through monotonous investigation rather than the murders themselves. This is quite remarkable even considering that the Zodiac murders could have merely been a blip on the radar if not for the killer taunting the police and news reporters with letters, phone calls, and bloody pieces of fabric.

For anyone watching this expecting another Se7en out of Fincher, you will be horribly disappointed as this is the least straight-forward serial killer movie I have seen in quite a while. The thing that is truly engrossing about the movie, and according to PBF the story itself, is that the gaps in the facts pull you into the story even more as all the investigators (and as such Fincher and writer James Vanderbilt) have to go on is spotty information from traumatized or less than reliable witnesses. Similar to the case, Zodiac is strung together on a series of damning, yet highly circumstantial, evidence that leads to the “favorite” suspect as much as it clears him. It is quite different to see a movie that is put together just like a court case, without a “smoking gun” and asking you to come to your own conclusions.

I really don’t even know where to start with the cast as they were all phenomenal. Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards as the San Francisco detectives Dave Toschi and Bill Armstrong respectively tasked with the Zodiac case are incredible, both in their prowess to the clues leading to Zodiac and the banter they have between them. (Favorite line: “You’re not an idiot, you waited for him to put it in park.”) Likewise, their journalistic counterparts of Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) are equally respectable as both are invested in the case to the point that they risk their own safety (and sanity) to track down information on their own.

He has not really impressed me before, but I was quite blown away by Gyllenhaal who begins the story as a meek political cartoonist on the outskirts of the investigation only to take charge when it has been all but forgotten. His transformation from naive and bright-eyed to totally consumed with cracking the mystery of Zodiac was gradual enough but damn compelling as he almost single-handedly puts together the decades-old pieces of the puzzle that no one else cared to. While I fully expect that some elements of the story were fabricated or fictionalized compared to the real events, the character of Graysmith (who was also the writer of the source book) was one of the most complete and successful depictions of a character that would be largely inconsequential in another movie.

That is what I enjoyed the most in this film: almost everything you would expect in a true Hollywood film does not happen. There is no grand stand-off between the lead cop and the villain. Some characters (even played by pretty decent actors like Zach Grenier or Brian Cox) are around for a handful of scenes and just disappear. Fincher leaves a lot of grey area around the innocence or guilt of the prime suspect as the evidence is compelling, but not a sure thing. Even the ending (which I suspect would piss a lot of people off) is purposely vague and almost anti-climactic with no real resolution in the case at hand, just like the real events were. Rather than detract from the movie, this only makes it more engaging as we are clamoring for solid answers that do not exist. In fact, I cannot think of a more satisfying movie that leaves so many questions unanswered.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Random Movie: George: A Zombie Intervention (2009)

Written by: PBF

George: A Zombie Intervention (or George’s Intervention) comes to us via Breaking Glass Pictures. It’s quite an interesting take on the genre, but poorly executed.

The film opens with an educational film shown to school children. The opening was actually quite clever. It serves as exposition to us, and is meant to teach children the facts about zombies. Zombies have become members of society. So much so that there is a zombie technical support line. There are spores in the air that humans inhale. The spores lie dormant until the human dies. The spores then wake up and keep the brain functioning thus turning the human into a zombie. Not mindless Romero zombies. Rather, they simply remain their former selves, and are self aware that they are the undead. Unlike your typical film zombies, shooting them in the head does not kill them. It only makes them brain dead which turns them into the standard flesh seeking walkers. They only way to kill a zombie in this universe is to dismember them and burn them.

After the introduction, we see a group of friends having a pre-intervention for their friend George. He has a bit of an addiction problem. Much like you may have seen on television (or perhaps in an actual intervention), the friends are tasked to write down how George’s addiction has affected them. They arrive the next day at George’s home and he is quite resistant. George is a zombie, and he eats people. His friends plead with him to stop but he does not want to. As the group takes a break, people begin to be killed and George tries to eat them. One of George’s friends thinks that they are having a party, so George is constantly interrupted by guests arriving. He throws his victims in the basement to eat later.

This film is purposefully over the top. The gore is excessive and that’s fine. The problem is that there is an obvious attempt to make the film seem realistic at the same time, which places emphasis on its flaws. The performances are quite sub par, especially with the constant eye rolling and face acting. Right away as the friends arrive at the pre-intervention, they act as if they hate each other. So there was a bit of confusion as to why they are friends since they were all acting like jerks. This eventually changes as Sarah reveals that she likes Ben, and we learn that Steve is just a general dick.

The most bothersome thing in this film is George’s house. It’s like a billion square feet. No one in the house knows where anyone is and can’t hear the constant bludgeoning of guests, even after the loud music is turned off. The house also is apparently self cleaning, as blood seems to disappear from the floor.

There also is some inconsistency as one zombie discovers that he has no pulse and cannot feel pain and therefore must be dead, but in another scene, a zombie complains that being shot hurts.

The film was definitely entertaining, and some of the dialogue was quite humorous. However, most of the time is was poorly written and badly delivered. And not in a funny, quirky, Army of Darkness type way.

The very end is probably the funniest thing about the film. It is a “commercial” for a zombie rehab clinic and shows zombie supports groups and George eating Tofu Flesh.

The concept of the film is quite clever, and there are definitely some great moments. Very reminiscent of Dead Alive as far as style. I recommend a viewing, but must say that there is a lot to suffer through to get to the enjoyable parts.

Random Movie: Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

October may be over but sadly I still have a few more of these movies to suffer through. After watching Halloween: Resurrection, I began to yearn for the unoriginal simplicity of H20 or the complete and utter nonsense of Parts 5 and 6. Resurrection is the worst type of horror movie: it offers nothing of value to the franchise or the genre as a whole and it all around sucks complete ass. This movie (among others no doubt) is why horror films are seen as cheap, disposable, and worthless. In fact, there aren’t any better adjectives to describe this monstrosity.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Random Movie: Halloween H20 (1998)

Halloween: H20 holds a special distinction for being the only DVD I own from a different country. I’m not really sure why I bought it on a trip to Germany over ten years ago since I cannot play it on a normal DVD player and my German is so shoddy now that I would need the dub track. But regardless, I have it on German DVD. I figured starting out the review with a random anecdote would be fine since this is more a technically-competent but superfluous anecdote than a real film in the Halloween series.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Random Movie: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Pure and simple, this movie is an unadulterated mess. Coming six years after the sloppy fifth film, the Halloween series had certainly seen its better days as it changes hands to yet another production company, this time the genre upstart Dimension Films. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers also is notable for being one of the most awkwardly put together films courtesy of studio or dumbass filmmaker interference and even spawned its own alternate cut which ran rampant on VHS many years ago as the “Producers’ Cut.” Just like any relationship, this movie has a lot of baggage. And I have a love/hate relationship with it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Random Movie: Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

1989 should have been a big year for horror fans with the release of Halloween 5, Nightmare on Elm Street 5, and Friday the 13th Part 8 all together. Yet, since the late 80s marked the decline of the slasher genre, it should stand to reason that all of these films were garbage in one way or another. Similar to Nightmare 5, I have never had any fondness for Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers which I previously dismissed as just another empty cash-grab. Perhaps since it has been easily ten or so years since seeing this one or because I know there is some horrid crap to come, I came out of my viewing of this film with a newfound appreciation for it. It’s still rather terrible though.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Random Movie: Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

At this point, the Paranormal Activity series is almost critic-proof since it is dirt-cheap to produce, brings in fists full of dollars and is generally well-received by audiences. With the departure of the Saw franchise last year, October needed another big, R-rated series to take its place to win over the hard earned cash of horror-loving moviegoers. I said in the review of PA2: “It is pretty safe to say that if you liked the first PA, you will probably like this one too.” Amend that to say the first two PA films and you have my excerpt for Parnormal Activity 3. That isn’t a bad thing … unless you really hated the preceding films.

The formula for these stories are pretty simple: a family experiences some traumatic experience leading to the dominant male of the household placing a camera, or cameras, around the house to document something or another. This film sets up the loving family of Julie, mother of Katie and Kristi, and her boyfriend Dennis who conveniently is a wedding photographer, thus having access to multiple cameras and a seemingly endless supply of VHS tapes. Katie and Kristi’s father is out of the picture but the four have a pretty good relationship especially between Dennis and the kids. An earthquake interrupts Julie and Dennis’ very tame sex tape and Dennis maybe sees something weird when reviewing the tape.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Random Movie: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

In the world of slasher sequels, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is still pretty highly regarded. It doesn’t come close to the original but that’s not surprising especially after the previous sequels in the franchise. Part II was apparently made to up the gore and body count that the first was sorely not lacking. The all-around awful part III was apparently created to kill the Halloween name altogether. Fortunately, it did not succeed because then Danielle Harris would not be who she is today (for better or worse) and we would be denied arguably the best sequel in this quite uneven franchise.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Random Movie: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Despite seeing all the other movies in the franchise multiple times, I had never seen the Friday the 13th: A New Beginning of the Halloween series, Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Sure, I could deny that is because Michael Myers is absent in this installment but that would not be exactly accurate. Yet, over the years I have heard time and time again that this film would have a much better reputation if it did not have Halloween in the title. That may in fact be true. But it is still a shitty movie.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Monster Scum Lives – Day 11: Diabolique (1955)

It was about fifteen years ago that I saw the most recent film based on the novel Celle qui n’était plus by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. I remembered the basic gist of the tale but not much else. Now, having seen the 1955 French thriller Diabolique (or Les Diaboliques), even without remembering much I can safely say the 1996 Americanized remake was far less effective than this version. There is a reason this is a highly regarded film in general.

Christina Delassalle (Véra Clouzot) is in a tough situation. She runs a young boy’s boarding school with her husband Michel (Paul Meurisse) whose stern and controlling demeanor makes him hated by all including his wife. Michel harbors much resentment for Christina and she for him with his abusive and cheating mannerisms. After eight years together, Christina reaches the point where she wants Michel gone one way or another. She schemes with her closest companion Nicole (Simone Signoret), also Michel’s former mistress, and develop a fool-proof plan to dispatch of the man.

The two women lure Michel to Nicole’s house where he is sedated with a tainted bottle of wine and then submerged in a filled bathtub as Nicole keeps him under until his struggling stops. They load the body into a giant wicker trunk and cart it back to the boarding school where they dump it in the filthy swimming pool, thinking he will surface in a few days as an apparent accident or suicide. The body then disappears but other things appear in its place like his dry-cleaned suit or his lighter.

It is only within the past few years that I’ve come to appreciate foreign as well as black-and-white films. As such Henri-Georges Clouzot‘s thriller never really stuck out as a horror staple, probably due to the fact that it is made more than fifty years ago as well as subtitled. That is a shame though since Diabolique is a treat to watch for a prime example of how a tense film is put together. When the body goes missing and other haunting reminders of the missing man surface instead, you can feel the subdued panic between both women as they worry about the likelihood of going to jail, being blackmailed, or worse being hunted down by the man they were sure was dead. While the “horror” elements are rather tame, the tension between the two female leads and even the haunting “presence” by Michel is more than enough to create a great noir film with its suspenseful elements of paranoia and effective camerawork.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Random Movie: Halloween II (1981)

Largely thanks to John Carpenter‘s original Halloween, the 80s were chock full of slasher flicks taking place everywhere from summer camps to sorority houses and everywhere in between with a collection of mostly bland, forgettable murderers. Everyone seems to remember this era fondly even though the sad reality dictates that most of these films are pretty bad with a few notable exceptions sticking out here and there. With the title, heroine, and villain notwithstanding, Halloween II would be more of the former than the latter.

Monster Scum Lives – Day 10: Frankenstein (1931)

Since beginning this year’s Monster Scum marathon, I have had a blast catching up on old favorites and learning about classic movies that I had never seen before. I figured though that even though my viewing list is fashioned from the IMDb Top Horror Movie list, I would come across a film I either didn’t get or just didn’t like. Given that this is my first time viewing James Whale‘s original cinematic telling of Frankenstein, I can appreciate its impact on film and specifically monster movies, but this one just didn’t gel for me.

Even having not read the original novel by Mary Shelley (though I’m sure I have the Cliff Notes version somewhere), the story of Frankenstein has been told so many times either in film or television or homaged elsewhere, it’s impossible not to know the genesis of the Monster. Henry Frankenstein (why not Victor?), the mad scientist who has a serious God complex and creates a being that ends up destroying its creator is nothing new even without seeing the film. In fact, that almost seems like a staple of all types of storytelling. Regardless, the specifics of this film were a new experience for me at least as the Monster lashes out killing almost everyone around Henry.

While I did not anticipate anything that would be seriously classified as “horror” these days, Frankenstein was actually a bit more tame than I had anticipated. Sure, he offs Fritz which was certainly welcome although Dr. Waldman and the little girl were a bit more impactful, but the Monster does little else than roam around the countryside stumbling and groaning through most of the film. While I appreciate a movie that is tight and not overly long, the just over one hour runtime seems to leave huge holes in the story such as how the Monster develops from simply moving a hand to choking the life out of someone. From what I can tell, it does not seem that there was anything excised from the film but having some more scenes with Henry and the Monster or of the other characters after Henry is extracted from his laboratory would have been less jarring than the speedy plot that remains.

The DVD I watched came with a commentary by David J. Skal, a renowned horror historian who discussed in length the origin of the story, the production of film, and the impact it had on further movies including those in the Universal Monster universe. It is quite an interesting track and certainly gave me a better appreciation for the film. But aside from the great cinematography, the rest of the production felt more basic and cheap than I expected. Especially telling is the scenes in the cemetery at the beginning or in the “mountains” toward the end with an obviously ill-conceived backdrop that withdrew me straight from the story. For the most part, the acting is decent but more on the over-the-top end of the spectrum with Colin Clive‘s depiction of the mad genius. Boris Karloff as the Monster is effective even if a bit underutilized.

While the film was obviously a success deriving four direct sequels and a host of other remakes of the story, this is a film that succeeds more in what it inspired than what it accomplished.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Monster Scum Lives – Day 9: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: in a small town, weird things start happening as the townsfolk who look seemingly normal turn into emotionless robots with only a few becoming aware of the differences. No, it’s not the plot to The Faculty. Despite the 1955 short story by Jack Finney and four movies based off of it (one of which we even covered last year), I have not seen any version of this tale but it seems so common because it has been remade and homaged (or in the case of The Faculty almost blatantly ripped off) countless times over the years. Yet, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a short and creepy thriller even though everything seems cliched by now.

Doctor Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) returns home to Santa Mira, California with reports that most of the town wanted to see him for undisclosed reasons. Now though, everyone seems to be healthy and normal aside from the little boy who is almost mincemeat after running into the street trying to escape his mother or the woman who declares that her uncle is not really her uncle but an imposter with the same appearance and memories. Bennell quickly dismisses the claims and refers the woman to the town psychiatrist. Later while dining with love interest Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), Bennell receives an urgent call and goes to the home of Jack and Teddy who have found a body in their house without any defining features or even fingerprints. Soon Bennell, Becky, and company discover the town is no longer occupied by humans, just empty shells of their former friends and colleagues.

Even though it seems overdone (since it kind of is), the story behind Invasion is still quite effective, enhanced here by great performances and the beauty of black-and-white cinematography. This is, in a way, a more frightening tale than a typical zombie or slasher film primarily because the protagonists are mostly in the dark about what is happening and even once they do figure things out, there is no way of telling who is human and who is not. This uncertainty has strong roots in the ongoing Cold War when the film was made and the fear and paranoia can be easily supplanted with enemies of the state or something else more common in the natural world.

Thanks to the great performances and the direction by Don Siegel, most everything in the film is suspenseful and even a bit off-kilter before we learn of what is really going on. The one problem with the film that is apparently widely hated is the opening scene showing that Bennell has escaped Santa Mira and is telling the story to a doctor elsewhere. This, and his accompanying spotty narration, almost remove any real tension since we know that he will survive. Yet, as the film wound down, I was still waiting for the “downer” ending that the rest of the movie commanded but due to alleged studio tinkering, we receive a happy-ish ending instead. Again, I haven’t seen any of the other films based off of the same story so I don’t know if that’s a common theme but I hope not.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Monster Scum Lives – Day 8: The Exorcist (1973)

It wasn’t until the past seven or eight years that I first saw The Exorcist. Back in probably 1999 or 2000, I bought a DVD with the intention on catching up with one of horror’s most renowned films but I didn’t get around to it until many years later when the random urge struck one night as I sat alone at home. Needless to say, the movie creeped me the hell out and even watching it today still invokes a strong sense of unease. It isn’t the “scariest” film in terms of jump-scares but William Friedkin‘s classic tale is still as unsettling today as I’m sure it was almost forty years ago.

As I remarked when I reviewed this film’s sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic some time ago, I haven’t watched the original in some time. Of course the basic summary of the movie still stuck out as well as the priest who defenestrates himself but Exorcist excels just like the other classics I’ve covered like Halloween because we are not immediately thrust into the conflict. Friedkin (and writer William Peter Blatty) take a remarkably restrained pace where the odd happenings do not begin until over a third into the film and the exorcism is withheld until the very last minute.

Instead of drawing out the young girl’s potential possession or the exorcism itself, the movie spends a seemingly inordinate amount of time on Regan (Linda Blair) and her mother Chris’ (Ellen Burstyn) relationship and how the effect that the occurrences have on Chris as she searches for an answer about what is going on. Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) and Father Karras (Jason Miller) are also given a hefty amount of backstory and characterization before even meeting the MacNeil family which leads to some rather disturbing exchanges between the priests and the demon inhabiting Regan.

Throughout its entire two-hour runtime, Friedkin successfully sucks you into the story with little time to ponder or debate what you are seeing on screen. Regan’s affliction could very well be physical, emotional, or religious in nature but the way the story unfolds as Chris is told her daughter’s actions are caused by neurological issues or psychological issues keeps us on an even keel with the characters with the small exception that we know we’re watching a movie called The Exorcist.

There are many deeper issues here, especially pertaining to faith as told through Karras’ character. Or maybe Friedkin and Blatty were denouncing the miracle of modern medicine which failed time and time again here to explain something so easily dismissed. Whatever your take on God, the Devil, and religion as a whole, The Exorcist isn’t a movie that has any answers (or really asks any big questions) about belief but watching it will get the gears in your head turning regardless.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Monster Scum Lives – Day 7: King Kong (1933)

Confession time: I’ve never seen King Kong, neither the original or the remakes. Still, the 50ish-foot gorilla is one of those legendary cinematic figures like Darth Vader or Freddy Kruger with a legacy that everyone knows even if you have not seen any of their films. Honestly, I can’t say I was expecting much out of Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack‘s tale of a captive beast gone wild in the streets of New York even though it still has a very positive rating. But holy crap was it really good!

Beginning as I figure most early movies are (kind of stilted and stodgy), cryptic movie director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is about to set sail to an unknown island to film a “picture!” When his crew fails to turn up a young, attractive woman to star in the production, Denham goes out and recruits the shoplifter Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to play the love interest with no questions asked. After they’ve embarked, Denham tells the captain and his right-hand man Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) of their destination: an island told of by a dying man that has “interesting” wildlife.

After a shaky encounter with the natives, Denham and crew return to their ship until a band of the island-folk abduct Ann for an offering to Kong. The rest is pretty straight forward. Kong takes Ann. Men go after Kong. Kong has fight after fight with wacky prehistoric creatures while brutally killing people. Kong is captured, taken to New York, escapes his chains, and climbs up the Empire State Building with Ann in tow. Man, was this a fun movie to watch.

I am quite shocked at how well this holds up compared to all the junk action films I’ve consumed in my lifetime. It starts somewhat slow and Kong doesn’t appear until a good ways into the movie but after he does, it is wall-to-wall action from all sides. In fact, I am surprised that this was made and commercially successful in the 1930s because it is pretty damn violent too. While there is nothing really grisly, it is impressive that an old-school, highly regarded movie like this can rack up a body count far exceeding most horror franchises.

The uncredited Cooper and Schoedsack as story-writers and directors do a great job in making almost every minute in this 80-year-old film remarkable. Sure, it is easy to pick on the awkward stop motion during much of Kong’s screen time but the era it was made notwithstanding, the impressive action sequences make it simple enough to overlook. While I’m sure there is some subtext about the dangers of keeping wild animals captive or how the white man will always destroy other tribes and cultures, I was far too busy gawking over all of the chomping and stomping and crushing to really notice.

If you haven’t already seen this classic, do yourself a favor and see it now. It is great in a completely unironic way.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Random Movie: Scream 4 (2011)

I know. I’ve already reviewed Scream 4 once before. It was hardly an impartial review though since it had been eleven years since the premiere of the preceding movie and it was not too thorough since I banged it out after a midnight showing opening day before going to work. But, since it was just released on DVD and Blu-ray this week, why not take another look?

Beginning with a dizzying number of “opening” sequences, Scream 4 sets the action back in Woodsboro as Sidney (Neve Campbell) has returned on a book signing tour and reunited with Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale (Courteney Cox) who are now married. Dewey is now the Sheriff, Gale is retired from reporting and unsuccessfully trying to write a fiction novel, and Sidney is the proverbial black cat who is constantly followed by death and despair. The mayhem starts up again as Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her friend Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) watch as their neighbor is savagely (and I mean savagely!) butchered by Ghostface which kicks in the old plot formula of a who-dun-it mystery combined with unnaturally loquacious teenagers and references to other horror films.

Even though the film was allegedly plagued with rewrites, reshoots, and typical Weinstein fuckery, the finished product that launched in theaters is pretty satisfying. It was announced as a reboot/remake/sequel hybrid which sounded pretty dumb at the time but started to flesh out as the cast was announced with the returning trio of Arquette, Campbell, and Cox and a host of other new characters. The main issue with the film (similar to the last two actually) is that there are too many damn people to keep track of. At this point, we are pretty safe to assume that the killers are not Sidney, Dewey, or Gale so thus every other actor is saddled with questionable lines and sketchy motives to make them seem like the killer. The reason the first worked so well (aside from the fact that it was the first) is that the potential psycho-list was not as long as my arm. You certainly cannot fault the film for a low bodycount though if you are into that.

If anything, returning writer (or writers) Kevin Williamson is able to tap into a good amount of the self-referential and self-awareness of the first film. Woodsboro’s current crop of teens are the gang from the first hopped up on Redbull with unfettered access to the internet to pirate all seven Stab films or whatever the hell kids do these days. Scream: The Next Generation would have been a fine movie on its own. Jill takes the victim torch from Sidney, she has a creepy-ish boyfriend like Billy, and instead of one, we have three Randy-esque characters in this movie. It is the somewhat awkward merging of the old and new classes that brings the film down since there really is no time to focus on anyone for fear of neglecting someone else.

Wes Craven tried to do his best with the film since it seems a bit more on point than part 3 but no where close to the excellence he brought to Scream 2. After enough horror films in general (and of a particular franchise to boot), it is easy to get lazy with the “scares” but there were a few effective ones here and there. The thing I will curse Craven and Williamson (and whoever else wrote the thing) for is their penchant for playing it too safe. There was one scene that almost tried to be as shocking as Randy’s demise in 2 but whoever is responsible didn’t have the cajones to kill off one of the main three. Going into the film, it’s a safe bet that if the character has not been in a previous Scream film, they are as good as dead. It would have been refreshing to have some more uncertainty about the old-school cast even though what the “typical” audience wants is a boring, happy ending.

The most aggravating thing about Scream 4 are the numerous scenes cut from the final picture. Most deleted scenes are taken out for a reason but here are tighter chase scenes, more character development, and backstory that are severely missed in the regular release. Sure, the extra scenes with the sadly wasted Mary McDonnell or more stuff with Kirby (my favorite new character) would have extended the run-time but there was plenty of material that didn’t work to start with. A commentary comes on the Blu-ray with Craven, Roberts, and Panettiere (and Campbell for a brief time) but it is nowhere near as in depth or thoughtful as some of those from the previous films.

The painful thing about Scream 4 is that everyone (cast and crew included) tried hard to make a decent follow-up but only succeeded in reminding the audience how special and awesome the original is. If the series were to continue, it needs to be around some different characters in a similar storyline lest it continue to fall in the shadow of its predecessor.

Monster Scum Lives – Day 6: Freaks (1932)

My how the world has changed since the 1930s. I can only imagine the chagrin that theater patrons were treated to while watching Tod Browning‘s Freaks, otherwise known as awesome horror film #24 by the IMDb. Yet, watching this film several decades later takes most of the shock and awe out of these characters. Instead of being shunned by society and making a living by begging or doing parlor tricks, abnormal, or unique if you’d rather, people have been featured in movies, TV series, and hell … even reality shows. Oh well, I can’t blame the film for the sad state of popular media today.

Poor Hans (Harry Earles) just can’t seem to catch a break. He is smitten with the beautiful Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), even though she stands about three feet taller than his dwarfish frame. After being given extravagant gifts by the foolhardy Hans, Cleopatra and her beau Hercules learn that Hans has received a large inheritance and Cleopatra strings him along until the two get hitched at one of the more eventful weddings ever. Also in attendance at the feast are the other members of the touring group including Siamese conjoined twins, a he/she, a bearded lady, and more. “One of us, one of us” is the chant they use to welcome the decidedly normal Cleopatra into their group. Not surprisingly, the drunken wife is not happy with this and calls them “slimy freaks” just after throwing wine on them. The gang does not think that to be very polite and start piecing together her motives.

Eighty years removed, Freaks is just not a horror film any longer. It is mostly good even though the just over one hour runtime leaves much to be desired (due to the stupidity of 1930s folk allegedly). The film works well, even today, at exposing these “freaks” and sympathizing them as they play, fight, love, and gang up to give an old-school beat-down to a couple of traitors. An opening scroll that accompanied the DVD I watched filled in a lot of the group’s dynamics as to why they were all mostly accepting of Hans and Cleopatra as a way of showing solidarity toward one another. That also further explains the lengths that they go to exact revenge on her when she betrays their code.

At the end, there are a few unsettling images (I’m thinking the little people crawling through the mud with knives will give me nightmares) and the film itself is pretty sound given its age. It is a shame though that the heaps of footage reportedly excised are lost for good just as it is sad that Tod Browning never really recovered professionally after this film. Fortunately though, while the reaction was less than positive many decades ago, Freaks is now pretty highly regarded and likely did much to foster understanding for the subject matter.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Monster Scum Lives – Day 5: The Thing (1982)

Originally published January 7, 2010

Surprisingly, I had been missing out on John Carpenter’s The Thing until a few years ago when a friend of mine turned me on to it. I thought it was a very effective movie and the DVD was great, featuring commentary by Carpenter and Kurt Russell as well as an in depth documentary on the making of the film. Sadly, my original DVD was not anamorphic so I had no desire to watch the film in recent years until I upgraded my disc to the re-release from a few years back. For some reason, I didn’t remember much from the film so it was almost like watching it for the first time all over again.

A loose remake of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World, Carpenter’s version puts us in the middle of an Antartic research team who uncover a monstrous alien who has already devastated another research camp. As the being infiltrates the tight group of men, it takes their appearance and mannerisms leading them to doubt as to who is human and who is not. It is a very simplistic story, one which has been ripped off (or maybe its an homage depending on where you stand) by other films and even TV series.

It works so well because it is very well-produced (one of Carpenter’s best in my opinion) and has a great confined atmosphere of dread. It is really not a scary movie. It has a few jumps but more importantly, it has a palpable tension especially as the characters start putting the pieces together and figuring out that something is not right.

One of the biggest standouts of the film is the effects by Rob Bottin to create the creature. As it changes from a dog to a venus-fly-trap-headed man to even as a man’s head separates from the rest of his body as the alien tries to survive, the visuals of the monster are genuinely frightening, never looking gimmicky or fake. This is a movie that special effects gurus should look to for why practical effects are much more effective and realistic than crap-looking CGI which may allow more creativity but destroys any credibility.

Its a real shame that Carpenter has been on a decline and all but disappeared over the past several years. While I haven’t seen all of his films, I have seen a fair amount to be able to tell the difference between old Carpenter classics like Prince of Darkness or Halloween and new Carpenter dreck like Village of the Damned and Ghosts of Mars. He seems to have returned to form recently with his well reviewed episode of Masters of Horror and his upcoming film The Ward.

Let’s hope that the threatened Thing remake either fizzles out or turns out to be decent. While it won’t destroy the original, I don’t think Carpenter could use another dud, even if its just in credit only.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Monster Scum Lives – Day 4: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

During my personal dark ages of movies, otherwise known as the mid 2000s, there were a host of films that demanded viewing that I casually disregarded. Some of those I have come to regret. Others I have not seen at all. One that I made a point to see though was Shaun of the Dead. There was something about the film that stood out to me as important enough to see in theaters even though I ended up seeing it alone in a showing of about six people.

It was billed as the zom-rom-com (or zombie romantic comedy) but only two of those adjectives really fit. With numerous hints and winks to other zombie films and properties in general, Shaun of the Dead is a movie that is crafted so well and foreshadowed so effectively, I almost guarantee that you can watch it many times over and find something new to grin or chuckle about. Our lovable slacker Shaun (Simon Pegg) is an everyman with no ambitions, no drive, and no desire for anything other than playing video games with his pal Ed (Nick Frost). All it takes is the pending end of the world to snap Shaun out of his ways and spring into action as the reluctant action hero who rarely has a plan or even skills to carry out what plans he does have.

Even if you are not a fan of zombie movies or of British comedy (if both, exit now please), there is plenty to sink your teeth into with this film. As a horror fan, there are more than enough references to other zombie films (especially the Romero variety) to make you pleased as punch. As a comedy fan, the film is stock full of other references and even a humorous foreshadowing of future events that become more apparent the more you watch it. The script by Pegg and director Edgar Wright (of Scott Pilgrim fame) is equal parts zany, and horror-y, and funny all combined into one satisfying package.

Unlike other zombie films that precede it, SotD is rarely lacking on the acting front with top-notch performances from everyone involved. There is gore and carnage and all the other sorts of things you would expect from a zombie movie. There is even a Romero-esque social commentary on everyday people going about their affairs and how they relate to the cinematic zombies portrayed here. But at the very least, this is a horror/comedy which does everything right for anyone who might be watching. If you don’t like this movie, you are probably already dead.

Monster Scum Lives – Day 3: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Without watching, and thinking of, the two back to back, it is easy to miss the similarities between John Carpenter’s Halloween and George Romero‘s Night of the Living Dead. Both were made by a bunch of amateur filmmakers on a minuscule price tag and both are highly regarded, not only in horror films, but in their respective sub-genres.

Romero helped define the modern zombie as we know, and despise, it today. Previously, zombies were not autonomous flesh-eating beings, but pawns by some voodoo priest from some exotic locale. Now, zombie is not only a term for mindless folk enacting a set routine consistently (we’ll get to Shaun of the Dead soon enough) but also deadly slow (or fast depending on the movie) “people” out for blood by way of whatever reason is given or not. In fact, just like Halloween, the gist of the film (people trapped in a confined space battling deadies) has been done and done again to the point that it seems cliched. Night being the start, and to some extent the apex, of zombie films though takes this mere plot summary and does wonders with it.

Romero likes to say that his original film is not really a piece of social commentary on race relations in the 1960s, but given his proclivity for shoehorning other commentary in films that are not worthy of it (cough … Diary of the Dead), I find that hard to believe. That point notwithstanding, Night is a clever film, not only for its subject matter but also for its production technique. Much has been written about the guerrilla-style filmmaking used during this production and it is remarkable especially since the low-budget-ness does more to engulf you in the zombie phenomenon than other similar films can pull off with big budget set pieces and makeup.

Even though I’ve seen the 1990 remake more than this, the original Night has a certain charm that exudes during every minute. Starting with poor, meek Barbara and her obnoxious brother Johnny at the cemetery to Ben and Cooper’s introduction at the old farmhouse, this film features realistic characters who do not necessarily fall into the Hollywood trap of painting them as extremes. Cooper is kind of an ass but he is not necessarily dangerous, just scared and stupid. Ben is not a hero, more of a poor guy stuck in bad circumstances who has to take charge. Everything about them (even the almost comatose Barbara) feels genuine, not some character written by committee.

The final third of the film is exhilarating with constant threats from both inside and outside as the human occupants come to blows and the zombies come closer and closer to their feast. It would be an understatement to say the ending is a downer but it fits the rest of the film perfectly. The excellence performances, mostly from Duane Jones and Karl Hardman, and especially the go-for-broke attitude of Romero and his crew set this apart as a horror film that will live on much longer than its undead antagonists.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Monster Scum Lives – Day 2: Eyes Without a Face (1960)

In the making-of documentary on my Halloween Blu-ray, John Carpenter remarked that Michael Myers’ signature mask reminded him of the mask worn by Christiane in Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux sans Visage), the French-language film by Georges Franju. The resemblance between the masks is uncanny but there are other similarities between these two great films.

A few years previously, Christiane (Edith Scob), daughter of the renowned Docteur Génessier (Pierre Brasseur), was in a car accident that horribly mangled her face, leaving only her eyes intact. Christiane is secluded to the doctor’s estate after another young girl is found dead and Génessier identifies her as his “missing” daughter. Génessier has a wild notion (wild before the beauty of Face/Off that is) that a face can be transplanted from one person to another. With the guilt from causing the accident responsible for his daughter’s condition combined with his arrogance that he can actually succeed, Génessier and his assistant enlist unwilling young women as part of the makeshift operation.

This film has elements that seem vaguely familiar but damn if I can place from where. While watching it, I was inexplicably reminded of The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, or otherwise known as Mike’s first episode on MST3k as that is another black and white science-fiction-ish tale of a mad doctor who ultimately succumbs to his “project.” Really, if not for the fact that the film was remarkably engrossing and technically sound, this is almost the type of stuff Mike (or Joel) and the ‘bots would riff on. The wacky, demented carnival music certainly fit that bill as well.

Brasseur as the good doctor gives an impressive performance of a character whose complexities are normally foregone in modern moviemaking. Génessier is the real monster in this tale as Brasseur embodies a man who is determined and yet diabolical, motivations that fit Michael Myers to a T. Scob though has a tough sell for her character. Christiane is almost complicit with her father’s affairs as she sits and watches while young girls are hacked up to make her whole again. When not donning the skin of another woman, Scob is stuck behind a blank, emotionless mask leaving only her eyes and subtle movements of the faux-mouth to express her desire for a normal life on one hand, or a quick death on the other.

Franju takes a very slow and methodical approach to the story, again not unlike Carpenter’s Halloween. There are long stretches of the film without dialogue, which is welcome occurrence to be able to focus on the scenery rather than the subtitles, but also to establish the characters as they plot and plan their next moves. It is odd that this film is lumped in the horror category but this is what I would think a Coen Brothers’ horror film would be like. It is quiet and thoughtful, yet at the same time disturbing. Not so much in the imagery but in the thought of what a man blinded by pride and love is capable of.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Monster Scum Lives — Day 1: Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter may not be churning out classics like Halloween any longer, but his arguably most famous film seems to have been the perfect storm of dedication, foolishness, ambition and talent that elude most films. Made on a tiny $300k budget (or about $1 million today), Halloween would go on to become one of the most financially successful independent pictures ever, not to mention the impact it made on filmmakers and movie-goers even thirty years later.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Random Movie: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

In late 1996 and 1997, Scream made horror movies, especially those featuring attractive TV stars, a hot commodity in Hollywood. Thus, it’s no surprise that in addition to two sequels to that film over the next three years, audiences were given similar films to existing franchises like Bride of Chucky and Halloween H20 as well as the hopeful launch of new franchises such as Urban Legend and this entry: the awkwardly titled I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Written by Scream scribe Kevin Williamson (along with about a billion other properties in the late 90s), IKWYDLS was loosely based on a young adult novel that featured neither a killer Gorton’s fisherman nor witty Kevin-Williamson-ish banter between the main characters. I know this because I actually read that book … in sixth grade. Author Lois Duncan was reportedly quite unhappy with the movie. In fairness, she’s not the only one as even with the elements introduced by Scream closely adhered to, this film is commonly relegated to the crap designation of teen horror. So, why is it then that I have an unnatural fondness for this movie?

If you can say Scream is a modern take on an effective slasher flick (ala Halloween), then IKWYDLS is a modern take on the other dozens of crap slasher films (most F13 movies for example). The set up is pretty basic and overwrought with four friends, after a night of teenage shenanigans, who run down a man crossing a street and cover up the murder. One year later, the four start receiving notes referencing the event that they swore would stay between them. The kids try and figure out who is behind the veiled threats as things escalate. It’s basically a retooled story lifted from a Scooby Doo episode but then again, most movies in these genre are as well.

Even though it is constantly lumped together with the Scream wannabes, IKWYDLS is pretty much a straightforward slasher film without nonstop references and homages to past films or attempted humorous conversations that pop up regularly in other films. There are a few moments where the unnatural high-schooler dialogue from Williamson sticks out but not often. The core cast of Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze Jr. are crafted more like your average dumb kids instead of sarcastic, quick-tongued protagonists. That is not to say that any of the actors are bad per se; in fact, all are decent if not spectacular. That certainly beats the alternative of being awful (cough, Alicia Witt!).

The biggest thing that makes this film stand out comes from director Jim Gillespie. He isn’t a household name like Wes Craven and you’ve probably not seen anything else he has directed but he has a way with not only his composition but with the action scenes that can get mighty suspenseful at times. The score from John Debney is pretty effective as well from haunting melodies to loud, crass stings when called for. On a technical level, everything clicks here better than expected for a movie of this caliber.

Where the film likely gets its bad rep from is in the final 20 minutes and rightfully so since it does a lot to undo the relative excellence. Before that though, it should be noted that there are several scenes throughout (mostly including the aforementioned killer fisherman) that make no damn sense such as how he is able to load and unload a body and a few dozen crabs or even crash a car through a building with no one noticing. As the finale comes, it becomes clear that Williamson (or whoever did a rewrite) left all the horror cliches for the end with Julie being chased around the bowels of an unnatural large fishing boat instead of … jumping off? There are so many moments in the final scenes that are laughably absurd that you can’t help but wonder if they are intentional. And of course, instead of a happy ending we get a completely open door for a sequel and one final jump scare which again makes no damn sense at all.

Perhaps I view this one through those nostalgic glasses we spoke of previously as this was the very first DVD I ever bought and the soundtrack was in constant rotation on my treks to school and back. But, it’s not a bad film comparatively to other crap I’ve subjected myself to as long as you have the right expectations going into it. Until the sequel that is …

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mini Scum: Spaceballs (1987)

With George Lucas’ 13th revision of Star Wars hitting Blu-ray recently, I figured I should honor that somehow. But not with those reviews. That would be painstaking. If you read old reviews of Mel Brooks‘ Spaceballs, the consensus is that it came far too late to be an effective parody of those famed sci-fi films. Funny enough though, I saw Spaceballs likely when I was under six and didn’t see Star Wars until well into high school. Thus, the spoof aspect never really stuck out to me. That’s fine because that part is only moderately funny.

Brooks’ film works best when it breaks the 4th wall and pokes fun at unrelenting merchandising of lunchboxes, flamethrowers, and toilet paper. I especially enjoy the one-off jokes such as the cross-eyed gunner Asshole or Mr. Rental. The cast is largely decent considering the unevenness of the story with John Candy, Brooks himself as two characters, and the lovely Daphne Zuniga as the standouts. Some laugh-out-loud moments exist but those are buried too far under countless bits that fail. Watch it for nostalgia’s sake but not to expect a good film. That is, until Brooks’ realizes the potential for a touched-up Special Edition.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Random Movie: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

Written by: PBF

First off, I have never read the graphic novel, so I swear to God, if you negate my review if this film wasn’t faithful to the source material, I will sick Kane Hodder on you.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is 100% pure entertainment. Every fucking thing about it. From the comic booky words that fly on the screen, to the insanely clever script that is basically a group of well constructed lines stacked in order of hilarity that assemble a story. Visually, aurally, intellectually and otherwisely this film is extremely pleasing. It’s almost guerilla like in its blatant disregard for seamless scene transitions. Which, by the way, is awesome. Pretty much every scene or line is completely unexpected and hilarious. There literally is a laugh about every 1.5 seconds.

I have accused Michael Cera of being repetitive in his characters. This is the first film in which even though he still employs some of the same traits, I did notice that he does actually distinguish his character from all others.

Also, Kieran Culkin is extremely hilarious as his roommate. But, then again, so is every person in this film.

I suppose I should mention the plot. In a nutshell, Scott Pilgrim is in love with Ramona Flowers. She is resistant to his “charms,” but eventually succumbs due to his persistence. However, they both discover that if they are to be together, Scott has to defeat Ramona’s 7 ex boyfriends. What ensues is a film that will delight video game, music, comic book and just anything fans.

I am really serious when I say that there is something to like every single second of this film. Whether it is a funny line, a bright color, a word flying across the screen, I have never seen a film that has stimulated so many different parts of my brain for the entirety of its running time.

I realize that this is a short review, but when you have nothing but positive things to say about a film, brevity is the result. I am probably the last person on Earth to see this, but I’m glad I did.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Future Crap? Top Horrid-looking Upcoming Movies

Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star
I’ve determined that Adam Sandler through his Happy Madison shingle is trying to make everyone hate him. I cannot fathom any other explanation for his recent output (see Jack & Jill below). I needn’t really say much because the crap speaks for itself. Even the trailer announcer sounds bored. Watch for it to hopefully tank this weekend, September 9.

“Whatdya say we remake those Bourne movies with that kid from those, eh … Twilight movies? Yeah! No, not Robert Patterson (sic)! The other hunky one. Yeah. We just need to get a big director like Spike Lee! Oh, he’s not available. What about John Singleton? Yeah, that’s the stuff. And, uh, we’ll pack it with good actors like Alfred Molina and Sigourney Weaver! Big blockbusta on our hands!” – random movie exec. I’ll pass on this September 23.

Real Steel
Pop quiz, Hollywood hot shot! What do you get when you combine the Fighter/Rocky/any other boxing movie with Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots? Uh, the humorously named Real Steel apparently. From the trailer below, it seems to hit all of the stepping stones for a underdog sports movie … except by replacing the underdog with a pile of metal under the tutelage of Wolverine and some bratty looking kid. Expect it to make a trillion dollars off the backs of stupid movie fans on October 7.

Sacrilege alert! I’ve never seen the original Kevin-Baconized Footloose. Wait, is that cheering or booing? Either way, chalk another 80s film to the Tinsel Town remake train as a small town with a ban on typical teenager fun like dancing. I would assume the sex and drugs are off-limits as well. A new cast of unknowns attempt to shake up the establishment by dancing any-damn-way (shocker!) and ruffle Dennis Quaid’s feathers. It looks flashy like Step Up and edgy like … Step Up 3(?) with the hollowness of both combined. Mark your calenders to skip this turkey October 14.

Red State
Honestly, it’s hard to judge this one by the trailer alone. It looks part awesome (the gunfight mostly) and questionable (everything else). But this has gotten crapped on by a lot of reviews regardless of what Quentin Tarantino says. Kevin Smith will probably chalk that up to critics being stuck-up assholes but I am hardly a critic and despised Cop Out. Be educated when it drops October 21.

Tower Heist
I’ve already spoken of Brett Ratner’s Tower Heist before but mostly because it was a pretty good cast in a horrid looking movie. It is even more relevant now that Eddie Murphy has been tapped to host the Oscars next February (coincidentally produced by Ratner too) and I still cannot imagine a good movie coming out of this. Be skeptical come November 4.

Jack and Jill
Dear baby Jesus. I cannot believe this is a real movie! I honestly cannot conceive that “From the Producers of Just Go With It and Grown Ups” is a selling point in the trailer! I cannot comprehend that there seems to be twice as much unfunny Adam Sandler in this than his last aborted comedy I watched. I am still waiting for the day before November 11 that Sandler announces to the world that this was merely a big-budgeted hoax made into a trailer just to show movie-goers how asinine their purchases are. I’m really waiting … still waiting.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
So … positives! The trailer came in under two minutes! That’s pretty good considering the recent crop. And … well, I got nothing else. Yes, you might recall that I kind of liked the last one to an extent. At least it wasn’t as bad as the preceeding entry. Watching this trailer makes me want to go tear off my shirt in anger and go run in the rain. If I transform into a werewolf, at least I won’t have to worry about gaining admittance to this piece on November 18. And I hate weddings too!

New Year’s Eve
What can Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Zac Efron, and Sarah Jessica Parker equal? A movie that I unconditionally do not want to see! I never saw Valentine’s Day either. I consider myself lucky for that but even the celebratory night of drinking and shenanigans is not safe from the rom-com crew. Put those folks in a remake of New Year’s Evil and I’ll be there. Otherwise, have fun in a probably crowded theater when this launches December 9.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Random Movie: The Last Airbender (2010)

Perhaps it was just presumptuous of M. Night Shyamalan to promote his upcoming adaptation of the Avatar: The Last Airbender tv series at the end of The Happening on a little girl's backpack.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Random Movie: The Smurfs (2011)

I typically see a lot of movies with my kids that I don't review here. That's not entirely out of laziness but more due to being uncomfortable critiquing something that was not necessarily designed for me. At some point for everyone though, you must step out of your comfort zone and do the right thing. For me, that point was taking my 4-year-old to see The Smurfs and hating it so badly that I must ward off any reasonable human being from seeing it. I'm not quite sure what irritates me the most: that I paid $15 for the two of us to see it, that it literally felt like the longest 90 minutes ever, or that I just indirectly contributed to the already announced sequel.

Much like a good chunk of our readership (at least I assume), The Smurfs were one of those childhood staples that were always around, whether on TV, on the racks of the video store, or on the shelves at the local Toys'R'us. Truth be told though, I could've cared less about a Smurfs movie because it was going to happen anyway and I wasn't going to lose any sleep over "ruining" something I can barely remember from twenty years ago. Yet, those responsible for this pile of cinematic detritus created a farce so abysmally bad that I would crap on it regardless if it was a remake, a reboot, or an entirely original idea (if those exist anymore).

Things start fine with the blue-skinned, white pants-wearing Smurfs doing whatever their individual job entails whether that is fixing things, angrily commenting, or being uncoordinated. After Clumsy leads Gargamel to the village, the smurfs run for the hills while a few including Papa Smurf and Smurfette instead get consumed by a wormhole which transports them to New York City. Gargamel and Azrael follow so that Gargamel can extract the Smurf magic but is thwarted by the little blue things and Neil Patrick Harris. God, it hurts to recall these scant details.

Even though it has been out a few weeks, the showing my daughter and I attended was fairly full with families and kids. Yet, other than the movie, the only discernible noise from the audience was the creaking reclining chairs and the few who shuffled out of the theater early and did not return. I hope they snuck into a better movie. For a kid, this film will do just fine even though it lacks anything at all remarkable. I bet if you ask a patron under the age of 5 what their favorite part was, they'd merely say "the whole thing!" as there is little here to bother recalling after the credits roll.

As an adult, this was one of the most painful movies I've watched recently. Neil Patrick Harris has a few somewhat entertaining moments, Jayma Mays as his wife is dull and inconsequential, and the human-side of the story about Harris' character worrying about his job and accepting his future as a father-to-be is overwrought and just simply boring. I feel I cannot lay too much blame on director Raja Gosnell as this was likely designed as a soulless cash grab from day one regardless of who was writing or directing it. Rather than plunking out an ungodly amount of money to see this movie, buy your kids some marbles or socks instead. They will thank you in the long run.