Monday, July 30, 2007
Ball Punching Coming to Danny Boyle: 5/5
Ok so here's the deal. The Easter Bunny has dug a tunnel to the North Pole and stolen Santa Clause's personal stash of weed, which is magic weed and highly valuable to the FBI, who needs the magic weed to induce a trance in some of their agents to show them the location of the mystical talisman that will cover all traces of the JFK cover up. Sounds like a ridiculous plot I know, but ZING, I made that up! The real plot is that the sun is dying and we need to send a crew of indie rock dorks up in a space ship with a huge bomb strapped to it so that we can "restart" the sun with a huge explosion. Does that sound better? If it does give yourself a good strong punch in the nuts.
I put the absolute ludicrous science of the concept of this film aside and went and saw it due to a recommendation from a friend. Did I get a harrowing story of human accomplishment? Almost.
What I got was another, yes ANOTHER fucking movie that gives up on itself halfway through. I could take it if people NEVER gave a shit about the movies they make, and just put out crap, but it seemed like they cared about this one a little bit, but it turns into the worst mess ever. To its credit, this film has some AMAZING visuals. There is a scene where the crew passes by Mercury on the way to the sun that is so beautiful it really made me think that I might be in for a treat despite the silly premise, but unfortunately what I was in for was this:
Cillian Murphy, prettyboy zombie killer from 28 Weeks Later plays a scientist who develops the bomb that will re-ignite the sun. He's sleeping with the hot little indie rock chick that seems to have no apparent specialty. The character dynamic in the crew is well done, until the first crisis that hits them, after which the drama is reduced to a series of "what do we do now? we have to make a tough choice". These life or death choices take the place of the cliches that are usually aimed at the crews of spaceships, and after a while it becomes a comical tool of thinning out the astronauts.
As things begin to get boring, and the movie teeters between the stories of Event Horizon and Alien, in comes the worst surprise of all, this guy. That's right, as the spaceship responds to a distress call from the first mission that went missing 7 years before, they find a deserted ship with the crew all dead. Well, not all of the crew cause Freddy K finds his way into the new ship and starts stalking what is left of the crew (at this point down to 4 from 7).
What starts out as a fairly solid sci-fi flick degenerates into a bad, BAD slasher film where you don't care about what is going on, who it is happening to or why. And what do we end up with ? A slightly better told version of The Core.
I need to gain some sort of status where I get to watch movies with the folks that create them so that I can doll out the appropriate ball punches where deserved. It's the only way to save Hollywood from assfucks like Danny Boyle. Die in a fire dude.
This is the worst sci-fi movie that all the hipsters will love.
- the fucking beard
Sunday, July 29, 2007
The Abandoned is a triumphant ghost story that is as creative as it is frightening. Set in modern day Russian, the story revolves around a woman who bounced from foster family to foster family as a child who has been searching for her true family for many years. As the film begins she has arrived in Russia to meet with a man who has located her mother's death certificate and needs her to sign some paperwork granting her ownership of the farm her mother owned.
She hires a driver to take her to the remote farm which is located on an island surrounded by a large circular river. They arrive at night and when the driver leaves the truck to make sure there are no wild animals about the woman immediately begins seeing ghosts in her peripheral vision. She leaves the truck to find the driver, comes across the abandoned farm house (the building alone is scary enough for me) and soon realizes that the truck has left without her, leaving her alone in the house.
What follows is a unique take on the traditional ghost story. There are things "left unfinished" and there are issues of guilt and revenge, but they are handled much differently then in American or Asian ghost stories. The ghosts themselves are a great twist and are filmed in a way that is truly terrifying. In fact, the camera work is almost the biggest star in the film, making ordinary things like hallways and water seem horrible.
The story, as it winds towards the end, continues to threaten to move into a cheesy, formulaic way, but always finds a way to turn in a new direction at the last moment keeping the viewer on edge and tense. And, thankfully, the ending is satisfying.
This is a great movie, a wonderful ghost story and a creative triumph.
Once you get past the previews of the other 7 "Films to Die For" from this series from last year's Horrorfest, you get treated to probably the best ghost story caught on film since "The Shining".
As Complaint Dept. pointed out, the way that the ghosts are portrayed is different, and truly horrifying, but what's more, the way the ghosts are done is insightful and satisfying to the viewer's intellect. What's more, the heroine is a woman in her 40's instead of a bubbling idiot teenager which was a nice departure. There are no predictable little ghost kids popping out and very little in false scares. Without giving much away, as I am sure is shared by Complain Dept. is a bubbling excitement at the story behind the ghosts. It's not rocket science or anything, it was just plain cool.
While I didn't feel that it was all that scary of a film, it certainly was an interesting one. From the story, characters, actors and technical execution, "The Abandoned" stands out in a sea of crap.
- the fucking beard
Boobs and more Boobs 4/5
I remember really liking this when I first saw it. Granted, I was 14 years old in 1985 and I think what won me over was that the female lead in this is hot and naked for about 95% of her screen time. So all you 14 year old boys out there, this one's for you.
Tobe Hooper, best remembered as the director of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, went out on a big budget limb with this sci-fi vampire story and, sadly, it's a bit of a misfire. Written by Dan O'Bannon and taking elements of Alien and the same year's phenomenal Return of the Living Dead (which O'banon wrote and directed), Lifeforce is about a crew of astronauts who, while investigating Halley's Comet, discover a large space ship filled with the dead bodies of what appear to be giant bat-like creatures. They then stumble over three naked human beings encased in glass "coffins", one of whom is a total babe. Babe-raham Lincoln. Shwing. The crew take the naked people on board and head back to Earth. Wouldn't you?
When the shuttle arrives back one Earth, the crew are all dead and the ship has been burned from the inside out. The three naked folks are completely intact however and are immediately shipped to the "Space Research Centre" in London. Soon, it becomes apparent that the buxom (and naked - did I mention naked?) babe has the ability to draw men to her without their being able to control it. She awakens and then proceeds to run around the lab (totally naked) sucking the "lifeforce" out of everyone she comes into contact with. This involves a little making out and then a whirlwind of cheesy light effects from John Dykstra, best known as the guy who did the FX on the original Battlestar Galactica (how do I know these things??). Once used up, the dead guys are left dried out like prunes.
But wait - they're not actually dead, their just waiting to come back to life and steal the lifeforce from whoever stumbles upon them. Soon, all of London is overcome by the lifeforce vampirism and there is chaos and anarchy on the streets! It's like 1977 again man!
Aside from the endless nudity, the decent special effects (especially for 1985) and a cameo from one Patrick Stewart (make it so!), Lifeforce has little going for it. The dialogue is bad, the acting even worse and the story is just dumb. At one point there's this doctor-scientist guy who (for reasons never explained) knows exactly what is going on and begins breaking down the situation. His assessment - vampire lore is real and it came from outer space. The only thing that will stop them is to stab them with a wooden stake or a lead bullet or some other bullshit.
And so, the main good guy does and then the aliens leave. The end.
Could have been way better. Started off well. Got bad. Boobs. Boobs.
- Complaint Dept
Saturday, July 28, 2007
The second "Coffin Joe" film and the sequel to 1964's At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul sees greater production values, a longer running time and the addition of boobies (at the expense of blood - not a fair trade off in my book). Otherwise it pretty much continues right where the first one left off.
Coffin Joe is still searching for the perfect woman to bear his son. You might say he's getting a little desperate as he kidnaps several women he feels have proven themselves to be "non-believers". How he knows this is not explained. News travels fast in a small town I guess. With the help of his poorly made up (but still slightly creepy) hunchback servant, he puts the scantly clad women through a test to see who is most worthy of bearing his son. The test involves spiders and snakes and is slightly giggle-inducing. None of the women pass his test and they all die with the exception of one who got like a "B" on the test which was close enough to live, but not to bear Coffin Joe's son. She is bummed.
So it's off to find more babes that share Joe's semi-Satanic philosophy (heavily stolen from Nietzsche, LaVey and Crowley...and a little bit from Hitler this time around too. Yikes). He makes a few appearances in town to stir things up and fight a few dudes, always arriving like some sort of Satanic superhero, black cape flowing behind him, hands on his hips, crowds parting as he walks forward loudly boasting of his superiority and laughing maniacally. Soon enough, he finds the one woman he has been searching for his entire life. One that is totally in agreement with his kooky outlook and they quickly get it on. This outrages the townsfolk and a posse is formed to kill Joe.
That's basically the story. Unlike At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, there's little gore in this one which was both a bummer and surprising given that the budget seems higher. There is a technicolor dream sequence where Joe finds he has descended into a snowy, Dante-like Hell that's as bizarre and surreal as it is entertaining, but if it was intended to scare or shock, it failed as it's mostly just weird. Naked women being poked with paper-mache pitchforks, bleeding limbs dangling from the ceilings, all in vivid, groovy color.
The end is also a disappointment as - SPOILER ALERT - Joe recants his sins and makes a death-bed conversion to Catholicism as he is dying. Turns out Coffin Joe is just a big ol' wuss after all. One might be led to think there is some sort of moral here and that, possibly, director/writer (and lead actor) Jose Mojica Marins' take on atheism is the same that most believers hold - without God we all immediately regress into a state of "do what thou wilt" without any kind of moral or ethical boundaries, which of course is total nonsense. It's hard to say and I'm not really all that motivated to find out.
Still, I enjoyed this and would recommend you catch it should it reappear on IFC or Sundance. Despite it's flaws it's still an interesting slice of horror history and a damn entertaining one at that.
- Complaint Dept
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Be careful what you wish for indeed. With all of the "big name" horror people associated with this dopey movie, one might think that Wishmaster might be ok (Angus Scrimm, Robert Englund, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, and, of course, Wes Craven). One would be wrong.
Wishmaster is a prime example of what went wrong with horror in the 90's. While gorier than most 90's films, the film still comes across as both cheap, boring and totally unbelievable. The cheap part, I can deal with, but the unbelievability of the entire premise is a bummer.
The so-called premise is that there are these warlocky, demon-esque spirits that inhabit the world between the "earthly" world and the "spirit world" who scheme to take over both. The problem is that they can only do so by granting three wishes to people who inhabit the "earthly" world. That's right, we're talking about Genies, or to be more precise, the Djinn. And no amount of religious mythology or historical folklore can hide the fact that a movie about Genies is bound to be silly. Just ask Shaq.
So anyway, one of these Djinn winds up confined in a big red gemstone and for centuries the gem is hidden away inside the statue of Ahura Mazda, the god worshiped by the followers of Zoroaster - which is weird because he is imprisoned in the gem by an Islamic wizard guy in the middle ages and one would assume that the Persian Muslims of 1100 or so would have gotten rid of all false idols that happened to be lying around (Zoroaster pre-dating Christ by anywhere from 600 to 6000 years depending on which historian you ask). But whatever.
Then, in "America - present day" - Robert Englund purchases the statue and has it shipped to "America - present day" only to have it dropped onto Ted Raimi by a drunken dockworker. A mulletheaded meathead dude sees the hidden gem protruding out of one of the statue's fragments and tucks it away into his pocket. The gem is later sold to a pawnshop whose owner takes it to be appraised at Regal Auctioneers, a fake company whose logo looks suspiciously like the one for Regal Cinemas. Hmmm. Here, Linda Hamilton's stunt double takes the gem to her friend for some scientific tests, the course of which releases the Djinn and - well from there the movie kicks into turbo.
And when I say "turbo", I mean "Turbo" like the Judas Priest album. All watered down and cheesy.
The Wishmaster himself, the Genie, is sinister in a comic book, teenage metal band kind of way, looking a bit like a combination of Emperor Palpatine and Eddie from Iron Maiden's albums. His melodramatic dialogue (interspersed with phrases like "Fuck it" and "How ya like me now?") are hissed out in a deep rumbly voice with each final syllable punctuated like this: "How-uh, ya like-uh meee-uh nooowwwww-uh?"
There are some fun latex gore effects - a guy's skeleton ripping out of his body to come to life, some dismemberments and severed heads rolling around and some icky and gooey effects on a guy who, apparently, dies of cancer within 30 seconds. But it's not enough to save it from the weak script, dumb dialogue, much too sincere acting (I counted at least three "Noooooooooooo"s) and cheap-as-fuck CGI effects.
And let's be honest here friends, it's boring. Even the Motorhead song at the end blows and I love Motorhead.
There are three sequels, all direct to video, but they do exist which means that somewhere, lots of people continue to purchase or rent Wishmaster films. Not unlike the Leprechaun series. People are fucking idiots.
- Complaint Dept.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
So here's how my Saturday went down: Hex and I got up at 7:30 AM and hit up Roxy's Diner in Fremont where I scarfed down Carrot Bread French Toast which was fantastic. Hex then did some volunteer work with Orangutans and I went for a 20 mile bike ride. I came home, watched the Tour de France highlights and took a bath where I read a magazine. Hex came home, we dropped off her car at the dealership for an oil change and then took a 4 hour nap. Plans to go see Captivity were scrapped as we decided to eat nachos and stay home to watch 976-Evil on E-Mystery. Then we went back to sleep. That's how we roll. Non-stop excitement.
Why the day's description? Because it's more interesting than the movie.
Directed by Robert Englund, 976-Evil is a forgettable and disposable little film that is light on scares and gore and heavy on cheese and ding-dongery. The story revolves around two cousins, one a cigarette smoking, leather jacket wearing, gambling, motorcycle riding mullethead who likes to bang chicks and steal shit, the other a nerdy, argyle sweater vest wearing, peeping tom, swirlie receiving, vespa riding (and crashing) weenie who is perpetually bullied by a "gang" of skater-punkers types (I guess). Both boys run across an ad for a 976 phone line called the "horrorscope" and begin to call it regularly. It turns out that the line is run by Satan himself to recruit people into his legion and one of the guys turns into a demon.
Sounds better than it is.
Aside from the phenomenal 80's clothing and hairstyles, there's not much going for this movie. The scares are non-existent, and by non-existent I mean they really don't exist. It's not that the scary parts failed, they just never materialized. There is also a remarkable lack of gore for a movie directed by a horror icon in the mid-late 80's.
The geeky character is played by Stephen Geoffreys, star of the much better Fright Night and, more interestingly, lead actor in countless gay porn films in the 1990s (I seriously wish I was making that up). The tough dude is played by a guy that looks a bit like a sleazier Ethan Hawke and . . . that's about all I can come up with for this snoozer. Wheee.
Hey - by the way, if you live in the Seattle area, be sure to check out Grand Illusion Cinema's line up this month: Mothra, Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, Bride of Frankenstein, Blacula, Squirm, Blood Beach, The Craving and the gore-fest from Italy DEMONS. Awesome.
- Complaint Dept
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Gore - 1/5
Creepiness - 3/5
Entertainment - 4/5
Nightmares - 2/5
John Cusack plays a semi-washed up author who specializes in traveling to supposed haunted locations to write about his experiences. Cusack’s character Mike Enslin doesn’t believe in the paranormal, and thus has no fear as he stays in supposed haunted hotel rooms all over the world. That all changes once he receives an anonymous postcard from the Dolphin Hotel in New York, warning him to not stay in room 1408.
Based on a story by Stephen King, 1408 does an absolutely fantastic job of setting up the state of Mike’s career, hinting to a personal past tragedy with a woman in New York, and showing his general shambles of a life. Cusack plays the role of skeptic ghost hunter with effortless grace in what may be one of his better roles. In fact the whole idea of a paranormal investigator who is disillusioned with his craft is completely relevant in our cable tv world of Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted. Similarly, Samuel L Jackson gives a top-notch performance as the Hotel manager. For the first half of 1408, Cusack, Jackson and the beautifully unrolling setup of the story are so well done that I sat in the theater thinking that this might be the best Ghost Story since The Shining. Even after the terror begins to unfold once Cusack is inside of 1408, things hold together fairly well until about the last half an hour of the film where it seems that, as is all too often the case, the film stops taking itself seriously. This is an odd, and unfortunate turn of events since up until this point, I would say 1408 takes itself more seriously than most modern American horror films.
As things begin to get out of control early on in Cusack’s stay in 1408, even the most mundane situations like the front door knob falling apart, preventing his escape, are believable within the context of the story, and are effective even if they are recycled gags from a genre where almost everything has been done. However, as time draws on, the audience around me grew bored and restless with the constant left hooks that 1408 tries to throw, assumingly to try and keep people interested. At this point it feels like the film-makers had a time quota to fill, where they should have cut fifteen minutes from the film and left the audience wondering, wanting more. Instead you get desensitized to the cheap scares that you know will inevitably come, and confused by nonsense like a fax machine spitting out Enslin’s dead daughter’s shirt (however this was brilliant heckling setup as I blurted out “Dear Dad, I’m faxing you from Spring Break”). Still, even if the film doesn’t know when to quit, some of the over-the-top stuff worked in its favor.
As Enslin is thrown about the room and the paintings on the wall all take on a Haunted Mansion theme of changing before his eyes right before the room fills with cold sea water from the painting of a ship, threatening to drown Enslin, it’s odd enough to make you suspend your disbelief for a moment and give an honest nod of “what the fuck is going on” to 1408. The fact that the film ended as a disappointment was only upsetting since the set up was so well done that 1408 let itself down more than it let me down.
- the fucking beard
In my humble opinion, this is the greatest werewolf movie ever made, a seamless blend of horror and action with a solid script, fine acting and effects that are top-notch. Director Neil Marshall's first full length film, Dog Soldiers was followed by the equally impressive modern classic The Descent, establishing him as a force to be reckoned with in the horror world (after only two films!)
Dog Soldiers is, essentially, a war movie with werewolves as the enemy combatants. A group of Scottish soldiers are on, what they believe to be, a routine training exercise in the wooded hills of Northern England. They soon run across the remains of their rival team's camp and the remains of their rival team. As quickly as they realize that something evil is afoot, they are attacked by a pack of werewolves and manage to barricade themselves into a small cottage tucked away in the dark forest along with a local woman whom they run into during their escape.
So many things could have gone wrong with this, but they don't for a number of reasons. First off, the script is very well done. The dialogue is natural and smart and the story is very well done - with the exception of one or two one-liners that, by Action Movie law, are required to be inserted. The acting is great as well, (Kevin McKidd from the HBO series Rome is the main guy) and the characters are believable and never hammy or forced.
The big triumph, however, is the werewolves themselves. With an almost complete lack of CGI effects, the monsters are all "analog", latex and prosthetics and really quite ridiculous when you get a good look at them. The thing is, you never really do get a good look at them so there isn't enough time to realize how silly they are. . . until the end but by then you don't care too much because you're won over.
There is a lot borrowed from other films - Night of the Living Dead, Evil Dead and Aliens are the three obvious ones - but it's done as an homage and not a rip-off. In fact, one of the characters is named Bruce Campbell. Like I said, this is more of a classic war movie than a monster movie. The characters bond in that macho-man kind of way that usually happens when Lee Marvin is on the screen. The fight scenes are well-crafted and very exciting.
I could go on, but the bottom line is that you need to see this. Dog Soldiers is, as my friend Hurricane Leigh would say, TRIUMPHANT. A sequel is planned, though Marshall is not attached to it so I am skeptical.
- Complaint Dept
Horror-Comedy is hard to pull off and I am usually not a fan. There are exceptions - Shaun of the Dead, An American Werewolf in London - but for the most part, when horror is combined with silliness, it just fails. So while I was interested (mmm, maybe even excited) to see Black Sheep, I was expecting to be let down.
I'm happy to report that I was not. The movie is funny, but not in a slapstick kind of way like Evil Dead 2 or Dead Alive (both exceptional films in their own right). It's not even remotely scary, but then I don't think anyone could make that happen, but it is tremendously gory which it SHOULD be. But what really makes it work is that it's not trying to be funny to make up for it's ridiculous premise. The jokes and comedy come naturally but are not over the top and so corny that they distract. Unlike films like Dead and Breakfast where the zombies have a dance scene or The Mad where the cheesy jokes come at you faster than a Zucker brothers film, Black Sheep is content to let the film's premise remain the central joke and expects that the audience will be smart enough to know that it's funny enough with just that. It then concentrates on doing it's best to make sheep menacing and frightening.
There is plenty of gut-munching, lots of blood and gore and some truly impressive (if not totally outlandish) monsters in the movie that are, dare I say it - believable. It's obvious that a lot of work went into this and it pays off. Black Sheep is funny, very entertaining, nice and bloody and a lot of fun. I wouldn't buy it, but I'm happy to have seen it. And thankfully, David Spade is not in it.
- Complaint Dept
Saturday, July 7, 2007
Ahh IFC Grindhouse, what wonderful way to end a week. A few weeks ago the fine people at IFC unloaded a big pile of classic Coffin Joe movies which I was unfortunate enough to have missed. I also missed the Godzilla marathon on Encore Action on the 4th. What a bummer.
Anyway, IFC was kind enough to replay the 1963 Brazilian weird-fest At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and I was stoked. If you are unfamiliar with the films of Coffin Joe, I'll save the jibba jabba and let you read more here.
At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul is often credited as being the first Brazilian horror film, and for 1963, it's pretty cool. The film starts with a gypsy witch warning the audience to leave the theater while they can...but then it's too late and she warns to be as careful as possible while watching this film. Cheesy as fuck, but awesome.
The story is very straightforward - Coffin Joe (Ze do Caixao) is the local undertaker in a small town in Brazil. He is despised and feared by the community for his apostasy and open mocking of Catholicism (again, for 1963, this is pretty hardcore stuff). He is married to a woman who can't (won't) get pregnant and since he is obsessed with having his bloodline continue, he murders her and starts looking for the perfect mate.
Joe over-acts and swaggers through the movie like a cross between Dracula and Che Guevara with an air about him that says those around him are merely "puny humans", too weak to be deserving of any mercy or compassion. He fights people, rapes women, kills his wife, best friend and business partner and spouts his Anton LaVey-ish humanist philosophy throughout the entire film, laughing maniacally all the way.
The film is uber-low budg', which works in it's favor as the screen quality is rivaled only by, maybe, the Three Stooges. The gore effects are primitive and cheap, but shocking for their time (cutting off fingers, gouging out eyes). The rape scene is, again, for it's time, pretty scandalous and, of course, the religious skewering is fun as well. And given how foreign it all feels, it's just flat out weird at times. The whole thing comes across like a carnival haunted house gone satanic.
- Complaint Dept