2009

February 19, 2015

The House of the Devil

FUN

The House of the Devil – Fun

Like I mentioned in my review of “The Guest,” I love the 1980s, especially 80s horror, but one genre always kind of eluded me; the devil-worshiping/possession genre. I simply don’t find those types of films very scary or unnerving. This goes double for, get ready for it, “The Exorcist.” I simply don’t get the appeal of what so many people call “the scariest film ever made.” I also think the market has been flooded with these possession/evil house/devil worshiping found footage type films, and while they are low budget, and make a ton of money because we have enough sheep who go to the theater to waste their money with lackluster fare like that. But, every once in a while I’ll take the advice of a friend, or in this case a blog (thanks Slaughter Film) and go out on a limb and watch something I normally wouldn’t, and than I wonder to myself why it took so long to finally get around to this movie. That movie is 2009’s “The House of the Devil.” Directed by Ti West, who has also worked on the anthology series “V/H/S” and directed “The Sacrament” brings to glory of late 1970s and early 80s Gothic horror to life by recreating a film that is suspenseful and a crap ton of fun.

“House” is the tale of Samantha, a struggling college student looking to move out of her dorm room that is constantly being used by her over-sexed roommate. Desperate for money after finding the house of her dreams, Sam calls about a babysitting job the night of a lunar eclipse. After losing hope on the job, she receives a call from Mr. Ulman, the man who placed the babysitting ad. Dragging her friend Megan along, Sam accepts the job and heads to the Ulman residence. Upon arrival, as the viewer, you already have the sense that something isn’t quite right about Mr. Ulman, who is played to creepy perfection by consummate creeper, Tom Noonan. Creeped out, Sam is about to leave, but now desperate, Ulman tells Sam to name her price. She’s seizes the moment knowing that her new house is on the line. The film progresses with Sam exploring the house, hearing noises, and finally learning the secret the Ulmans have been hiding all along. To spoil the third act would be a disservice.

What works so well in “House” is the look of the film. The opening credits are something right out of a Wes Craven film, mixed with Hammer Horror, and a dash of Italian giallo. The hair styles are to the era, the score is reminiscent of something Ric Ocasek. However, even with all of these 80s elements, the film is still very contemporary and can fit into any era.

The one gripe I see that people could have is the pacing of the “House.” There isn’t a whole lot of “action” until about an hour into the film, but just like the films of yore, the build-up is part of the fun of this film. However, in this day and age of instant gratification, jump scares, and found-footage dredge (which is ironic since I actually enjoyed “V/H/S”) it’s refreshing to see a movie like “House” but I”m sure that’s the reason why this film hasn’t gotten much traction outside of die-hard horror fans who have been watching the genre for decades.

Overall, “The House of the Devil” is great and it pains me to think that it took me so long to finally get around to this film. The production design is strong, the acting is believable and likable, and the villains are creepy. It’s everything that you would want in a suspenseful horror film. New school kids beware, this IS your Daddy’s horror film.

Fun Fact: The Church of Satan was founded by Anton LaVey in 1966

February 10, 2015

Taboo Films: Martyrs

Martyrs – Sad

SAD

As I continue my masochistic voyage to find films that are so-called “taboo” this brings me to another film that I’ve seen bits and know the ultimate ending, but never took the time to watch it from beginning to end. That film is 2008’s “Martyrs.” While you could easily write the film off as a rip-off of Eli Roth’s “Hostel” unlike “Hostel” which dealt with douche-bag American tourists caught up in a clandestine human torture-for-pay ring, “Martyrs” examines deeper issues like child abuse, the fallout, and exploration into whether there is a life after death, however, this is done in a very disturbing and sad way.

This tale begins with a young girl running away from an undisclosed location seemingly injured. Cut to the same girl, named Lucie, who is living in an orphanage. Lucie eventually meets Anna, and the two become close friends. Cut to 15 years later and the home of a father, mother, and two children, the perfect family. Comes a knock on the door and boom, a shotgun blast to the chest ends the father’s life. Waiting in another location, Anna, is waiting in a car and receives a call from Lucie. As the story progresses we learn more about Lucie and Anna and their sordid histories. There are also hidden passageways, women with weird metal blindfolds, and of course a notorious third act that kind of flips the whole film on it’s head, and oh yeah, torture of the highest degree.

Now, I could just spoil the ending of “Martyrs” and spare you watching the film, but I really feel that would be an injustice. Despite the harrowing story and bleak ending, this film is rather interesting in the manner of subject it’s tackling. At it’s core, “Martyrs” is quite philosophical albeit very hard to watch some of the tougher scenes in the film.

The performances by both Morjana Alaoui (Anna) and Mylène Jampanoï (Lucie) are both strong and very believable. There is a lot of subtext to their relationship and while you might feel worse for Lucy, it’s really nothing compared to what Anna endures the third act of the film, but even that is unfair to saying since both women endure unmentionable horrors.

The final aspect of this film that really gets me is the ending. Now this might be slightly spoiler-y, it needs to be said. The fact that the main villains are old people is extremely disconcerting, not to mention they seem to be rich, well-off, old people. The fact that younger people continue to play victims to an older generation who think they have a right to knowledge that no one else has gained yet feel the need to discover this through the anguish of others, is a major concern, and rightfully so. The main villain of “Mademoiselle” is demonically evil, but at the same time lays out her plan and concerns in a way that both makes sense and is interesting. I’m not saying it’s right, but the idea of creating a “martyr” to obtain knowledge from another realm of existence is an interesting, and terrifying, idea.

At the end of the day, “Martyrs” is a thought-provoking film that could be mistaken for a “Hostel” rip-off, but there is a lot more going on in this film. It shows not only the horror of abuse, but the lengths that some will go in order to obtain, and protect, knowledge. It’s a difficult sit for those adverse to, dare I say it, “torture-porn,” but it’s a film worth your attention and time.

Fun Fact: As this review is being written, Hollywood has decided it’s time for a remake. The Goetz Brothers and “wonderful” Blumhouse Pictures will be helming the remake that will hopefully be released…..never.

October 17, 2013

Big Fan

Big Fan: Intense   …But fun.

88mins/Comedy/Drama/2009

Patton Oswalt plays a lovable but passionate fan of his football team. Not just any football team, but his New York Giants. To him no other team should even exist on this earth. But then one day his favorite player kicks the crap out of him. This puts him in a bad place.

Emotionally he becomes unstable and it leads to a place that surprised me at first.  He has to pick between him or his football team and the way it plays out was pretty awesome.

This is a film that I couldn’t really guess what came next. So many films anymore are very predicable. Patton Oswalt really shines in this film. This may be a comedy slash drama, but I would really like to see him go more toward the drama end. He really just fit this film in such a way I couldn’t see anyone else play. Micheal Rapaport and Kevin Corrigan also star, both hold a screen present not too many can. The ending will leave a smile on your face and wanting more. I would also like more from director and writer, Robert D. Siegel who on top of this wrote, The Wrestler. Both films I enjoyed and only wish we got more of his work.

Been a fan of Oswalt for the longest time, and this film might just sealed it for you as well.

January 4, 2013

Holiday Hangover: Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds – Tension

I don’t think any war in our nation’s, or world’s, history has been done to death like World War II.  There have been romantic, comedic, heart-wrenching, and just plain bad tellings of “The War to End All Wars.”  On the top of my list I have “Saving Private Ryan” and the so-far-under-the-radar “Enemy At The Gates,”  whereas craptastic crap like “BloodRayne” remains at the bottom of the English Channel.  But you know that when a filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino gets a bug up his ass that he wants to make a war film its not going to be like any war film you’ve ever seen.  Enter, “Inglourious Basterds.”

Before I dive into “Basterds,” I’ll preface;  I was actually going to review all of Tarantino’s directorial efforts in order, but the holidays sidetracked me and I ended up skipping right to “Django Unchained,” where you can read that review right here.  I’d like to think of “Basterds” as the moment where Tarantino went mainstream, and I mean REAL mainstream.  “Basterds” was his first film to feature a TRUE leading man in Brad Pitt, and he finally was able to reward one of his actors with an Academy Award in Christoph Waltz.  In a way it was also one of his most accessible efforts in theaters where it was the largest release for a Tarantino movie to date, “Kill Bill Vol.1” was a close second.  And it was the first of his films to be available in a Digital, DVD, and Blu-Ray format (since the writing of this review you can pick up the Tarantino XX Blu-Ray Collection that features all of his films in an HD format).

“Inglourious Basterds” follows the exploits of a group of Jewish-born Army Mercenaries and their commanding officer Lt. Aldo Raine as they merrily maraude across Europe killing, scalping, and branding Nazis.  But that is just a small portion of the film, which also follows a French-born Jewish female theater owner planning her revenge against Nazis who are planning to premier a propaganda film entitled “Nation’s Pride.”  Included in attendance are Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler.  As you can imagine there are twists, typical Tarantino humor, and scenes of fantastic violence.  The difference between “Basterds” and Tarantino’s other films is the tension and you can cut it with a knife in several scenes.  The best examples include the Strudel scene and the Bar scene.  What you also start to see, and this might have started after QT finished up his “Kill Bill” saga, is the change in his tone of film.

Tarantino began making and writing films with an edge, a very gritty edge.  He dealt with the wrong side of law in thieves, murderers, sadists, and hit-men   And for the most part, it all seemed to fit in some realm of reality.  When “Bill” was released you began to see a different side; which included more fantastic plot devices and stories that revolved more around revenge and the bloody road that leads to it.  I’m not going to say that Tarantino is getting lazy, its really just a maturation process in his filmmaking, or an evolution if you will.  He’s moved from the gritty streets of Los Angeles, to a fantastic Earth 2 of DC proportions.

Look at any war genre film from the 1960s and 70s, and “Basterds” has its fingers all over it.  From the original “Inglorious Bastards” to “The Dirty Dozen” and maybe in throw in a little “Wild Bunch” and you have “Basterds” in a nutshell.  What Tarantino really brings out is the fact that a so-called “foreign” film can be accessible to any audience.  There are a ton of subtitles across this nearly three hour epic, but the actors who read the dialogue do it so well, and with such fluidity, that you get seduced by their delivery, no matter if its in German, French, or Italian.  I brought up Christoph Waltz winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Col. Hans Landa, aka, The Jew Hunter, and part of that victory must have come from his ability to act and deliver dialogue in English, German, French, and Italian with gusto, hilarity, and conviction.  Every time he appears on screen you are transfixed on his slimy SS Officer.  You both hate and love Landa, and there aren’t many characters in the history of film you can say that for.

Is “Inglorious Basterds” a good movie, of course it is.  While some viewers saw it as a little boring, uneven, and maybe even a romantic take on Nazis and World War II France, there is still plenty to take away from “Basterds.”  Also, I would put money on the fact that the ending of “Basterds” is one of the most satisfying in any Tarantino film to date, even “Django Unchained.”  If you haven’t already, or maybe if you’ve even seen it a few times, check out “Inglourious Basterds,” it’s tons of fun, and started a new chapter in the career of Quentin Tarantino.

Fun Fact:  Eli Roth, who appears as Sgt. Donny Donowitz, aka The Bear Jew, in “Basterds” directed the scenes from the film-within-a-film, “Nation’s Pride.”

October 8, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween, Trick r Treat

Trick r Treat – Tradition

I know, I’m an anthology whore.  It started when I first got the box set for “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.”  Reading those stories had a profound affect on me and how I saw and understood horror in general.  I still go back to those books every once in a while and re-live the good old days.  What can I say, I love short horror stories, and it works perfectly for the horror genre.  You really don’t see drama or action anthologies, it just fits with horror.   From “Creepshow” to the under appreciated “John Carpenter’s Body Bags” it had been a while since a reputable horror anthology had come out, until “Trick r Treat” was finally released, on DVD in 2009.

I say finally because the film was a wrap in 2007 and it showed up at a few film festivals, however, Warner Bros. had no idea what to do with the movie for two years, kind of like MGM with “The Cabin in the Woods.”  The travesty is that “Trick r Treat”never made it to the theaters, where I think it would have made a killing with audiences. But it did finally see the light of day in 2009 when it was released on DVD, and the cult following started from there. The movie has some credentials; it was directed by Michael Dougherty, who wrote the excellent “X2” and the sub-par “Superman Returns,” was produced by Bryan Singer, and we all know what he’s known for, and stars the likes of Brian Cox, pre-Sookie Anna Paquin, and the underrated Dylan Baker.

“Trick r Trick” is more so the “Pulp Fiction” of horror movies since the stories are interwoven as opposed to the separate stories with a wrap around formula, giving the film some teeth, and making it more thoughtful than your average horror fare.  The basic idea of “Trick r Treat” revolves around Halloween tradition and mythology while introducing the audience to a brand new Halloween mascot “Sam.”  He is the one constant in all the segments and, in my book, the most recognizable horror icon since Freddy Krueger (sorry “Saw” fans, Jigsaw doesn’t really rank up there for me).

The acting is solid, it has great atmosphere and, for my money, should become a Halloween movie tradition right up there with “Halloween” and “Creepshow.”  “Trick r Treat” is tons of fun, without all the filler, and with the right distributor (I’m looking at you Lionsgate) could turn into a yearly (clever) Halloween franchise.

Fun Fact:  “Trick r Treat” is based on a cartoon short created by Dougherty called “Season’s Greetings” from 1996. 

August 28, 2012

The Take

The Take: Astonishing

Here in America many shows come and go. Out of probably thousands only a few are worth watching. Unlike In the UK, where there seems to be a lot more quality shows over quantity.

The Take well its a ton of goodness.

It’s simply one of the best dramas.

The Take is based off of the novel by Martina Cole. It’s first episode came on in 2009 on Sky1 in the UK. It’s about a gangster named Freddie (played by Tom Hardy) who leaves prison and is hoping to take over the empire of his boss, Ozzy (played by Brian Cox). It takes place in the 80’s which is always a great time period. I would love to talk about this show more but I don’t want to spoil anything.

So lets talk about this show’s stunning-fantastic performances. The standout is Tom Hardy who will blow you away. His acting is beyond top notch, it really is amazing. Just wait to you see his mannerisms!

The others, Shaun Evans, Kierston Wareing, Sara Stewart, Brian Cox and Charlotte Riley complete a perfect cast that you never get to see on TV, including movies. It’s really something. Brian Cox like always gives a good performance and always is great to see on film. A big surprise for me would be Charlotte Riley who’s strong performance is something to behold (by the way she is Tom’s girl in real life, he’s damn lucky, she’s beautiful and can act, a double threat that I would like to see more of.)

It’s supporting cast is outstanding. Freddie is a psychopath, there is killing, blood, a plot that keeps you going and great cinematography. What more could you ask for? This drama is one of the best you will ever see on TV. We need more of these to watch! Especially in the US.

Tagline: He’s got family, he’s got power, but he’s got issues.

August 11, 2012

Simplistic TV: White Collar

CUTE

In 2002, Steven Spielberg directed the film Catch Me If You Can starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio.  It centered around the true story of a brilliant con artist gallivanting around the country and the relentless FBI agent tasked with capturing him.  It is one of Spielberg’s better, yet, forgotten films.  Hanks is great, Leo is great, and Christopher Walken steals every scene he’s in.  The film itself ends…(SPOILER ALERT) with Leo, the criminal, beginning to help Hanks, the FBI agent, solve some of the white collar crimes in order to commute his sentence.  This is where the USA Network show White Collar picks up.

White Collar is a procedural dramedy…or…comedrama…wait…that sounds stupid…lets stick with dramedy….about a master thief/con artist helping the FBI capture criminals while trying to stay on the straight and narrow himself.  A concept that serves as a great foundation and a smart jump off for some very original ideas rarely seen on a typical procedural cop show.  As with most USA Network shows, White Collar doesn’t shine when it sticks to the monster of the week procedural formula.  It shines when they focus on their character’s chemistry and ONE all encompassing story arc.  If there is one thing you can say about USA, most of their shows have casts and characters WITH CHEMISTRY.  Whether that be Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, and the LEGENDARY Bruce Campbell on Burn Notice….Gabrielle Macht and Patrick J. Adams on Suits…or here with Tim DeKay, Matt Bomer and Willie Garson on White Collar.  You like these characters and you like to see them have conversations with each other, no matter what they’re talking about.  This serves White Collar very well.

Where White Collar draws some critique is in its occasional tone shifts.  Where Catch Me If You Can is more drama than comedy, White Collar is more of the latter.  It feels more at home in the CUTE, light-hearted format.  For example, the tone of film The Sting, is where White Collar might want to stay.  However, there are instances where the show tries to get serious and dark.  However, it doesn’t ring very believable because its such a departure from the tone it has originally set.  Burn Notice is a show that can be fun then turn dark and it works because of the nature of the hero. (A Burned Spy)  A white collar criminal or con artist isn’t usually confrontational.  Danny Ocean isn’t ever going to beat the sh*t out of someone or kill anyone.  Neither should Neal Caffrey.

Now, I can’t blame the show runner Jeff Eastin too much for something that happens occasionally.  I’m willing to bet they’ve been knudged into shifting tone by USA during finales or sweeps.   Mainly because there is nothing that television networks love more than running an ad with somber music and a gravely voiced narrator whispering “On A Special Episode Of….Fill In The Blank” with text flashing across the screen that reads “ALL…BETS…ARE…OFF!”  And for the most part, Eastin’s show stays true to it’s better nature.

White Collar benefits from its concept, its cast, (Which includes KELLY F*#KING KAPOWSKI) and its cleverness.  Its good fun when it remembers it is supposed to be fun.  Watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

August 4, 2012

Fanboys

Fanboys – Unexpected
Let’s face it; the three prequel “Star Wars” movies were disasters.  Films that pandered to 11 and 12 year old kids that lacked heart, and acting for that matter, so it might behoove you to believe that a group of friends would actually go cross-country in order to steal a print of “The Phantom Menace” and risk everything for a friend’s dying wish.  Well, it happened in “Fanboys” and to be honest with you, I enjoyed 
almost every minute of it.
“Fanboys” is one of those interesting movies that was filmed well before it was actually released in theaters (all 12 of them), and featured a lot talent (Seth Rogan, Kristen Bell, Danny McBride) before they really got big.  The film is fluff, but it’s the type of fluff that makes you feel good inside and the characters are fun enough that that you actually enjoy the adventure that they are taking you on.
It’s not a perfect movie, but if you enjoy adolescent hijinks in the vein of “Adventures in Babysitting” or “The Goonies” then “Fanboys” will be right up your geek alley.  Also, if you’d like to keep the good times rolling, check out ‘Ready, Player One” the first novel by “Fanboys” screenwriter, Ernest Cline, it’s one of the best things written in the past five years.
Fun Fact:  Kevin Smith was supposed to cameo as Harry Knowles of “Ain’t It Cool News” but had to bow out at the last minute.
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