About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: Season of the Witch

Set in the time of the Crusades, Nic Cage and Ron Perlman play macho warriors who have grown weary of bloody battles and particularly the senseless slaughter of innocents. However, they are called back into God’s service by the aging, plague-ridden Cardinal D'Ambroise (Christopher Lee), who will spare them execution for desertion if they agree to escort a supposed witch (Claire Foy) to a monastery where after a ritual is performed, the plague she has cursed on the land will be no more. They agree, but only if there is a fair trial afforded the accused. They are guided by a conman (Stephen Graham) who knows the way, and accompanied by a priest (Stephen Campbell Moore), a young wannabe knight (Robert Sheehan), and the Cardinal’s guard (Ulrich Thomsen). Along the way, the accused sorceress tries to strike up a conversation with Cage and tells him that the priest has tortured her. She seems innocent enough, but is she really wrongly accused or just a supernaturally gifted actress?

Not to be confused with the awful “Halloween III: Season of the Witch”, this 2011 Dominic Sena (“Kalifornia”, “Gone in 60 Seconds”) blend of medieval adventure and witchcraft/exorcism certainly gets a similar reception from critics. Hell, even the online critics and genre-specific critics aren’t fond of it. Practically no one seems to like it, and many freely mock it. You’re all missing out, I say, because by and large I found the film really interesting and certainly a lot better than I had anticipated.

Borrowing major plot elements from the SyFy flick “Dark Relic” (as well as themes from “The Exorcist” and “The Name of the Rose”), this is dark and dour, but I kinda liked it. Maybe there’s something to be said for expecting the worst, or maybe, this film just isn’t bad at all. I mean, the film deserves credit for at least being able to be taken seriously enough that I wasn’t making lame “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” gags about how to tell if someone is a witch. Well, most of the time anyway.

The film gets off to a lively but extremely uneven start, with a pretty amusing, over-the-top “Exorcist”-like opener. However, the stylised look was a little annoying. Yes, as usual, filters were getting in the way of my enjoyment of a film. The look is slightly less artificial-looking than “300”, but the urinary infection-coloured filter, followed by a dark blue one, really got on my nerves pretty quickly. The foggy scenery throughout did, however, look wonderful.

I also didn’t like that the open section of the film glossed over a series of battles in montage fashion. It looked interesting enough that I kinda wanted to see a complete battle. It also causes problems when after all these battles, Cage decides that he’s done with it, and yet we see no real reason why he’d feel that way, because he seemed until then, a pretty battle-happy kinda guy. I just didn’t see the transition.

However, these are such minor grievances that they ended up not changing my score of the film at all. The biggest stumbling block the film has to overcome is the casting of Nic Cage, and thankfully, the film does largely work in spite of him. For the most part Cage is one of those actors who is either insufferably unrestrained and self-consciously weird (“Peggy Sue Got Married”, “Vampire’s Kiss”, “Kiss of Death”, “Deadfall”), or somewhat boring (“Windtalkers”, “Rumble Fish”, “Guarding Tess”, “City of Angels”), and he’s pretty much the latter here. With his “Con Air” hairdo (making him look a bit like the lead singer of Nickelback) and barely any attempt at an accent outside of his usual one, Cage is poorly cast and unconvincing. He’s awful, to be honest. I’ve never been a Nic Cage fan, but I can see in theory why he was cast as a weary warrior, but he just seems wrong, not to mention in a foul mood. I just think Paul Bettany or Sean Bean would’ve been much better casting. Ron Perlman is better as his gung-ho, wise-cracking buddy, and is much better than he was in “In the Name of the King” at any rate. Stephen Campbell Moore, and Ulrich Thomsen also do solid work in lesser roles. In the pivotal and rather difficult role of the supposed witch, Claire Foy is impressive and well-cast. She is credible at every turn, and that’s extremely important for such an ambiguous character. Special mention must also be made of Christopher Lee in a small cameo as a plague-stricken Cardinal who sends Cage and Perlman on their journey. Beneath layers of impressive makeup, you won’t recognise Lee, save for his unmistakable voice. It’s a more vivid and lengthy cameo than he had in “The Golden Compass” at the very least.

There’s a terrific (if clichéd) scene involving a journey across the crappiest, most unsafe bridge of all-time that has plenty of tension. In fact, the film is quite atmospheric and creepy, if perhaps a bit unsubtle for some people’s tastes. I also thought Atli Orvarsson (“Babylon AD”) contributed a very effective music score. Personally, it bothered me a bit that the priest character takes so long to work out just what kind of supernatural/demonic entity we’re dealing with here, because it forces things to become a bit rushed towards the end. The FX are also somewhat variable to say the least.

Overall, I think this is underrated. The screenplay is by Bragi Schut, who I am certain has taken inspiration from the finale of “Dark Relic” at the very least. This is the better film, but still, I’ve gotta call the writer out on that.

Look, this isn’t especially memorable, but you’re all on crack. This is fine B-grade schlock, a little on the hokey side at times, and a bit too stylish for its own good, but if it weren’t for Nic Cage’s miscasting, this film would be a winner. As is, it’s never dull. Honestly, what more were people expecting?

Rating: B-

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review: The Pianist

 Remarkable true story of Polish Jew musician Adrien Brody (who won an Oscar, not as inexplicably, now that I’ve seen the film, but still a strange choice by the Academy) who initially spends time with his middle-class family in Warsaw not all that concerned with the increasing hardship of his fellow Jews (wearing a little armband and such is seen as a minor annoyance so long as Brody can continue playing his music). But when the Nazis start…well, doing typically abhorrent Nazi stuff, his family is shipped off to one of ‘those’ places, whilst good connections allow Brody to enter a work camp and later hide from the Nazis with the help of sympathetic acquaintances. But there he has other horrors to deal with- starvation, mental instability, loneliness, boredom, disease, and constant fear of being caught. Frank Finlay (always nice to see) plays Brody’s father, Thomas Kretschmann plays a somewhat 3D Nazi officer whom Brody encounters late in the film.

Low-key, perhaps unsurprising (especially if you know anything about WWII), but ultimately moving and realistic 2002 holocaust drama from one of its survivors, Roman Polanski (“Rosemary’s Baby”, “Chinatown”, “Repulsion”). Well-acted, sometimes truly horrifying (and not just the bit where a guy in a wheelchair is thrown out the window by Nazis- though it was a sickening moment), but I did have a slight sense that I wasn’t seeing anything new, and sometimes the film seemed a little dry and cold to me.

I also have to agree with some that there is something a little off-putting about a story concerning a holocaust survivor (a middle class one with good connections, at that). Still, it’s never dull, and seemed pretty realistic to me. It’s a solid film. The screenplay is by Ronald Harwood (“The Dresser” of all films and the remake of “Cry the Beloved Country”), from the book by Wladyslaw Szpilman himself.

Rating: B-

Review: Jet Pilot

Russian pilot Janet Leigh lands at a US airbase in Alaska manned (and I do mean manned!) by John Wayne, who sees fit to take her in for questioning. She claims to be defecting, but is she? No time for that, though, because through movie magic (<cough> major plot contrivance <cough>) the two stubborn personalities fall in love and even marry! Say it ain’t so, Duke! Paul Fix plays Wayne’s buddy, and Jay C. Flippen is his superior. Hans Conried (Captain Hook himself!) plays a Russian Colonel towards the end.

Curious 1957 vehicle (no pun intended) for Wayne directed by Josef von Sternberg mixes comedy, spy movie and aerial action with little genuine success. However, it’s so silly and misogynistic that I refuse to believe it was meant to be taken too seriously, and is quite amusing at times (Leigh as a Russian pilot? Oh, boy! And love those comical sound FX during her strip search!). In fact, it’s the dopey stuff that is far more entertaining than the dull stuff in Russia and the flying scenes that did very little for me.

A solid cast like this deserves better, but it’s still kinda watchable, with Wayne a lot looser than usual (Anyone else find it odd to see ‘red’-hating Wayne in this plot during the McCarthy era? Don’t worry, it ain’t no pinko movie, though) and Leigh never more attractive.

Strange that filming started in 1950 (hence why Wayne looks so young), but it remained unreleased for a whopping 7 years (allegedly the fault of obsessive, eccentric producer Howard Hughes who dissatisfied, kept tinkering with it) . It’s not that bad, just awfully goofy. Aerial buffs will probably like the fly footage, some of the stunts being performed by Chuck Yeager himself (if that name means anything to you or if you’ve seen “The Right Stuff”). Meanwhile, perverts will appreciate the similar attention Hughes and the director pay to Leigh’s breasts.

The rather juvenile screenplay by the normally well-regarded Jules Furthman (“Bombshell”, “Mutiny on the Bounty”, “Man Hunt”, “To Have and Have Not”) is surely meant to be some kind of joke, right? And remember folks, when you encounter a dirty commie...just give ‘em a large, juicy steak from Uncle Sam!

Rating: C+

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

20 Worst Horror Films (2000-2009)

The weird thing about this list is not many of these films come from the despised Post-"Scream" era, where PG-13 was the edict (or sterile remakes of Asian horror films). I remember hating that period and greeting the 'harder' "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2003) remake practically with open arms. But many of these films listed are just plain awful horror films, no matter what (And PG-13 horror is sadly still present).

Dishonourable Mentions: The Signal, Knife Edge, Red Sands, Last House on the Left, Hostel, Sorority Row, Mother of Tears, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Saw III, and The Stepfather.

So, in order of most sucky to least sucky, I present to you...

1. Sheitan (2006)- This French piece of crap is beyond awful, in addition to being impossibly weird, and no damn fun at all. The film's director, Kim Chapiron is like a combo of Michael Bay and David Lynch, but without the talent of either. And considering I don't see much talent in either of those two guys (well, at least not in Bay), that's saying something. It's a self-consciously weird inbred hick horror pic with a Satanic bent, probably meant to evoke something like "Chainsaw Massacre" or "The Hills Have Eyes". But with little point beyond its weirdness and even less coherence, it's unwatchable. Even watching Vincent Cassel run around in drag with what looks like shit-stained teeth isn't as fun as it sounds. Trust me, you'll hate it.

2. Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)- Most of the "Hellraiser" sequels are awful, but at least some of them make narrative sense. This one's completely incoherent, and plays a lot more like a character piece and killer-thriller than anything Pinhead-related. And you thought the series had scraped the bottom of the barrel in "Bloodline", where the series was taken to space. It really can- and does-get worse. Basically, Craig Sheffer makes like "Bad Lieutenant" as a coke-snorting cop. He opens up the Lament Configuration and gets taken to Hell. At least I think that's what went on. Unoriginal (Lots of "Se7en" vibes), and due to the ugly characters, wholly unpleasant too. Not Craig Sheffer's finest hour, and Pinhead is barely in it. Why even call it "Hellraiser" then?

3. Kiss of the Vampire (2009)- Well this was a great idea. A vampire movie with a couple of martial arts actors (and when talking about Matthias Hues and Gary Daniels, the term 'actors' is used very loosely) who don't get to do any martial arts. Brilliant. In the bizarro world, that is. The plot concerns a mortal falling in love with a vampire, which is an idea no one's ever done before, right? Well, certainly not this badly. Yes, even the awful "Twilight" films are better. I just threw up in my mouth typing that sentence, but it's true. Dull, incoherent and cheaply done on every conceivable level. The narrative is appallingly confusing, the acting is terrible (even by "Karate Kid" bad guy Martin Kove and Aussie export Costas Mandylor), and the FX are some of the cheapest I've ever seen, and I've seen all of Edward D. Wood Jr's 'major' works. One of the worst movies in decades.

4. April Fool's Day (2008)- Speaking of bad acting, I knew this semi-remake was going to be awful when I saw the name Scout Taylor-Compton in the credits. She's easily the worst working actress today. But there's a whole lot more wrong with this terrible film, and I didn't like the spoofy (i.e. 'cop out') original, either. Although I was glad this film adopted a different tone, the characters really sink it. Why would you want to populate a horror film full of objectionable, snooty, and wholly unrelatable
"Gossip Girl"- type characters. It's a misnomer to suggest that horror fans like horrible characters so that we enjoy watching them die. Although I did take some pleasure in that regard in the underrated "Captivity", most of the time, one wants someone to relate to, as in most kinds of films. What idiot thought that we'd like to spend 90 minutes with beauty queens, gay gossip columnists (a dig at Perez Hilton?), rich jerks, and young Republicans? Where's the fun in that? Sadly, this is a prime example of what has been wrong in horror movies (especially American ones) of the last decade or so. I'm sick of seeing blandly attractive twenty-somethings, and making them repugnant on top of that just seals the film's fate. How can I care about what happens when I don't care about the people it's happening to? There IS some perverse pleasure in watching lead actress Taylor Cole attempt to cry, I must admit. The poor girl seems confounded at the concept of any kind of emotional response. Oh, and there's blatant false advertising. The so-called 'Butcher Brothers' even give us an off-screen death! What the hell? I thought that kind of nonsense went out with the "Scream"-era of teen horror (1996-2003).

5. Halloween II (2009)- I liked the first half of Rob Zombie's remake of the classic John Carpenter original, before it essentially turned into an inferior copy of the original in its second half. I loathed the incompetent performance of Scout Taylor-Compton, and lamented Malcolm McDowell's interpretation of Dr. Loomis. But at least the film had some interesting moments and half an original vision. Here in this sequel, Rob Zombie doesn't remake Rick Rosenthal's "Halloween II" at all. It's
entirely Zombie's vision. And it both sucks and blows. Firstly, it is in my view the worst-looking major horror film of the decade. With its muted colours and use of filters, and appalling lighting, it's actually borderline unwatchable. I like darkness when it's employed properly, but this is entirely murky darkness. And one of the murder scenes is completely botched by not only being largely off-screen, but even when the camera is supposed to be capturing it, we still can't see a damn thing. A disjointed structure, an overuse of profanity (and I love swearing when it's used properly and creatively), and unnecessary, wanky inserts of Zombie's wife Sheri Moon Zombie riding a white horse all contribute to the film's downfall. It's a complete mess. But hey, Rob, at least you've made the series your own now. Congrats, man. I shudder to think what "Halloween III" will be like, given how abysmal "Season of the Witch" is.

6. Prom Night (2008)- The desire in American cinema to attract the largest possible audience by striving for a PG-13 rating has had disastrous effects on the horror genre. Presenting Exhibit A, Your Honour. The original "Prom Night" was pretty dull stuff, but this is one of the most clichéd, repetitive, and appallingly neutered horror films I've ever seen. There's practically no violence, sex, and certainly no likeable or interesting characters, and zero audience interest. The clichés are particularly painful. Director Nelson McCormick made his directorial debut here and shows us he's a big fan of the mirror cabinet 'Boo!' scene and the closet-opening scene. There's a whopping five of the former and three of the latter. Hell, he even steals the peephole 'Boo!' moment from the original "Black Christmas". 'Boo!' scenes aren't scary. They make me jump (every time), but all it does is make me pissed off that I jumped, and then I keep watching. That's not being scared, it's being momentarily startled and annoyed. I'd like to commend McCormick for choosing to remake a film that could use some improvements, but the result is even worse! Sadly, this wouldn't be the last botched remake from McCormick and writer J.S. Cardone, who went on to defile "The Stepfather" the following year.

7. Lost Souls (2000)- You'd think that getting caught shoplifting would be Winona Ryder's most embarrassing moment, but then you've obviously never seen this turd. A dreary, muted, horrifyingly low-key religious-themed horror film that despite being directed by a noted cinematographer in Janusz Kaminski, looks hideous. It's all washed-out and murky. Boring as hell, too.

8. The Strangers (2008)- AKA, The Film Where Nothing Happens. Seriously, this is a film that is 99.9% build-up, yet 0% tension. It's all stalk and no slash, and although the camera wants to molest Liv Tyler, there's absolutely nothing of interest going on here. The dialogue in particular is irritatingly muffled and whispered. Plot-wise it's like a slasher version of "Straw Dogs" except not nearly as fun as that probably sounds. There's 'minimalist' and then there's a cinematic game of hide and seek. This is the latter. I'd almost choose 90 minutes of staring at a blank screen as a more viable option than this. And no way do I believe this is 'Based on a True Story'. No effing way!

9. Black Christmas (2006)- The original "Black Christmas" (1974) was a terrific forerunner to "Halloween", and the slasher film cycle. This remake comes from the team behind the surprisingly amusing "Willard" remake, and contains two of the most amazingly beautiful young actresses I've seen (Lacey Chabert and Michelle Trachtenberg). I could even see why there was some call for a remake, as the original was a little rough around the edges in some respects. Unfortunately, the film is barely related to the original, instead opting to pretty much rip-off "Valentine" (a mediocre early 00s teen slasher) instead, but with a change of holiday. The characters, typical of horror movies in the 00s are horrible and interchangeable, but even worse, the film shows us the villain early and often. If you've seen the original, you know why this is such a huge mistake. The final straw is taking the brilliant ending of the original, and replacing it with an absolute clunker of an ending. I'd re-gift this Christmas present if I were you. Actually, no, that would be cruel to its recipient.

10. Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005)- I've never been a fan of this series, but this direct-to-DVD sequel is definitely the worst of the lot. From the director of the not bad "Pet Sematary", it's a rip off of "Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night II", and considering that film was an "Elm Street" meets "Carrie" rip-off to begin with, that just makes this film even more old hat. But the plagiarism doesn't stop there, the film even rips off the popular "Candyman" and has the balls to suggest that "Candyman" actually ripped off the 'Bloody Mary' urban legend. Awfully bloody tame too, which just further pisses me off.

11. The Hills Have Eyes II (2007)- I don't know whether or not to be thankful for this film not being a remake of Wes Craven's "The Hills Have Eyes 2". This is bad enough in its own right. The plot, involving National Guard troops encountering blood-thirsty mutants is tired and uninteresting, and sadly we have Wes Craven and son Jonathan to blame for the script. The film opens with a disgusting but memorable birth scene that at least makes you sit up and take notice, but after that it's your standard crappy military-themed horror film. They all play like crap versions of "Aliens" or "Predator". The makeup isn't bad, but this is boring as hell.

12. The Broken (2008)- This French-UK co-production is not my kind of horror movie, belonging essentially to the 'mind fuck' subgenre. Unfortunately, it further alienated me by being unbearably dreary, incoherent, and with the actors barely speaking above a whisper. Agonisingly slow, too, eventually arriving at nowhere in particular. Sleep-inducing stuff, even if you're a fan of Lena Headey or Richard Jenkins.

13. The Tomb (2009)- AKA "Ligeia". This dreary modernised version of Poe's "Tomb of Ligeia" (which Roger Corman excellently put to the screen in 1964 with Vincent Price) is cheap, clunky,  and dull whereas the earlier film was gorgeous, moody, and moving. I'm surprised to find that the screenplay is by cyberpunk author John Shirley (who co-wrote the melancholic masterpiece "The Crow"), because it's at both times cluttered and underdone, with a very strange cast indeed (Wes Bentley, Michael Madsen, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Mackenzie Rosman, and Eric Roberts). Not enough horror, and so cheap you'd swear it came from Full Moon studios. Bentley and the Barbara Steele-esque Sofya Skya are the best in the cast, but even they are underwhelming. It's a mess and a total rip-off.

14. Saw IV (2007)- "Saw III" and "Saw VI" are pretty bad, but this one really is bottom-of-the-barrel. It's an intellectually bankrupt attempt at a cash-grab that has no other legitimate reason to exist. The manner in which they attempt to keep Tobin Bell's Jigsaw and apprentice Shawnee Smith around after they have died just shows the film's shameful desperation. And of course, it made plenty of money. The violence isn't as vile as in "Saw III", but the good work displayed in "Saw II" in particular has been well sullied by this point. This is elaborate nothingness, and actress Betsy Russell eclipses the terrible work in previous films by Danny Glover and Dina Meyer to show that she is unquestionably one of the worst actresses in the history of cinema.

15. Saw VI (2009)- After the terrible "Saw III" and "Saw IV", "Saw V" saw an ever-so slight upward turn for the 'torture porn' series. Unfortunately, this one brings it back down into the gutter. The series has become concerned with only two things: Torture and money. Like previous entries this just feels like a slim story stretched out into a never-ending series of films, relying particularly heavily on footage lifted from previous films. It's not clever continuity, it's desperate money-grabbing, and cynical, shameful filmmaking. Tobin Bell's Jigsaw died long ago, but they still keep putting him in the films. And he has devolved into a boring, pompous blowhard, whilst Costas Mandylor seems to be repeating scenes he acted out in the previous entry, with only minor adjustments. Besides, we found out the truth about his character in "Saw IV", but as in the previous film, we're expected to act like we don't know. It's stupid. This is positively disheartening, and no fun at all. This is the "Friday the 13th" of the modern era. That is NOT a compliment. All torture, all the time.

16. The Devil's Mercy (2008)- Stephen Rea is a creepy landlord with Satanic plans for his latest tenants. I'm not sure why this flat, silly, and cheap flick has earned some decent reviews online. It's an awful combination of every Satanic-themed horror film you can name, especially "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Sentinel", but plays out in a muted, standard 'nutjob landlord' movie fashion. Predictable, slow, and Stephen Rea is much too talented to be slumming in this crap. Cute nightmare-in-a-nightmare-in-a-nightmare, though.

17. Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)- Despite appearances by series regulars Ashley 'Kirsty' Laurence and Doug 'Pinhead' Bradley, this sequel is yet another "Hellraiser" 'mind fuck' film that only pays token interest in anything connected to the series. About the only thing this tired film has going for it is that it makes a bit more sense than "Inferno", but it's still an unpleasant film about unpleasant people. But then, I'm not a huge fan of any of these films, even the first (and best).

18. The Hitcher (2007)- The 1986 original is a genre classic, completely misunderstood by at least one major film critic. But surely no one can defend this awful remake. It's essentially the same film, but with different names, lesser talents, and a lot less energy and impact. Sean Bean is utterly disappointing as the hitch-hiking psycho. The usually reliable actor has none of the complexity or layers that Rutger Hauer brought to his extremely creepy, often hilarious performance in the original. Bean, and the film are flat and uninspired, with no ambiguity or supernatural qualities whatsoever. It's run-of-the-mill slasher stuff at best. A wholly and completely unnecessary remake.

19. Cabin Fever (2003)- This is a relentlessly disgusting, one-note horror flick that probably wants to be a modern "Evil Dead", but has no sense of fun whatsoever. Instead of the Necronomicon being the young vacationers' undoing, this time it's a horrible, flesh-eating virus. Repugnant and uninteresting characters are one of many, many problems, and the characters are even more objectionable once the fit hits the shans. Having those characters basically fall apart (physically, emotionally  and mentally) is the opposite of fun to watch, at least as far as I'm concerned. There's barely any story, either. This just isn't my kind of horror and it's not especially well-done, though some of the actresses are hot (until their skin starts falling off). It's a geek show, really, and an ugly, nihilistic, and monotonous one.

20. Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)- The first film was one of the better "BWP"-type horror films. I even found it a bit unsettling watching it during the daytime. But this semi-prequel is entirely unnecessary. It's basically the same film, and as such, you know that the night scenes are the only ones where anything happens and only after about 30 minutes or so. Therefore, it's a tedious and pointless experience that only barely advances the story of the first film. Too many characters this time, resulting in no one to really latch on to, whereas Katie Featherston was absolutely winning in the first film. The biggest star in the film would appear to be the Creepy Crawler in the pool, as it gets the most screen time of anyone or anything. This isn't slow-building, it's time-wasting. Aside from one messed-up scene where all the drawers and cupboards in the kitchen fly open suddenly, the film has zero impact. I'm sure it made lots of money, though...