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.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Review: Paranormal Activity 4


A new family experience unsettling and possibly paranormal things as they take care of a neighbour’s kid named Robbie (Brady Allen). Teen daughter Kathryn Newton is convinced that Robbie is a little bit creepy and ropes her douchy boyfriend into helping her investigate. Meanwhile, Robbie and the family’s similarly aged boy Wyatt seem to be bonding, and that’s when things get even weirder. Real-life couple Alexondra Lee and the late Stephen Dunham (who died after filming, tragically) play Newton’s parents, typical Doubting Thomas’s.

 

It’s not supposed to be like this. Oh sure, I could say that “Friday the 13th Part 3” and “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” are the best films in a crap series, but for the most part, sequels are supposed to get progressively worse, not better. The first “Paranormal Activity” was a pretty effective ‘found footage’ horror film that even managed to make me a little uneasy during the middle of the day. The second one was appalling in its blatant and lazy mimicry of the first film. I was never able to get into it because I already knew to expect a whole lot of nothing before shit started getting fucked up, and thus spent most of the film sitting on my hands. The third one, well that was even worse, a shameful and frankly desperate cash grab. So this 2012 film from directors Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, and writer Christopher Landon (the same team behind “Paranormal Activity 3”) has to be the worst one of all, right? Actually it’s surprisingly watchable. I know, I’m shocked too, but it’s the truth.

 

The funny thing is, it’s not even all that different, it simply works better than the previous too, if a long way from the first film’s effectiveness. The characters are the most likeable since the first film, the cinematography by Doug Emmett shows some really good shot composition, with creepiness turning up in the corner of the frame silently, which is always creepier than some kind of loud musical sting. Emmett also supplies relatively steady handheld camerawork without it being so steady that it shatters the illusion. I also have to credit a particularly brilliant piece of misdirection involving a chandelier. That one got me! There’s also a legitimately upsetting and horrifying bit involving a bathtub that thankfully turns out to be a fake-out. Sick bastards. Meanwhile, I vaguely recognised Alexondra Lee but not in any way that I was able to pinpoint where, so I just assumed I was wrong, until I saw her name in the credits. Even then I had to check IMDb to see whether it was “Dawson’s Creek” or “Party of Five” I remembered her from. Turns out it was the latter, and probably “Boston Public” too, but boy that’s going back a long way, unlike the previous two films that featured a fairly prominent cast member of “24”. If lead actress Kathryn Newton doesn’t go on to something else after this, I’ll be very surprised. She’s particularly good, and has something about her that is very appealing. Brady Allen’s Robbie, meanwhile, is the creepiest kid since “Orphan”. The little shit is unsettling from moment one- but is he the one you need to keep your eye on? Cute “Shining” reference involving a very familiar-looking toy tricycle, by the way.

 

It’s a real shame that this is “Paranormal Activity 4” and not “Paranormal Activity 2” because it’s a respectable follow-up. It’s nothing great, and apparently everyone else hated it, but I was seriously expecting a turkey and this is nothing of the sort.

 

Rating: C+

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: Frankenweenie


Set in the town of New Holland (no, not Australia), this film concerns a young social misfit named Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan), and his beloved dog Sparky. He’s into science, but his dad (voiced by a possibly miscast Martin Short) urges him towards the sporting field. One baseball-cum-vehicular mishap later, and poor Sparky is dead. So what is a young, scientifically-minded social misfit to do? Well, let’s just say young Victor was very much paying attention to science teacher Mr Rzykurski’s (voiced by Martin Landau) experiments involving electricity and dead frogs. Other characters include a creepy fellow social outcast named Edgar (voiced by Atticus Shaffer), whose interest in the scientific arts come from a more unseemly place than Victor’s, and Elsa Van Helsing (voiced by Winona Ryder), the sweet girl next door. Catherine O’Hara provides the voice of Victor’s mother.

 

Not all of Tim Burton’s films have appealed to me, but I feel like we have a lot in common in terms of the kinds of films we love. We both definitely share a love of horror films both Universal and Hammer. That’s probably one of the main reasons why I found this 2012 full-length remake of Burton’s own short film from 1984. This stop-motion animated film is almost bursting at the seams with affection for both of those film companies’ horror output. Hell, it’s even in B&W (or designed to look that way, at any rate, it’s stop-motion, not cell or CG animation). The film is quite clearly a personal one for Burton (whose other films include “Batman”, “Beetlejuice”, and the underrated “Mars Attacks!”), and not just because he’s remaking something of his own. Scripted by John August (Burton’s “Big Fish”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, and “The Corpse Bride”) from material by Leonard Ripps and Burton himself, his really feels like a Burton interpretation of a coming-of-age story, done via stop-motion animation and filtered through a Universal meets Hammer horror plot. Or to put it another way, it’s “The Wonder Years” filtered through “The Addams Family”. It’s great fun for those with similar tastes in movies, and in my view it’s Burton’s best film since “Sleepy Hollow”, in addition to being one of the best films of the year.

 

What immediately grabs you is how a lot of the characters are clearly meant to look and/or sound like horror stars (or characters) of the past, with stand-ins for Vincent Price (a character voiced by Martin Landau, who previously played Bela Lugosi in Burton’s “Ed Wood”), Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Igor/Fritz, etc., and although Burton regular Christopher Lee is absent from the cast, even he gets a look-in via a “Dracula” film playing on TV, which is cute. You don’t have to be an old horror buff like me to get this, but it absolutely helps. Only in a Tim Burton film would the male and female child protagonists be named Victor and Elsa. Meanwhile, Mr. Whiskers is the most sinister, bug-eyed, zombified cat I’ve ever seen and a total scene-stealer. The poodle who looks like it was trimmed by “Edward Scissorhands” is amusing too (And check out that “Bride”-esque hairdo at the end!). Also, the the title dog was already unfortunate-looking to begin with, and once in re-animated form, it’s no surprise that kids in the film are frightened of it. It’s especially funny when parts keep falling off the zombified dog, and the scene where Sparky sees his new re-animated self (Frankenweenie as it were) is a terrific nod to “Frankenstein”. Perhaps best of all is the character of Edgar (AKA Edgar Gore, i.e. E. Gore), wonderfully voiced by Atticus Shaffer and clearly modelled on the Igor/Fritz character in the classic “Frankenstein” series of Universal horror films. Imagine that kid at school who always kept to himself, was frequently picked on (or at least shunned) and was probably spending a lot of time at home plotting his diabolical revenge. That’s Edgar, a wonderful cinematic creation. Also wonderfully creepy is the cat/bat hybrid that Karloff-esque Nassar (voiced by Martin Short, amazingly) creates. Seriously, that thing is gonna give me nightmares for real.

 

There’s some really incredible imagery in this (as well as visual nods to “Nosferatu” and “The Mummy”), but even the 50s-ish exterior shots of the neighbourhood are perfect All-American suburban designs. And I’m pretty sure Burton has seen a “Gamera” film or two in his time, due to the monster havoc in the final third of the film. I also assume he has seen “Ghoulies II” given the scene where a guy is beset by little gremlins out of his toilet.

 

I’m not sure this has been aimed at kids, and given the subject matter it probably shouldn’t- don’t try and resurrect your pets, kids!- but it was certainly up my alley and one of Burton’s best films in recent years (certainly better than his other film of 2012, “Dark Shadows”, though even that was better than expected). It might just be Burton’s most personal and charming film. I have no idea why it flopped, but then I love “Mars Attacks!” and enjoyed his “Planet of the Apes” quite a bit too, so perhaps I’m not the greatest judge.

 

Rating: B

Review: Celebrity


Kenneth Branagh plays a tabloid writer, would-be novelist and wannabe screenwriter, who is desperately trying to gather interest in his screenplay, approaching actors played by Melanie Griffith, and a troubled, hotel-trashing Leonardo DiCaprio. This results in a lot of parties, drinking, and women. Chief among these women are a hot model (Charlize Theron), his book editor (Famke Janssen), and a struggling actress (Winona Ryder). Judy Davis stars as Branagh’s repressed ex-wife who seeks ‘professional’ help from veteran hooker Bebe Neuwirth on pleasing a man, before being charmed by producer Joe Mantegna. Gretchen Mol plays DiCaprio’s abused girlfriend, with Sam Rockwell and an amusingly (retroactively, at least) cast Adrian Grenier as his entourage.

 

You probably know by now that I don’t much like Woody Allen movies, with the exception of a few (“Deconstructing Harry”, “Annie Hall”, “Hollywood Ending”, and maybe “Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sex”). This 1998 film isn’t quite as nauseating and infantile as “Midnight in Paris”, but nonetheless it’s aimless, clich├ęd, and not very interesting, despite some good performances. To me, it played like a series of filmed parties, it was repetitive as hell, and I didn’t really see a point anywhere. And if you’re one of those viewers who has Woody pegged as a misogynist, boy are you gonna hate this film. The absolute nadir would have to be the scene where Bebe Neuwirth instructs Judy Davis in how to give head, using a banana. It’s the single most degrading scene of Woody Allen’s career and an embarrassment to both actresses. Then again, I myself couldn’t get over the very fact that Bebe Neuwirth was playing a hooker in a film that already stars Gretchen Mol, Winona Ryder, and Charlize Theron. I mean, there’s ‘experienced’ and then there’s Lilith Friggin’ Crane. Bizarre casting, but this is the same film where Branagh cheats on Famke Janssen with Winona Ryder. At best, that’s a lateral move. Less bizarre (and more pretentious and annoying if anything) is the decision by Woody to have cinematographer Sven Nykvist (“The Virgin Spring”, “New York Stories”, “Sleepless in Seattle”) shoot this film in B&W. There is absolutely no legitimate reason for this, it’s merely Woody trying to show everyone what an ‘artiste’ (i.e. Wanker) he is.

 

One of the problems I tend to have with Woody films is that all of the characters seem to be written in his voice, and it’s an exceptionally irritating voice. This film is no exception, with Kenneth Branagh certainly one of the stranger Woody surrogates, and he attempts to ape Woody in the process. It gets a little tired and annoying after a while, though not as annoying as Woody himself can be. Judy Davis is also basically imitating Woody, and any scene between her and Branagh is nauseating. Davis’ yank accent also falters at times too. The film isn’t a total loss, however, as the performances by Charlize Theron, Joe Mantegna, Famke Janssen, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Winona Ryder are all fine. Theron and Mantegna in particular are worth singling out, as is Isaac Mizrahi in a small role. JK Simmons has a pretty funny cameo as a guy selling a Jesus statue that bleeds. I feel a bit sorry for Gretchen Mol. The ‘It’ girl of 1999 and then...well, have you seen her lately? I certainly haven’t.

 

My favourite scene in the film would have to be Branagh and Janssen having a relationship-breaking argument whilst a bunch of removalists are doing their job in the background. Priceless. Less amusing and frankly a bit ‘on the nose’ is Janssen throwing pages of Branagh’s script from a ship in New York with jazz sax underneath. I mean, spare me. I liked the idea of a plastic surgeon willing to turn a patient into Jennifer Jones in “Duel in the Sun”. That was funny. Less funny, and terribly forced, is Debra Messing as a TV reporter. I liked her on the underrated “Ned & Stacey”, but she has absolutely no business being in the movies.

 

The film has a seriously schizophrenic tone, as DiCaprio’s first scene is a testament to. He’s well-cast in the role, though. Meanwhile, Woody’s cleverness gets to his head, with Davis quoting Blanche Dubois at one point, and the idea of an all-black version of “Birth of a Nation”. Geez, we get it Woody, you’ve seen lots of movies. How about you turn this aimless mess into a movie, then? At least the “Duel in the Sun” reference was funny.

 

Like “Midnight in Paris”, this is the kind of film only recommended to people who have their heads up their own arses. This might have even less of a story than that film did, actually, and I think Woody did it better with “Hollywood Ending” a few years later anyway. Even Woody fans would have to agree that this aimless piece is far from his best offering, though some of the acting is quite strong.

 

Rating: C