Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Babadook Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After reading a mysterious children's book, a mother and her son are tormented by the Babadook!

Review: I waited so long to give this film a glance,
               hoping it would live up to the hype perchance.
               When I finally gave the film a thorough look,
               I found only disappointment from the Babadook!
                                                                           -famous poet

Okay, in fairness, this was actually a pretty damn good film, but it went in the direction I feared most. BIG SPOILER--there is no Babadook, and it's all in the mom's head. Arrrggghhhh! Fuck. The moment I saw the trailer I suspected as much, but it seemed too obvious. I figured that must be the red herring; instead the Babadook himself is the red herring. Maybe my expectations were too high since this was the movie I was most looking forward to all year. Oh well. Let's take a look at what they did right and where things went wrong (for me).

The story is most certainly original even if aspects do feel cliched. The idea of the boogeyman coming to life is not new, but the notion of the Babadook, specifically, was clever and refreshing. In fact, the little tale of the Babadook is, perhaps, the best part to the film as a whole. I liked the design of the Babadook as well; he's a mixture of the mythological "man in black" and a whimsical fantasy you'd imagine from a child. He can be scary naturally, but I think his voice was the creepiest part to him. Enhancing the scares are the foreboding nature to the scenes along with the ever increasing tension. You could tell the director was a fan of classic horror films and paid tribute to their style; the respect to conventional effects was also greatly appreciated. The mystery regarding the Babadook book, what it wants, how to stop it, etc. keep the audience invested in the situation and engaged; the steady pacing helps in this regard too. The main characters, Amelia and Samuel, are well acted as the story is almost exclusively centered around their relationship as mother and son. I was actually moved a few times by their relationship especially at the end. Plus, Samuel trying to fight the Babadook with "Home Alone" inspired tactics was amusing in the best of ways.

On the other hand, the film commits a lot of blunders. Firstly, we see the Babadook in all his glory far, far too early in the film. This aspect takes away from a lot of the scares that could have been awesome toward the middle and end of the film. While the acting is fine from Samuel, his character can be excessively annoying. I get that they wanted to portray Amelia's perspective of this annoyance, but, really, come on, man. At times this kid was rivaling Jar Jar, and I've never heard of a kid that annoying. I know you don't need kills to make a horror film, but, seriously, only the dog dies? The ending is a huge letdown in general, but, beyond the twist, I'm talking about the very notion of looking under the Babadook's coat. What, he was nothing but Pennywise's deadlights under there?!

Of course, the biggest problem, as I've already stated, is that the Babadook is in Amelia's head. Besides being cornball as fuck, it's predictable as hell. If you couldn't figure out Amelia wrote the Babadook book herself (both times) you are either blind or need to watch a movie without a crowd. I mean, they mention she was a writer of children's books, her hand is stained with the paint, and how else could it have ended up in Samuel's book collection? I understand that there is a debate regarding the realness of the Babadook, but the creature is an embodiment of Amelia's depression after her husband died--plain and simple. We even see that the clothes of the Babadook are the same shown hanging in the basement where all the father's personal items are kept. If you pay careful attention to the Babadook book, it subtly addresses what will happen if you let the depression get to you; we can imagine Amelia thinking these exact thoughts whenever she originally wrote the Babadook. The movie isn't clear regarding when she did this, or why she would forget, but all the possession shit is imagined. Samuel only sees the delusions, because he's already scared of monsters and is probably neglected. In essence, this is a straight up psychological horror that hides behind a creature feature. I wouldn't have been so bothered by this revelation if I didn't see it coming a mile away; therefore, I can acknowledge others enjoying this revelation more than I. As it stands, this was my biggest disappointment toward the film. Also, you know this is a lame plot twist when half the reviews are pretentious as fuck with the whole "you don't get it" line. Right.

Bottom line...the film succeeds in virtually all technical aspects. The story is imaginative, compelling, and presented interestingly. I would go as far as to say the film probably deserved an 8/10 had it followed through with a different ending. However, the ending is predictable and disappointing to the degree that it negates a lot of the other positives. Establishing an awesome setup only to pull out the rug from under the audience is hard to accept; it feels cheap that everything we've seen was simply imagined. I'm pleased with the final product, but I can't let go of the potential I believed it had. If one understands many of these facets ahead of time, I think there will be less polarizing reactions to the movie. "The Babadook" is a cool film hindered by an ending that will either make or break it for the viewer so keep that in mind when attempting a view.

Notable Moment: When Amelia and Samuel first read the Babadook book. I was probably more scared by that book than the film itself since it's a genuinely creepy concept.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Batman: Gotham Knight Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: An anthology of tales covering early adventures of the Caped Crusader's endless fight against the criminal underbelly of Gotham.

Review: As I've stated numerous times, I'm a big fan of Batman, and an anthology tale is a perfect way to present his kind of adventures. It's made better by the fact that there is a, somewhat, ongoing continuity from tale to tale. They also have Kevin Conroy voicing Batman, and that's usually the highlight in my mind. With that said, this wasn't as good as it could have been. I didn't like the changing art styles, and the stories felt like they were trying too hard to complement the Nolan films rather than standing on their own merit. This isn't to say the film is bad--because it's not--it simply lacked a certain flair to make it memorable. The segments are too generic with, maybe, only one or two stories exemplifying the deeper struggles of the character. It would seem few sources can do Batman justice the way the animated series was able to.

Have I Got a Story for You: This was a decent way to start things off, but the animation in this segment is the absolute worst. Why does everyone look so fat...including Batman? Anyway, a bunch of kids are telling each other their interpretation of crossing paths with Batman. We can assume their stories all occurred in succession of one another as Batman is fighting the same assassin across Gotham. Coincidentally enough, the same fight that the kids have witnessed across town concludes before their very eyes. The amusing aspect to this segment is that the one kid that had no tale regarding Batman manages to help Batman defeat the assassin. Eh, this wasn't too bad, and it had it's moments.

Crossfire: This is probably the weakest of the stories since you know what's going to happen almost immediately. Two detectives, working under Gordon, are transporting a criminal to Arkham as one of them remarks how they are simply cleaning up after Batman. Amidst their arguing, the two detectives become caught up in a literal crossfire between two crime families. Of course Batman comes to the rescue and changes the opinion of the one detective. I wouldn't mind such a scenario typically, but this whole doubting Batman and changing your tune routine has been done many, many times before.

Field Test: This was one of the better entries as we see Bruce exploring multiple options in his attempt to be a better crime fighter. Consulting with Fox, Bruce fits the Batman suit with some kind of electromagnetic field generator that can reflect bullets. Later on, when Batman tests out the device, fighting the same crime families from the last segment, he notices an unexpected side effect; one of the bullets ricochets from Batman and hits one of the criminals. Batman does save the guy, but Bruce returns the device to Fox. Bruce says he's willing to risk his own life fighting crime but doesn't want to endanger others. Oddly enough, this was the first tale to actually have Batman/Bruce as the focus. I liked that we saw Bruce exhausting all the assets at his disposal in order to make Batman more effective.

In Darkness Dwells: This was probably a missed opportunity compared to the other segments since you had a few classic villains to work with. Once more we have the Scarecrow using his fear toxin for nefarious purposes; he has captured a Cardinal for whatever reason I'm not sure. Helping Scarecrow either directly or indirectly (again, I'm not sure), Killer Croc assists in the fight against Batman and infects Batman with the fear toxin. However, Killer Croc is defeated way too easily, and Scarecrow hardly does anything before being defeated as well. The ending was interesting with an injured Batman probably in need of help, but they let that be its own separate entry; this aspect only emphasized the wasted potential of this segment.

Working Through Pain: Batman, wounded from his encounters in the last segment, flashes back to his time studying a kind of mysticism in India. While trying to become strong enough to fight crime, Bruce came across a woman, named Cassandra, who was willing to teach him mental strategies to control one's physical pain. Over months, Bruce mastered the techniques and became virtually unaffected by the standard pain thresholds of a regular person. One night, villagers come to mess with Cassandra who takes a nonviolent approach and demonstrates her mastery of this art. Bruce, unable to sit idly by, intervenes and dispenses with the villagers. Cassandra then asks Bruce to leave since she realizes he only wanted her techniques for his own purposes rather than to better oneself. As Bruce leaves, she remarks that she would not be able to help him with his internal pain. Cutting back to the present, the segment ends as we see Batman angered by a heap of guns that we can assume remind him of his parents' death. It's always a treat when we discover all the training Bruce went through to become Batman. In many ways, it shows how Bruce was not entirely honest in his approach while also delving into the anger and sadness Batman keeps bottled up.

Deadshot: To close things out, we have a decent story and another classic villain in the form of, you guessed it, Deadshot. This segment begins with Bruce remembering the deaths of his parents, and that feeling of powerlessness that drives him. Despite his apprehension to use firearms, Bruce discusses his understanding of the appeal with Alfred. We then cut to Deadshot performing an assassination in his typical, over the top, manner. Deadshot is then, seemingly, hired to assassinate Gordon in another roundabout manner. Batman intervenes but Deadshot reveals his actual target was Batman himself. The two fight atop a train with Deadshot appearing to gain the upper hand. Disappointingly, Deadshot is dispatched with as easily as Killer Croc and Scarecrow were. Later on, Bruce is discussing with Alfred how he wishes he could have saved his parents, but this is cut short by Bruce noticing the Bat-Signal. Not too bad of an ending, but this entire film needed the kind of epic music the animated series always implemented to enhance the drama.

Overall, this was a cool idea hindered by mostly lackluster stories. I enjoy the idea of side stories, but they could have been more meaningful in the way "Working Through Pain" was able to present. Because of the Nolan connection, it appeared as though they didn't want to take any chances as whatever they did would be retconned if needed. I don't mind leaving out the rogues gallery of villains, but it could have turned an otherwise mundane tale into something memorable. If you can't get enough Batman, I'd say check this bad boy out, but keep in mind there are more interesting and compelling adventures out there.

Notable Moment: In the fifth segment when we see that Batman can overcome physical pain easily, but he's consumed by his internal pain. It's this conflict that usually provides for a more compelling Batman; unfortunately, a lot of the Batman media out there forgets this.

Final Rating: 6/10

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Extraterrestrial (2014) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Drunk off his ass, ET crashes his ship after Elliot dumps him and decides to go on a killing spree.

Review: I think this movie just anally probed my brain. How in hell was this made by the same guys who did "Grave Encounters?!" My god...this film was torturous to the very core of my being. The flow of events are exactly how you imagine a little kid trying to tell a story. "...and then this happens, and then this happens, oh and this happens, oh and then these people do this, OH and then this happens..." Aaaagggghhhh! The fuck, man...really? There's a phenomenon in terrible movies I've rarely covered so far, and it's present here once more. That phenomenon being the snowball effect--whereby each scene manages to be even more idiotic than the previous one in an exponential path to oblivion. Essentially, you start off with an eye roll, this turns into a nervous laugh, you quickly follow up with a "come the fuck on," only to stew in your own silent sulking, which leads to bitter anger, and, finally, acceptance that you are watching a shamefully horrendous film. Enjoy.

Was this meant to be satire or something? Like...were they tripping on LSD after watching "Fire in the Sky" and "Cabin in the Woods" on the same night? The film begins by showing some random girl get abducted which makes you think this movie could be cool. How wrong you would be. We are then introduced to the annoying as fuck main characters that drive a man homicidal. Although one dude looks like a hardcore, hipster douche, they all look like shit and the main girl has permanent grandma-face. I think it goes without saying that there are contrivances and cliches at every turn. After a failed marriage proposal (aka dodging a bullet), the group of flunkies notice an alien ship crash and decide to investigate. ET decides to walk this crash off, because he's a badass with that glowing finger. When trying to phone home, ET is shot by the flunkies inconsiderately. Spielberg somehow gets wind of this shit and sends in backup to help ET. One of the dumber flunkies decides she wants Scotty to beam her up and takes it like a champ. The flunkies seek help from Michael Ironside who is just trying to grow pot in the woods; why do I get the sneaking suspicion they merely stumbled upon him while filming? He thankfully knows exactly what's going on--the world governments have a peace treaty with the aliens and the flunkies just broke it! Oh noes, say it ain't so? Really? That's what we're going with? A fucking peace treaty?! It doesn't matter, because ET shows up and says, "see you at the party, Richter," and that's the end of Mr. Ironside.

While all this has been going on, we have been getting the drama of the town sheriff who thinks his wife was abducted by aliens. Honestly, the movie gives me the impression that the aliens are simply barbequing aboard the ships--what with the slabs of bacon they remove from piggies and the beef from cows. Anyway, the sheriff finds the flunkies and arrests them for being idiots. ET shows up and uses his newly discovered psychic powers to stop a car and make the sheriff kill his partner and then blow his own head off. Well, I'm glad we spent so much time building that character up. The aliens tire of these games and decide to shake the cabin with a glowing light, because that's cool, right? Hipster gets abducted and loses an arm for thinking he's clever. Proposal Reject decides he wants to take a shower with an alien, but he ends up admiring himself in the mirror too much so ET abducts him. Another dumbass commits suicide while Grandma is left alone by the aliens, because they've had enough with the geriatric community. Pissed that she didn't get in on the anal probe action, Grandma starts shooting fireworks at the aliens who say, "fine, welcome aboard, bitch!" The interior of ET's ship is a straight ripoff of "Fire in the Sky" except they threw in a little bit of "The Matrix" to spice it up. If that weren't enough, they decided to add that bellybutton robot from "The Matrix" as well. Hipster gets anally probed--not even joking--because that's just what ET does for kicks. Grandma manages to track down Proposal Reject and she says she would marry him now that she learned there is life out there in the universe. know, that may be one of the absolute dumbest things I've ever heard. ET is so moved by this confession of love, and remembering his times with Elliot, he decides to return the two lovebirds back to earth. Unfortunately, the US military doesn't care much for romance and shoots the lovebirds. A wannabe cancer man from "The X-Files" says burn the bodies and that's the end. Aww, what a heartwarming conclusion to such a riveting tale.

Fuck this movie. It's nothing more than a series of increasingly stupid scenes strung together with the flimsiest of plots imaginable. The characters are painfully moronic, the music choices boggle the mind, and you get every cliche, trope, and contrivance conceivable from an alien-themed movie. The only reason I didn't lower the rating further was due to the surprisingly good production value; truth be told, the cinematography was not bad at all. If you've ever wondered what the trauma of being abducted could possibly feel like, then sit back, get out the popcorn, and force yourself through this mess.

Notable Moment: This is tough because the stupidity is strong with this one. I guess I might as well go with the dumb anal probe scene since that's all anyone takes away from this piece of shit.

Final Rating: 3/10

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: As humanity fights an alien invasion, a soldier discovers he can relive the same day over and over and hopes to change the outcome of the war.

Review: Well, Tommy-boy does it again, and, seriously, does this guy ever age?! Once more, I didn't read the book this film is based upon, but I've read over the differences; I should add "didn't read the book" to the disclaimer at this point due to how often I mention that. As others have stated numerous times, it is safe to say this film is essentially "Groundhog Day" meets "Oblivion," but people act as though that's a bad thing to be compared to; and come on, the main girl's name is Rita too--hard to ignore that shit! Besides, this film works the material in a different way to create a unique experience complementary to "Groundhog Day." Plus this made me really like Emily Blunt, and that's an accomplishment unto itself.

The story is mostly straightforward--mysterious aliens are invading earth and humans must defeat them. We meet Cage who is an officer in the US military, but his main purpose is public affairs whereby he tries to motivate others to join the war effort. When Cage is told he will be out in the battlefield for the main offensive against the aliens, he tries to weasel out of the situation. This leads to Cage being dropped, headfirst, in with the grunts who don't believe he's an actual officer. We clearly see Cage stands no chance, since he still doesn't know how to use his mech-suit (the main weapon humans use), even as he goes into battle. During the fight, everyone is obliterated including Rita, the ace fighter for the humans, but Cage manages to kill a weird looking alien before he too is killed. Due to this chance encounter, Cage has gained the main defensive ability of the aliens: the ability to rewind the day in order to adjust the outcome. It would appear this, time and space defying, ability is what makes the aliens seemingly unbeatable. In order to retain the power, Cage must die each day, but each time Cage dies, the aliens come closer to reclaiming their ability.

As Cage relives the day numerous times, he starts to memorize various aspects in order to survive and change things up. On one particular day, Cage saves Rita and she understands what is happening to him since it also happened to her. When Cage relives the day again, he meets with Rita and the two begin to train in the hope to make Cage strong enough to defeat the aliens as he's their only real hope. Over time, Cage does become an expert fighter just as Rita must have done when she had the power. With the help of a scientist, Cage and Rita try to kill the heart, if you will, of the aliens--the only way to truly overcome the aliens. After much shenanigans to kill this Omega, as they call it, Cage ends up losing the power which leaves them with one final chance to defeat the aliens. Since this is Hollywood, it should come as no shock that they do indeed defeat the aliens. Although all the main characters did die during the final struggle, they end up revived when Cage is able to reset the day one more time despite the aliens' defeat.

I was genuinely impressed by how much simply worked within this film. The story has a nice cohesion, pace, and sense of progression that keeps you engaged. "Groundhog Day" is an incredible film, and adding a new spin on that concept is welcomed in my long as it's done right. The quirky characters provide an added layer of depth that makes it fun to see them in action. I know some were annoyed that there was a slight romance between Cage and Rita, but I was thoroughly engrossed with the two of them; and it wasn't anywhere near as dramatic as they could have made it. Tommy-boy and Ms. Blunt had great chemistry, and I wanted to see them get together! While on the topic, the acting was great and felt believable from all the players. The concept behind the aliens was interesting as well since they weren't really fighting the humans as much as they were simply killing them for getting in the way. The book goes into more detail regarding the aliens' motivation, but the movie did imply that this probably happened to other worlds in the universe. Speaking of which, the book had a far different and somber ending, but I do so love my Hollywood endings despite this; I can't get enough of the Cage and Rita dynamics! Lastly, the action is solid with the sci-fi version of WWII approach.

While there may be a lot to love here, I do have a few grievances that hold the film back. As much as I love Tommy-boy, they could have kept the lead as Japanese since plenty of the other characters in the book weren't Japanese anyway. In other words, I can understand making everyone in "The Ring" American since the original characters were all Japanese, but in a book full of varying ethnicity, this was unnecessary. The whole altering time thing is questionable for me since it relies on a few key aliens, and it would make no sense to send them into battle if their death could screw up the whole scheme. Connected to this is the ending not making full sense. I thought the day would reset and Cage and crew would fight the aliens one more time knowing what to do, but, instead all the humans are revived but not the aliens? Yeah, okay. And finally, Cage's durability in the attack on the Omega is a bit outlandish considering the film's prior sense of realism. This wouldn't have stood out so badly if it weren't for the film specifically showing us Cage easily breaking bones and such.

Overall, this was a great film that became overshadowed by its similarity to "Oblivion" when first released. Hopefully viewers can discover this gem, because it was better than most of the shit released this past summer. There are a few flaws that stop the filming from being completely amazing, but they are subjective complaints. The general experience of the film is fantastic with all the right elements coming together to provide a compelling story. Tommy-boy is at his finest, and those who enjoy his brand of action will undoubtedly be entertained. Definitely check this one out!

Notable Moment: When Nance and Cage say the same line of dialogue at the same time, and Nance says "jinx." So cornball but it got a laugh out of me.

Final Rating: 7.5/10

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Killer Toon Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: An artist becomes implicated in a series of murders as her illustrations appear to be coming to life.

Review: The movies this month have been rough around the edges, to say the least, and, sadly, this film is no different. No wonder I've taken November off for the past 2 years! "Killer Toon" is easily a contender for most genre-confused film I've watched in recent years. They don't know whether to make this an emotional drama, supernatural horror, murder-mystery, thriller, or some abomination thereof. It's not that the ideas can't work in conjunction to one another, but the execution is a complete and utter mess. This isn't helped by the heap of cliches accompanied by a terrible and unbelievable ending. It's disappointing, again, because the film started off strong with an intriguing story but gradually fell apart.

The story begins with the main character, Ji-yoon, a popular artist, finishing up a new manuscript for her comic book series. When Ji-yoon's editor, or whatever she was, gets the drawings, the editor realizes they tell her own story; as a teen, the editor stood by while her mom committed suicide, and the mother was motivated to suicide by her as well. Beyond that revelation, the drawings also depict the present actions of the editor as she appears to be stabbed to death by the ghost of her mother. As the police investigate the incident, they rightfully suspect Ji-yoon to be involved, but it would appear all the forensic evidence points to the editor killing herself rather than murder.

You will notice many odd additions to the story that serve little purpose like Ji-yoon seeing a doctor claiming she can't understand why she has weird visions; the pointlessness of this will be demonstrated by the end as Ji-yoon knows perfectly well why she is the way she is. Along with these throwaway scenes, the film keeps hinting at the inclusion of ghosts but is unsure whether to add them into the plot or not; this kind of hesitation is how you lose the interest of the audience. They also pull the infamous dream within a dream shtick. Anyway, another person is going to be murdered as depicted in the drawings, but Ji-yoon tries to intervene and becomes implicated as a result. So, while the first half hour was going in the direction of a living killer, we then shift into a full-blown supernatural element. Those who harbor horrible secrets are being killed by the ghosts of the people they've wronged.

Well, what does any of this have to do with Ji-yoon's drawings? It would appear Ji-yoon is a fraud, and she was receiving the drawings by email from her old physical address. This is definitely the point in which the film loses itself completely. They try to create an association between Ji-yoon and the victims, but it doesn't quite add up. Furthermore, Ji-yoon believes she knows who was sending the emails: a girl named Seo-hyun. It would appear Seo-hyun had an uncontrollable urge to draw visions of death, and Ji-yoon used them as a means to establish herself as a famous artist. For some reason the cops keep dicking around, but we suddenly learn one of the cops was depicted in the drawings as he once ran over a little girl and left her to die. This cop appears to be killed by the ghost as the police, in general, want to drop the case due to all this talk about ghosts.

I have no idea how to properly explain the final act as it's forced drama like no one's business. The main cop, that can't let the case go, realizes that all of Ji-yoon's drawings have connected to a murder and that this isn't something new that just started with the editor. This then magically leads to Ji-yoon hanging out at that address where she was getting the emails. We then learn how Seo-hyun was actually murdered by Ji-yoon, because she tried to burn all the drawings. It would appear Seo-hyun really was talking to the dead, and they were telling her their stories which she drew. Somehow, this psychic power was passed to Ji-yoon when she strangled Seo-hyun to death. The cop shows up and tries to stop Ji-yoon, but she tries to kill him with an axe. Before the cop can shoot Ji-yoon we learn that this cop actually killed the other cop and it wasn't ghosts. Ugh. Because that was a necessary twist. The ghost of that particular cop magically intervenes to save Ji-yoon. The film ends with the idea that Ji-yoon will continue with her comics and apparently the ghosts will keep on killing. Riiight. And the cops will just ignore this I guess.

As you can tell, there are a lot of holes in the story. It was idiotic to make Ji-yoon appear to be baffled and confused by the incidents of the film when she was clearly the villain with full knowledge. The twist with the cop killing his partner was contrived as fuck. How exactly did no one find Seo-hyun's body since everyone thought she was alive somewhere? Speaking of which, wouldn't it have been a more fitting conclusion, and fit the themes better, if Seo-hyun's ghost killed Ji-yoon? And who the hell was sending the emails?! Why were the ghosts seeking revenge all of a sudden? What, they didn't want to act until the crimes they were about to commit were drawn?! I mean, hell, the editor's mom died like 10-20 years prior. Ghosts certainly love biding their goddamn time it would seem.

What started off as a straightforward film somehow devolved into an incoherent wreck. The entire presentation of the film's events become contradicted as the film progresses as we realize the characters shouldn't have done the actions they perform; all the while, the genre keeps bouncing all over the place. I feel like something was lost in the editing process or we missed a few necessary scenes to pull the story together. The final twists of the film felt tacked on and more for shock value than to add any kind of satisfaction to the viewer. Despite these horrendous problems with the story, the technical aspects are commendable. The actors perform well enough with the material they were given also. Finally, I can't ignore that there were good ideas under the mess. Like the last couple of films I've been reviewing, this one is on the mediocre side--interesting ideas brought down by shit direction. I suppose this film could possibly garner a viewing, but you have to seriously go with the flow and not pay close attention to the nonsensical plot points.

Notable Moment: When we meet the hitchhiker ghost. I mean, yes, it's such a timeless cliche, but I still find it amusing nonetheless.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jessabelle Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Recovering from a car accident, a girl discovers tapes from her deceased mother that reveal a horrible truth.

Review: This film started off excellently, with respectable scares, but it plummets downhill all too quickly. Exacerbating the situation is the overabundance of contrivances that feel like plot holes due the sheer implausibility of such a set of circumstances coming into existence. Once more, I'm disappointed, because the potential to tell an interesting tale was right there. However, between the laughable ending, pointless love story, and glaring story problems, it's hard to see this film as anything beyond a simple meh.

Instead of telling the story as it's presented, I will explain the events in chronological order to demonstrate the absurd nature of the contrivances. Once upon a time...a married couple in the '80s were expecting a baby girl they planned to name Jessabelle. Conveniently enough, the mom is diagnosed with cancer along the way or something. The mother decides to leave a series of tapes for Jessabelle so that she can see what her crazy mother was like. For some reason, the mom tries to tell the unborn Jessabelle's future using tarot cards, and, of course, this reveals that Jessabelle will meet a terrible end; surely, because tarot cards are infamous for their accuracy. The mom mentions, on the tapes, a vague reference to some voodoo priest named Moses who apparently taught her how to read tarot cards; this made little sense to me since Moses also went to the church of Jessabelle's parents. Voodoo...Christianity...a bit of a stretch that one guy would be active in both. At some point, Jessabelle is born, and is revealed to be half-black as the father was actually Moses. Surprise, the husband is angry. I'm not entirely sure the exact order of these events, but the husband kills Jessabelle in a fit of rage, shoots and burns Moses, and magically adopts the main character, Jessie, who is told she is the real Jessabelle later. These events coincide with the mother committing suicide after seemingly doing a ritual with Jessie and Moses' voodoo flunkies doing another ritual on Jessabelle that links the two girls' souls.

Shortly after this, Jessie is sent to live with her aunt, whom we never meet, and just happens to live in the same town. Jessie grows up believing herself to be Jessabelle, rarely speaks with her "father," and no supernatural shit happens as far as we know. In her teens, Jessie dates some dude, named Preston, that will become annoyingly important later on, until she moves out of the town for college. At some point, Jessie, in her twenties, conveniently gets into a car accident with her new boyfriend that kills him and leaves her unable to walk. This forces Jessie to move back to the town and live with her estranged "father" as she finds herself haunted by Jessabelle...for no apparent reason. Furthermore, Jessie finds those dumb tapes and believes they are meant for her, but doesn't realize they're for the real Jessabelle. Jessie reunites with Preston as he's all too eager to leave his wife, Alex Mack, in order to get back with Jessie. Jessie and Preston unravel the mystery until the ghosts of the mom and Moses appear out of thin air so they can swap Jessie's soul for Jessabelle. The film then ends with Jessabelle now alive, Jessie off in Kayako-land or wherever, and Jessabelle probably eager to screw Preston. The final line of the film is delivered so poorly I burst out laughing.

At no point is it ever explained why Jessabelle decides to haunt Jessie at this particular moment. I mean, were these ghosts just sitting around waiting for this ridiculous series of events to occur? Wait, let me guess, they could see the future with the tarot cards, huh? Oh, and why did the ghosts wait all these years to kill the dad? Talk about biding your time. Don't even tell me the movie claims watching the tapes is what awakened the ghosts?! I liked how the boyfriend was completely forgotten about and Preston ditches his wife so casually. Actually, the film's morality bothered me since Jessie gets screwed the most for doing nothing wrong. I don't mind the villains winning, but they need to be likable and a cheating mom, some dude named Moses, and a wannabe Kayako aren't exactly wooing me. Although, I should mention, the real Jessabelle, played by Amber Stevens, is pretty cute under the makeup effects. And how the fuck do you manage to adopt a kid shortly after giving birth? Nobody questions this? Nobody wonders, "hey, what happened to your other kid?" Come on, man...this is supposed to be a town in the boonies. These events are glossed over far too easily and the gravity of the crimes downplayed too much! Finally, is the name Jessabelle supposed to be a, not so subtle, play on Jezebel? Uuughhh.

Overall, this film dropped the ball. The first half hour has great atmosphere and establishes an engaging mystery, but that goes out the window fast. One of the biggest mistakes was showing the real Jessabelle's face too soon when her makeup effects are nothing to write home about; that's a big no-no in a film relying on its ghost to be the main source of scares. There is also way too much time spent on the drama with Jessie and Preston. Unfortunately, I could not get over the contrived nature of the plot and how there appears to be no discernible reason for anything to happen at this specific moment when these events should have happened long ago. On top of that, the fact that Jessie wasn't the real Jessabelle was beyond predictable even if you couldn't, necessarily, guess what direction they were taking the story. I'm going to say give this one a pass, but I'll stress that it's more on the disappointing side than actually a bad movie.

Notable Moment: When the ghost appears in the wheelchair, behind the curtain, for the first time. This slow buildup of the scares was a missed opportunity for sure.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Witching and Bitching (aka Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After robbing a gold store, a group of thieves become the target of a coven of witches bent on taking over the world.

Review: As you can probably guess from the title, there's a whole lot of bitching and witching going on here. Okay, I'm not sure where that title came from exactly, but the original Spanish one is a bit more straightforward: The Witches of Zugarramurdi. I guess some marketing executive figured that title didn't have the kind of oomph befitting of a movie this ridiculous. As for what the hell is a's apparently a region near the Spanish/French border that was infamous during the Inquisition. Good times. Surprisingly, this was an amusing and genuinely entertaining flick that felt like some kind of heist/fairytale hybrid. I don't watch nearly enough European horror so this was a nice departure from my usual concentrations.

The story can be a bit convoluted, so I'll sum up the important aspects. Thieves, dressed in various costumes, steal a ton of gold from a jewelry store in Spain before fleeing toward France. En route, the thieves stop at Zugarramurdi where a coven of witches want the main thief's son for a ritual as they believe he's a foretold, chosen one. Antics ensue as the thieves try to escape the clutches of the witches all the while dealing with cops and the main thief's wife in hot pursuit. The witches eventually perform the ritual on the son to turn him into the an apparent destroyer of mankind, but this amounts to nothing. Thanks to the help of the sexiest witch, the thieves manage to save the day and live happily ever after...sort of.

Looking at what worked, you must understand the story is meant to be comedic before anything else, and it succeeds admirably in this regard. The dialogue is banter focused, sometimes about poignant issues, and shenanigans occur in a matter-of-fact presentation. The setups are often comical as the characters put themselves in outlandish situations; for example, the thieves get distracted by the sexy witch doing--how shall I say--questionable activities with her broom. Everything feels over the top, but things still work within the confines of this established universe. Although the horror plays second fiddle to the comedy, the tone of the film invokes the sense of a dark fairytale. It's hard to explain, but it feels like watching an R-rated, live-action Disney movie...if that makes any sense. However, it is important to note that the first half hour, or so, serves as an excellent heist film that, again, still manages to be funny. Connected to this were the action scenes, which were decent, but you must ignore the seeming indestructibility of each character. Speaking of which, the characters are as ridiculous as you'd expect but are engaging and likable for the most part; I thoroughly enjoyed the sexy witch, Eva, whom I keep mentioning, the best--played by Carolina Bang. Lastly, the story, while not entirely original, was creative enough to set itself apart from the numerous other witch-themed films that have been popping up in droves as of late.

As for where the film falters, I would say the biggest issue was the running time. With a shenanigan-laden film such as this, you will want to keep things short and sweet so as not to overstay the welcome, but scenes did begin to drag at various points; the film is nearly two hours long. Obviously, gags fall flat, as is to be expected, but that is emphasized due to the prolong time spent on the jokes. There were plot elements that made little sense even if I ignore the outlandish nature to everything. For example, we understand that witches are born yet later we see they can just as easily be created against their own will; this doesn't reconcile properly especially at a late stage of the story. More to the point, many things will not make sense and it depends on the threshold of the viewer to determine the varying degree to which this will hinder the enjoyment.

In the end, I would say check this one out if you're looking for an offbeat tale. The comedy and horror elements blended together well enough, and it's a fun film. It can feel out of place at times given the cornball style of humor mixed with mature themes, but this was not a serious detriment. The actors do a commendable job, and the crazy characters felt unique. I did expect more from the ending, but, keeping with the whimsical approach, the happily ever after conclusion did seem fitting. If you can overlook, or even enjoy, the prolonged running time, this should not disappoint fans of comedy-horror.

Notable Moment: There are nearly endless amounts of ridiculous moments, but I was oddly satisfied with the death of SpongeBob.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Sunday, November 9, 2014

7500 Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After a man suddenly dies aboard a flight to Tokyo, strange occurrences begin to plague the passengers.

Review: I've been going through all the films I passed over in October while I was focusing on Halloween movies, and, so far, they've all been disappointing. This movie was in limbo for a couple years, for whatever reason, and I think I finally understand why: it's simply a collage of cliched plot lines. It sucks...I was looking forward to this one, because it had a cool trailer, I liked the notion of a haunted house on a plane, and I'm a fan of Takashi Shimizu's work. While Mr. Shimizu's usual flair for aesthetics and atmospheric dread are certainly present, this is a by the numbers horror film with a predictable twist, that is overly foreshadowed, and devoid of scares. On the positive side, at least this is the first time I get to address the luscious Jamie Chung in action; we'll be seeing more of her at some point, that's for sure.

The story is that the whitest-looking flight to Tokyo appears to be haunted by something. Here we go again--Sam...Dean, you boys ready? The film spends a lot of time establishing the cornball drama of the characters and feels all too reminiscent of "Lost." Also, most of the characters have no discernible reason why they would be going to Tokyo in the first place. Honeymoons? Nice try coming from characters who don't appear they would appreciate Japan. The main red herring is a weird guy, with a wooden box, who is the first to die in a mysterious fashion. Considering the twist, I still don't get what happened to this guy, but, needless to say, he has no bearing on the situation. They clear out the top portion of the plane and cluster everyone in one spot together; this hardly matters because the continuity on the positioning of the passengers is terrible.

Later on, there is a loss of air pressure on the plane, but they soon stabilize. A huge douchebag uses this opportunity to steal the red herring's watch, but he, of course, goes bye bye. It's never explicitly addressed, and I will explain it since the film didn't bother to, but people clearly begin to disappear at this point. The main cast thinks this has something to do with the red herring, and they go through his luggage to find a weird doll; would have been infinitely cooler if they found Kayako's diary instead. More people get picked off by the ghost, or whatever the hell it is, as you should start to realize the twist; the characters begin to let go of their drama right before disappearing. Big surprise, the remaining passengers find their own dead bodies sitting in their seats from when the plane lost air pressure. Oh noooeess, they've been dead all along! In case you still can't figure it out, rest assured, the film spoon-feeds it to you with a news broadcast, that magically comes on, explaining that they all suffocated and that the plane will crash when the fuel runs out. And if that weren't enough of a cliched ending, they still threw in a final zinger of the most annoying character getting killed off (?) at the end. Uhh, that makes no fucking sense if we already know that character is, in fact, dead! Speaking of which, what is this force "killing" everyone? Should I infer that everyone went to hell considering the violent way in which they realize the truth? I suppose the dumbest characters did meet the more horrible fates while the better ones get to disappear into the heavenly sunset. Ehhh...I'm calling bullshit anyway; it was merely a ploy to add scares when there shouldn't have been any.

Hell, if they stuck with the original assertion, of "The Grudge" on a plane, that might have been halfway decent. I felt like they could have done more given the somewhat interesting plot they had to work with. This movie was ridiculously short too, so the fact that the red herring was completely useless only emphasizes the padding. What few scares there were, were all jump scares and weak ones at that. Overall, it was just a big pile of meh and wasted potential. The only real saving graces were the cinematography, creepy music, and decently cute girls like Ms. Chung. Well, if you managed to go the last couple years forgetting all about this film's existence, I'd say continue on with that mindset.

Notable Moment: When the one guy is watching the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" episode from "The Twilight Zone." Yeaaaah...because they would totally play that during a flight. Are you fucking kidding me?!

Final Rating: 5/10

Ms. Chung...the highlight of many mediocre films:

Friday, November 7, 2014

The ABCs of Death 2 Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: An anthology of 26 stories, relating to death, corresponding to each letter of the alphabet.

Review: The general consensus seems to be that this film is significantly better than the first one, but I must humbly disagree. I admittedly went easy on the first film, due to its ambitious nature and attempt at innovation, however, the novelty is no longer there to impress me. While the overall production values appear to have gone up, the competency in storytelling has remained as terrible as the first film. In comparison, something like the "Tales of Terror" franchise is vastly superior to this when working with the same, self-contained, 5 minute shorts. The bare basics of presenting a coherent story are absent from, virtually, half the segments. Likewise, half the segments left me with a "whaaaat?" reaction, and I trust that was not their intention (though, it probably was). I'm sure there will be those that say, "You don't get it," but what's there to get? The directors might find this artsy to show random, nonsensical images and call it a story, but I find it lazy, pretentious, and a waste of potential. Clearly a bunch of the directors were flipping through a thesaurus trying to make their stories feel more meaningful than they actually were. Okay, I'm rattling on--and a little too angrily I might add--so let's get into these bad boys.

A is for Amateur: Thankfully this opening tale was respectable; obviously the most pressure is on A and Z, and both of those succeeded in a way to make the experience feel more pleasant. We are shown an assassin plotting to kill a target, and in his mind things go smoothly in a video game-esque way. When the time comes to actually execute the plan, the assassin runs into all sorts of problems and ends up getting stuck in a vent where he dies slowly. Weeks later, the vent is being cleaned at the behest of the target and the assassin's dead body flies out--somehow managing to fire a bullet from the grave that kills the target anyway. I didn't want things to start off humorous, but this tale did toy with your expectations commendably.

B is for Badger: This wasn't too bad of a followup to the first story as it's straightforward and what I'd expect from a short. A TV crew is trying to shoot a story about a nuclear reactor, and how it has hurt the local wildlife, but the host is acting like a prick. The crew hears a weird growling coming from a hole assumed to be a badger hole; when putting in the boom mic, it is attacked by the creature inside. The host comes back to do another take, and the crew tries to warn him that there's a badger still in the hole. Not caring what the crew has to say, the host goes about his usual way until he is attacked by the mutant badger and ripped in half. This was slightly amusing, had decent gore effects, and was an all around proper short demonstrating an asshole getting his comeuppance.

C is for Capitol Punishment: This was the first of the weaker entries, but it did make sense at least. Townspeople have captured a guy they think killed some girl and interrogate him. When he makes a false confession to get them to take him to the real authorities, they decide to execute him themselves. Of course the guy is actually innocent as others try to save him from getting beheaded. Since the rescuers crash along the way, the guy ends up being decapitated slowly by a guy who doesn't know what he's doing. And that's it. Eh, it's okay, but this probably served more as an effects reel than anything else.

D is for Deloused: This should have been "D is for drugs" as this is what you see when you have a bad LSD trip. I hardly know how to describe this nonsense as it's beyond the realm of normal human thought processes. Hey, I'll give it a little credit for that feat. In claymation, creatures kill one of their people. One of the executioners knocks off his own bolt for a nose that had a bug on it. He squashes the bug that transforms into a giant creature. This resurrects the executed guy who is told, by talking to the giant bug's asshole, that he must kill the others as payback. So he beheads the others and feeds their heads to the bug's ass which has a teddybear inside. Then the teddybear tries to eat the executed guy's head, but he is killed by the torsos of the people he beheaded. Then the bug disappears. Yeah...ummm...okaaaaay? In case you're wondering, "deloused" is the process of removing head lice.

E is for Equilibrium: where's Christian Bale? Two dudes are trapped on a deserted island when they find a beautiful girl washed ashore. The girl likes one of the guys and that hurts the relationship of the two guys. When the two are about to kill each other over the girl, they decide to kill the girl instead. The two men then go back to being best friends and enjoy the island. I read someone conclude this was like a long beer commercial, and that is probably the best way to sum it up.

F is for Falling: Again, this should have been "F is for Fail" as the message was just that. This was trying to make a political statement yet possessed a weird kind of humor. A female, Israeli soldier has her parachute stuck in a tree in Palestinian territory when a young guy finds her. The guy kind of wants to spare her, but doesn't trust her intentions. When he frees her, she breaks her leg and the guy ends up shooting himself. Then the girl just sits there when backup arrives. All right then.

G is for Grandad: This was more played for a gross factor than any kind of coherency. A guy is staying with his grandfather and clearly they hate each other. One night, the guy is talking shit when the grandfather complains from inside the bed. Apparently the grandfather has been sleeping inside the bed each night and is annoyed by the guy jacking off. The grandfather then kills the guy, because the grandfather has no dick, for whatever reason, and is jealous the guy could beat his meat. Oh good lord. I'm just so glad they zoomed in on grandpa's balls...

H is for Head Games: I can't even explain this shit. Two horribly animated faces are fighting each other...literally. Like, pieces of their faces are breaking off and attacking the other face. That's it. If they're not going to try, why should I?

I is for Invincible: Four people are waiting for their grandma to die, so they can take their inheritance, but nothing seems to kill her. She's burned, she's beheaded, etc., but nothing keeps her down probably due to this magic stone in her mouth. At the end, the stone is passed to one of the chicks and that's the end. Whatever, dude.

J is for Jesus: It's like they were mad they didn't get "P is for Pretentious" or something. Some guy is being exorcised by his father simply for being gay, and apparently they murdered the guy's lover. During the exorcism, the guy magically undergoes stigmata as they torture him profusely. At some point, the guy's undead lover appears, looking like zombie-Jesus, and kills the dad and his priest flunky. Then zombie-Jesus transfers his tattoo to the main guy. 'Kay. I did like the visceral nature of the cinematography though.

K is for Knell: This had a lot of potential, but they ended it far too short. A girl notices a strange, black orb floating high above the adjacent apartment complex. Once it disappears, the girl sees the residents all turn on each other and kill whoever was living with them. Then the girl hears a knock at her door and finds a black ooze coming through the cracks. For some reason she spontaneously starts bleeding and her blood mixes with the ooze. And that's it, baby. They could have done a lot more with this idea, but I will give more credit for the appealing aesthetics. Once more, if you're wondering, knell is in reference to the sound of a bell ringing when someone dies.

L is for Legacy: I honestly have no fucking clue what the hell is going on here. For like the third or fourth time already, some guy is getting executed to make room for a new king or whatever. They spare the guy, and, then, all of a sudden, there is a monster running around killing people by means of laughable effects. Is it, like, considered avant-garde or something not to utilize the basic "beginning-middle-end" concept of storytelling?

M is for Masticate: Going for the Will Ferrell brand of comedy, we see a hairy, flabby, asshole-looking zombie running around town while wearing piss-stained underwear and nothing else. This zombie ends up attacking a guy and chewing on his face before being shot in the head by a cop. Then we cut to earlier and the guy was simply doing "bath salts." Ehhh, the punchline was admittedly funny, so I will cut them some slack; but this wasn't original by any stretch of the imagination. And yet again, in case you're wondering, masticate is another word for chewing.

N is for Nexus: After showing titties for no discernible reason, we see that a couple, dressed as Frankenstein's monster and the bride, are getting ready for Halloween. They are meeting up wherever, but the guy is falling behind as he takes to his bike. This is overlapped with a cabdriver not paying attention to the road as he's trying to do a crossword puzzle where the answer is "nexus." Of course this leads to the two parties crossing paths as the guy is run over along with some kid. While the story is pointless and missed the opportunity to toy with expectations, I can't deny it was decent. I liked that it was Halloween, the joke about "be my valenstein," the fact that they incorporated their word into the story meaningfully, and the banter you hear from people in the background. These details go a long way for me.

O is for Ochlocracy (mob rule): I really liked this one for its cleverness. In a post-zombie apocalypse, the zombies have been restored to be normal again and are putting people on trial for their actions during the apocalypse. The zombies are bitter that they were carelessly shot in the head, many times, as they execute the kind of lone wolf survivors that typically make up zombie fiction. Again with the execution plot device...what the fuck? Anyway, the story is mostly straightforward with an over the top sense of humor. I liked that they presented a world where people managed to fix the zombies after all since that is always proposed yet never pans out in zombie media. More bizarre, this segment ends with the implication that the restored zombies have created zombies that want to eat other zombies.

P is for P-P-P-P Scary!: This is, by far, and unquestionably, the most idiotic segment between both films combined! P-P-P-P FUCK YOU! Even something as stupid as the "Head Games" portion at least knew to cut it short whereas this piece of shit is long. Wannabe, big-nosed, Three Stooges appear to have found themselves in the fucking "further" from "Insidious" as they come across a river dancing Mr. Rogers. These stuttering bastards then get liquified as Mr. Rogers keeps blowing out their lantern; keep in mind they pretentiously put this in black and white (and I need to stop saying pretentious, but they keep forcing me!). When the last moron is about to die, Mr. Rogers holds up a baby that looks like him and blows out the lantern once more. Grrrrrr...can't...control...urge to kill.

Q is for Questionnaire: A random guy decides to take a free intelligence test setup like Lucy from Peanuts or something. As the guy proves himself time and time again, we cut back and forth to shots of the guy having his brain cut out of his skull. Eventually he gets a perfect score and is asked to come with Lucy to hear about job opportunities; at the same time, we see that he's a part of an experiment to transplant his brain into an ape. While this was pretty stupid with a cheap, store-bought mask for the ape, I can't deny the questions being asked were fun to think there's that.

R is for Roulette: Two guys and a girl are down in a basement playing Russian roulette...sounds like the setup to a joke, huh? They're dressed like it's the '40s or something, but I don't know if we are intended to infer more from that or not. As they take their turns, it comes down to the last guy stuck with the final pull that obviously has the bullet in the chamber. Instead, he shoots the girl in the head but in a way as if this is sparing her. We then hear ruckus upstairs as the two men are now worried "they" heard the gunshot. I suppose we could assume a great number of things were waiting upstairs for them. Not too bad when all things are considered.

S is for Split: I think this is arguably the best segment since it had a cool twist and was really fucked up as well. It kind of feels like "Taken" at first as a husband, away on business, and the wife, home alone, are talking on the phone when someone breaks in. After much chase, the wife is beaten to death with a hammer and then you hear a baby crying. The person that broke in then kills the baby cruelly. The killer picks up the phone, takes off the mask, and it is revealed to be a woman. The killer then says she wants the guy to put her husband on. It would seem that the "away on business" idea was a ruse as the two husbands were cheating on their wives with one another. The serious and dark tone leaves a lasting impression for sure, and this little tale put most of these entries to complete shame.

T is for Torture Porn: This was wasted potential like no one's business. A girl, seemingly being taken advantage of for an acting job or something, reveals she is some kind of monster. Before you can even figure out what the fuck is going on the girl has a bunch of tentacle dicks raping all the dudes. Or, at least, that's what I think happened as it was impossible to see through all the seizure-inducing, flashing lights. I'm sure this was supposed to be making a statement in someone's mind--somewhere--but I think they could have done a lot more with this setup. The girl's eyes were cool though.

U is for Utopia: I guess this was intended to be "Gattaca 2: The Later Years" as we see a world populated by, alleged, beautiful people. When a flabby and balding dude appears, he is immediately dispatched of by a little cremation machine. Would he really have made it that far in life though? If more went on in this tale, I'd be more inclined to like it, but it felt shallow and empty. Props though to the disproportionate amount of Asian babes in this future.

V is for Vacation: Two "bros" are vacationing in...uhh, Cambodia one guy is trying to video chat with his girlfriend or wife or whatever. The guy's friend steals the phone and reveals they've been doing drugs and fucking prostitutes. Gee, what did you think was going to happen, hun? The bros were either going to go brokeback on your ass or this--come on. Through zany antics, the guy punches one of the prostitutes--leading to the other prostitute stabbing the guy's friend with a screwdriver. Then this leads to the main guy falling off a balcony. I suppose they were trying to create a disturbing sense of realism, but they missed the mark. I'm sure people will love the lingering shot of that one chick's cooch though.

W is for Wish: This was the closest call for best entry besides "Split." Two kids are basically living out a parody for a "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" toy commercial when they are sucked into the actual fictional world. Those who grew up, or are at least familiar, with He-Man, should find this amusing as hell. The kids see all manner of fucked up shit as they realize things are not all it's cracked up to be in toy form. In the end, one of the kids gets killed and the other one is captured by the He-Man equivalent to get molested or something. The acting from the kids was great, and they offered up subtle tricks that work wonders. I just have to hand it to the production value for a short that probably only had a couple thousand dollars to work with. Astounding.

X is for Xylophone: A creepy-looking babysitter is watching a little girl who is playing with, you guessed it, a xylophone. I guess the babysitter became annoyed or jealous or whatever and kills the little girl. The parents come home and find the babysitter who is trying to look like the little girl and is using the girl's bones as a makeshift xylophone. Uh huh. I don't get the gothic look to the setting when it made little sense in the context. Plus, wasn't Disney, of all people, the first to have a xylophone made of bones? Whatever, dude.

Y is for Youth: A bitter schoolgirl is writing in her text diary, I guess, using graphic imagery to describe the misdeeds of her parents. Corresponding to this narration, we see her visions coming to life in a surprisingly creative way. I mean, let's face it, how often do you see a giant cheeseburger try to eat someone and a vacuum cleaner made of fries? In the end, we can assess that the girl has been cutting herself to cope with these problems, but now she decides to stand up for herself and say no more. While the themes are tired, I can't help but appreciate the visuals. Once more, this was a properly self-contained entry that still had something interesting to offer.

Z is for Zygote: Okay, finally, we are at the end of the line. As I've already mentioned, this last segment was pretty good which helped ease the overall experience. The best way I could describe this entry would be as a modern-day, creepy fairytale. A man goes off into the harsh wilderness as he leaves his pregnant wife behind. Before he leaves, he gives her some roots or something to eat that will magically slow down the birth. We then skip to 13 years later and the woman still hasn't given birth. The child has grown into a talking teenager within the womb, and the two are still waiting for the father to return before giving birth. One day, the roots run out and the mother resists giving birth, but the child wants to come out and takes over the mother's body. This is a well shot scene as the internal organs are thrown out of the mother's mouth as the child fills herself (?) within the mother's skin. Once the child has fully become one with the mother's body, and cut away the excess flesh, the dumbass father finally comes home as if it's only been a day or two. The child/mother tells the father that she had to cut the kid out, and the father just says they'll make another as the two are about to bang. Well, okay, maybe it's a really, really fucked up fairytale, but it had a certain whimsical aspect to it. This was also another contender for best segment, but I think "Split" is more memorable.

If you managed to sit through the nearly 25 minutes of credits, there is a scene after the credits showing a guy jacking off to the "Torture Porn" segment. Hmm, interesting. In the end, I just couldn't see this to be as good as part one; and I'm not even necessarily saying one was good...merely that it was original. I think the deciding factor of why this felt worse to me was because I could not picture any of these segments as full-length features whereas part one had a couple of amazing stories worthy of expansion. I still appreciate the effort that went into assembling this movie, but this isn't going to go over well with casual viewers and the pretentiousness is pushing it for horror fans. I get that they want the directors to have creative freedom, but there should be more of a focus than simply "make it about death;" you know, like presenting a proper narrative structure. Well regardless of my opinions, if enough people are enjoying this one, we will probably get a third entry that I'll check out.

Notable Moment: A toss up between the man-eating cheeseburger in "Youth" and the the off-the-cuff reaction from one of the kids in "Wish."

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Thursday, November 6, 2014

V/H/S: Viral Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The third entry in the found-footage, anthology series.

Review: Wow, what a huge ass letdown--I was really looking forward to this film too. I loved the first "V/H/S," and even though the second one was disappointing, it at least fit the themes established in part one. This third entry is a complete mess to the point that an entire segment appears to have been cut (Gorgeous Vortex), or saved, for the theatrical release. More so, this film feels watered down in respect to the quality and effort put forth in crafting the stories; perhaps a ploy to appeal to a wider audience? The violence is toned down and implements CGI almost exclusively in comparison to the original's practical effects that established a, borderline, snuff film presentation. Hell, the segments aren't even on VHS for Rika's sake! Kind of defeats the purpose of the premise, don't ya think? The wraparound makes no sense and does absolutely nothing to link the stories in the way the original could. There also appeared to be a distinct attempt at adding humor which, I think goes without saying, was completely unnecessary. Seriously, what the fuck were they thinking with this? Well, let's see what we have here as we swan dive into the shallow end.

Vicious Circles: This segment serves as the wraparound and surprisingly had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, the storyline is so jumbled and incoherent you won't know what's happening, why it's happening, or who are any of the know, those pesky things incredibly important to basic storytelling! What I can decipher from my viewing is that someone or something is trying to upload the videos from the franchise to the internet. Apparently this will inexplicably destroy the world and is already wreaking havoc in the immediate area as people are affected from watching the videos. The main guy, his girlfriend, and random friends appear to be the cause for all of these shenanigans, but we get only the tiniest of inference in this regard. What we are shown is that there is an ice cream truck driving in circles around the town, and the main guy and the friends try to stop it as the girlfriend is abducted. After finally tracking down the ice cream truck, the main guy realizes that there's a computer setup inside with a comically stupid button that needs to be pressed in order to upload the videos to the internet. A monitor shows the girlfriend beating herself to death unless the guy presses the button which he does. No one else could press this stupid button besides the main guy? This of course leads to the end of the world. That's pretty much all we get, and I'm making assumptions based on what I already know about the franchise; I'd imagine it's more confusing if this is your first foray into the "V/H/S" universe.

I've read fan theories trying to make sense of this wraparound, but I think they are reaching for the stars. The main speculation tends to be that the mystery person who set up the guys in the first film really wanted the tapes in order to make use of their influence when being watched (as shown in part 2). I can't agree with that. The first guys were deliberately shown to be assholes, and someone knew they'd end up getting killed if they went to that old man's house; it seemed like a simple revenge plot. Think about it...the first film mentioned only a single, vague tape, and when the guys got there it was an entire collection. Then, while sorting through the needle in a haystack, the guys were each picked off. If someone legitimately wanted a tape, they would have been specific and warned those assholes of the danger. As for part 2, it made little sense and simply implied watching the tapes too long could make you like the zombie guy from part one. I think it's a bit of a stretch to take such little information and interpret that as an end of the world scheme by means of hijacking an ice cream truck, as you convert the VHS tapes to digital media, then needing a random dude (who probably collected the tapes) to press a Looney Tunes-esque button to upload it to the internet rather than doing it yourself. And if this is what I was genuinely supposed to surmise from the three films, well fuck that shit.

Dante the Great: This was probably the only segment I enjoyed, and it wasn't as good as it should have been. In fact, the story felt like a cross between "Chronicle" and an episode from, one of my favorite childhood shows, "Are You Afraid of the Dark;" more precisely, the "Tale of the Dark Music." I'd recommend checking that episode out since it was one of the best episodes, decently scary, and one of the few instances with a confirmed kill/murder in it. Anyway, the story is about a loser who comes into possession of a magic cloak that can pretty much make you omnipotent. They allude to the notion that Houdini once had the cloak but was scared of its power. So the loser decides to turn himself into the world's most famous magician and becomes an overnight sensation since he's using real magic--hence, Dante the Great. However, the cost for these extraordinary powers is that you must feed the cloak a victim as it's possessed by a demon or something. Okay, maybe they borrowed a bit from "Friday the 13th: The Series" as well. Dante is turned over to the police by his favorite assistant when she discovers the video collection of all the kills he's performed; not sure why he'd keep those but okay. Of course Dante can't be stopped by mere mortals and tries to kill the assistant who knows the cloak is the source of the power. The way she manages to hold her own in the fight is by grabbing the cloak so she can also use the power. Because of contrivances, Dante never kills the assistant when he has the chance and finally decides to feed her to the demon contained within. Don't ask me how, but the assistant manages to summon up magic without the cloak that forces Dante to be fed to the demon. After burning the cloak, it reappears in the assistant's closet and the demon eats her. Yeah, whatever. In the end, this is a decent story with some interesting effects and ideas. They did at least use VHS tapes during this segment, but that is ruined by the fact that the story is presented in a documentary style which is completely contradictory to the theme of the damned franchise! Nobody thought that was a problem?

Parallel Monsters: I really wanted to like this entry, because it had an imaginative concept, but it was too nonsensical to tolerate. A, seemingly, genius inventor has created a gateway to a parallel universe at the exact same moment his other self bridged the gap. Basically, this segment requires suspension of disbelief in godlike proportions. The two geniuses talk to one another momentarily about how similar their lives are and decide to spend 15 minutes in each other's world. I don't know about you, but an alternate version of myself is one of the last people I'd ever trust! Upon entering the other world, the inventor notices immediate differences despite having the same house and furniture. We come to learn that this is a kind of satanic world, where people glow randomly, coupled with the idea that humans have evolved to be more dangerous sexually; this translates into males having tentacle-like dicks with a mouth or hand or whatever the fuck, and the chicks have Venus flytrap cooters. Uhh...okaaaay? The inventor from our world tries to get the fuck out while the other version tries to fuck our inventor's wife. Our inventor beats up the other world's wife, and when both return to their own world their wives kill them. Riiight. Let me get this straight: in a parallel world, where humans evolved differently and can glow, they still somehow created a form of satanism, practice it--and, in light of this, the inventor lived the same life as our guy, married the same chick, lived in the same house, bought the same furniture, speaks the same language, and invented a machine to open up dimensions at the exact moment in time as our guy?! Sounds legit. Suffice it to say, creative premise, but the implausibility and outlandish nature of the tale is hard to get past.

Bonestorm: Finally, we come to the worst of the bunch. I feel as though they were trying to harken back to the likes of "Evil Dead 2" but failed miserably to capture the balance between comedy and horror. The story is that a couple of dumbass skateboarders are being filmed by a random dude wanting them to get hurt. Somehow they are talked into going to Mexico with an extra kid in, what I'm assuming was, an effort to increase their chances of getting hurt for the footage. While in Mexico, the kids find a place to skateboard around which just happens to coincide with a satanic ritual to bring forth or awaken a demon or the devil or whatever. A witch-like lady rips off the camera guy's arm and then a bunch of zombie acolytes attack the skateboarders. The skateboarders manage to beat up all the minions and kill them numerous times, but they keep returning in a slightly more zombified form each time. I guess it's supposed to be funny that these kids are kicking ass; the only thing that made me laugh was that they kept referring to their extra guy as "gas money kid" or simply "gas money." Eventually the two skateboarders escape, but the demon thing is awakened and the segment ends. I don't know about this one. It feels like it was deliberately made to pander to the CoD demographic--kids who probably never even watched a VHS tape in their life. I could almost get behind the sheer, zany antics of the scenario, but it was too long, too stupid, and I have a special hatred for anthologies putting their weakest entry last.

I did want to mention I have no plans in paying for a theatrical viewing simply to check out "Beautiful Vortex" (assuming it's included to begin with). Even if it's the, hands down, best best, I'd change the rating up to a 6/10. Honestly, the only reason I rated the film this high already was due to the "Dante the Great" segment. Overall, the stories were a noticeable downgrade even from part 2, the film didn't remain true to the franchise, and it's simply not worth your time unless you're a diehard fan of the other two films. If this is the last entry in the franchise, I don't think anyone will care when the quality has plummeted this significantly from film to film. Oh well.

Notable Moment: When Dante and his assistant are fighting over the cloak. It was cool in theory, but the idea was not entirely thought out it would appear.

Final Rating: 5/10