Sunday, September 18, 2016

Don't Breathe (2016)

One of the things I have realized that separates James Wan from many of the other film makers these days in Horror is that he knows to make us care. He gives us flesh and blood characters and takes the time to give us reasons to care about these people. His recent The Conjuring 2 ran for a longer duration than most horror films (2 hours and 14 minutes), but a good amount of that time was character building. We had to care about the family to have sufficient care and fear for their well being. Unless the creative minds are only interested in giving the viewer a blood bath, we need to be invested in the characters.

This is a crucial element to these films, and one that Don't Breathe was daring enough to take a gamble on as to what makes us like our characters in peril. For some people this gamble will fall flat on its face, for others it will be a strong point of the movie and one to be respected.

The movie has a basic set-up: three friends (Rocky, Money, and Alex) in Detroit who are burglars decide to break into the house of an older person to steal the money he was recently awarded in the wrongful death of his daughter. This, however, is just the outer layer of an extremely layered movie that keeps your allegiance switching.

When we first meet our three friends we are in the middle of a burglary. In this scene we are given reasons to dislike the friends along with the simple fact that they are criminals(one of them urinates all over the house). But right after this scene it is established that they are doing these robberies as a way to escape the Hell that Detroit is portrayed as, and to escape the Hell that one of them lives in (she has a verbally, possibly physically, abusive and neglectful mother and a little sister caught in the Hell).

So now we are stuck with an internal conflict. As we get to know the characters we come to understand them and their motives. We are able to empathize with them. They have a moral code to what they do (aside from Money, played by Daniel Zovatto) and are only in the crimes to get just what they need. They refuse to take money until this job comes along, but they intend this to be the last. The fact that Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Rocky (Jane Levy) seem like decent enough people stuck in an ugly world is what the movie is hoping to make stick in your head.

Once inside the house Money spies on the old man, who is sleeping. In this scene we have a sympathy for the man. We find out just before we break into the house that he is blind, and seeing him sleeping peacefully works on our psyche quite well. We fear for the old man at this moment, even if we have seen the commercials and know that he will be turning into something entirely different.

This is also another area that the movie succeeds on. If you have seen the commercials you probably have it in your head that the blind man (as his name is in the credits) is a soulless killing machine. This is not so true. The blind man is played with staggering intensity, void of almost all dialogue until we get a short little explanation out of him, by Stephen Lang. The fact that Lang is 62 years old is amazing, considering his build in this movie is that of a brick wall. But the blind man also has a very, very, very dark side, but believes he is doing right and that he, in his own words, is "not a monster."

We spend our movie torn between fear for our friends in peril, and yet at the same time wondering if we should be so worried about them, as they are criminals themselves. But do they deserve this? Then we are torn thinking that the blind man has a right to defend his house, but then the other secrets appear and we don't want to stand too close to him, but then he states his case, and we can kind of understand his pain a bit, but not that much.

The whole dang movie is a tug of war on loyalties for the spectator. The movie shows us that everybody has a skeleton or two (and some of those skeletons might be quite vile) or that good and evil aren't always so easy to decipher.

Now, that isn't to say that this will be the case for everybody. Some people might just as easily watch this film, meet our motley crew, and decide that they all are rotten examples of people and be turned off by the fact that we have to spend time with them. The only really innocent character (aside from the little sister) is the blind man's dog, but even that is an instrument of terror in the movie.

Don't Breathe is an extremely powerful and brutal movie. The viewer is on the edge of their seat within 10 minutes of starting. How powerful of a film it is emotionally for the viewer depends 100% on your acceptance of spending time with criminals and if you are able to find sympathy or empathy for people who make a living our of ruining the lives of others.

I liked it a good amount, but that internal struggle is what keeps me from going for full marks. I am still not sure how I felt about the people, and wasn't as wrapped up in their future as I am with certain other films. At the end I didn't have the relief or anger that I might have had if I had been completely invested in the safety of somebody. As it was it ended with a shrug of my shoulders and a thought of "O.K., good luck," and that was about it.

(By the way, there are a lot of similarities between this and The Collector. Both deal with people trapped in a house, a silent killer, bad guys portrayed as good guys because they do what they do for possible good reasons. The Collector got a slightly higher mark for its ridiculous over the top side.)

*** 1/2 our of *****

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Collector (2009)

Yes, I am late to this party. At the time of the release of this I was rather sick of the torture-porn thing. I am still not a big fan of it, but I have heard enough positive stuff about this one to decide to finally give it a try.

A family moves into a house and is having some work done (or maybe they were just having work done . . . I missed if they had just moved in . . . just assuming here). The exterminators are there, as is the home security guy (name of Arkin). Arkin (played by Josh Stewart) seems to hit is off well with the little girl in the house, much to the disapproving eye of the dad.

We come to find out that Arkin is also a burglar and is planning to rob the house that night to pay off a loan shark his wife (ex-wife? girlfriend?) in debt to. The loan shark isn't crazy about the deal, but Arkin insists. He is given until midnight to produce the goods.

Once Arkin breaks into the house, well, things kind of go wrong. Very, very, very wrong.

If Rube Goldberg had been a sociopath he would adore this movie. It is one vicious mouse trap after another. But this is also a key point of criticism for the movie. How on earth did all of this stuff get put into place in the short time it seems to have shown up? This is a question that might nag at he back of your brain, but then you get hit by so much horrendous stuff that you start to forget that you had any complaints. You just kind of shrug your shoulders, let your stomach churn from your nerves going crazy and from the brutality on screen.

To say this film is "brutal" would be an understatement. Yet, at the same time, it is very nice to look at thanks to inventive camera angles and set-ups. It is the same kind of style that Saw managed. One can be horrified by what is on screen, but then one starts to admire the look of the film.

I have seen a lot written on the gore. But here is the thing, the extent of the gore is a LOT of blood, and some intestines. But with really don't see what I would consider ground breaking gore. The guts had been spilled, so don't expect gore as in the zombie sitting up and guts spilling out in Day of the Dead. We do get a scene with sutures, but it isn't worse than what we have seen before. The gore in this film is accentuated by the brutality surrounding it, the attitude surrounding it all. It is one of those cases where what we see is not as vicious as what our minds make us think we see. Don't get me wrong, this isn't Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Halloween (two films severely lacking in blood even though the common population thinks they are blood baths). There is blood (lots of it), there are swollen faces, sutures, slashes, guts, all sorts of gross things. These things, however, were simple achievements for any up and coming FX artist.

The Collector stakes its claim on inventive kills and traps. The film was originally conceived as a prequel to Saw, and that makes sense in many areas. It looks and feels like Saw, and shares the inventiveness of that movie. The main difference is that this killer seems to act without a motive. He never speaks and we have no real idea why he is doing what he is doing. The poster says "He only takes one," but I am not sure where that is established. Maybe the man in the box said it to Arkin and I missed it?

The Collector is a solid movie. Full-on intensity from the second we enter the house to steal until the very end. If you can stand your movies with a whole lot of brutality, then I highly suggest you track it down and spend a bit of time with this movie. But if the idea of a man falling onto a floor full of bear traps and having one snap on his legs, arms, face, etc. (OK, maybe there is some intense gore . . . ) isn't your idea of fun family viewing entertainment, you might want to move along. I, personally, look forward to seeing The Collection, the sequel, which I have heard is better than this one.

Film viewed on Shudder.

**** out of *****

The House at the End of Time (2013)

This is going to be a short review. I really don't want to say too much, as the less you know the greater the pay-off is with this movie.

A woman is convicted of killing her husband and doing something with her son. This comes after the death of another one of her children.

The woman is released to house arrest 30 years later, the same house where things went wrong. Once there she is visited by a strange spiritual figure and odd things begin to happen.

To say much more than that would be to possibly open up aspects of the movie that you want left closed until it is time for the movie to reveal them to you. The movie is true poetry, and an absolutely gorgeous film. It walks the grand tradition of the best European films in that it is just as much Fairy Tale as it is Horror.

The movie comes with one of the greatest endings I have ever seen on a movie. One that is almost equal parts crushing and beautifully hopeful. An ending that doesn't tell us what is happening, but simply shows us with two little gestures that link back to earlier parts of the movie. I watched the movie with my 13 year-old son, and when these two things happened he just screamed "NO WAY!" and almost began to cry. Seriously, just a beautiful ending.

I can't recommend this movie highly enough. It is on both Netflix and Shudder right now. Don't be fooled by the silly poster on those two sites. There is no Ring like generic spirit in the movie.

**** 1/2 out of *****

They're Watching (2016)

They're Watching is a unique film in that it gives us three movies in one. How successful each movie is depends on what the viewer is hoping for in any of the three things. For me, it is very successful in two aspects, and then falls flat on its face in the third.

The movie starts as a subtle parody on the home improvement variety of reality TV shows. We are treated to a couple looking to buy a "fixer-upper" and find the most horrendous of such houses in the woods of Moldova. As we walk around the house and property the boyfriend looks understandably disgusted by the property, while his girlfriend starts to suddenly be quite fond. The look on his face at the end of this segment, in reaction to her love of the property, is worth the beginning in itself.

The film then switches to a found footage style movie as we join the television crew as they are prepping for a return visit to see how the couple has fared in their rehabilitation of the house. This is where the movie remains for the bulk of its running time.

We return to the village and are greeted by a village that one usually expects to meet in a horror film based in a small town. The people are all stand-offish and look distrusting towards the outsiders. The only exception to the rule is our real estate agent who was along for the original home improvement episode, Vladimir.

The film builds a great amount of unease and creepy feeling through this whole portion of the movie. We follow the film crew around and things slowly begin to go wrong. It is a nice slow build, but once the film decides to hand out the pay-out, it goes ballistic.

This is where the movie will either become the greatest movie you have ever seen, or it will become a crushing disappointment. The movie runs the whole time with a pleasant little bit of humor. It never delivers huge belly laughs, but it is obvious the movie has a sense of humor. But it also has its horror. The filmmakers had a choice at the end to either go full Horror, or to turn things around and go comedy. They decided to do the latter, and the whole ending is full of the most absurd CGI to be seen since 1995. The ridiculous nature of what we see ruins much of the dread of the beginning.

This ending will be a treasure for those who were enjoying the jokes and humor of the first portion of the movie. The enjoyment for the viewer depends on where he/she was during the whole movie and which aspect was working for said person. I loved the beginning spoof of the reality show, and I also enjoyed the slight humor with the growing dread. The ending did not work for me at all. I got a couple of chuckles, but I was disappointed that it turned out as it did. The movie does come recommended, but I suggest you prepare for a rather unique ending that will either completely ruin the movie, or make your day.

Film viewed on Netflix.

*** out of *****

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Summer 2016 movie run down

Holy cow! I haven't done diddly with this blog since 2011!?! That's crazy. Funny, because I did just watch The Reef again the other day. First time since I reviewed it down below.

So, in an attempt to get this site moving again I am going to just do a small run down of the theatrical releases I have seen this summer. Just a few short little reviews.

I will be using a five star system for all reviews. Keep that in mind for the future. Don't forget.

Captain America: Civil War ****
At the time I was convinced this was the best there was. But then I realized I was not itching to get back to the theater to see it again, unlike Winter Soldier. So, all things considered, I obviously loved the film at the time, but it didn't have the impact I felt it may have at first. W.S. is a ***** film for sure. So, great movie, however not quite the best.

X-Men: Apocalypse ***
This thing was torn to shreds by a lot of people, but I kind of liked it. No, Apocalypse does not look as good as he does in the books. That being said, I did like how Oscar Isaac played the part. He was fairly evil. The rest of the cast did a fine job. Yes, there were faults and the movie kind of hovers between parts 1 and 2, and First Class and Days. Certain parts I enjoyed more, but as a whole those other four films were more solid.

Independence Day: Resurgence **
Is anybody actually expecting good reviews for this movie? The movie was pretty bad. But, it does succeed in a "so bad it is good" way. This is one of those that 20 years from now it will have a small cult following. Incredibly stupid, super silly acting at times, FX that range from good to good but obviously CGI. The movie lacks the visual depth of the first one due to being so CGI heavy. Saving grace: the ending features a giant monster alien.

Star Trek Beyond ****
Might be my favorite Star Trek film. Oh, I know, it doesn't have the cast that I grew up with, but I think that is OK. I still prefer the original TV show to all of the movies, so I think I can say that of the movies this was the one I enjoyed the most. I do think I should watch Wrath of Khan again before making my final proclamation. But then again, I don't think anybody will ever take me to task for stating which one I prefer over the other. So sure, Beyond is the best.

Lights Out *** 1/2
I think the fine folk on Horror News Radio dubbed this one best. They referred to it as Jump Scare the Movie. The premise of the movie is a monster that appears only in the dark, which basically means that the whole movie will be using the jump scare quite a bit. It does a decent job of building a creepy factor by making the viewer not trust any dark spaces on film, but the actual scares are all jump. One has to admire the film's ability at being creative with the jumps. The film has also taken a cue from James Wan (who did produce) in that the makers realize that to make us care we have to like the characters. The characters in the movie are all likable, with the weak spot being the son, Martin. But as a whole the film is a pretty good movie that leads to a fun viewing experience.

The Conjuring 2 ****
The first film is, in my opinion, possibly the scariest film ever made. Yes, I place it above The Exorcist. I had seen very few of the commercials and sadly missed seeing it in the theater, so my first viewing was on my couch, in the dark, all around the hour of midnight. Scared the living snot out of me. That dang hand clap scene made me launch myself off the couch and scream. No hyperbole there.
This one is an incredibly creepy and unsettling film. It succeeds in making us love the characters and actually care about them. There aren't any scenes that sent me out of my seat, but I felt like I was about to for a good amount of the run time. Even the lighter scenes had a feeling of dread wandering through them.
A solid cast, some amazing FX work, a creepy feeling throughout makes this one a total winner. James Wan has proven himself to be an important figure in horror. I only hope he has realized that horror is his home and where he should always be returning to for more scares.

Jason Bourne *** 1/2
Matt Damon returns as the killing machine in human form, Jason Bourne. This time out he is in search of finding out just who exactly he is and what happened to him and his father. He is aided in his quest by people within the CIA who want to do right, or so we (and he, kind of) believe.

Yes, the plot is similar to every other one of these movies, yes some of what happens is a bit ridiculous (why the Dodge Charger he steals never deploys its airbag after he has rammed into everything under the sun in Las Vegas is beyond me). But the action is still intense enough and fun enough to keep the viewer appeased. No, it is not the best of the Bourne movies and they are running out of steam, but my wife and I both had fun with this one.

Because this is my blog, I am including a movie I did see in the theater this summer, even though it is not a new release.

Planet of the Apes *****
The original. The classic. The perfect film. In my world this film sits alongside films like Jaws, Dawn of the Dead, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Psycho, Creature from the Black Lagoon, War of the Worlds (Pal). There is no such thing as seeing this movie "too many times." The music, the acting, the set design. The make-up. Oh, that make-up. This and the Gill Man. Oh my. Two make-ups I could look at for hours and hours. This is why I adore every movie, and the TV show, from the original run. That make-up.
This was seen during the recent TCM theatrical run. Not too much to say about it. My blu-rays probably looked a little bit better than this showing, but it still looked great. But the film is the film and it was great seeing it on the big screen.
One thing that was a bit of added fun was the interview with Dr. Zaius before and after the movie. Obviously this was not Maurice Evans as Zaius, but rather comedian Dana Gould. Gould is an Apes fanatic and considered one of the top POTA experts alive today. His interview was both comedy (acting as the real Zaius and playing it as he was hired to play the part and is a real ape, as were all of the other ape characters) and bit of real factual information. It was a fun way to present some behind the scenes information.
Apes still rule!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Draculas - Strand, Crouch, Wilson, and Kilborn.

Really quick, I just want to give a quick tip o' the hat to the book I am immersed in right now.

Draculas might be one of the most over-the-top books I have read. I am not so sure I have ever read a book that has one speed, and one intensity level only, before. In our first chapter we are introduced to Mortimer, an elderly gent who is dying of cancer. Mort's idea of a cure is to buy up a recently found skull that is thought to be the skull of Dracula. Mort's plan? Why clamp the thing to his throat and see what happens!

What happens is pretty much the entire rest of the book. Mort executes his plan within the first few pages of the book, and the rest of the book is a hospital trying to deal with what he did. What he did was create a draculas outbreak that is just non-stop carnage.

The book is a group effort by Jeff Strand, Jack Kilborn, F. Paul Wilson, and Blake Crouch. Each author handles a chapter a piece. Each chapter is broken into different characters. Remember sitting in class and writing a sentence, then passing it to a friend and having them add a sentence, then they pass it to somebody else and they add a sentence, until the story gets back and what is left is a wacky little tale? That is what has been done here, or so it seems. Does it work? Yes, the feel of fun is all over this book. It is more than obvious that the writers were having a blast, and the reader is right there along with them. Just don't expect anything enlightening, and the ride will be a ton of fun.

The book, by the way, is only available digital, so some form of digital reading device is needed.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Idle for so long.

I am not too sure how many folks out there might be reading this blog, but I still feel I owe a bit of an explanation. This blog has taken a back seat while I am finishing up my current sememster at Northern Illinois University. Once I am done with the current sememster I will be finding myself with almost too much time on my hands, so this blog will be taking off with quite a bit more material.

At the same time, however, part of one of my current classes projects is to create a blog. So that one has currently been taking up my time. That one can be accessed at The site, for the time being, is a reflection of the art class I am involved in. That site will see a topic shift once the semester ends. Eventually that site will be host to two things. First, it will be a location for things that used to appear in my former fanzine, Sonic Ruin. I will be adding reviews and music related items as they come to me. Second, that site will also be the running blog for the "album" I will be working on starting in the next few weeks. Well, I started on it about 6 months ago, but with the coming slow down of school, I intend to dive further into it than I ever did before.

So, there you have it. Yes, exciting stuff, I know. I am a man of adventure, what can I say?