Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Backside of Water

Alright, I'm gonna try something new here. School and work have both been keeping me busy as a worker bee, so I'm gonna expedite my blog process by combining two features together! One of my homework assignments was to watch The African Queen and write a two-page response about the characters' arcs. Normally I'd post a review and an essay post separately, but I'm gonna stick them together as a mini-review/essay feature and see what happens! Let the great experiment begin!

Year: 1951
Director: John Huston
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley
Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

Fun Fact: John Huston, the director famous for his work on the 1980 slasher picture Phobia once directed an obscure adventure flick with Humphrey Bogart! What a skeleton in the closet, am I right?

Really, I'd rather watch Phobia. Not to sound like a classics-hating stabby film-lover, but I found The African Queen to be an absolute slog. Now, although I'm an outspoken opponent of the reign of Citizen Kane, I don't just hate films because they're old. Black and white cinematography doesn't make me want to claw my own eyes out like some of my modern peers.

I'll give anything a chance. Because you never know what you might enjoy. Unfortunately, this film was not it. The story of Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), an alcoholic riverboat captain, and his reluctant companion, poised missionary Rosie Sayer (Katharine Hepburn)'s escape from German-occupied Africa during World War I is interesting enough to support a good 40 minutes of its run time, but can't sustain it much longer than that.

Bogart is hidden behind a pair of false teeth and jokes about indigestion, but manages to keep up with Hepburn. These were two great actors in their prime after all. So there's that. But a leaden adventure gives way to a sallow romance in the least engaging way possible (although the film does give us one of the most hilarious "Escape the Censors" sexual innuendos I've ever seen).

And although this film has a lot to do with female empowerment, a theme far ahead of its time, that fact doesn't make up for the dull exposition and alarmingly consistently incongruous music (Bogart drinking a bottle of gin is given as many minor key bleats and crescendoes as a particularly gruesome Freddy murder).

So, no. I'm not a fan. But hey, the film gets extra points for inspiring the Jungle Cruise. And although it's a low tier classic, it didn't make me want to roll over and die like Lawrence of Arabia. Hooray!

Rating: 5/10

Prompt: How do both characters arc (change their beliefs and actions) and how does their relationship spur and mirror that change? In essence, how does each character affect his/her "flaw" and how does that occur over all three acts? 

[AN: Note how nice I was to the film in my essay. It always pays to brownnose.]

Regarding character, The African Queen is an excellent case study. John Huston’s rollicking African adventure is practically a one room drama, with most of the action taking place between a pair of isolated characters. The plot (two people must escape a river while under siege by German troops) is intentionally simple for the express purpose of allowing the audience more time with the characters and their arcs.

The characters in question are Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), a Canadian riverboat captain and hopeless drunk and Rosie Sayer (Katharine Hepburn), a straight-laced British missionary woman. In the beginning of Act One, the characters are exactly where you’d expect. Rosie is leading a roomful of natives in a hymn, the same thing she has been doing every Sunday for ten years. Charlie is delivering the mail, perturbing Rosie and her brother with his uncouth behavior.

But when the village is destroyed by rampaging German troops and the brother dies of illness, these two are thrown together in a desperate attempt to survive and escape. Throughout their journey, Rosie and Charlie will forge a formidable bond and bring out the best in one another. However, at the beginning of their journey, both man and woman are deeply flawed.

Rosie has never let her hair down. Constantly fussing with her elaborate updo and primly reprimanding Charlie for his behavior, she finds comfort in the manners and routines of her home country. Living for so long with only her brother for company has left her stiff and emotionally unavailable.

Charlie, on the other hand, has never taken responsibility. Sure, he brings the mail in on time, but that’s only because there’s nobody else who wants to do it. He’s living what he considers the good life, chugging up and down the river all day on the African Queen and drinking himself into a stupor. He’s inconsiderate during his brief stay in the Sayer’s home, but only because his laid back life has left him unprepared to care for the feelings of others.

In Act Two, everything begins to change. Rosie and Charlie constantly butt heads due to their inherently different lifestyles, but one rainy night when Rosie demands that Charlie not enter her private (and dry) enclosure, she sees that her rigidity and modesty is wildly inappropriate for the situation. She relents, both literally and figuratively letting him in, allowing him to see the first chink in her armor and finally recognizing his humanity. When the tossing river rapids show her how to have a good time, her change begins in earnest.

On the other hand, Charlie, who has only ever lived a life on his own, begins to understand the needs and desires of this woman whom he has begun to care for. Although he clings to his drink and his rugged lifestyle, Rosie showing her true colors begins to chip away at his hardened façade.

As these two characters feel their carefully constructed realities crumbling around them and realize their attraction for one another, they enter Act Three and will never be the same. The intensity of the journey has worn them to tatters and the two are at the end of their rope.

When push comes to shove, both characters come out on the other side, completely the opposite of the way they were before. Rosie suggests with bravado that they torpedo the invading German ship while Charlie, newly sensitive, thinks she’s insane. Where the adventure charged her batteries, it wore his down and the two find themselves switching positions, only to clash once more.

However, once they are captured and brought aboard the ship, Charlie realizes how lucky he is to be alive and with Rosie. Seeing her face and the new vivaciousness he has bestowed on her spurs him to new fervor as he tries desperately to save their skins. By the successful end of the finale, both characters have completely transformed and blossomed, all thanks to that fateful trip on the African Queen – and into each other’s worlds.
Word Count: 1157

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Pregnancy Scares

Year: 2014
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Cast: Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Sam Anderson
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Alright, all you people complaining about how Devil's Due is a haphazard remake of Rosemary's Baby can stop balking now. It's clearly a haphazard remake of Paranormal Activity 2.

It's not even February yet and we're already into our second found footage release of 2014. Devil's Due, which will go down in history as the god-fearing meat between the bread of the two anemic Paranormal Activity movies they're throwing at us this year, was helmed by the filmmaking collective Radio Silence, the team behind "10/31/98," easily the best vignette in the 2012 found footage anthology V/H/S.

That vignette was largely forgettable (which is, ironically, why it stands out - every other part of the film was memorably atrocious), but was redeemed by a gonzo practical effects-filled ending that was predictable and unshocking but fun enough to avoid leaving a bad taste in the mouth. Clearly Radio Silence didn't want to mess with success and changed their formula not one iota for this found footage "whoops, the devil's in me" thriller.

This is what happens when you have sex without a condom - you get pregnant. Then die.

Devil's Due opens with a creepy shot of a stalker filming a sixteen-year-old girl and her friends through her living room window. When the friends leave, he sneaks up the trellis and into her bedroom, scaring her as she comes out of the shower. It turns out that the stalker is her fiancé coming to surprise her before the wedding and she's not actually a teenager at all, thus providing the first and only shocking twist in the entire film.

Sam (Allison Miller) and Zach (Zach Gilford) are madly in love - and Zach wants to use his new video camera to record all the stupid dumb moments of their wedding week that he never wants to forget. It's actually quite sweet. Unfortunately, from what we see of the tape, he records about seven seconds worth of footage a day, including the wedding and the first half of the honeymoon.

Once the takes get longer, you know something's going down and the couple's honeymoon in beautiful Santo Domingo is shortly derailed by a mysterious cabdriver (Roger Payano) taking them on a detour to an underground party (you'd think that the "hold on, let me unbolt these steel doors and take you into an underground catacomb in a foreign land" part would have turned them off, but darn are those young lovers intrepid). 

This might look like a mere wedding, but it's actually a fierce gauntlet of warriors.

The camera apparently turns itself on and off for several minutes and we capture glimpses of a mysterious cult ritual being performed on an unconscious Sam. Gosh, I wonder what could be happening?

Spoiler alert: She's pregnant. With the Antichrist.

It's really all just so much boilerplate, pulled evenly from the Found Footage and Unimmaculate Conception genres. There's secret cult symbols, creepy watchers, pregnancy complications, mysterious happenings, and plot holes galore. Although there are far fewer holes than in most movies of its ilk, Devil's Due still manages to be unraveled by "the police don't believe Zach's story even though he captured it all on tape and apparently forgot to show them" and "how could a college student and a recent graduate afford this house?"

He pays with kisses.

The movie's biggest flaw is its absolutely poisonous pacing. When the audience has seen it all before, that gives filmmakers a chance to subvert expectations or at least deliver what they want in an expedited manner, skipping over some of the more routine aspects of the genre. 

But Devil's Due insists that we watch an endless series of scenes of the couple's happy/blissfully unaware activities inconsistently punctuated by brief bursts of "ooh creepy" that aren't terribly composed, but simply aren't interesting enough for the massive amount of limp plot they're expected to drag along with them.

The good thing is that Gilford and Miller have a surprisingly sweet and unforced chemistry that renders them absolutely believable as young newlyweds. The acting is of a par rarely seen in found footage movies (largely because the producers chose actual actors instead of unknowns) and their little tics and tiny interactions make the roles absolutely fleshed out and lived in.

This is of massively powerful importance, because without these actors, there would be no reason to care about what the film is doing at all. As it stands, the characters are charmingly portrayed by likable actors with easy chemistry (somehow Zach's character isn't a douche - a welcome departure from a horror genre staple) and is largely enjoyable even if it's a not particularly scary horror flick.

Their conversations about kale are more fascinating than the cult ritual scenes. I'm being serious.

There's a few shock moments that land, like Father Thomas (Sam Anderson) ruining Zach's sister's first communion by leaking a veritable geyser of blood and the leadup to the finale, but the bulk of the horror in the film all exists in the ethereal realm of potential energy. There's a lot of moments that could be scary that mysteriously aren't. 

The most memorable of which is that when the cult sets up secret surveillance cameras inside the house (a bothersome detail considering that the compiled footage is supposedly from three entirely disparate groups who all have good reason to hide and protect it - who is "finding" these tapes and editing them together?), one camera is hung directly above the stairwell, peering down.

I told Sergio I would eat my hat if that shot wasn't used for some cool falling scene.

I can feel the brim poking my small intestine.

Let's ignore that too-vivid imagery by staring at these lovely fellows for ten seconds.

It's all predictable from the very first scene (in fact, it's predictable from the opening five seconds of the trailer), but it's certainly not the worst January horror movie ever released. It's mostly pleasant, which is more than I can say of the tripe that's being released in theaters lately.

My biggest problem with Devil's Due is this. Why this story again? Is there anything more compelling to say about the birth of the Antichrist? These films always end more or less immediately with its emergence from the womb (Not a spoiler. Come on.), but wouldn't it be way more interesting to see the aftermath?

Not that I'm asking for a Devil's Due 2, but wouldn't it be nice to have a film with stakes like "the end of the world as we know it" to actually depict the end of the world as we know it?

I'm just saying. When you think about it, the travails of one attractive couple don't quite compare.

But hey. At least it's not Texas Chainsaw 3D.

TL;DR: Devil's Due is never anything but boilerplate, but committed leading performances keep it at a high ebb despite bland scare sequences.
Rating: 5/10
Should I Spend Money On This? Although I enjoyed it, I'm gonna go with a firm no on this one.
Word Count: 1193

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Blog Error: Does Not Compute

Year: 2003
Director: Tommy Wiseau
Cast: Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero, Juliette Danielle
Run Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I'm gonna come right out and say it: The Room is unreviewable. At least not by any standard of cinema that has been invented as of January 19th, 2014.

The way I see it, there are five types of bad movies.

First off, there are movies that are just plain bad. Not terrible enough to be funny but not good enough to be anything more than a dull lifeless heap. These are the worst kinds of bad movies, because you can't even get enjoyment from making fun of them. Hollywood tends to make these kinds of movies by accident when there's a good budget but not enough passion behind the camera to keep it from sucking, or at the very least from being uninteresting.

These are movies like bad comedies (Identity Thief, Movie 43, You Don't Mess With the Zohan) that are impossible to mock because they intend to be funny and fail in their goals. This is inherently unfunny. On the other end of the spectrum, there's movies like Memorial Day and Psycho Santa that are prosumer nightmares made by amateurs with not even production values to redeem themselves. Stay away from these movies at all costs.

Second, there are intentionally bad movies which in all honesty aren't that much better. These movies try to capture the bad movie magic by making themselves as terrible as possible. But you know how the saying goes: Truth is stranger than fiction. For a bad movie to be "so bad it's good," the filmmakers have to think they're creating a masterpiece. Or at least not be completely aware of the profound levels of suckitude they are reaching. These intentionally bad movies are a fairly recent phenomenon, chasing the cult following many older films have garnered.

These filmmakers are the most incredibly crass and mercenary workers out there. Seeing the sheer amount of cash some terrible cult movies have made on midnight screenings and DVD sales, they set out to make one of their very own. But that very insincerity is their downfall. Some of them turn out alright, like Santa's Slay or ThanksKilling, but they're never as good as their authentic counterparts (The best of these is undoubtedly SharknadoJack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman is a close second.).

And most of them end up not even being bottom of the barrel like The Gay Bed and Breakfast of Terror or Bachelor Party in the Bungalow of the Damned (and nearly everything Troma has ever released). In fact, they aren't even in the barrel. They're hundreds of miles away from the barrel, stuck to the bottom of some Chinese dockworker's shoe.

Third (now we're finally getting somewhere good) are the old low budget B-movies. Nobody ever paid any real attention to this stuff so they could get away with anything. This arena is where MST3K gets all their material - stuff like Teenagers From Outer Space and Secret Agent Super Dragon. These films have invariably awesome titles.

Fourth are the camp films. Like a tennis ball that gets stuck in the net, these films are caught exactly in between intentionally bad and B-movie glory. These are films like John Waters productions or The Rocky Horror Picture Show that depict over the top melodrama, musical numbers, costuming, and/or dialogue. The only difference between camp movies and intentionally bad movies (and what separates them from that dreck) is that the campy ones shoot straight for the fun jugular. The juggler, if you will.

These movies want to be visual and aural experiences unlike anything you've ever seen. Their over the top nature and dissimilarity to the blandly average Hollywood products is what attracts cult and fringe audiences to this day. Horror can also tend toward the campy, especially in the films of Roger Corman and Stuart Gordon.

The last category - and my personal favorite - is insane horror. Horror as a genre tends to be the most lenient toward batsh*t insane ideas and as such welcomes such titles as Troll 2 or Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge. This is what kept the slasher genre going throughout much of the 80's, with the rock 'n roll singalong killer of Slumber Party Massacre II, the killer robots of Chopping Mall and, well, everything else that I've been writing about in Census Bloodbath.

The Room falls into absolutely none of these categories. Not a one. It is absolutely, irrefutably bad, but in no easily definable way. Although it would be greatest sin to define The Room under any category. It is to be grouped with no other film. The Room stands alone, a monument to the X factor - that inscrutable quality that makes a bad film so infinitely compelling.

And where most bad films have a litany of flaws, there are usually patches of either brief improvement where it is enjoyable on a legitimate cinematic level (like some of the musical numbers in Rocky Horror) or brief decline where there are periods of utterly blah doldrums (like the middle half of Anthropophagus). The Room is so consistently legitimately bad that it defies logic and boggles the mind.

Written by, directed by, produced by, and starring Tommy Wiseau, a man who looks like his face was beaten with a sack of potatoes and then took on the primary qualities of said sack of potatoes and speaks in an accent completely divorced from any earthly language, The Room is a hornet's nest of plot holes, continuity errors, stilted line readings, bad dubbing, random non-sequiturs, and every conceivable error that plagues the nightmares of young film students.

Including terrible green screen effects.

The very simple plots follows Johnny (Tommy Wiseau), a banker who is beloved by all (the way Wiseau writes people fawning over his character smacks of a sort of sweaty desperation and loneliness. This man wrote himself some friends, and if that's not the saddest thing you've ever heard, I'm sorry about your missing limbs.) and his "future wife" (the word fiancée is never uttered) Lisa (Juliette Danielle). Lisa has grown tired of her relationship and seeks alternative boners with Johnny's best friend (on the flip side, the phrase "best friend" is uttered approximately a borktillion times) Mark (Greg Sestero).

The actual plot takes up about 5 seconds of the overall run time. For the rest of it, The Room features visibly uncomfortable actors performing disconnected scenes that wantonly repeat themselves throughout the production performed in wafer thin sets decorated with framed pictures of spoons, a tuxedoed game of football (The Room's vernacular for the grand American pastime known as "catch") and a veritable avalanche of lengthy sex scenes featuring Wiseau's sinewy and veiny backside (one of which is comprised of outtake footage from an earlier scene).

It is so impossibly impenetrably weird, that for years nobody had any clue whether or not the whole thing was some big joke, some troll from the pre-4chan age. New information has come to light in the  tell-all book The Disaster Artist, a firsthand account of the 6 month production by Sestero himself.

Completely devoid of sarcasm, this is the most fascinating nonfiction book I have ever read. Highly, unironically recommended.

The new information being that every frame of every shot was treated with absolute dignity by a very odd man who wanted to be a star. The book raises as many questions as it answers, but it paints a portrait of Wiseau even stranger than anybody could even imagine. This is a man who won't reveal where he's from even to his best friends (when asked, he always answers with "New Orleans"), has millions of dollars of disposable income, and orders cups of hot water with his meal at restaurants.

The Room is Tommy Wiseau's brainchild through and through (Of the other two producers credited, one was an elderly woman who almost certainly had no idea The Room existed and the other was a man who died a good three years before production began.) and the immense amount of money and dedication he poured into it resulted in a film that not only failed to function at a basic narrative level, but failed to function on every single storytelling level but one - the production values are, frankly, quite gorgeous for this type of independent film.

Wiseau sank millions of dollars into this film and it shows, adding yet another completely inexplicable element to the film. If it looked terrible, underlit, and shabby, it could have been chalked up to some crazy amateur experiment. But the lighting, camerawork, and production design are utterly professional save for the areas where Tommy extended his twisted influence like some unnatural fungus. Also, and I sort of hate myself for saying this, but I a little bit love the soundtrack.

The reaction of every audience member during the first screening of the film.

Try as I might, it's impossible to explain the Mariana Trench depths of ineptitude Wiseau's performance sinks to. But his histrionics, and those he pulled out of his cast as a director, are unparalleled in the world of modern cinema.

Take that, Meryl Streep!

It's utterly compelling bad filmmaking. Every single second has something new and extraordinary puking across the screen, resulting in the most consistently belly laugh-inducing bad film in the history of the human race.

I've had the good fortune to attend a midnight screening of The Room with several good friends of mine and it was the most exciting moviegoing experience I've had in my entire life. The audience shouts along with the best lines ("You're tearing me apart, Lisa!" "Leave your stupid comments in your pocket!"), mocks every character with manic glee, and throws handfuls of plastic spoons in the air every time one of the framed silverware pictures shows up in the background.

So there I was, hundreds of spoons raining down over my head, watching a hideously inept drama play out onscreen via an accent with no geographical ties, smiling and knowing deep in my heart that whatever choices I had made in life that led me to this moment were the right ones.

TL;DR: hfewlihbehlrtbhjfgapdhwe;lKIO'
Rating: 10/10
Word Count: 1707

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Year: 1997
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
Run Time: 2 hours
MPAA Rating: R

Alright, let's do this thing. I've been sitting on this post since I watched Scream 2 with Sergio and my family in late 2013. Considering that the film is a great sequel to one of my favorite horror movies, it shouldn't have been too hard to knock out of the park, but guess what? I had to look for jobs. And then I got one, which is not any more conducive to blog writing.

But here we are now and I've settled into a routine and found some time to really get down to business. With the beginning of the semester looming on the horizon, I decided I really should clear my slate once and for all and write up the two reviews I have been lagging behind on. So get ready for some extreme review action with power grip!

Sidebar: I would buy a Neve Campbell action figure.

So Scream happened. Upon its release in 1996, horror culture lit up like a lightning rod. Wes Craven was back in the game, as was the by then defunct slasher format, this time with a postmodern twist. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson catapulted to stardom (he would return flailing to Earth with a dull thud a few short years later, but that's a story for another time) and Hollywood was reeling in the profits.

Hot on the heels of their massive success, Dimension Films quickly commissioned a sequel, to be released a mere 51 weeks later. That might seem unimpressive to people who aren't in the film business, but let me tell you that's like demanding a mother to give birth to a fully grown child in three months. The fact that the film turned out as well as it did is largely due to what must have been some impressive contractual wrangling.

Through some unholy pact with the devil, they managed to get Craven and Williamson to sign on again, as well as stars David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and Jamie Kennedy. And composer Marco Beltrami, whose tremendous influence on the films is rarely appreciated.

While there was little to no buzz during the production of the original film (And why would there be? Nobody had any idea of the massive asteroidal impact it would have on pop culture), Scream 2 had the fan mags flying off the shelves like they were in a Ghostbusters movie and eventually the shooting script was leaked onto the Internet (which was barely even a thing at this point, but people were already learning how to use it to explore new frontiers of douchebaggery). 

Frantic rewrites and constant shifts in the killer's identity during production to avoid another leaked ending left the crew staggering. So when people complain about the final reveal of who is behind the Ghostface mask this time around (which I'll talk about more later in a spoiler-marked zone), just let them know that society didn't earn the original ending. We ruined it for ourselves. Like petulant children. So there.

At this point, I'm surprised it didn't turn out to be Fat Albert under there.

Thanks to Drew Berrymore's career-reviving turn as Casey Becker, every hot young thing in town was clambering to be the next opening victim, but the honor this time around was bestowed on a pre-Will Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps as Maureen and Phil, two college students attending the premiere of the movie Stab, which is a parody of Scream, but in this universe is based on "The Woodsboro Murders," the book Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) wrote about her experiences in the previous film.

This meta addition to the franchise is one of many, as Scream 2 more thoroughly explores the concepts of not only characters that are aware that they're in a movie, but are aware that somebody is trying to make a sequel and possibly turn it into a franchise. Just as clever and intelligent as the first, this all makes a lot more sense if you're actually watching it, I promise. 

This element is perhaps even better than in the original Scream (although I do have one small complaint about the "copycat sequel" conceit being dropped in the second half, largely - I suspect - due to last minute rewrites), which had fun playing with genre conventions, but didn't quite utilize them to their full capacity, opting instead for more of a whodunit mystery angle. 

Anyway, Maureen and Phil bite it in a scene that is too similar to the opening of He Knows You're Alone to be unaware of its pedigree but different enough that it manages to be a completely unique (and classic) entity. Although it's somewhat disappointing that Ghostface doesn't use a phone to torment his victims in this scene, his puckish glee at dispatching them in the middle of a theater filled with people dressed in masks (to celebrate the opening of the movie) is a worthy substitute.

Is Will Smith a trade-up or a trade-down from Omar Epps? Discuss.

Moving on to the real people - Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is now a theatre major at Windsor College and she's just trying to move on from her tragedy. She's still friends with Randy (Jamie Kennedy), who happens to go to the same college because of course. Remember this is written by the guy who did Dawson's Creek.

She has a new boyfriend Derek (Jerry O'Connell), a pre-med student who's nice enough but much too bland, and a new best friend/roommate in Hallie (Elise Neal), who is notable for being a black character with a prominent role in the proceedings who survives for a massive chunk of the running time and has actual character traits. Yay! Diversity!

Upon the release of Stab, Sidney has been getting prank phone calls from Ghostface imitators, but she doesn't let it phase her. Things get worse when she learns about the deaths of Maureen and Phil, and she begins to fear the same things might be happening again after the death of a sorority girl named Cici (Sarah Michelle Gellar, who is introduced watching Nosferatu on TV and accompanied by a girlish squeal from Yours Truly).

Once the killings start up in earnest, Gale Weathers is back on the scene, sniffing up her scoop like a bloodhound. Also reappearing is Deputy Dewey (David Arquette), who just wants to make sure Sid is OK. But he mostly just scowls at Gale, who gave him a less than manly characterization in her tell-all book. But it's a thin line between love and hate and the two rekindle things as they work together to solve the mystery of the new serial murders.

However, it's also a thin line between mass murderer and boyfriend material so Sidney shuts herself off from the world, suspecting the killer to be somebody she knows. Everybody is a suspect! And the fact that Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man she wrongfully accused of murder is back and threatening her in order to get an interview and fifteen minutes of fame does little to comfort her.

The fact that she's learned from her experiences in the previous movie are but one of the many reasons that Scream 2 is a great sequel. Taking characters and situations from the original and either deepening them or turning them on their heads, the film is a perfect sequel - expanding greatly on the original story but also maintaining its own unique presence as a great standalone horror comedy.

And I never ever regret any second of any film where David Arquette is onscreen.

Gale's role in the original Woodsboro killings has made her a prime target for the buzzing reporters as they try to dig into the story. A great reversal from the first film, Gale finds herself shadowed by her own annoying reporter, Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf), a local woman who never fails to get a rise out of her (and elicit some of the best one-liners from a character with a veritable encyclopedia of bitchy putdowns).

While the comedy and the horror are mostly separate from one another (the former apparent largely in the interactions between Randy, Dewey, and Gale and the latter in the stalking scenes with Sidney), both have their moments in the spotlight with several sidesplitting scenes in the second act and two back-to-back sharply choreographed tension-filled scares in the third. 

And although the middle of the film tends toward the draggy side, the film is bookended with a series of scenes of such caliber that it's an easy fault to ignore.

And the middle does include the tremendously trippy and great "Cassandra" sequence, a holdover from Craven's days as an English professor.

Here's where we enter spoilers territory. If you are of a mind to watch this movie on your own, skip to the picture of Portia de Rossi and her terrible eyebrows. (Yes! Lindsay Bluth is in this movie!)

So. The killers. We had to come to that eventually. Originally, they were scripted to be Hallie and Derek, which would have been tremendously interesting, had the dicks on the Internet not ruined everything for the righteous and pure of heart horror fans that would never have leaked any information about a beloved franchise.

Not that I'm mad or anything.

What we do get is an overwhelmingly confusing reveal. The first killer (of course there's two) turns out to be Mickey (Timothy Olyphant), a character so inconsequential that I didn't even include him in my plot rundown. In fact, my sister didn't even remember him and thought he was Derek for about five minutes of the final scene.

And the other killer is... local reporter Debbie Salt. But she's really Billy Loomis's (the killer from the original) mother, see? In disguise! Get it? I... what? The fact that both of the killers are onscreen for about as long as the crew member who accidentally stuck his butt into one shot in Cici's scene was infuriating to many. I mean, what's the point of a mystery if the perpetrators aren't even guessable characters?

So their identities do kind of suck, but! But! The finale is still sharp and witty, making great use of Sidney's relationship with Billy and ending with some truly fantastic onstage action and zippy one-liners. It all explodes in a geyser of camp and blood and hilarity, much like the original film and loses none of Scream's integrity and engaging power.

So even though the killer's might as well have been two oven mitts, the scene they get is one for the Gods and I personally think that's an even tradeoff. After spending so much time with 80's slashers, I'm just glad that 1) I can see everything that's happening and 2) the reveal is comprehensible if you're not a schizophrenic.

Welcome back, spoilers avoiders! Now you can read on, safe in the knowledge that you won't find out that Portia's eyebrows are the killer until you watch the movie.

This review ended up much longer than I anticipated, so I'm gonna wrap up here before the last of you falls asleep at your keyboards. 

The humor is top notch, the meta is even better (the Stab scenes featuring Heather Graham and Tori Spelling are hysterically terrible), and although none of it is quite as scary as the original film and the middle can be a slog, two showstopping scenes (the girls get in a car crash with Ghostface and Gale is chased through a sound studio) and the bombastic finale make it all worth every penny.

Scream 2 is a worthy sequel despite its production woes and maintains the consistent gold standard quality of Wes Craven's 90's postmodern period. Although the legions of terrible Scream imitations were already saturating the market, this film stood above the current to prove that it could still be done well under a skillful guiding hand.

In conclusion, Portia de Rossi has terrible eyebrows.

Killer: Ghostface (voiced by Roger Jackson)
Final Girl: Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell)
Best Kill: Omar Epps is stabbed in the ear through a bathroom stall.
Sign of the Times: BROWN LIPSTICK; CiCi has one of those see-through phones.
Scariest Moment: Sidney and Hallie have to climb over an unconscious Ghostface in the front seat of a cop car.
Weirdest Moment: Ghostface threatens Sidney via instant messaging.
Champion Dialogue: "Everybody thinks sororities are just about blowjobs, but it's not true."
Body Count: 10
  1. Phil is stabbed in the temple through a bathroom stall.
  2. Maureen is stabbed to death in a crowded movie theater. 
  3. Cici is stabbed and thrown off a balcony.
  4. [Randy is stabbed to death and has his throat slit.
  5. Officer Andrews has his throat slashed with a knife.
  6. Officer Richards gets his head impaled by a pipe during a car accident.
  7. Hallie is stabbed to death.
  8. Derek is shot in the chest.
  9. [Mickey is shot 16 times in the chest.]
  10. [Mrs. Loomis is shot to death.
TL;DR: Scream 2 is a rare sequel that continues the story of the original in a unique and exciting way.
Rating: 9/10
Word Count: 2188
Reviews In This Series
Scream (Craven, 1996)
Scream 2 (Craven, 1997)
Scream 3 (Craven, 2000)
Scream 4 (Craven, 2011)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Creeper Features

Forgive me for my radio silence for the past couple days, my sleeping patterns have been like the Long Beach bus schedule this week - inconsistent and wildly out of sync with expectations. But the good news is I've had the incredible opportunity to be a PA for a nonprofit production headed by David Zucker, none other than the man who directed Airplane!, which is only my third favorite movie of all time!

It was a great experience and a good addition to my résumé, but my will to write - and my will to stay awake - has been dulled for the past couple days, so I'm gonna lay one on you to make up for it. Seeing as it's January and virtually nothing worthwhile is coming into cinemas, Sergio and I have spent the past couple days catching me up on a minor horror phenomenon of the early 2000's, a decade I am sorely lacking in, having spent so much of my time wallowing in the muck of the 80's.

Because he's a minor expert in scary movies of that time period after having gone through a brief horror phase himself (mine is much more persistent than his and refuses to go away any time soon), he deemed it wise to lead me on a journey through the Jeepers Creepers franchise, one of the few truly original horror creations of the Millennium.

It was an important gap to be filled, and I shall share my newfound knowledge with y'all.

Jeepers Creepers

Year: 2001
Director: Victor Salva
Cast: Gina Philips, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I see you eyeing Justin Long's name up there. For not a single second of Jeepers Creepers' 90 minute run time was I ever not focused on the fact that he's a Mac. The man's ageless, too. In fact he even looks younger during his brief cameo in the sequel. And I was not expecting what I saw in the scene where he takes off his shirt. All around, a very interesting casting choice after the fact.

But where does that leave the movie? Two college-aged teens, brother and sister Darry (Justin Long) and Trish (Gina Philips), are returning to their Midwest home via the Middle of Nowhere when their car gets buzzed by a junky looking van. After careening off the road to avoid being converted into a red smear on the pavement, they pass by the abandoned church where the van is parked and see a mysterious man dumping bodies into a chute on the grounds.

It turns out that this man is the Creeper (Jonathan Breck), an ancient demon that emerges for a period of 23 days every 23 years to feed. It likes to tailgate drivers on the freeway because it can smell their fear and use that to determine if they have a good part that he needs - whatever body parts he eats become reconstituted into his body, making him immortal.

All of this exposition is given to us by a Convenient Medium (Patricia Belcher) who has had psychic dreams about all of this. She also knows that whenever you hear the song "Jeepers Creepers," you'd better hightail your way out of there because 1) that's the title of the movie and 2) apparently the demon loves old lady music.

Honestly, most of this information dump goes absolutely nowhere, but it's unique and creative and in service to a sort of Nick at Nite horror narrative - demure gore that in no way deserves the R rating it's given attached to some surprisingly powerful scares with great use of deep focus cinematography.

It's atmospheric (perhaps a little too dark at times, but it serves to disguise the deeper flaws in the demon make-up and thus is a worthy cause) and sprightly fun in a way that the dull chalky horror of the time absolutely wasn't.

Salva's wise choice to make the characters brother and sister and eliminate any possibility of sexual tension serves the story well and allows for an unusually full exploration of the characters. Overall, definitely a film worth spending time on if you happen to catch it on TV or want a fun nostalgic sleepover night.

Rating: 7/10

Jeepers Creepers 2

Year: 2003
Director: Victor Salva
Cast: Jonathan Breck, Eric Nenninger, Nicki Aycox
Run Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I was definitely excited for this one. Jeepers Creepers 2 didn't land on Cracked's Five Most Unintentionally Gay Horror Movies list for no reason. It's the 23rd day of the Creeper's (again played by Jonathan Breck) feeding spree and when a busful of teenagers breaks down on the highway in the Middle of Nowhere on the way home from winning a state championship in Sport (darned if I know what they play. I feel like it might be basketball, but there's absolutely no indication and they have a javelin on the bus so who even knows).

The first thing they do is lounge shirtless on the roof and pee together in groups all while accusing each other of being homos. You know. Like boys do. When night falls and all of a sudden their coaches are whisked away by a mysterious winged demon, things turn sour and the team ends up cowering inside the bus and frantically calling for help on the radio.

Right off the bat, Jeepers Creepers 2 has a much better concept, at least for my tastes. There's a bigger cast which allows for more interpersonal tensions and a higher body count. And the slasher tone keeps the camp factor high. The idea of being trapped in a single location greatly benefits the terror which was diluted in the second half of the original as Darry and Trish jetsetted across the Midwest. The mythology is put to better use as we see the Creeper actually picking out his victims and utilizing their resources. And there's like twenty shirtless boys. That is inarguably the most important addition to the franchise.

However, all of this is given in exchange for a pronounced lack of atmosphere or craft. There's still some nice deep focus and silhouette work in the opening scene and a dream sequence is particularly good, but for the most part the terror is completely overwritten by camp. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing in my book, but the original was one of the few even mildly scary films of its time, so it's somewhat of a disappointment.

Jeepers Creepers 2 also suffers from being exactly one Hella too long. Although the camp elements (especially Evil Leapfrog and the closing scene) serve it well, it can't muster enough steam to keep it from limping to the finish by the third act. However, it too is a great party film. Especially if you have a bunch of friends who don't mind you loudly making jokes the entire time.

Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1151

Thursday, January 9, 2014

CinemaBeach: Paranormal Actividad

Year: 2014
Director: Christopher Landon
Cast: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh
Run Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

My first review of a 2014 movie! It's finally happening!

Also, is it just me or is the director kinda cute?


By the standards of the Paranormal Activity franchise, the spinoff Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones should get a full score just by including everything that’s in the trailer in the movie. It doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult, but you’d be surprised. In fact, some of the most exciting and terrifying moments of the entire five-film series have taken place in two minute bursts before other movies.
To fully understand the ludicrously convoluted mythology of this spinoff, let’s do a quick summary of the franchise up to this point: [SPOILERS FOR PARTS 1-4 IN THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS] The original Paranormal Activity was a simple and taut found footage thriller about a young couple taping themselves at night to capture evidence of mysterious nightly visitations. It ended with a possessed Katie (Katie Featherston) murdering her boyfriend. PA2 takes place slightly before the events of this film and details the haunting of her sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden). Her husband and stepdaughter eventually stop the demon from possessing Kristi and kidnapping their infant son by transferring its malice to Katie. Cut to months later as possessed Katie kills both parents and steals the kid (Hunter). Fairly simple so far.
Let’s see how long that lasts. PA3 takes place in the 80′s, following the girls as children. Their mother and stepfather are murdered by the demon and they are taken by their grandmother, who is part of a coven of witches that have gained wealth and power in exchange for the souls of their firstborn male descendants. This flies in the face of everything we’ve known up until now (ie. Katie and Kristi not being raised by witches). PA4 follows a totally different family in Nevada with a teen daughter and a young son. Katie moves in next door and they end up babysitting the young boy she has brought with her – hoping their kids can be friends. Yadda yadda, kid is marked with demon symbols, haunting happens. The big takeaway here is that the son of the family is, in fact, the grown up Hunter and the demon wants him back. How did Katie lose him? How did he get to Nevada? Where did she get the kid she’s using now? I don’t know and neither do the writers. In their attempts to expand the mythology and explain the demon’s backstory, narrative continuity had to be thrown right out the window. Basically the only consistency at this point is the found footage element and the sped-up night shots.
So you can imagine the excitement I felt anticipating the immensely nonsensical and dubious twists and turns The Marked Ones would bring to the table. As a Latino spinoff to the franchise, it already had a leg-up to be promisingly inane. Let’s be clear – I have no problem with diversifying the franchise. The Latino demographic is a huge supporter of the series and horror characters tend to be overwhelmingly and exhaustingly Caucasian. But did it have to be its own separate spinoff? Why separate the storylines? It wouldn’t be difficult just to make Paranormal Activity 5 about Latino characters, it makes just as much sense as moving the fourth film to Nevada. It would save a lot of narrative strong-arming and avoid the whole “separating the races” thing it’s got going on. You have to be careful around that.
Quite surprisingly, the film rarely rises to the same level of idiocy as its concept, making it easily better than the third and fourth films right off the bat. Following the exploits of Oxnard teenager Jessie (Andrew Jacobs) and his friends Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh), The Marked Ones tells a familiar story – mysterious noises from a neighbor’s apartment, fun with a handheld camera, and a mysterious entity.
When Anna (Gloria Sandoval), the old lady who lives underneath Jessie’s apartment, is murdered mysteriously, the kids decide to explore her abandoned home but Jessie wakes up with a mysterious circular mark on his arm and he begins to change. At first he welcomes the presence – he can do cool stuff like blow up an air mattress in 5 seconds or do some rad kick flips on his skateboard. But once the presence reveals its intent to take over his body, his friends must rush to learn the secret of the Marked Ones and save his soul.
The scares are frequently anticlimactic – the anticipation gets you but the payoff is poor. However, there is a fair amount of solid found footage horror and a couple of truly great moments that manage to elevate the whole thing. It’s a totally average paranormal exploration film, but on the adjusted grading scale for handheld camera films, merely being average puts it far above most of its competition.
Also, on the filmmaking side, there’s some great use of editing for comedic effect. In general, the comic relief elements are consistently amusing, mostly coming from Hector, whose relatively poor grasp of Spanish allows him to act as a stand-in for the English-speaking audience members during some of the more Hispanic-centric scenes. He’s basically a paranormal Dora the Explorer.
The film is rife with connections to the original franchise both logical (the Marked Ones are pursued by the same coven run by Katie and Kristi’s grandmother; Kristi’s stepdaughter Ali (Molly Ephraim) returns to dump some exposition) and utterly preposterous (What are the child versions of the sisters doing in the basement?). Which again raises the question of the necessity of being a spinoff, because aside from not including sped-through night shots, the formula is more or less exactly the same. There’s even a gonzo final scene that throws about 800 wrenches into the idea of continuity, a franchise tradition.
And, come to think of it, that one subtraction actually removes an important element from the script. Without the necessity of filming themselves while they sleep, there’s no reason for Jessie and later Hector to keep filming at any point. In the later moments when stuff is really going down, literally the only reason Hector brings the camera along is because he’s in a Paranormal Activity film.
My verdict? The Marked Ones is inconsequential but it’s fun and trashy horror. It’s dumb, but not any more than the two films that preceded it (the Foolish Character award going to a girl who agrees to film a sex tape with a stranger she just met in a murdered lady’s apartment), both of which it is markedly superior to. It’s always engaging, occasionally scary, and a reassuring new look at an increasingly stale franchise that makes me excited for future installments.
Witches are hot right now, what with American Horror Story: Coven blowing up televisions everywhere, and The Marked Ones hits the sweet spot between an endlessly retold and familiar story and the fresh novelty of these new characters. Throw in a gangster family member with a shotgun (that is absolutely not as stereotypical as it sounds) and you’ve got yourself an exciting, if not particularly groundbreaking horror movie.
TL;DR: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is delightfully daffy and reasonably better than the two films that preceded it.
Rating: 7/10
Should I Spend Money On This? It's reasonably scary and fun, so definitely - if you're in the mood for some January horror.
Word Count: 1263
Reviews In This Series
Paranormal Activity 4 (Joost/Schulman, 2012)
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (Landon, 2014)
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (Plotkin, 2015)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Census Bloodbath: The Man In The Mirror

Year: 1980
Director: Ulli Lommel
Cast: Suzanna Love, John Carradine, Ron James
Run Time: 1 hour 22 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

The Boogeyman is a peculiar little trifle of a film. In fact, it's almost impossible to describe with the slasher terminology of 1980 as it stood although it is undoubtedly a member of the genre. At a spritely 82 minutes, it's a crackerjack shocker that's at once interminably dull and delightfully bizarre. 

It opens with the most brazen Halloween riff yet, in which a mother (Gillian Gordon)'s two children spy on her as she gets it on with her lover (Howard Grant). The lover catches them and beats the young son. One Steadicam shot later, the son is stabbing him to death as his sister watches from around the corner via an ornate mirror.

This entire sequence is bathed in soft colorful light that implies an actual brain behind the production before it cuts to the present day and everything is boring again.

Although at the very least it's visible, which is something I've learned not to take for granted.

It's twenty years later and the sister Lacey (Suzanna Love) has married a nice blonde policeman (Ron James, something of a Walmart brand Midnight Cowboy) and popped out an irritating little tyke, Kevin (Raymond Boyden). Although things have changed a lot since those days and they now live on a remote tract of farmland, Lacey and her brother Willy (Nicholas Love, Suzanna's real life brother) are still haunted by the events of that night.

Willy hasn't said a single word since he stabbed the man in another obvious Halloween-y touch. And for a while we watch the family interact, not really encountering much in the way of "plot" or "entertainment" for the first 40 minutes or so. There are brief flashes where the direction or the editing is actually worthwhile, but the overall impact of those moments is negligible.

It isn't until about halfway through the film that Suzanna visits her old home and shatters the mirror to pieces during a vivid hallucination and the real fun begins. Where, up til now, The Boogeyman has adhered fairly closely to the Michael Myers mythology (up to, and including the title), all of a sudden a gasket bursts somewhere and the whole thing is sucked into a vortex of insanity.

The breaking of the mirror has released the spirit of the murdered man trapped inside of it and he begins to kill the new inhabitants of the house in a way that's half Final Destination, half The Happening, and all crazy go nuts.

When this is the most logical scene in your movie, you've done something very wrong or very right.

The film careens wildly across subgenres from high concept supernatural thriller as the mirror glows red and turns household objects into murderous missiles to straight-up slasher in a tacked-on lakeside teen slaughter scene obviously thrown into the mix after Friday the 13th hit it big until it settles on being an exorcism movie in the darned weirdest way possible.

Basically, wherever the shards of the mirror end up, terrible things happen. There are several wild and hilarious scenes in this back half and the ending is a ludicrously self-indulgent cacophony of colors and noise and nonsense and it's all pretty great. Theoretically. Although it's a joy to watch these scenes, there's still something missing.

It all feels very Slash By Numbers, put together without any real care that the end product is anything worth seeing whatsoever. Even in the most preposterous and campy moments, there's an unmistakeable tinge of shallowness that dooms the entire picture.

Yes, even when John Carradine holds out a crucifix to a mirror shard-possessed Lacey.

The back half does tend to make up for some of the draggier bits in the beginning but the whole thing evens out to a perfectly bland and uninteresting film. It's even more disappointing for the crazed fun the film could - and should - have been.

And by all accounts the two sequels are even worse. Obviously having given up on the concepts of artistic integrity or narrative quality, both Boogeyman II and Return of the Boogeyman clock in under 80 minutes and are largely comprised of stock footage of the original film. Definitely expect reviews if I can ever get my hands on those (understandably) rare cuts.

Director Ulli Lommel (who helmed 17 serial killer pictures in four years) was never a name brand auteur, but his close relationship with master director Rainer Werner Fassbinder was supposed to teach him the tricks of the trade. By all evidence, it did not. But at least his ideas (in the back half of the film, anyway) were unique in the fairly barren terrain of Psycho and Halloween knockoffs that was the slasher genre at the beginning of the decade.

But The Boogeyman is not a pet project. It is a charmless seat filler that unfortunately made yachtloads of box office off of its $30,000 budget. Utterly passionless with only a few stabs at cinematic craftsmanship, it's ultimately trivial and forgettable.

And it's no coincidence that it starred his (then) wife. Spill that tea.

Killer: A mirror infused with the murderous spirit of their mother's Lover (Howard Grant)
Final Girl: Lacey (Suzanna Love)
Best Kill: A young man is skewered through the back of his head and his girlfriend is pulled onto the front, locking them in an eternal lip lock of death.
Sign of the Times: Everything eventually either catches on fire or explodes.
Scariest Moment: A girl holding a vibrating shard of mirror can't let go and it cuts into her fingers.
Weirdest Moment: A random buck-toothed character named Katy (Catherine Tambini) shows up to ask Willy for eggs, tries to seduce him, gets strangled, and runs away never to appear in the movie again. Predictably, Willy says nothing.
Champion Dialogue: "As long as I've known you, I can't keep in mind you don't talk."
Body Count: 9; including the Lover in the beginning.
  1. Mom's Lover is stabbed in the back.
  2. A woman is stabbed in the throat with scissors.
  3. A boy has his neck smashed in a window.
  4. A woman is killed offscreen.
  5. A boy is impaled through the back of the head with a knife.
  6. A girl is impaled on the front of that same knife.
  7. A man is impaled in the throat by a pitchfork.
  8. A girl is strangled with a garden hose.
  9. Elderly Priest is repeatedly stabbed in the back. 

TL;DR: With a better concept than execution, The Boogeyman is a disappointment but still is an interesting one-of-a-kind curio for more devoted fans of the genre.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1113
Reviews In This Series
The Boogeyman (Lommel, 1980)
Boogeyman II (Starr, 1983)