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Great Indie Horror!

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 29 August 2013 04:06 (A review of Tony)

"Tony" is the rare exception where the term 'indie horror' means smarter rather than just cheaper. On one level, it's a pretty simple premise (man commits crimes, man goes unnoticed until...), but on another, it a phenomenal character study of a man to whom desperation is a constant companion, to whose hobbies others would find sickness and perversion. All that and a highly effective performance by unnoticed actor Peter Ferdinando, as the titular killer.

Tony is a lonely fellow who idles away his days watching low-grade 80's action films. We see him desperately trying to make a connection with the uncaring world around him, but socialization is hard, especially if your second hobby is, well... killing people.

The murders are sporadic and not overly graphic. Tony just gets fed up with humanity. Don't we all? Tony is unwashed, dirty, and unemployed. He lives off the U.K. welfare system without having done a real day's work in his life. He's haunted by memories of his abusive father. It's hard not to feel bad for him as he navigates an apathetic London, and hard not to be repulsed as he cohabitants in his filthy apartment with the corpses of his victims.

First you might consider the place of Tony's action films. Are the driving him to kill? Probably not, the movie suggests. People drive people to kill, the media is scapegoated. I am reminded of an eight-year-old boy who took a break from "Grand Theft Auto" long enough to shoot his elderly caretaker in the head.

All the things you can find obviously wrong with that family (guns unlocked, eight-year-old's playing restricted games,) and the video game becomes the scapegoat. It's easy. It's too easy. Sorry for that tangent. Anyway, "Tony" is grim, and sometimes very gross, but don't expect a "Human Centipede"-style torturefest.

An interesting fact Tom Six made "The Human Centipede II"'s lead Laurence R. Harvey watch this movie for inspiration on his character, 'Martin.' A great performance inspiring another. "Tony" reminds me of what THC2 could have been if Six had concentrated on character development rather than cutting ligaments and pulling out teeth with pliers.

At the center of "Tony" is Peter Ferdinando's fearless performance, playing a sick, sick character with a glimmer of empathy. The other actors back him up nicely, although in the end it's solitary Tony, friendless, unchanging, and scrutinizing a world he can't quite understand. And indulging in his second favorite hobby, of course.

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Interesting Early Horror

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 28 August 2013 09:06 (A review of The Phantom of the Opera (1925))

The second of many film adaptations of Gaston Leroux's novel (the first being a 'lost' and mostly forgotten film, "The Phantom of the Opera" is mostly famous for Lon Chaney's very physical performance as the titular phantom, a hideously deformed man who lurks the halls of the Paris Opera House, circa 19th Century.

The Phantom (or Erik, as he'd rather be called, though no one ever does) is obsessed with one singular goal, winning the love of the beautiful Christine Daae (Mary Philbin), an opera singer who he idolizes. Willing to do anything to make her a star and earn her affections, Erik pulls strings to make her a leading lady, but his obsession comes with deadly consequences.

I'll be perfectly honest- although from my love of fictional loners, losers, and lunatics throughout the history of cinema I was expecting to sympathize with the Phantom (Lon Chaney,) it quickly becomes obvious what a difficult position he's put lovely Christine in.

Although 'The Phantom' is clever and passionate, he is also controlling, obsessive, jealous, quick to a anger, and a dominating presence in Christine's life- everything a woman wants in a man, obviously (sarcasm.) Also, it is easy to see how much Raoul (Norman Kerry,) Christine's handsome boyfriend, loves her and wants to be with her. However, it;s not hard to find tragedy in Phantom's plight.

Apparently, at the time they were first showing this movie (1925,) ladies fainted when the Phantom's mask was first taken off, revealing his hideously deformed face, i.e. Lon Chaney's make-up job. Obviously, Chaney's make-up isn't nearly as scary or shocking today, and you can see pictures of Erik's face online and on the DVD cover, robbing it of the element of surprise.

The things that really stand out in this movie are the performances (some people don't like Mary Philbin as an actress, but I disagree) and the chilling musical score. The element of adventure (with the trap doors and mirrors that open up into entryways) was fun- kind of like when I saw George C. Scott discover the secret entrance in Peter Medak's "The Changeling" for the first time.

Christine is a typically weak silent-era female character- is it too much to ask for a bit of female badasserie in this time in film history? There's a very strange scene of slapstick involving a door in the floor that doesn't fit into a movie like this- it would be better off where it belongs, in a Chaplin silent comedy.

"The Phantom of the Opera" has some psychological complexity uncommon in silent films and the cast performs admirably. It's isn't really a 'watch-again-and-again-and-enjoy' piece of entertainment, and, commonly for this era of film, is very outdated. I'll probably watch the remake sometime down the road, although I can't picture Gerard Butler as the Phantom. At least I'll probably enjoy the songs.

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Enjoyable Silent Film

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 27 August 2013 03:57 (A review of The Cat and the Canary)

Although "The Cat and the Canary" isn't sure what it wants to be- a slapstick comedy, a whodunit, or a straight horror movie- intriguing characters and excellent performances from the cast keep this one fresh and charming.

Half-mad millionare Cyrus West dies in his creepy mansion, leaving the name of his benefactor in his safe. Like flies to a freshly bloated carcass, his family gathers at the mansion, waiting to snatch up his sizable fortune.

There is a potentially deadly catch... the person who wins the money must spend the night in West's reportedly haunted mansion, and pass a sanity test short thereafter. The dubious 'winner' turns out to be Cyrus' niece, Annabelle West (Laura La Plante).

Not at all eager to spend the night in a haunted house, Annabelle nevertheless faces the grueling night ahead. The situation reveals itself as more dire than was expected when it is revealed there is a killer on the loose, every one's a suspect, and *drumroll* no one can leave.

There are eight people in the house- a lawyer, a maid, an aunt, two nieces, and three nephews, including addled Paul (Creighton Hale,) who suffered a little accident as a child and has never been quite the same.

Paul and Mammy Pleasant (Martha Mattox) the anything-but housekeeper and companion to Cyrus in his final days are the stand-out performances and interesting characters. Hale manages to be grotesquely awkward and spazzy yet charming, while Mattox is memorably creepy the foreboding Mammy.

The whole cast play their parts well, and the characters have good chemistry. The only characters I felt were not really necessary to the script were the nephews (besides Paul.) They served their purpose as bickering big-heads, but I wonder, was their role really vital to the script?

The others were vital parts to both the comedy and the mystery components. The cinematography and score were pretty good, and the whole experience proves you don't need big bucks or outstanding technology to make a good movie, just like you don't need poor effects or a low budget to make a bad one- I'm looking at you Michael Bay (sorry, I still haven't gotten over the "Revenge Of the Fallen: catastrophe.)

I also loved how the mentally-handicapped guy turns out to be the hero, although I would have liked if the female lead had toughened up and defended herself little more (but taking a feminist perspective on the film is futile, this is the 1920's, after all, Women's Lib still has a long way to go.)

"The Cat and the Canary" is a fun, unpredictable classic with one of the best casts I've ever seen. I wonder if a more downbeat ending might have been in order, but still, I have no real complaints. There are five other versions of this film (although one of them is a 'lost film', and now I'm intrigued... I want more! Good day and happy watching!

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Sporadically Scary

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 26 August 2013 06:48 (A review of Ju-on: The Grudge (2002))

Unbeknownst to me, "Ju-On: The Grudge" the the third in a series, and it is always a tricky thing to watch a sequel out of order. Fortunately, the film works well as an individual, and I understand that each film is different thematically.

Although not particularly smart or logic-heavy horror, 2004's "Ju-On: The Grudge" contains a couple of good scares and ends up being a fairly decent way to spend 90 minutes. The curse of modern horror (and our jaded era) is that some of the scenes are more funny then scary, but if you get a laugh and a shock for your movie ticket, that's not so bad, now is it?

The film is split into six segments that are linked thematically, starting with that of Rika (Megumi Okina,) a humble, compassionate social worker. In a film that offers very little character development wise, Rika is the most believable character.

Sent to a squalid (and as it turns out, haunted- double the fun!) house to care for an old lady who's long since lost her mind, Rika soon finds there's something- not right with the house. It is in fact, haunted by the ghosts of a dead family- and their cat.

The main instigator of the supernatural mayhem seems to be Toshio (Yuya Ozeki), an adorably murderous little tyke who likes to climb under the blankets of the living and pop out when they least expect it. And I thought Japanese youngsters were supposed to be disciplined!

Also, I thought Toshio's voice was absolutely hilarious. "What's your name?" "To-shee-o." Classic. But really, this film has some scary moments, especially near the beginning. Around the end, you kind of know the schtick.

I'm not going to tell you what the other segments are about, because that's what you watch it for, right? Things I liked were- the sound effects (that guttural sound the ghosts make is freak-y!,)and the jump scares (so much better than most jump scares, and I am an expert on jump-scaring- ask my sister!)

The things I didn't like- the lack of character development. It was hard to get attached to the characters. The poor acting of Misa Uehara, who played the retired police officer's daughter as a teenager. The lack of explanation in the script.

Why does playing peek-a-boo with the ghost make the ghost go away? And why does that same method work for one ghost but not for another? Overall, this is a decent movie, but only for rental, unless you're a huge J-Horror fan.

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The Secret Life of Entitled Twits

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 26 August 2013 02:59 (A review of The Art Of Getting By)

There isn't anything remotely likable about the protagonist of "The Art Of Getting By," and he is only an interesting lead if you like entitled, angsty little p**cks who think the world revolves around them. I know, I know, most kids his age can be entitled and angsty, but this kid brings the 'glib teenaged hipster' canon to a whole new low.

Never in recent memory have I so wanted the 'hero' of the movie to be hit by a delivery truck, or at least go away, just go away, and get out of my sight. It doesn't help that lead actor Freddie Highmore is about as boring as straight out toast, or that he (warning- spoiler for the cinematically challenged) gets together at the end with bland 'quirky girl' Emma Roberts (one of the least interesting young people in Hollywood.)

George (Highmore) is a self-obsessed, pretentious little twit (or twat? How personal do I want to get here?) who constantly thinks about, y'know, death and stuff. He is so busy think about death, life, the universe, and everything that he can't be bothered to do schoolwork, look out for his future, or do much of anything except doodle is his Geometry books.

Now, these doodles are good, but they're not good enough to excuse the fact that he thinks he's smarter, cooler, and altogether better than any other human being on the planet. His dialogue is just too cute to be believed. His sense of entitlement is tremendous. Gee, he's an upper class rich white kid with no real problems, so he gets to wipe his feet with his hard-working peers.

The scene where his step-dad loses it and kicks his ass was awesome, I just wished it had lasted longer. Even when George's mom reveals that he's not such an upper-class kid after all (in fact, they're bankrupt,) it does nothing to stimulate empathy for George. Although Sally, his cute-and-oh-so-eccentric love interest is supposed to bring about a change in him, I saw no real development.

Another problem is the dialogue. It doesn't feel raw or natural. It doesn't sound like something an almost-eighteen-year-old would say. Rather, it sounds rehearsed and stiff, especially coming out of the mouths of non-veteran actors Roberts and Highmore.

So there you have it. I thought this movie was a pile of crap, more aptly named 'The Secret Life Of Entitled Twits' than the much milder "The Art of Getting By." The only character I liked was the art teacher, who, incidentally, didn't have nearly enough screen time. Just he dominating presence of Roberts and Highmore and the virtual absence of talented actress Ann Dowd ("Compliance") was enough to make me hate this movie. Unfortunately, it wasn't all that did.

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Beautiful, Bold, Italian

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 24 August 2013 06:19 (A review of I'm Not Scared)

It is 1978, and Italian youth Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano) lives what initially seems like the freedom-filled, idyllic childhood we wish we all had. But this life has dark implications, which reveal themselves when Michele finds a boy his age chained up in a hole, to his horror and surprise.

The boy is Felippo (Mattia Di Pierro,) a boy Michele's age (nine), who is obviously confused and scared, but very much alive. Initially scared off by Felippo's corpse-like appearance, Michele finds himself coming back to bring Felippo water and food.

Reasoning that someone in his Italian village is Felippo's captor, Michele initially chooses not to tell anyone about his discovery, but when the perpetrators fall onto Michele's lap, he must decide what to do next.

"I'm Not Scared" is an aesthetically beautiful and consistently suspenseful thriller, despite some gaps in character logistics (why doesn't Michele go to the police) seemingly in place to take full advantage of the plot. Moreover, the actors are very strong, including the kids who dominate the picture.

I wasn't terribly impressed with 'Felippo''s performance, but Giuseppe Cristiano was very good as the film's innocent young hero. Giulia Matturo is also strong as Michele's little sister Maria, a cutie (who with her oversized glasses and ponytail reminded me of a more attractive, more Italian Heather Mattarazzo in "Welcome to the Dollhouse.")

Maria is in many ways a typical little sister, being a bother and trying to get her big brother into trouble, but Matturo gives a fine performance. Adriana Conserva is also good as Barbara, an obese and loud girl to which Michele proves his moral worth at the beginning by saving her from humiliation at the hands of a bullying 'friend.'

The plot is exciting without being stupid (the curse of modern Hollywood) and oh man, that cinematography, oh man. The first scene in that golden wheat field made me feel like I was there smelling the wheat, having it stick to my clothes, and futilely trying to outrun the film's spry youngsters (except Barbara, who's around my size.)

"I'm Not Scared" is a convincing movie with some adept symbolism concerning what it means to grow up. I would compare it to some of the modern classics like "Let the Right One In" and "Pan's Labyrinth", with a little "The Boy In the Striped Pajamas" for good measure. I definitely recommend it, and I for one think it's accessible for people who aren't a fan of slow-paced foreign art films.

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Silent Horror Classic

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 23 August 2013 09:44 (A review of Nosferatu (1922))

My favorite vampire movie of all time is "Let the Right One In." There are just so many layers of meaning in the film to find and enjoy. Although "Nosferatu" won't be stealing first place any time soon, it's still a decent and memorable piece of German Expressionist horror.

Radical for the time it was made, this silent era film pursues it's antagonist, Orlok (Max Schreck) like a waking nightmare. It's righteous hero, Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim,) who reminded me of "Brain-Dead"'s Lionel, only gayer, seemingly has no chance against the supernatural forces that surround him.

Hutter is sent by his boss, Knock (Alexander Granach,) a rather repulsive old man, to go to bloodsucker Count Orlok's castle and have him sign a lease. Orlok, it seems, is looking to move in RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO HUTTER (a vampire in a residential area- isn't that lovely,) and Hutter, as an agent of Real Estate, is the man for the job.

Leaving his fair and lovely wife Ellen (Greta Schröder,) Hutter travels to the castle, only to get wrapped up in the horror of "Nosferatu," the horror that Count Orlok engulfs his victims in. Will Hutter get out alive? Will lovely Ellen become Orlok's next victim? Is the Count himself unstoppable?

I kept waiting for soft, girly Hutter to sack up and protect his innocent wife, but he never really stepped into action. Not to mention the eyeroller of a scene where Hutter tries to escape from Orlok's castle window with a rope, only to fall about half a foot and- you guessed it- knock himself clean out. With a husband like this, who needs girlfriends?

The make-up effects for this movie are very impressive, and the scary creation of Orlok bears little to no resemblance to his counterpart, Max Schreck. The makeup job on unsavory Knock was good too. To me, the scariest thing about, rat-toothed, bug eyed Orlok, ironically, was the way he held his arms straight at his sides when he walked.

It certainly made him seem less human! It is possible that a hug might make him loosen up, but I seriously doubt it. Well, Orlok was freaky, Konck was gross, Hutter was a sissy- Ellen was a typical boring '20s love interest, and the weakest of the four characters. As fragile as a feather, I expected her to faint dead away half the time, but admittedly. in the end she turned out to be a lot tougher than her lightweight husband.

Overall, Nosferatu is a well-shot and made horror film, with a few scares, and fine performances from the leads. It's not as strong character wise as "Let the Right One In," nor as psychologically astute (although for me it was hard not to see hints of homosexuality in Knock's character in the way he touched and interacted with Hutter,) and I think it is a tiny bit over-rated, but overall it is a entertaining piece of classic horror.

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Great Concept, But...

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 22 August 2013 08:17 (A review of The Thirteenth Floor)

"The Thirteenth Floor" starts out with a great concept and proceeds to flay it with the efficient brutality of a certain gender-flexible character in "The Silence of the Lambs." If you've seen "The Silence of the Lambs," you'll know who I'm talking about (hint- his initials are BB.) If you haven't, never mind it, but realize that plot of "The Thirteenth Floor" isn't nearly as good as it sounded on paper.

Brilliant computer expert Hannon Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl) has created a world beyond his wildest daydreams. Using cutting-edge virtual reality techniques, he has created the his childhood home- 1930's Los Angeles, populated by conscious, thinking, reasoning people, who are nonetheless only characters in a virtual world.

With the help of fellow hackers Jason Whitney (Vincent D'Onofrio ) and Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko,) Hannon has done the impossible- and characters modeled after the three men exist within the computer. Hook one man up to the computer, and he gets to exist within the simulation. What can go wrong? As it turns out, everything.

After Hannon is brutally murdered, Whitney and Douglas do some snooping inside the computer program, looking for clues. Vincent D'Onofrio gives a good performance both as grungy hacker Whitney and the flamboyant, disturbed, possibly gay (?) character within the simulation, Ashton.

Unfortunately, Craig Bierko gives a spectacularly poor performance as the boring, unsympathetic Douglas, and it's nearly impossible empathize with him. Other than a widening of the eyes, there seems to be nothing going on upstairs in Bierko's flat, emotionless acting.

I would like to live in a world where D'Onofrio gets to be the lead and Bierko gets to be the sidekick. But D'Onofrio, physically, is not leading man material, and the movie where the fat man gets to be the lead comes ever so rarely in our lifetimes. But that's okay, because D'Onofrio gets the only other interesting role (the other is Mueller-Stahl) in a concept-based movie where interesting characters are slim pickins.

And of course, Bierko's character wouldn't be complete without an insipid love interest, so make way for Gretchen Mol, as boring ol' Jane, Hannon's daughter, who comes out of nowhere to seek solace in Douglas' bed. The dialogue ranges from okay to dreadfully dire, with a high cheese factor and no comedic value.

It's too bad, because there are flashes of brilliance in this script, but mediocre dialogue, a useless love interest, and a poor lead performance sink this boat fast. If this was, in fact, a comedy, the dialogue would be more at home, except for it's blundering self-importance. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

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Sick, in More Ways Than One

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 21 August 2013 01:34 (A review of Kan shang qu hen mei (2006))

A well-made story set against the backdrop of post-revolutionary China that, despite it's strengths, often comes off as boring and exploitative. I have no problem with child nudity in, say, "Let the Right One In," but the movie's obsession with the four-year-old's protagonist's genitals is not only creepy, but just plain wrong. I've seen less nudity in a Lars Von Trier flick.

Fang Qiangqiang (Bowen Dong) is a rebellious tyke who is dropped off at a grim boarding school by his father, than left to sink or swim, so to speak. What follows is a kind of brainwashing sicker than anything you'll see in "The Human Centipede" or "Audition."

The kids are teased with the superfluous exercise of receiving little red paper flowers for good behavior. All Qiang wants is the flowers, but his habitual bed-wetting and daily transgressions make the others immediately dislike him. Hence- no flowers. The boarding school is barren and cold, except for a few toys that don't look like they couldn't make the cut for the Goodwill donation box.

Immediately, it is established that all independent thought is squelched at this academy. The children are taught to eat, drink, poop, and sleep as one. These kids are being taught to be compliant, much to the horror of this free-thinking viewer. Meanwhile, Qiang stirs up trouble like a tiny Randall P. McMurphy, inciting rebellion when he convinces the impressionable children that strict Mrs. Li (Zhao Rui) is a tyke-eating monster.

This movie actually has a lot to say about values both Chinese and American. The scene where Mrs. Li goes ballistic about Qiang getting a female classmate to lift up her skirt so he can give her an 'injection' is particularly telling, as it is an unhealthy reaction to a natural exchange between children. Not only does she reprimand Qiang fiercely, she also resorts to name-calling to the girl for 'letting a boy take off her pants.'

However, I will say that the nudity bothered me, and before you say "That's your problem," let me ask you this- would you let your little boy, your brother, your nephew get undressed for a camera at this developmental age? And before you say "it's his rights," children of this age have no rights when it comes to 'choosing' to flaunt their body in front of the camera.

It would be different, of course, if the nudity were crucial to this plot. It isn't. Also, I'm almost certain they terrified the living s**t out of these children to get a performance. The tears of these toddlers are so incredibly real that the movie has almost a documentary feel. A good thing? Maybe, unless you take into account that no child this age can give a performance of this caliber. Either they're the best child actors ever. Or... there's something else going on here.

The film mirrors the totalitarian regime of the era, so that's food for thought, if you like that sort of thing. The children are adorable, if only they were fully clothed more often. Yeah, I've decided for sure. I'm rounding the rating off to a 5.5.

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This Ain't Hollywood

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 20 August 2013 05:38 (A review of In Between Days)

Yep, this is pretty much your anti-Hollywood movie. Through lack of professional actors, elaborate sets, soundtracks, and expensive cameras, "In Between Days" tells the a story of teenage woes set against a snowy, barren backdrop.

Many would call "In Between Days"'s lack of action 'boring,' I found the uber-realistic feel of the film intriguing. This is a movie the filmmaker made because she wanted to make it, not because it would make a lot of money. I find that a refreshing concept. I am proud to be the audience for this movie.

Super-cute Aimie (Jiseon Kim) is a Korean immigrant caught in the transition between childhood and adulthood. Not a particularly avid student, quiet Aimie spends most of her time with her troubled guy friend, Tran (Taegu Andy Kan.)

Aimie and Tran are unsure if they want to take their relationship to the next level, and both play petty, childish games to make each other jealous. When Trans starts pressuring Aimie to do things she isn't on board with, and soon Aimie is stuck between catering to a immoral, manipulative young man, and losing a boy who is virtually her only friend.

In her spare time, Aimie makes recordings for her absent father, who still lives in Korea. These recordings, set against a blurry image of the city Aimie is learning to call home, are poetic and sad. Aimie's mom is dating again, a prospect Aimie is adverse to, and struggles with secret sadnesses and insecurities of her own.

I liked Jiseon Kim's performance as quiet, thoughtful Aimie, which seemed very natural and down-to-earth. Taegu Andy Kan backs her up nicely as Tran, who becomes gradually less likable as the film goes on. I see the film as a depiction of a co-dependent relationship- Tran wants Aimie's companionship, as does Aimie, but their conflicting interest keep driving them part.

Maybe they should separate from each other, especially as Tran's hobbies become more and more criminal, but up comes their uncertainty and loneliness, driving them together again. Aimie is a sweet but flawed character- you get the feeling she has the best interests at heart for everybody, but her youthful immaturity keeps getting in the way.

I started to get a little bored in the last thirty minutes, but I still think this is an interesting movie that should be viewed by people with an interest in truly independent cinema. It remains gently bleak and understatted throughout. Aimie will remind you of your teenage years, when you were hopefully trying to do the right thing, but getting caught in your childish hang-ups.

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