KIDNAPPED – review

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   For some reason I am inherently drawn to movies that people say are ‘brutal’. Not the ones that are just gore for the sake of gore because that was done in the ‘80’s and then more realistically in the ‘90’s. I mean the movies that supposed screw with your head because they are so dark and gruesome. Films that take you to a place you don’t want to be. For me it’s looking into the darkness, or a mimic of it, and seeing if I can take what I see. And sometimes it’s good to be shocked, to be outraged because it reminds you where your line is with art and films, and why you feel that way. So this is what lead me to watch Kidnapped, which I found streaming on Netflix. I had read about how brutal it was and was curious. So here we go.

   Kidnapped is the story of an upper middle class family in what I can only assume is Spain (Portugal maybe) as they settle into a new house. While getting adjusted they are going to celebrate their new home but struggle with convincing their daughter to stay in for the night. As they go through their squabbles their lives are torn apart by the intrusion of three masked men who break into their home to rob them. As the night goes on the terror rises because it seems that it isn’t just money these men want and suddenly the teenage daughter becomes the focus of one of the men. It is left to the family to save themselves, if they can, because there is no help coming, and hope is running short.

Here’s the thing, if you have seen one home invasion/home under siege movie in the last twenty + years you have just about seen them all. Last House set the template and Straw Dogs set the bar. Outside of that the modern ones are all pretty much the same – dumb family, cute daughter/woman, an over-brave/stupid husband (take your pick because they are either or with no real arc from one to the other), and drug addicted sadists as invaders that usually have rape in mind. Sure, sure, there are some that are different (The Strangers came close to being different and good and scary but it was so DUMB that it hurt me inside) but the template is set and that is it. Sometimes the victims survive, sometimes not, but in the end it’s an examination of suburban terrors. And it’s interesting, and it has its power but it is one of those subgenres that has never evolved.  The movies have gotten nastier, meaner, but aren’t really different. Enter Kidnapped, which trades new ideas and themes for interesting (almost daring) direction and a reality that wavers at the end.

The film is done in very few shots so that you have a sense of the urgency and terror of the family but this is broken up, as the tension, when the camera switches from one perspective to the other – from mother and daughter held captive by two of the men at the home to the father out with the third getting money from ATMs. Had the film kept the viewer as in the dark as the family is it would have made the film that much more powerful and haunting as our  minds ran out the rope of what could be happening that we are not seeing. There are some interesting turns in the film but like most of the others the family is too bold at the worst times and too cowardly at the worst times and it takes you out of the film as you want to scream out at them for being so stupid. What killed me though was a turn at the end that seemed just ridiculous for what it had established. This was a matter of choosing brutality over sense and it’s a shame. I like darkness as much as the next person but in some cases enough is enough.

And there’s the rub, the persistence of so many movies and filmmakers to cling to this brutality over story. In a movie like Serbian Film it has poignancy and adds to the heartbreak of the story, here though you never know the characters, never care for them so it plays like a bull fight where it is just violence for the sake and art of violence. A red play on a barren stage. Without the investment it means nothing. In the end the intention of the film is like so many other modern films and it clings to a black nihilism and fatalism that seems to say that these intruders are like Lovecraft’s Old Ones, gods that care not for us but to use and destroy us as they will or ignore us if they care to. And to a degree that is violence, but movies like this seem to want us to cower in fear from The Other that can invade and destroy our lives and not fight when we have no choice.

This is a well made, horribly dubbed film that will play to the crowd that is interested in this sort of fare. It is brutal, it is dark, and it gets very,very nasty. For me it all amounted to nothing. In a movie like Irreversible there is persistent darkness but the most horrifying scene in the film is overshadowed by a subtle, quiet, beautiful scene later on that, because of what we know, serves to press the point of why that earlier attack was made even more horrible. That is the power of films like this. Not to push our nose in excrement to prove a morbid point.

So sure, this is brutal and grim and all of that but in the end we’ve seen it before. Too many times. And I am ready for something different. I am hoping the next rash of home invasion films gives me that.

6 out of 10

my books – MEEP

Bite Marks–review

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   Oh vampires, you are so darned popular these days it’s sickening.  I realize that you guys are hip, and have that whole danger aspect that the kids love these days but darn it I really need you guys to lay low for a while.  It’s just too much.  Give the other monsters a chance, will ya?  This goes for zombies too but we’ll deal with them another day.  On the docket for the day is Bite Marks, a decent enough vamp movie with a it of a twist to it but darn it, I am just tired of vampires.

   Bite Marks follows two men on a backpacking trip across country for a vacation.  The young couple decide to rest their legs a bit and hitch a ride with a homophobic trucker.  As the three of them travel the tension rises, though we aren’t sure if its sexual or otherwise but it breaks when they head to a salvage yard to get the truck looked at.  While at the yard the trucker looks into the back of the semi to check on the load he is carrying and finds that the coffins he was responsible for are empty, and their contents are stalking the salvage yard.  The three men suddenly find themselves hunted by the hungry undead and are forced to hide within the cab of the truck with no weapons and no way to call for help but as their desperation grows so does their ingenuity and if they can get past their differences and work together they may just survive the night.

   Bite Marks is a quick, clever little movie that will charm a lot of people, and heck, its refreshing to see a gay skewing horror film for a change, but in the end it’s still a generally by the numbers vamp movie.  There are a lot of fun ideas here, a nice cameo, and some self awareness that keep you interested but just not enough of a plot to give the film real legs.  The gags get old, the campires are not that great and in the end that’s what this movie is about, it’s a vampire movie and if they aren’t engaging then the movie just doesn’t work. Again, the film is fun, it just gets a little boring. 

   There is a lot to enjoy here and I wouldn’t want to turn people off of something that is clever, light hearted, and is generally fun but in the end this just isn’t a very good horror film.  It’s an ok movie, sure, but as horror films go it ain’t so great so check the trailers and see what you think.  Me, I am ready to give vampires a wide berth for a bit.

6.5 out of 10

George–A Zombie Intervention – review

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George – A Zombie Intervention - review

Ya know, I love zombies as much, no, more than the next guy but man, I tell you what, they are starting to get like vampires – which is to say that they are overexposed. The good thing is that zombies are still pretty interesting, and there are some pretty good movies about them coming out. Alas, with vampires we are in the middle of the romantic vampire trend still so everything looks the same. Still, I think it’s time for zombies to take a bit of a break. I think it’s time they took some time off. None of this is to say that George is a bad film at all, it’s pretty ok, but it just goes to solidify my point because everyone and their uncle is making zombie pictures. If you wanna make a movie, ya start with a horror film. If you wanna make a horror film you start with zombies. Which brings us to George a fun zombie comedy that gives its gag away too early but still manages to be pretty decent.

George has a problem. He is avoiding the light, avoiding going out, and people seem to disappear around him. Fearing the worst, his sister and friends decide it’s time for an intervention. Fearing that George may secretly be a zombie and may be eating people so his friends hire an intervention specialist to aid them in their cause, though once they meet her they realize that their specialist may not be as experienced as they have been lead to believe. Needless to say George, a slacker in a robe who looks like he hasn’t seen the light in a while, is none too pleased to find himself in the middle of an intervention. He insists that he isn’t a zombie and rebuffs the attempts to plead with him to get help. Refusing to give up, the professional interventionist sets her feet and tries tact after tact but nothing seems to be getting through to him so they decide to take a break. No sooner do they break though when one by one the guests start to fall prey to accidents that out George’s true nature. But even as he starts to devour some of his friends it would seem that there may be a real killer amongst their numbers but who the real monster is is yet to be seen.

The premise for the film is actually pretty fun, and the movie is put together pretty darn well, it’s just that the story runs out before the picture does. A lot of the film is a one note joke that gets too much wear for too little cloth. There is just not enough depth here so that by the time you are nearing the conclusion you have been ready for the film to end for about fifteen minutes. Even the twists are not so much twists as obvious extensions of the story that are played for their surprise factor. Gore fans will get a kick out of the blood and the violence, which is plentiful on both accounts, but again, it is strictly because a zombie movie is supposed to be gory, and not because the movie wants to add something.

Movies like this come out all the time these days. An interesting premise with little funding and seemingly an eye on the profits but not the story. I would never be so cynical as to say that this was a film made strictly for money but it does feel like a film that was made because zombies are cool right now, and not because someone was a fan of zombies. If you can catch this on the cheap it is worth checking out but it isn’t something you will regret missing if you never catch it. The story is thin, the acting is fair, the gore is ok, but in the end it’s a feature built on a joke that is short film sized.

6 out of 10

11-11-11 Movie review

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11-11-11 Movie review

UGH!
That is my review of this film. Three letters, one word, one feeling – UGH! Man alive, I tell you what, I dragged my girlfriend to a dumpy mall an hour and a half away from where we live to see what I thought would be a creepy little movie only to be greeted with one of the dumbest movies I have seen in a while. And what makes it worse is that this is a director – Darren Lynn Bousman – who has done stuff I have liked. He has talent. He has skill. This though, this is junk. This is one of those movies you trick people into watching because you are mad at them.

The film centers around an angsty writer who recently lost his wife and son in a tragic arson perpetrated by a crazy fan (something we sorta find out in passing) and has since been on his own death trip. His publishers are desperate for his next best seller (they go to great lengths to tell you about his LEGION OF FANS but we are given no context of what SORT of writer he is – fiction, bio, thriller, horror, romance, physical books or e-books, this actually does sorta matter) but all he has on his mind (reasonably so, though we don’t know how long ago his family were murdered) is his pain and writing in his journals. After a brush with death himself he begins to get the funny feeling that something isn’t right in his life. The number 11 keeps reappearing over and over again and its shadow looms large in his mind. When he finds out his father, a very religious man, is on his death bed he flies to Barcelona to be with him (the film is set up as a countdown, starting on 11-7-11 and for the huge stuff that happens to this guy it always ends up contained to a few hours, like being in a serious car accident. You don’t even realize or understand that he was close to Spain in the film until you have to just assume as much since he flew there in no time at all). When he returns to his family home he finds out that his wheel chair bound brother has been working with their father on a new religious text and that there are things that may not want it completed. Enter the mythology of 11, which states that if you begin seeing the number regularly that you have been ‘activated’ and will begin hallucinating and seeing ‘way-finders’ who may be angels or demons, but no one is quite sure which. As danger begins to push in on the family and their home our hero’s atheism is put to the test and he must now question if what he has believed for all this time was wrong and whether he and his brother have a key part to play in a war for the future.

Annnnd, that’s about it. There’s more but the less you know the better. Not to avoid spoilers but to avoid dooming you with the mind-shattering inanity of this mess. Poorly written, soap opera acting, a plot that was cool in 1999, and enough leaps of faith and logic to make Frogger tired. This is amateur hour on full display. The film is in such a rush to get you to 11-11-11 and 11:11PM that day that you never get a genuine feel for what is at stake. The film never makes you feel empathy for the lead character that abandons his brother and father over and over again when he knows there is danger afoot, and who, in the end, would almost seem like he’d want the end of the world as miserable as he is. This film is so frustrating and so lazy, and my god, so dark (there is so much in the film that you can’t really see with the muddy way it was shot) that this becomes one of the most frustrating films you’ll encounter this year.
And sure, sure, I have seen WAY worse films in 2011, absolutely, but this had so much potential that this one stings as bad as the worst of those movies because this was someone who could have done something good. Instead he did a story that was a mix of eight other movies that were done way, way better. Literally, this feels as if it was an old script that someone grafted onto the 11-11-11 date. This is bad, folks, bad, bad, bad, and I warn you away from it and hope you can be spared the utter heights of mediocrity that this film achieves. You are warned.

4 out of 10

The Coffin – review

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   Something American films have never gotten right when it comes to modern ghost stories is the sense of dread that the rest of the world, especially in Asia, have nailed even in the worst of their films. There is something that perhaps we have lost in American culture, the reverence and fear of the dead isn’t as strong here so we don’t fear spirits as much until they become violent towards us or our loved ones. But it is the knowledge the dead have of what lies beyond the veil of life that scares those in the other regions of the world, that, and that when the dead return, they don’t usually care to return to the darkness alone.

   The Coffin tells the story of two strangers who come across a ritual done in Thailand where the living go through a burial ceremony to rid themselves of bad karma and they decide to go through the ceremony. What they find after the ritual is that they feel free, free of past worries and sorrows and in the case of the woman, free of Cancer. As happy as they are to be seeing life through new eyes though, they find that the horrors they faced within the coffin, during the ritual, are hanging with them and are becoming more horrifying by the day. It is only when their loved ones begin to suffer that the two begin investigating what is happening and the true nature of the ghosts they are seeing comes to life. It seems that if you rid yourself of bad karma you are merely passing it to the closest person to you. Now these two strangers must discover how to satisfy the things haunting them before they rip their lives and everyone in them apart.

   A very subtle, very slow film, this plays well with the classic Asian ghost stories of recent years. The story isn’t quite as strong, and the scares are not quite as intense as other films but this is a solid tale that offers a lot of terror. There is a lot said here, a lot about coming to terms with your place in life, with death, and with life itself, and these only add to the film and give the viewer something to ponder when the movie is long over. Not a perfect picture, with some lulls in the pace, but a good movie and perfect for fans of subtle ghost stories.

7 out of 10

Movie Shorts

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Darn these movie shorts are riding up on me.

Shark Night

Good, ridiculous fun that is utterly brainless and knows it. Great crowd movie. Makes me feel like an ‘uncut’ version is waiting in the wings to be released on video. Hmm. Make sure to watch after the credits. WOW!

6.5 out of 10

 

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark

An amazing remake of the scary original. Great atmosphere, fantastic scares, and very solid acting. And yeesh are these things nasty. A big, weird plot hole in the middle of the film but it’s sort of like a fairy tale in and of itself so I forgave it.

8 out of 10

 

The Reef

Very good shark movie set in the real world. Very grim, very nerve wracking, and very good. If you like shark movies you’re gonna really like this one.

7.5 out of 10

 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

If a new movie in a long running series I have no interest in can captivate me then they’ve done something right. Great digital work. Great acting. One of Summer’s biggest surprises and best films.

8 out of 10

 

Red State

See, you watch this and then get all sad that director Kevin Smith is going to quit directing. A very uneven film but wow is it dark, nasty, and good. A totally unexpected film and really solid movie. I love a lot of his comedies but man I wish he would have tried something like this years ago. Some great acting on hand here.

7.5 out of 10

Super

In the year of the superhero we needed some reminders that not all of the people wearing capes are good…or sane. A ridiculously funny and wonderful take on superheroes this was another movie that took me by surprise at how darn good it was. A wonderful companion piece to Kick Ass, though this is way darker and way funnier.

9 out of 10

Grave Encounters

In this fun mix of Blair Witch and House on Haunted Hill (the remake) we get the found footage of several wanna be ghost hunters and the misfortune that befell them during an investigation. Great build up, great atmosphere, and wonderful use of sound. Things get dodgy toward the end and some of the choices I didn’t agree with but an overall fun and solidly scary movie.

7.5 out of 10

Asylum Seekers–review

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   It is really a shame that for most directors and filmmakers the only time in their careers that they have the freedom to experiment with storytelling because I think we the audience lose out on a lot of really interesting work. Alas, the perception, and perhaps reality, is that general audiences don’t want to be challenged but want to have films that are escape and little more. It’s my hope that director Rania Ajani is able to continue making such visually appealing, unique films as we need those just as much as we need movies about giant robots.

   Asylum Seekers is the story of several strangers all seeking refuge in a crowded asylum. The lives of these people have become too big, too complicated, and they are looking for a place to retreat from the world. Each of these potential patients is wrought with a myriad of issues but the biggest issue of all seems to be themselves, something they are not quite able to see. The problem for these wannabe patients though is that there is only one spot available in the hospital which forces the applicants to vie for a place of refuge. In order to win that space the five people must follow the direction of an unseen director who puts them through several tests and it is the results of these bizarre challenges that will choose who gets the last bed. What the people learn though is that while they may be crazy, the director is nuts and it may not just be the last of their sanity that is at risk during these tests but their very lives as well.

   A dark comedy that is perhaps not strange enough and yet too strange at the same time. Asylum Seekers sits in the awkward spot of being too weird for most comedies yet it isn’t quite weird enough to get in on the cult status that so many seek. Just the same, this is a solid, well made film that is pretty fun. The acting is hit and miss, the actors not quite sure how far to take things and how much to reign themselves in, which is one of the things that skews the tone. This really is a very nice looking film and shows off how nice the RED cameras are to shoot digital films with.

   I think the problem here for me is that because the film isn’t quite weird enough I just don’t feel that passionately about it. It isn’t bad, at all, but it isn’t great. It isn’t memorable. It’s fun, and will be worth a watch on an instant stream, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to see it. It does show a lot of promise for this director though and I look forward to seeing what they have in store for us next.

6.5 out of 10

Five Across The Eyes – review

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    I am writing a very, very, very brief review of this because it really doesn’t deserve more than that. I don’t like to be mean about things connected to the arts because most people that do this stuff do it for passion and for love. Sure, make money, some make a LOT of money, but the few that do are extraordinarily rare. Saying all that, there are some things that are just calling for a swift kick.

This is such a thing.

   Five Across the Eyes follows five very loud, very obnoxious, very screamy teen girls (who play their parts well being that they are being what you might expect teen girls to be with all the screams and foolishness) who are out for fun. Only one of the girl’s has a license so the others are relying on her to cart them around. While out the girls accidentally run into a parked SUV and, scared about getting into trouble, drive off without telling the owner of the other vehicle. Not long after they leave though the owner of the SUV tracks them down and begins a horrifying ordeal that will leave the girls in danger of their lives and those that survive forever scarred and damaged.

   See what I did? I made it sound sorta interesting. It isn’t. Shot in what I first thought was a style choice but what seems more like a lack of imagination and trust in their ability, the filmmakers shoot the film almost entirely from the van. This means that you miss a lot of what happens in the movie and are oft times subjected to the camera’s focus being readjusted. Again, in more deft  hands this gains an immediacy and danger but here it simply shows the limitations we are presented with. As an audience we don’t want to hear that there wasn’t enough budget. We don’t want to see it. We want the filmmaker to over come all of that and trick us into thinking they were working with more than they had. Alas, that is not the case. The acting is histrionic, the story is thin, and the situations are so bereft of logic that it plays as a grim urban legend. It is interesting because the terrorizer in the film is a woman but acts as a man down to making the girls undress before her to shame them. The film almost plays like a torture film without as much of the nastiness of some of the recent films in that subgenre. There are moments where you cannot help but yell in frustration at the screen as the characters act so far beyond reason that you wonder what was going on in the heads of the creators. The most damning thing here though is that there are flashes of cleverness. There are flashes of intelligence. Alas, they are just flashes and little more.

   I luckily saw this for free as it was streaming but this is such a poorly shot, poorly acted, poorly conceived film that I would hate to think I might have paid for that.

   As much as I dislike this film I, as always, applaud the filmmakers for getting the thing done and not just done but released. That is a huge accomplishment. It’s my hope that they will have learned from this film and will get better at their craft with every film they make. Looking at the credits you see that this must have been a film of passion as there were so many family members involved. So I say this – while the film is not good, there is much to be said about getting a film together, made, and released and there are far worse productions that come out of Hollywood with real money behind them so there’s hope here, just not a good film.

3 out of 10

Solomon Kane – review

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So, tell my why it is that we get so many ridiculous films released in the United States yet when there’s a funky or interesting film made overseas we tend to ignore it or remake it? Such is the case with the film adaptation of the classic adventure novels by Robert E. Howard, Solomon Kane. This adventure/horror hybrid is a wonderful little gem from Europe that was made a few years ago and hasn’t found its way to a traditional release and that’s a shame because it’s a heck of a film.

Solomon Kane is a man haunted by his past. Having committed a great sin in his youth he tore through his life wildly, killing men with impunity and never worrying about his future but when the Devil begins trying to collect on his soul he realizes that he has lived a useless, rage filled life and that he must change if he is to find salvation. Pledging his soul to the Lord, Kane gives his life to peace but when a family that has saved him from death meets their own dark fate because of his non-violent path he has no choice but to serve as the sword and judgment of God and he accepts this begrudgingly. What Kane does not realize is that the sins of his past are the evil that is haunting the lands and this evil is corrupting all it touches and has its sights set on Solomon and unless he can come to grips with his fate and what he is, he may finally fall into the Devil’s hands for good.

This is such a fun, dark horror/adventure story. Great production values, very good acting, a fun story, and a really well made film. The size of the production is really amazing considering how little you will have read about it. When I say this is a good film, I am dead serious. This would never be a blockbuster but it’s a great gothic adventure. There are some silly logic moments that exist in most of the movies of this scope, sadly, but it’s a great ride with a very good ending. I mean, you get zombies, monsters, demonic followers, a sorcerer, a witch, and some great battles.

Solomon Kane is one of those movies of myth and legend that you hear exist but never manage to track down or see. It’s my sincere hope that somehow, some way this gets a chance to find a broader audience because this is a wonderfully fun movie and I am dying to see it again.

8 out of 10

Strangers Online – review

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With the saturation of social networking people are able to update everything they are doing, everything they are, revealing even the most intimate details of their lives, at a moment’s notice. Add to this the fact that most computers and phones have photo and video capabilities so the boundaries we had lived with for so long have no fallen away and we can now enlighten and embarrass in equal measures. Strangers Online is an examination of this world, of sorts, though I am afraid any higher moral ideals are lost in the sleaze.

Strangers Online is the story of a popular internet DJ with a risqué show that has become a hit because of the taboos it embraces. His show features people calling in to vent, reveal, reach out, or just put a show on. The show skirts the edges of legality but it is this dangerous element that has gained the show its audience. What the viewers don’t know though is that the host hides a dark secret that still haunts him – his ex fiancée was brutally murdered and that murder remains unsolved, and serves as a constant nightmare for him. When the DJ falls prey to the sexual advances of an intern he opens a doorway that leads not only to a dark future but to a dangerous past and he may well become the next hot topic on his own show.

I feel like I mailed it on that description but this is a hard movie to describe. It’s sort of like Basic Instinct meets Fatal Attraction meets Chat Roulette. It’s weird. And not good weird. There is far too much sleaze and too little sense. There are interesting ideas here, such as the notion of an online talk show that skirts the edges of what is appropriate, but any higher ideas are lost in the random sex scenes and titillation. Sigh. It’s frustrating. The film is not made poorly, the acting is decent, the production values, outside of the awful digital background work, is good, but man, that story is bad. What begins as an examination of how our evolution as a society is leading us down a dangerous path but the filmmaker is too interested in the seedier sides of the story and that’s where things fail.

Not too bloody, not that sexy, and horribly written this is a potboiler best left for the lower shelves at the video store or as a late night streamer online, otherwise, steer clear.

4 out of 10