Post-Thanksgiving Brain Droppings…

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turkey carcassWell, another Thanksgiving has been here and gone.  Like the previous years, this year – as God-fearing white Americans – we once again upheld our annual tradition of giving out small pox blankets to the local Native Americans and kicking them out of their houses, claiming our right to do so, followed up with some puppy-kicking to work off all of that food we choked down in front of all the starving homeless.  ‘Merica.

I kid, I kid.  Though, it just doesn’t seem like a true Holiday experience without someone posting a guilt trip-ridden rant against Thanksgiving upon Facebook (my social media of choice at the moment).  In all caps, usually.

Here we are, fully ensconced within this year’s Holiday Cluster Bomb (the last word there usually consists of another four-letter word, but in the interest of keeping things civil, I choose to refrain from using it…though, at times it would be the perfect label, to be sure): The opening ceremony of Halloween a fading memory, Thanksgiving out of the way, and the so-called Black Friday having just slipped into Buyer’s Remorse Saturday (TM), the big one of the Holiday Tripod will soon be upon us- Christmas.  Between then and now, we can all look forward to retail headaches, stress-enducing family gatherings, and gallons upon gallons of Holiday Cheer being force-fed to all of our senses.  Decorations, television specials, and Christmas music everywhere you turn.  Bell ringers keeping an upbeat demeanor as they shiver in the cold amidst be-haggard  shoppers.  The delicate sound of children screaming in the toy aisle.

If it sounds like I’m a bitter, jaded curmudgeon about the Holiday season, well…I’m not, really.  Truth is, amidst all of the hoopla that will stretch until New Years Day (and a bit beyond, depending on the level of hangover some will experience), I can step back and observe things in a fairly detached manner, and have a sense of humor about all of this.  With a twinkle in my eye and a smirk on my lips, my going through this Holiday season will be the same as how I get through any day of the year.  Though, admittedly, things are a bit different now than they have been in years previous.  And that’s a good thing, really.

Cryptic enough for you?  Well, this is what happens when I freestyle a blog post like this, without any kind of structure whipped up before hand.  No point, just pure unadulterated brain droppings at this late/early hour here in Eastern Nebraska.  ‘Tis how I roll at times, yea verily.  Cheers.

::END TRANSMISSION::

Movie Review: GRAVE ENCOUNTERS

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Grave-Encounters-poster-350x518Tribeca Film
2011
NR

In this horror flick, the stars of a paranormal investigation TV show spend the night in a derelict psychiatric hospital, hoping to uncover what’s been going bump in the night.  As their cameras roll, they find themselves trapped — and hunted.

Well well well, lookie what we have here.  Could it be…no, it can’t.  But wait…yes.  Yes I do believe we have a found footage-style horror movie that actually worked with your old, jaded Uncle NecRo.  Mind you, I went into Grave Encounters after having watched the less-than-stellar Episode 50.  So, I wasn’t really expecting much when I pressed Play on the second choice to round out a theme night of horror movie watchin’.  And man, what a pleasant surprise Grave Encounters was.

Sure, it’s yet another Found Footage movie with a Mocumentary style, set at another abandoned mental asylum with a nefarious history.  Usually, the general script for one of these goes like this: Hapless amateur paranormal investigators spend the night in abandoned building, wackiness ensues, and either they all die/disappear/something really bad happens, or some of them, or none of them, by the time the sun rises.  End of movie.  No, with Grave Encounters, things start off that way – the raw footage shows the group getting outside shots and local interviews, even showing some goof footage to show that the investigators or a bit less than altruistic.  But, once the caretaker of this building chains things up, and after the usual spookiness happens, things take a turn for the weird.  Yep, this oft-used trope is given quite the big, healthy twist, to liven things up a bit and give us something different in the mix.  And no, I’m not going to tell you what that is.

The acting from the cast was top-notch, everyone doing a great job with their roles.  The effects were done mostly in the dark shadows, and with really great effect.  Those of you who thought the effects used in the Paranormal Activity movies were kinda cool but lame overall might want to give Grave Encounters a shot.  Mind you, things did start to drag in the last fifteen minutes or so, but overall Grave Encounters was a surprisingly enjoyable 90 minutes of paranormal-style horror goodness.  Recommended.

Movie Review: GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2

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grave encounters 2Tribeca Films
2012
R

“He opened a gateway, you know?  Friedkin did.  He took the real world and the spirit world and he mashed them together.”

A year after a film crew spent a fatal night there, a new team is entering the halls of Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital in search of the truth. What they discover will make believers out of all of them.  That is, any who live to tell the tale.

As found footage movies go, I did find the original Grave Encounters to be one of the better examples of the much-exploited horror subgenre.  So, when I heard of the sequel being made, I did anticipate its release onto DVD so I could get around to watching to see how well it compared to the first movie.  So, does Grave Encounters 2 hold up its own the second time around?  For the most part, yes.

The story this time centers on a film school student who becomes obsessed with finding out if the movie Grave Encounters was real or not.  To that end, he tracks down themoth3er of one of the actors, and the producer who released the first film.  Finally, at the invitation of someone called DeathAwaits666 (guessing that’s not their real name, there), he and a few of his film school cohorts head out to the old Asylum to discover the truth.

Of course, the beginning of the film reminds one of the second Blair Witch movie, with video reviewers giving their two cents on the original movie.  From there, Grave Encounters 2 builds upon the original, and actually delivers a movie that is just as intriguing, if not better than the original.  Much unlike the second Blair Witch movie.

For the first two thirds of the film, you witness a somewhat jaded film student at first blowing off the first Grave Encounters movie as trite and derivative cheap horror.  Then, he gets a bit more obsessed with finding out whether or not the movie was actually true, as the actors featured on there weren’t really heard from again, at least haven’t worked in other films since then.  So he sets off to check out the veracity of everything, tracking down the mother of one of the actors, and finally the producer of the flick itself, everyone telling him to let it go, it’s just a movie.  Obviously, he doesn’t buy any of it, and talks his friends into heading out to the Asylum where everything was filmed.  Then the wackiness truly ensues.

What Grave Encounters 2 gets right is building a very thick and palpable sense of dread and uncomfortable atmosphere, managing to set a nice dark tone.  Despite starting off with film footage of stupid college kids at a Halloween party (gah), the characters are actually built upon decently, giving a bit of depth on most of them (save for that hop-headed idiot that every movie seems to need to have nowadays…where’s Jason when you need him, eh?) so there’s a little bit of caring when the bad stuff really starts to happen.  I was rather amused that the lead character wanted to do something to revolutionize the horror movie genre, and then we see footage of him making the same-old cliché-ridden horror movie as his student film.  Don’t want to read too much into this, but…sly commentary, mayhaps?  Anyhoo, it’s when they arrive at the asylum when things settles back into the weird stuff that made the first one pretty good.  It’s not a complete rehash of the first and all, fortunately, the movie does do some different things with some of the same effects and concepts of the first.  However, around the final third of the movie…well, not going to spoil things, but let’s just say it was a decent enough twist, but it did slow things down considerably as far as pacing went.

Overall, I found Grave Encounters 2 to be just as entertaining as the first Grave Encounters.  The fact that they decided to not go the rehash route that certain other found footage sequels have been doing as of late (*cough*) gets some points right there.  It also helps that the script was pretty strong, as were the actors and effects.  I don’t know if it’s been released on DVD yet; I watched it on Net Flix streaming, before I could find it for rent at the video store.  Regardless, I would urge you guys to watch this as well as the first movie for a nice little party, there.

Movie Review: DAWN OF THE DEAD

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dawn of the deadAnchor Bay Entertainment
1978
NR (originally X)

“Some kind of instinct.  Memory of what they used to do.  This was an important place in their lives.”

Following an ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead, two Philadelphia SWAT team members, a traffic reporter, and his television-executive girlfriend seek refuge in a secluded shopping mall.

Of the original three …Of The Dead movies that George A. Romero foisted upon the unsuspecting movie public, Dawn Of The Dead resonates the most with this zombie-lovin’ fiend.  Being the second movie made featuring the flesh-eating undead ghouls that Nigh Of The Living Dead brought us, Dawn of The Dead expounded on the ultra-bleak situation that humanity has found itself in.

On the night when the dead started coming back to life and making a general nuisance of themselves, a couple of television news employees and a couple of police realize humanity’s boned (or de-boned, in this case) and high tail it out of the city, eventually ending up at the mall and shacking up in the zombie-free area, hoping to wait out the undead epidemic without going nuts themselves.  Along the way, a thinly veiled commentary on modern consumerism and a biker pie fight led by Tom Savini ensues.

You know, I could go on and on about the history of this film, how it came about, the people behind it, it’s place in cinematic horror history, yadda yadda yadda, but in the end what Dawn Of The Dead boils down to is a very striking modern zombie movie classic that delivers a steady stream of uneasy creepiness and a sharp story.  I’ll admit, the arrival of the biker gang and its ensuing pie fight seems a bit out of place, but…really, what other movie can you say “zombie and biker gang pie fight” with a straight face?  If you’re a zombie movie fan, and haven’t seen the original Dawn Of The Dead…well, I’m ashamed of you.  Rectify this now.  There are many DVD releases of this out there, but I recommend the Anchor Bay edition, as it has a good commentary by Romero himself in that.

Movie Review: MIDNIGHT MOVIE

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PrintBigfoot Entertainment
2009
R

“I cannot believe I’m wanting to get a cop’s attention!”

Some grind house aficionados become the unwitting stars of an old slasher flick when the film’s crazed killer leaps off the screen to hunt them down, drag them back into the movie and kill them.

Midnight Movie is one of those direct-to-video slasher movies that I dawdled a bit with getting around to watching.  As much as I enjoy a good slasher flick, I have to be in the right mood to watch one.  And there was a stretch where I wasn’t exactly in that mood.  So, Midnight Movie languished in my “movies to get around to seeing” list for a bit.  Since I’m reviewing it now, obviously it means I finally got around to seeing this.  Simple deduction, yes.  And now that I have seen this, I wonder why I waited so long to do so.,

Well, okay, there’s not much speculation as to the “why”, really.  The premise itself wasn’t as tantalizing – masked psychopath kills and terrorizes the theater attendees watching an old horror movie.  At least, that’s what I gleaned from the DVD blurb.  Standard slasher premise, different setting.  Cut-and-paste.  Well, fortunately there is a twist to this standard dish.  A bizarre supernatural twist that defies all explanation and logic, and tweaks the rules a bit, making Midnight Movie a surprisingly fun ride.

For a first time outing, director Jack Messitt has made a rather good impression with Midnight Movie.  The story concept was innovative, the characters were a bit more fleshed out than your standard slasher movie fodder, the acting was rather good, and the effects themselves were very cool.  The killer’s mask is one of the best designs I’ve seen recently.  Also, there’s an angle here that doesn’t even attempt to explain how and why everything is happening the way it is, and that’s just bloody fine by me really.  The way it started, I’ll admit, I wasn’t exactly expecting a good outcome for my watching experience, but by the time the credits rolled I was grinning and nodding my head in utter satisfaction.  Check out Midnight Movie sometime, turn off the lights and get ready for a bit of old-fashioned slasher horror fun.

Movie Review: CHILDREN OF THE CORN

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children of the corn 1984New World Pictures
1984
R

“Outlander!   Outlander!  We have your woman!”

A young couple find themselves stranded in the rural town of Gatlin, Nebraska, where they encounte3r a mysterious religious sect of children.  But nowhere in town are there any adults.  The horror grows to a blood-curdling climax as the two new visitors learn the horrifying secret behind the prospering corn fields.

I know that I’m going to get some flak for this, but I still remain flabbergasted that the Children Of The Corn managed to not only garner such a fan base, but happened to spawn as many sequels as it did.  Well, okay, maybe not as mystified as I should be. But, let’s face it. The original Children Of The Corn was rather mediocre at best.

So, for those of you who have yet to check this flick out, Children Of The Corn is about a road tripping couple – one of which is a pre-Terminator Linda Hamilton – who break down in a remote rural Nebraska town (yeah, that’s the kind of pub we need, thanks) where the kids have offed all the adults, and take their orders from Amish Damien and worship “he who walks between the rows.”  The movie plods along, as we experience acting that is barely B-level grade and a story that’s drawn out with little actual scares or barely an atmosphere, until you get to the big climactic ending, which by then falls a bit flat, and you’re just glad it’s over so you can go on with whatever you call a life.

Ugh.  Children Of The Corn was just slow, dull and rather pointless really.  The children in here aren’t even that creepy, which works against the whole nature of the movie’s premise.  By the time I got to the end credits, I couldn’t shut off this movie fast enough.  I remember watching it back in the summer of 1989, what I like to call my misspent youth…but I couldn’t for the life of me remember anything about it, save for it not looking anything like a small Nebraska town.  And I know my small Nebraska towns, here.  After rewatching it for the sake of getting a review on it, I can’t say that it’s better this time around.  Should have just re-read the short story instead.  Final verdict of the movie is a solid “meh”.

Movie Review: SHACKLED

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shackledMidnight Releasing
2010
NR

Sometimes The Past Is Best Left Alone

A botched break-in on the night of murder victim Brian McDonald’s funeral prompts his sister Sarah to start investigating the events surrounding her brother’s last few weeks alive. Soon, rumours begin to arise of Brian’s associations with drug dealing and dodgy characters, but at the same time Sarah begins having prophetic nightmares of the two of them at a mansion, where they are being haunted by strange masked figures. With the help of childhood friend Michael and clues from her late brother’s journal, Sarah begins looking for the mysterious people Brian was dealing with. The search leads them down the dark trail of why she and Brian were fostered, who their real mother is and how the mysterious mansion ties into her brother’s death. Complicating matters are the mysterious people themselves, who will stop at nothing to prevent Sarah getting to the mansion from her nightmares and finding the truth…

It’s been a while since I’ve sat through something that is so slow, tedious and dull that it makes the 82 minute run time seem like three hours.  But, thanks to the 2010 Irish thriller (?) Shackled, I have once again experienced that sensation.  Forgot how that felt, actually.

Usually I can get something positive and enjoyable out of even the most low of low-budget flicks.  Here, everything is so void of a personality, I found it rather hard to pay attention without wanting to break out the Solitaire game on my computer.  And it’s not just that the pacing was slow, the characters were just dull, the acting was flat, and the story itself was rather hard to follow.  I mean, look at the description up there.  I read that, and wonder if whoever wrote that watched the same movie I did.  All I got out of it was a bunch of running around, stock incidental music and probably the worst flashback scene to the 1960s I’ve ever seen in my life.  The low production and dodgy sound qualities are almost a secondary thing, here.  Really, if Shackled hadn’t been included on this 20 Movie Pack that I’m working through, I wouldn’t have even given it a second glance.  And then I would have been happy.  Yeergggh, my life has been wasted.  Pass.

Movie Review: FLATLINERS

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flatlinersSony Pictures Home Entertainment
1990
R

“He said…he said it wasn’t such a good day to die.”

Hot-shot medical students embark on a series of daring experiments to get a peek at the face of death. Stopping their hearts until the vital signs register as flat lines, they then revive the subject.  The group doesn’t count on bringing anything back from their near-death experiences, but each one does.

Back before he became known as The Guy Who Ruined Batman in the 1990s, Joel Schumacher had a pretty good reputation as a movie maker, counting St. Elmo’s Fire and the post-modern vampire classic The Lost Boys in his list of well-known flicks.  In 1990 he entered the realm of post-modern Mad Scientist movies by way of Flatliners.

I watched Flatliners a year after its release in theaters, when it was then newly released on VHS.  Rented it, watched it, promptly forgot about it.  I was also 17, and had the attention span of…well, a 17-year-old kid.  Flatliners was a bit more cerebral than what I was accustomed to in movie watching.

Having rewatched Flatliners recently, though, I must say that the movie is a pretty good neo-Gothic thriller, involving a bunch of young medical students obsessed with life after death.  The cast itself is rather impressive, sporting the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William “Billy” Baldwin, and the highly underrated Oliver Platt as the cast of post-Brat Pack star types, all of which are at their peak here.  The story itself is, surprisingly, not so much about the exploration of life after death, but of seeking forgiveness for your past sins, which I found to be unexpected but still rather intriguing.

Those looking for straight-up horror might be a bit disappointed, as Flatliners is more of a psychological thriller.  For what it is, though, Flatliners is a smartly crafted movie that has held up right nicely over the years.  Recommended watching.

Movie Review: EVIDENCE OF A HAUNTING

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evidence of a hauntingMidnight Releasing
2010
NR

Three investigations conducted by the Supernatural Phenomena Research Society are document, beginning with the exorcism of a young girl in Louisiana, then on to an American Indian Poltergeist in Oklahoma, then finally a particularly difficult case in Dallas, Texas.  Something haunts the tunnels deep below the Trinity River Community College, something evil.  As they probe deeper below, it becomes apparent that they’ve invaded the realm of the son of Satan, and they may not all escape.

“Oh, hey look!  A low-budget movie that’s aping one of those Ghost Hunters type paranormal television shows!  There’s NO WAY this is gonna suck!”

My exact words upon coming across Evidence Of A Haunting on that nifty 20 Horror Movie pack I’ve been working through.  And while I’m no stranger to the type, it does tend to get old, especially when we’re talking the mocumentary style.  All could do is hit “play” and hope for the best.

And just as I suspected, the “best” wasn’t in the cards here.  In Evidence Of A Haunting, we follow around a bunch of character clichés who cannot act their way out of a plastic bag.  Most of the time I swear they’re just reading their lines directly from the laptops they always have conveniently plopped open in front of them.  Not really “acting”, more like reciting lines and reacting to directional cues like a bunch of High School play hacks. When the best acting comes from the kid playing the possessed girl at the beginning, gleefully screaming profanities that would have made a Merchant Marine blush, that I believe says something.

Evidence Of A Haunting, despite having a decent enough concept for a low-budget mocumentary, didn’t have the resources to make any of it work.  By the time I got to the rather convoluted ending, I just didn’t care enough to make sense of any of it.  I was more than happy when the ending credits began to roll, thinking I could have just rewatched the “Ghostfacers” episode of Supernatural.  It would have been shorter and far more entertaining than this overwrought waste of time and brain cells.  Pass.

Movie Review: SUPERMAN RETURNS

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superman returnsWarner Bros.
2006
PG-13

“You wrote that the world doesn’t need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one.”

Set five years after the second movie, it seems that Kal-El has been gone, having traveled to the far reaches of space searching for remains of his home world of Krypton. Now he has returned, only to find that, while he was away, the world has managed to go on without him. This point really hits home when he finds out that Lois Lane is engaged to Perry White’s nephew, has a five-year-old kid, and has won a Pulitzer Prize for her article on “Why The World Doesn’t Need Superman”. Add to that the reappearance of Lex Luthor, who was let out of jail on a technicality and is now rich again, and still looking to score that massive piece of property. Supes has got some ‘splanin’ to do…

WARNING: Spoilers and Geeky Whining Ensue From This Point

It’s been nearly twenty years since the last Superman movie…nearly twenty-five if you happen to not count the last two of the four, like Bryan Singer did. Between then and now, those of us who were patient were treated to many television shows and animated cartoons, not to mention the comic books that gave birth to the man of steel, some good, some not so good. And during that time, many rumors and speculations intermingled with actual facts surrounding the actual realization of another movie teased and taunted us. After all that time, finally we have another Superman movie to spend all of our hard-earned moolah on. Was it worth it?

In the long run, you’re darn tootin’ it was.

Let me tell you, from the opening scene to the classic John Williams score, tingles shot down my spine, and once again I was transformed into a six-year-old boy. Brandon Routh managed to simultaneously channel the spirit of Christopher Reeve and make the part his own, handling the duel role of Clark Kent and Superman deftly. It was eerie the way he embodied the character. I once again believed that a man could fly, and this time you couldn’t see the blue screen effects, which made it all the better. The voice of Marlon Brando as Kal-El’s father sent chills down my spine, as did all the other little (and not-so-little) homages to the original flick. Kevin Spacy played Lex Luthor with a gleefully twisted maniacal way that would make Gene Hackman proud. Kate Bosworth, I admit, was no Margot Kidder, but she did pull off the character nicely. I think she was going for more of the Erica Durance version from Smallville than Kidder’s Lois. The effects were off the chain (and shoot me for saying that)…Superman flying at supersonic speeds, hovering far above planet Earth, using his super hearing, x-ray and telescopic vision, heat vision, and super-breath? I get chills, man. The caper is watching the bullets bouncing off of him, while he’s walking nonchalantly toward the gunman. This is perhaps a near-perfect Superman movie.

So why’d I give this one only four stars out of five? Let me explain…

First off, after the second showing, I started to get the feeling that I’ve seen this all before. If you pay close attention (and ignore the disrespecting teenagers sitting behind you and to the right, making stupid little statements like “Wait, didn’t Lex have superpowers too?” I mean, co’mon…), you’ll notice that many plot points in Superman Returns are virtual retreads of the same plot points in the first movie. The saving of the airplane that Lois happens to be in. The little “Statistically speaking…” speech. Lex’s plan to capitalize on owning land by killing billions. Even a couple of speeches from Lex seemed to be lifted from Hackman’s lines from the first movie. The flying around with Lois Lane…thankfully they didn’t include that annoying “Can You Read My Mind” piece from the first one. Kudos to that. Really, outside of the not-so-subtle hints at the possibility that Supes may have had an illegitimate child with Lois, there’s really not much in the way of moving the characters forward, let alone giving something to really let Supes go to town and utilize the full extent of his powers, like the slugfest from Superman II. All I’m saying is, instead of rehashing, the insertion of another one of Superman’s rouges- Brainiac and Metallo come to mind- would have really brought something fresh to the table.

In the end though, Superman Returns did its job at reestablishing Superman as one, if not the, greatest comic book characters on the big screen. Even at the hefty two-hours-and-forty-five-minute running time, I was captivated from beginning to end. I just hope the inevitable sequel will pump things up a notch…

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