Movie Review: DEAD WEST

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dead westRLJ Entertainment
2017
NR

A charismatic serial killer embarks on a murderous cross-country road trip in search of true love. Along the way he meets and kills several women whom he deems unworthy, eluding capture from the authorities by moving from one town to the next. When the brother of one of his victims decides to track the killer down to get vigilante justice, a revenge-fueled chase ensues. Along the way, the killer finally meets the girl of his dreams; but will they live happily ever after?

This is the third movie that I picked out going strictly by the cover art itself (the others being Abattoir and Candiland, in case you’ve clicked on this one first), and the one of the three I completely regret renting. I mean, judging solely by the cover art above, you can understand why I was expecting something in line with a horror western hybrid. Look at it. The skull on the cowboy hat. The fact that the movie is titled Dead West. I was hoping for some fun undead wild west wackiness. Instead, not only did I discover that the cover itself is several shades of misleading, but the title itself is as big of a lie as is the promise of cake.

So, apparently Dead West originally had the working title of Lady Killer, but was changed to Dead West because reasons. It would have been logical to leave it with the title that would have made more sense to the plot, but whatever. My grievances run deeper than the title and DVD artwork, though (I do wish to get the fact that, at no time during the movie, does the main character wear a hat, let alone one with a skull on the front, out of the way before proceeding).

What we have here is a kind of low-budget neo-grindhouse flick about a serial killer who favors the classic 50s look of leather jacket, white t-shirt and blue jeans, slicked back hair and traveling around this great country of ours in a muscle car with rock n’ roll cranking out of the stereo. He’s on a road trip to find the perfect girl. And he figures he’ll find ’em in the seedy bars in the small towns in the American south. And every time he discovers the perfect girl in fact has a flaw he deems unworthy (usually smoking, or having a less than virtuous reputation, or something he’s surprised to find at a roadhouse bar, those bastions of family values and all that) he kills them with his pocket knife and dumps the bodies. Somehow, he’s able to not get a drop of blood or anything onto himself–let along that pristine white t-shirt of his–in the process. He’s being pursued by the brother of one of his victims, each stop they make bringing him closer to confronting the slayer to get his revenge…which happens around the middle of the film, to which the Serial Killer wins and spends the rest of the movie’s running time meeting and talking a lot with a former call girl, to which he falls in love with, takes out her former pimp that goes by the name Sug White (gads), where they then get married by an Elvis impersonator…and he kills her on their wedding night. The end.

As you can probably imagine, Dead West was quite the slog to sit through. The setup is decent enough…only that’s pretty much dashed when you get around to the acting itself. Yes, it’s what you would expect for an ultra-low budget movie of this sort. The biggest insult is when you realize that this movie is attempting to be a much deeper movie than what it is, and is failing miserably.

Dead West sucks. It’s forgetable, and a complete waste of your time. Pass on this one.

Movie Review: A CURE FOR WELLNESS

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a cure for wellness20th Century Fox
2017
R

“Do you know what the cure for the human condition is? Disease. Because that’s the only way one could hope for a cure.”

A Wall Street stockbroker travels to a remote location in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious wellness center. He soon suspects that the miraculous treatments are not what they seem. His sanity is tested when he unravels the spa’s terrifying secrets and finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all of the guests there longing for a cure.

I have to say, so far the year that is 2017 seems to be a good one for horror movies of the psychological thriller type. It was kicked off in January with Split, now we have A Cure For Wellness in February to give us a good, refreshing psychological horror flick that will play with our minds gleefully like a drunken kitten.

While the reviews for A Cure For Wellness were mixed (to say the least), I went to see it on the opening weekend (caught a late Saturday morning showing), and personally, I found A Cure For Wellness to be a very satisfying, if not uneven, horror flick that really got under my skin, traveled upwards and burrowed its way into my brain, nesting there since.

The story of A Cure For Wellness has a young and upwardly-mobile business shark that gets the attention of the Senior Partners when one of his techniques nearly jeopardizes their long-term goals. So, they send the whippersnapper to the Swiss Alps to a retreat that specializes in hydration health restoration techniques, with the mission to bring back one of the Senior Partners who has been there relaxing, so that he may take the fall if things go south. Pretty simple, really. Except, of course, things seem a bit…off at the sanitarium high up in the hills, as the Senior Partner doesn’t want to leave, and the hospital staff seems to have a serious creepy vibe, as if they were pulled from an Ira Levin novel. Soon, though, something happens that lands the young shark boy as one of the patients in the sanitarium, which is when he discovers that everything that’s happening at the place might not be what it seems, and as he’s given a string of therapy session, his perception of reality gets even more wonky as he struggles to find the truth behind the sanitarium. Wackiness ensues.

A Cure For Wellness manages to stick with you long after the end credits roll and you stagger back out into the world, causing you to chew over and process things, resulting in putting off hammering out a review to post in a timely manner. Sorry about that. This is definitely a Gore Verbinski movie, and as a psychological horror it’s rather effective…for the most part. It works best as in Ira Levin novel as filtered through Alfred Hitchcock. The last reel, though, turns suddenly into a William Castle flick, with a twist that made me rather squicky. But, fortunately, it doesn’t cause the movie to fall flat, and we’re left with a rather satisfying sense of paranoia and dread that will resonate for hours.

Overall, for a horror movie that was released so early in the year, A Cure For Wellness surprised me with a high-quality romp through mind-bending psychological horror. It’s subtle and slow-burning, and comes recommended if you’re burned out on all the recent paste-by-numbers horror flicks of late.

Movie Review: POWER RANGERS

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power rangers movie posterLionsgate
2017
PG-13

“I’ve killed Rangers before.”

Five ordinary teens must become something extraordinary when they learn they learn that their small town of Angel Grove–and the world–is on the verge of being obliterated by an alien threat. Chosen by destiny, our heroes quickly discover they are the only ones who can save the planet. But to do so, they will have to overcome their real-life issues and before it’s too late, band together as the Power Rangers.

Let me try to explain my history with the 90s phenomenon that is the Power Rangers franchise: as I would mention in the podcast the Exalted Geeks and I would record after watching this reboot of sorts, I was 19 when the original iteration of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers hit the Fox affiliate in my neck of the woods. Even though I was still religiously watching shows like Animaniacs and the most excellent Batman The Animated Series, the Power Rangers didn’t seem all up my ally. Then, while staying at a friend’s house, I was made to watch an episode of the show, to which I remember thinking, “Wow, this is terrible…when’s the next episode?” It was a combination of a bad soap opera and Voltron. On the one hand, I knew it was horrible, but I couldn’t stop watching. Soon I found myself catching every episode; well, up until the middle of the Turbo version of the show. That’s when I decided this was too much camp for even myself to care about. And that really does say a lot.

Anyway, all this to lead up to the fact that I watched this recent reboot of the Power Rangers in movie form. Since the big thing now is to reboot everything from everyone’s childhood, it was inevitable. With the Power Rangers, while I was very much familiar with the source material, I didn’t have as close a personal connection as I would have been had I been a child when the show came out. As such, I can’t really complain that Hollywood is destroying my childhood, or whatever. Which is why I kind of lean more toward the “it was all right, I enjoyed it” side of the split reaction this movie is having.

Power Rangers, the movie itself, is what it is, and that is an action movie with “teens” and a strong sci-fi bent and giant robots fighting giant monsters and stuff. Sure, the tone is quite a bit darker, and the teens suffer from the put-upon angst that every teen and young adult seems to have in movies nowadays. But, I do find that better than the goody-goody do-gooders of the television show. And here, Zordon isn’t the all-wise, all-knowing head inside a giant terrarium; he’s more of a cranky jerk trapped inside a wall of a space ship. And Rita Repulsa was originally the Green Ranger before she turned on her Rangers, which was lead by Zordon, who was a Red Ranger, and not a space witch that was trapped in a dumpster on the moon. But…I like that angle. It works here, I think.

Mind you, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have my points of contention. Like, for instance, the over-abundance of Krispy Kreme product placements. I mean, it was to the point where it was part of the dialog and factored into the search for the MacGuffin Crystals. There’s a scene where, while the Rangers are busy tussling with the giant monster outside, we cut to a shot of Rita sitting down to try out a couple of donuts inside the Krispy Kreme. I haven’t seen this level of blatant shoehorning of product placement like this since the Mountain Dew soda machine turned into a robot in the first Transformers movie.

Overall, though, I did enjoy the movie for what it was. It didn’t try to be a carbon copy of the source material, yet didn’t crap all over it as well, unlike certain recent movies involving giant transforming robots or mutated reptile martial arts enthusiasts. The story was good, the cast had some good chemistry between them, and had just the right amount of cheese to keep the whole “grim n’ gritty” in check. Yeah, if you’re a fan of the series, go ahead and check it out. Results may vary.

Movie Review: CANDILAND

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candilandMotorcycle Boy Productions
2016
NR

Peter, a failed tennis star, is struggling to rebuild his life after a car accident forces the end of his career. Angry at the world’s consumerist values and his controlling father, Arnie, whom he blames for being absent during his mother’s dying days, Peter is desperately searching for a moment’s peace. In an attempt at normality, he heads to a bar for a night out, where he encounters recently divorced and grieving Tess, abandoned and lonely. Finding solace in each other’s brokenness, they withdraw to Peter’s apartment and begin a sensual love affair. Days of bliss pass by, and when Tess reluctantly tries to leave to deal with he aftermath of her divorce, Peter proposes an idea: isolate themselves in his apartment to create their own reality–CANDiLAND. Now cut off from the world, the tormented lovers embark on a dogmatic quest for a higher existence. But their possessive love descends into a surreal savagery as Arnie attempts to reconnect with his son and put an end to CANDiLAND.

The second movie that I rented based solely on the cover artwork itself, Candiland seems to be the oddity of the three. Which is saying quite a bit, considering my genre tastes and what the other two were about. Candiland was listed as a “psychological horror”, which in a way it is. But more of the way that a Chuck Palahniuk novel is listed as “psychological horror” because there’s really no way to find a genre descriptor that can do justice to what was just experienced.

Not that Candiland is a good movie, per se. It is an ambitious mind scramble, and I can certainly appreciate what the filmmakers were going for. But the execution of the movie? It was quite a bit disjointed, to say the very least. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here.

Based on the book of the same name by Elizabeth Engstrom, Candiland shows the downward spiral of a couple that have isolated themselves from the world due to being emotionally damaged by families and love. Slowly they both descend into madness while shutting out the outside world completely (I call it the Pink Floyd’s The Wall Maneuver), which results into all sorts of insane wackiness when the outside world does try to make a connection. Like, say, when the overbearing father of one of them tries to save his son from himself. Mind-bending wackiness ensues.

Candiland…or CANDiLAND, I guess, going by the movie’s official descriptor, is an interesting movie, to say the very least. On the one hand, it’s an interesting study into the mental and emotional decay of a clearly unstable manic depressive individual, who happens to take his girlfriend along on this ride (she was rather keen about joining him, it seems), taking the Syd Barrett approach to mental happiness. They shut themselves inside his apartment, creating their own world in which time is banned, all that exists is them (with the occasional unavoidable interruption from the “real world’ they’re trying to escape from), to the point in which they declare themselves gods of their reality, and finally forgetting to eat and bathe and…well, you get the idea. Add into this crazy stew a father who wants to help his son, but goes about it the way someone who only has a hammer as their tool goes about opening a jar of pickles, if you get my drift. The filming and the editing add to the overall sense of slippage pretty effectively, and on that level, CANDiLAND works pretty well. However…

Boy, are the characters annoying. Just, bloody annoying. To the point where I found myself shouting at the screen on more than one occasion, ‘Are you kidding? STOP THAT!” Especially at first, when they couple are in loooooooove and saying and doing things that threaten to empty out the contents of your stomach in a moment’s notice. It really says a lot when the character played by serial weirdo Gary Busey is the most sane character in the movie. And do you remember what I said earlier about the editing adding to the overall sense of slippage? Yeah…unfortunately, it also contributes to what makes CANDiLAND more disjointed rather than innovative. It’s clear there was a very small budget for this, and while they did their darnedest with what they had, it just wasn’t enough to really warrant watching this again.

Overall, CANDiLAND wasn’t terrible, but not really that good, either. It’s one of those movies that had some great ideas, but the execution slipped the rails somewhere.

Movie Review: LOGAN

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logan20th Century Fox
2017
R

“Charles Xavier, the world famous mutant octogenarian.”
“Actually, I’m a nonagenarian.”

In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are upended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

I think we can all agree that Wolverine was the best thing about all of the X-Men movies that have been produced since 2000. Even the ones that were sub-par, with just a cameo of Wolvie made it at least a bit more bearable to sit through. An all-too-brief oasis of awesome in an otherwise mediocre experience. He was the best thing about that otherwise forgettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. And I have yet to find the strength to review that one.

With Logan, we finally get to witness our favorite X-Men character’s swan song…along with another X-Men’s swan song in the process. More on that in a bit. Also, perhaps now would be the best time to hoist the !!!SPOILERS!!! flag, so in case you’re one of the five or so people who haven’t watched Logan yet, you’ve been warned. And why are you reading this, when you can be watching Logan? Good grief, let’s get our priorities in order, here.

Anyway, after watching Logan with the rest of the Exalted Geeks (and then promptly recording a Pubcast about it), I have to say that, if this is the way in which Wolverine is going to go out, then it’s a very satisfying way to go. Let’s face it, there was no other way than with a hard “R” rating that would do the character justice, and this movie uses that. And yet, even though this is a movie about the X-Men, Logan manages to be much, much more than just a mere superhero movie. This is a gritty western that happens to feature the Marvel mutants.

Here, we find Wolverine–now just going by his civilian name Logan–past his prime. His healing factor is failing him, bringing along several complications with it. Almost all of the other X-Men have died, and due to government modified corn (seriously) there hasn’t been any other mutants born in ages. Professor Xavier is still alive, but he’s in his 90s and suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, causing his mutant brain to become classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the gov’ment. Logan has been taking care of Xavier at a secret location on the U. S. / Mexico boarder, working as a for-hire chauffeur, providing the meds necessary to keep Xavier’s seizures at bay. He’s hoping to buy a boat, so that he can have his father figure live out his final days in peace on the ocean. But, all of that is stuck on the back burner when they find themselves the guardians of a young girl that seems to be a hot commodity for a shady gov’ment agency. Now, Logan, Xavier and this kid is on the run to the north to get her to a place that may or may not exist. Oh, and the girl seems to have the same powers, accessories and disposition of a certain aging Canuk we all know and love.

Hype for Logan couldn’t have been higher leading up to the opening of the movie. We all knew this was going to be Hugh Jackman’s final portrayal of the character he played since 2000. Then we heard that Patrick Stewart was going to hang up his Professor X character after this one, as well. This was going to be the Wolverine movie set in Fox’s Mutant universe to end an era, and the two actors couldn’t have picked a better film to go out on.

Aside that it is possible to make a comic book superhero movie that’s smart, dark and doesn’t insult the audience’s collective intelligence, it finally manage to let the true character of the Wolverine come out, a man who struggles to do the right thing, despite the inner demons and the ravages of time and age. It maintains a bleak future, but with a light of hope at the end. Also, there’s tons and tons of what we’ve all wanted to see since we saw Jackman’s Wolverine pop his claws in the 2000 X-Men movie: Wolverine’s berserker rage. This may be a Marvel-based superhero movie, but it earns its “R” rating, so be warned, ye who want to bring your young kids with.

That said, Logan is more a modern western, with more than a passing comparison with a Sam Pickenpaw flick (the move Shane is referenced a couple of times, especially at the tear-inducing ending), rather than the glossy sci-fi that the X-Men reside in. The result is a grittiness that’s organic and not forced, where you feel how tired and reluctant to go on with his past Logan is. To that end, everyone involved with the acting were fantastic, especially the young girl who portrayed X-23/Laura. My favorite scene with her was where she was eating cereal when she senses the Reavers trying to stealthily sneak up on her. She pauses, then takes another bite of the breakfast food anyway. You have to watch it to understand, I guess.

Which is what I’m urging all of you to do, if you haven’t done so already. So what if you don’t like comic book superhero movies. Logan manages to transcend this label, and will stick with you long after you realize there is no post-credit scenes, and you just stuck around because they were playing a Johnny Cash song. No, not that one. The other one.

Movie Review: ABATTOIR

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abattoir movie posterMomentum Pictures
2016
R

An investigative reporter works to solve the mystery behind a mysterious man who has been buying houses where tragedies have occurred. Set in a world where it always feels like night, even in daylight hours, real estate reporter Julia Talben’s life is turned upside down when her family is brutally murdered. It is believed to be an open and closed case, but Julia quickly realizes there is much more to this story when she returns to the crime scene to find the murder room deconstructed and physically removed from her sister’s home. This ignites an investigative pursuit that eventually leads her and ex-lover Detective Declan Grady to the town of New English where they find the enigmatic Jebediah Crone and the Abattoir–a monstrous house stitched together with unending rooms of death and the damned. Julia comes to realize that her sister’s soul is trapped inside, but the Abattoir isn’t just a house–it’s a door to something more evil than anyone could have ever imagined. Julia and Grady are ultimately faced with the question: How do you build a haunted house? One room at a time.

So, just recently, I decided to rent a handful of movies based solely on the cover art and titles alone. I didn’t read the synopsis, I didn’t do any research into any of them; I just saw the cover, thought “this will do”, and picked ’em up to watch over the weekend. The results were…mixed, to say the very least. Although, it’s nothing I haven’t come across before.

Anyway, one of those movies was Abattoir, a movie that was released in the tail end of 2016, and is described as a haunted house movie with a twist. That twist apparently being that it manages to be original while being as disjointed at possible.

The story involves a young and plucky real estate reporter who has a taste for old-timey styles and is looking to move beyond her position and make a name for herself in the crime beat. Then her sister’s family is brutally murdered one night, which is bad enough; what’s weird, though, is that shortly thereafter the room where the murders happen is taken out of the house. Just the one room. Soon, said young and plucky real estate reporter and her Friend Zone’d detective guy begin uncovering other instances where a house that was the scene of a grizzly murder was purchased only to have the room or area where the murder occurred be removed. This and a coincidentally timed retrieval of a bit of documentation stating that her biological parents live in a small town called New English (seriously) causes our plucky real estate reporter to head out to the town, where she finds a weirdness that would give the denizens of Innsmouth pause. Seems that, decades ago, there was a very charismatic circuit preacher that arrived in the town, offering up not salvation, but more a chance to have their best lives now, if but for a pledge of a loved one to sacrifice. Faster than you can make a Joel Olsteen joke, our plucky real estate reporter discovers that she and her sister was sent away in an attempt to break this curse. But, now she’s back, and she’s stumbled upon the massive mansion that was built by all the bits of other houses, the ones that contain the specters of the murders past. A haunted house built from other haunted rooms, if you will. And it’s only missing one thing before it’s finished being built…and she’s the key to that capstone.

So, then, with Abattoir, you get the sense that there’s a fantastic horror movie underneath the surface, but the execution of it fell short of its potential. On the one hand, the concept of a house that’s haunted due to being built from the various bits of other houses that have ghosts with them is something that blows my mind considering all the story possibilities that come with it. The problem is, the actual house in question doesn’t show up until the final 20 minutes of the movie. What comes before is a kind of disjointed noir-ish murder mystery as filtered by Dario Argento, with zero chemistry between the two main characters and a plot that is rather disjointed, leading up to the last part with the house. There are some good points to the movie, like the character of Jebediah Crone. Had we focused on him a bit more, there could have been a better movie, here. And of course, Lin Shaye is always the best part of any movie she’s in, bit part or no.

Overall, Abattoir is certainly different and a bit more innovative than a lot of horror movies I’ve sifted through over the years. It certainly stuck with me a bit more than the one-and-done flicks I began forgetting ten minutes after the movie ended. However, this haunted house movie’s facade was shoddily constructed, and could have done with better building materials.

See what I did, there? I made a house joke. You’re welcome.

Movie Review: The FINAL GIRLS

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Movie Review FINAL GIRLS, TheSony Pictures
2015
PG-13

“I should have known something was up with this place. I mean think about it. What the hell kind of summer camp has waterbeds?”

When Max and her friends reluctantly attend a tribute screening of an infamous ’80s slasher film that starred Max’s late mother, they are accidentally sucked into the silver screen. They soon realize they are trapped inside the cult classic movie and must team up with the fictional and ill-fated “camp Bloodbath” counselors, including Max’s mom as the shy scream queen, to battle the film’s machete-wielding, masked killer. With the body count rising in scene after iconic scene, who will be The Final Girls left standing and live to escape this film?

Back in the mid-Aughts, I watched and reviewed a movie called Camp Slaughter, the premise of which was a bunch of young adults in the modern times get time displaced into an early 1980s summer camp that’s experiencing a time-loop slasher. I thought it had massive potential, but fell very short of realizing its own meta-greatness with its limitations on budget and lack of acting abilities. Fun, but it could have been so much more so.

Fast forward a bit over a decade later, and I believe I’ve stumbled upon the realization of that greatness, with the release of The Final Girls.

In The Final Girls, young Max is the daughter of the late Scream Queen Amanda Cartwright, who stared in the cult slasher flick Camp Bloodbath in 1983. While attending a special showing of that particular movie, a fire starts, and she and her friends manage to escape…right in the middle of the movie itself. There, she and her friends must find a way out of their bizarre situation, while interacting with the characters of the movie while avoiding being offed by the slasher picking them off and navigating through all the tropes that come with it. Also, Max has to deal with confronting her mother who doesn’t know she’s her mother, and just another character playing out the movie.

The Final Girls was a joy to watch. It functioned as an affectionate parody send-up of the 80s slasher genre, as well as being a well-constructed meta deconstruction of the genre. Self aware, funny, and yet still maintaining being a horror movie in its own right (with just a hint of cheese), this movie managed to do what the aforementioned Camp Slaughter couldn’t: be entertaining without coming off as forced. Also, the effects were way better.

Of course, the best part of the movie was the interaction between the kids from the real world, trying to convince the movie characters that they’re in a slasher film and they’re all going to die. Especially done well was the whole “flashback” scenes, where the movie reality starts melting around them, plopping everyone into a black and while flashback scene. Not to mention the whole Butterfly Effect that happens to the movie characters as these new people in their universe start messing with the natural order of things in attempts to try and save them from the doom that is to come. And, in case you’re wondering, The Final Girls doesn’t end up with one of those “It was all a dream” kind of endings. Although, it does make one wonder if this is all playing out in Max’s subconsciousness as she’s dying slowly in the hospital from massive burns and smoke inhalation from the theater fire. But, that’s just my playful nihilism speculating.

Of course, I can’t help but point out a few glaring anachronisms in the plot, like, say, the group playing a song on the boom box that wasn’t released until years after the date the movie was set in. But, considering my formative years were in the 1980s, and I would know this stuff, this is minor fanboy quibbles that come off as an old guy complaining. Regardless, The Final Girls was a fantastic meta horror comedy that needs to be checked out sometime soon.

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