Movie Review: LIFE

Leave a comment

lifeColumbia Pictures
2017
R

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As members of the crew conduct their research, the rapidly evolving life-form proves far more intelligent and terrifying than anyone could have imagined.

I grew up being a space science nerd at a very young age. I remember being fascinated with space and space travel since before Kindergarten. My parents maintained an ongoing subscription to Discover magazine for several years for me (it had the most pictures and stuff), as well as encouraged me to learn more about this area of study as much as they could. Of course, this just fed into my growing love of the science fiction genre, especially with movies. Which is to say, sooner or later it was inevitable that I would get around to watching the latest Alien rip-off, Life.

Okay okay okay, maybe “rip-off” is the wrong word to use, here. I mean, on the surface, the premise of Life (which, sadly, does not involve shots of the nummy cereal food) seems pretty similar, with some modifications: a bunch of scientists on the International Space Station discovers microscopic life within a soil sample taken from a Mars expedition, they manage to revive said life and watch in fascination as the space amoeba grows from microscopic to a CGI blob-ish thing. Eventually, one of the scientists decides to zap the alien blob because science, which annoys the blob–which was named Calvin by the scientists, by the way, like how you name a goldfish–leading to it somehow kicking the butt of the scientist and escaping its enclosure, and managing to kill a couple other scientists before getting out of the lab. Also, whenever Calvin eats something, it (he?) gets bigger. Naturally. Soon, the surviving scientists find themselves trying their darndest to survive and not get eaten, while the damage to the space station mounts along with the body count. Soon, it’s down to two remaining scientists, who hatch a plan to lure Calvin into one of the escape pods and blast him back out into deep space. Only, this involves one of the scientists to be inside with Calvin and manually override the preset controls to get it to not land on earth, while the other scientist escapes on the other pod to get back to Earth and warn everyone of a potential threat. We then end on a twist that everyone saw coming the moment the solution was mentioned. The end.

Life, as a science fiction movie, is fine. It’s well-shot, well acted and manages to get some effective claustrophobic thrills out of a story that is rather cookie-cutter. Again, I refer back to the comparisons to the movie Alien that everyone seemed to be making, and there’s some point to that; after watching Life, I personally like to think that this was more a prequel to the movie The Blob, mainly due to how Calvin ate and metabolized everything. And while we’re on the topic of Calvin, I have to say that the “monster Calvin” effects were kind of…off. He came off as kind of an underwater fern thing rather than a space monster. But, in the end, while I saw the ending coming, I was pleased with the standard dun-dun-duuuuun ending they went with.

Overall, I get the nagging feeling that Life would have worked better as an episode of the revival-era Outer Limits television show, rather than a full-length movie. The movie does try to get that hard sci-fi cred with how they approach the science part of the fiction; by the time the ending credits roll, though, I wasn’t really craving more beyond that. Worth a rental, at least.

Movie Review: GET OUT

1 Comment

get outUniversal Pictures
2017
R

“I want your eyes, man, I want those things you see through.”

Now that Chris and his girlfriend, Rose, have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with Missy and Dean. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he never could have imagined.

I have to once again say, 2017 is turning out to be a rather good year for horror movies. There has been a bunch that have eschewed the usual conventions of the PG-13 teenybopper horror flicks that have glutted the big screen in the past ten years (you know what they are, I don’t think I have to point them out) and produced some very smart, very effective actual horror that hits you square in the psychological soft spots.

So, with that bit out of the way, I bring you my take on the movie Get Out. This has been toted as a modern horror masterpiece, a new type of horror some are calling Social Justice Horror. Or something like that. I’ve heard that bandied about a couple of times. I’m not what you would call a passionate zealot when it comes to political issues; on the other hand, I do appreciate a well-executed bit of subversive commentary within the horror movies I watch. The operative word here would be “well-executed”, mind you. I’ve seen more than my share of movies where it’s obvious the message was more important than making a quality horror movie.

Get Out manages to hit that balance between effective psychological horror movie and social commentary. I know this because I enjoyed this movie immensely without once having my intelligence insulted. And that would have been far too easy to do, and the fact that he pulled it off speaks volumes of the talent that is Jordan Peele with this being his first movie directing.

The best way I would describe Get Out was if David Cronenberg decided to do a remake of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (the good one with Sidney Poitier) while having it produced by Alfred Hitchcock in his prime: A young black man who is an up-and-coming photographer of note is being introduced to his Caucasian girlfriend’s family, who kind of go out of their way making him feel welcome and he’s safe because they’re just oh, so NOT racist or anything. Right. During their stay, he meets his girlfriend’s family’s many friends and acquaintances, all of which marvel at what a fine specimen this young man is. Also, they’re totally not racist or anything. They cool wit’ the struggle. They’ve watched In Living Color back in the day and stuff. Did I just date myself? I believe I just did. Anyway, all of this starts getting to the young man, and he decides that he’s going to cut the trip short, only…

Yeah, if I go any further, I’ll be doing those of you who haven’t seen Get Out a major disservice. Mind you, I only tend to give away the endings of bad movies, and Get Out is very much NOT a bad movie. As a matter of fact, it is a very, very good horror thriller movie that is well-written, well-filmed and edited, with some fantastic performances from the cast. For this being Jordan Peele’s first movie, let alone a horror movie, after watching this, I cannot wait to see what else he has for us in the cinematic sense. My only regret is not catching this in the theater when it was out. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: The INVITATION

1 Comment

the invitationDrafthouse Films
2015
NR

“I’m so glad you’re here. We have a lot to talk about. So much to say tonight.”

While attending a dinner party at his former house, a man starts to believe that his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister plans for the guests.

The Invitation was one of those movies that I heard getting quite the buzz around the independent movie circuit, getting rather positive reviews from the regular horror movie blogs and websites I frequented. It was described not as your standard horror movie, nothing supernatural, and also not one of the many type of siege and home invasion type horror movies that have come out in the past few years. It took me a bit to get around to watching this for myself, but finally the chance happened for me to do so.

In the movie, this young couple are on their way to a dinner party that, as we find out, is being thrown by the guy’s ex-wife and her new husband. So, already we’re being thrown into the awkwardness right off the bat. Lovely. Then they hit a coyote along the way. Of course, the two don’t seem to take this as an ominous sign, so they make it to the house, which also happens to be the house the guy and his ex-wife used to live in, until the tragedy that tore them apart happened. So, yeah. Unpleasant memories on top of seeing the woman you used to love intensely be happy with someone else, inside of the house you two used to…you know what, let’s just move forward, shall we? When they arrive, they meet several of the other guest that are there, including that of a young lady that the ex-wife and new husband decided to have live with them after meeting her at a spa retreat in Mexico. As they all chat and such, the tensions rise as memories come flooding back to the young man, and he begins to suspect something sinister is afoot, as everyone’s a little too friendly…and also his ex’s husband has locked all the doors. Then they’re all shown a kind of infomercial recruiting video for that “spa” in Mexico that is totally not a cult that, as it turns out, the ex-wife went to not too long ago to help deal with the tragedy of her son’s death on his 10th birthday. The reaction to this is what you would expect, though not as harsh as if they were being pitched AmWay. They continue on with the dinner and socializing, as the young man grows a bit more paranoid as the night wears on. Everyone assures him that everything is all right…up until the time when he realizes he was correct all along.

I have to give this film credit: I had no idea what kind of movie I was going to be watching going into this. I wasn’t even certain while I was watching the movie itself, as it did a really good job at keeping things close to the chest and just letting the story unfold slowly and letting you try and think things through. This movie is intense, and in that slow-burn, tension mounting, something just isn’t right kind of vibe that builds up to a bursting point, and when it does burst it’s quite effective. All of the actors were great, giving fantastic performances and really pushing forth the genuine sense of tension and uncomfortable atmosphere. The film is rather claustrophobic, as it’s mostly set inside of a house (with some scenes outside of the house briefly), and overall, when it came to the twist ending, leading up to it I was still uncertain if it was going to be the one that I thought it would be. Turns out, it is, but I’m not going to say what it is.

Overall, The Invitation turned out to be much, much better than I expected, with a completely fleshed out cast of characters, some very powerful performances, and a thick atmosphere of claustrophobia and paranoia that leads to a very satisfying ending. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: ALBINO FARM

Leave a comment

ALBINO FARMMTI Home Video
2009
R

“The Lord’s house is always open to those in need.”

An Ozark Mountain town–with a century-old history of religious fanaticism–inadvertently creates a modern sadistic society of in-bred misfits who prey on stray travelers. Four young college students–lured into exploring the legend of the Albino Farm–uncover its disturbing past, while enduring a night of horrors.

Tell me, what’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the words “Albino Farm”? Is it a farm that employs down on their luck albinos, ran by an altruistic yet kind of creepy religious person that on the surface wants to give these misunderstood pariahs of society a chance to make an honest living and provide food and shelter to get by? Or, perhaps you’re weird enough to think it’s an actual farm where they grow albinos, like I did. Sorry, that’s how my brain is wired with these things. But, whatever you think, there would at least be a farm, and especially at least one albino individual, right?

Well, the movie that we’re talking about here, Albino Farm, has neither of these. No farm, and there may have been a brief glimpse of an albino in a scene involving a revival tent full of inbred freaks, but it was so quick it didn’t really count, if I remembered it correctly. This was immediately after watching the movie, I couldn’t recall whether there was one or not. And I certainly wasn’t going to rewatch just to make sure. There’s not even an albino on the DVD cover up there.

What Albino Farm does have instead, is more of a Hills Have Eyes kind of vibe, with the aforementioned town of deformed misfits, and the cliche’d group of annoying college-age young’uns managing to get stuck in said town with everything you would expect happen does happen to them.

The story really hits all the beats: A bunch of annoying college kids are on a road trip because they’re working on some kind of history assignment about backwater America history and customs, when they almost hit a dwarf (as you do) and get a flat tire. Okay, so maybe the dwarf part wasn’t exactly expected, I’ll give the movie that. They happen upon your standard Gas Station In The Middle Of Nowhere Ran By A Creepy (Blind) Redneck, and while dickering for a new tire, who starts babbling a bunch of Bible stuff at them trying to warn them off. They of course don’t listen to the guy, and head on down the road and come across a Tent Revival filled with Freaks, which is where they hear about the legend of the titular Albino Farm. They then mosey into town, get the general stink-eye from the citizenry, then run into pro wrassler Chris Jericho dressed up like the Creeper from Jeepers Creepers who leads them to the so-called Albino Farm, where they end up captured by mutant hillbillies (one of which does a “I’m seducing you” dance that made me throw up in my mouth a little), and so they fight to escape. Then the survivor ends up back at the revival tent and goes insane. The end.

Albino Farm is your standard–I hasten to say “sub-standard”–unoriginal and unremarkable teen slasher flick. It’s a low-quality “been-there, done-that” plot with actors that aren’t even entertaining in their hackneyed performance. And yes, Chris Jericho is probably the most interesting thing in this movie, and he’s not even in the movie long enough to justify the billing he got on the DVD cover; clearly most of the budget was used on him as a draw. He has both the sweet, sweet WWE Wrestling demographic, as well as those fans of his metal project, Fozzy as a built-in audience for this flick. Which, I have to admit, was the reason I decided to check Albino Farm out. There. Curiosity sated. I’ve never been so underwhelmed in my life. Pass.

Movie Review: Edgar Allan Poe’s The LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER

Leave a comment

eap the lighthouse keeperThunderhead Entertainment
2017
NR

A young man awakens alone on a remote beach, marooned there by a violent storm. Above the rocky crags, a lighthouse stands like a sentinel. The man seeks the help of Walsh, the enigmatic lighthouse keeper. Walsh insists they are the sole inhabitants of the peninsula. But the man is haunted by fleeting glimpses of a beautiful young woman, and plagued by visions of hideous phantoms reaching out from the depths. As this horror tale races toward a mind bending finale, the man must confront the grotesque denizens of the night, or heed the lighthouse keeper’s cryptic warning to “Always keep a light burning.”

In the pantheon of Edgar Allan Poe stories, The Light-House is a rather controversial one, mainly because it’s been disputed as a genuine Edgar Allan Poe story. It being an unfinished fragment (two pages) that was written in the final months of his life, “The Light-House” has the same themes that Poe was famous for, but it’s been pointed out that the writing style wasn’t consistent with his previous work.

So, logically, this was used as the basis for a full-length feature movie. It happens all the time, really. The question remains, though: Can it be pulled off?

Kind of. Sorta.

The movie starts off with a young man washing up on the shore of an island after a storm, unable to remember his name or where he came from. After seeing a lady run off into a nearby cave, he gets knocked out from a fall and wakes up in the bed of the lighthouse on top of the cliff on the beach. This remote lighthouse is curated by a cantankerous old salty man who’se none too happy to have surprise visitors, and tell the young man that the only ferry off of the island arrives in two weeks. While he waits, the young man helps out with the general upkeep and maintenance of the lighthouse, as he also puzzles out the mysterious past of the old man. Soon, though, he runs into the lady he first saw on the beach (despite the old man claims to him being the only one dwelling on the rock) and soon they hit up a bit of a romance. The young man is smitten, and vows to take this lovely young lady with him when the ferry comes. But then zombie ghosts of dead sailors start appearing at night coming after them, and before you can say “overACTING!”, the dark secret past of the old man is reveled, along with his ties to the young man, with the zombie ghosts overtaking the lighthouse and the young man managing to escape in a rowboat, only to be caught up in a twist ending. The end.

On the one hand, The Lighthouse Keeper works on a certain level as a slow-burning, Gothic style tale, full of atmosphere textured with heavy dollops of dread and madness-inducing claustrophobia. Think of it as an ultra-low budget The Others-style ghost story.

And unfortunately, it’s that lack of a budget that works against it where it counts. It’s shot on video, which gives it a PBS show quality, and features effects right out of the Spirit Of Halloween stock. It’s not for lack of trying, but the zombie masks do take me out of the movie, there. The acting is…wooden. I don’t know if it was chosen deliberately for that Victorian overacting style for the period, or if they were just local theater production actors who’ve never acted in a movie before.

Overall, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Lighthouse Keeper isn’t really all that bad. If you can get past the cheep effects and the acting, the movie is a pretty good ghost story with a decent twist at the end. It’s worth a rental for a look-see.

Movie Review: SPIDER-MAN Homecoming

Leave a comment

spiderman_homecomingSony / Marvel
2017
PG-13

“Can’t you just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?”

Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, young Peter Parker returns home to live with his Aunt May. Under the watchful eye of mentor Tony Stark, Parker starts to embrace his newfound identity as Spider-Man. He also tries to return to his normal daily routine–distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just a friendly neighborhood superhero. Peter must soon put his powers to the test when the evil Vulture emerges to threaten everything that he holds dear.

So, here we are. Fifteen years since the very first Spider-Man movie made us believe it could be done. Since then, there’s been two sequels, a reboot, and another sequel. Now, everyone’s favorite web-slinger is back home with Marvel, and we have a third reboot. Did we need another redux? Have you seen Amazing Spider-Man 2? I haven’t yet, I was just asking. I hear it’s not good. I digress.

So, as I mentioned, Marvel Studios, through a deal they brokered with Sony (who has held the rights to Spider-Man for quite a while), they were able to play with their own toy again. And after a well-received cameo in Captain America: Civil War, I couldn’t wait for the full-length stand-alone movie to see how bad they could screw things up.

You may have picked up that I’m a tad cynical about these Spider-Man movies. Since Spider-Man 3 ten years prior, my wide-eyed fanboy love had felt jaded that anything after Spider-Man 2 would be disappointing at best. There was a glimmer of hope with the introduction of him in Civil War; but, would a side character rol translate into a feature-length movie? Could Marvel make Spider-Man…well, amazing again?

Well, they did a good job trying.

Don’t misread that–Spider-Man: Homecoming is a very good Spider-Man movie. Easily my second-favorite to date, right behind Spider-Man 2.

There’s a lot to like about Homecoming: Tom Holland is probably the best teenage Peter Parker / Spider-Man going, as he convinced me that he could be bullied and picked upon in his civilian garb. The chemistry between the main characters was fantastic, especially between Pete and his best friend / “Chair Guy” Ned. And Michael Keaton as The Vulture was inspired, as he took what I consider to be one of the more goofier Silver Age villains in Spider-Man’s rogue gallery and made him into something genuinely chilling. The script was well-written, witty and smart, and had me laughing out loud more than just a handful of times. The action scenes were very well done as well, culminating in a final battle scene that had me holding my breath. Good job there, movie. And yet, with all of that going for this thing, I do have to point out what I found to be kind of, sort of not good about it. Minor quibbles, maybe, but they have to be said.

Also, I should point out that I’m probably going to be letting lose with some spoilers ahead, so if you’re one of those who haven’t seen this yet…go see it first. Also, welcome back from whatever isolated cave you emerged from. Anyway…

Spider-Man: Homecoming didn’t feel like a full-on Spider-Man movie. The second half did, certainly. But for the first half or so, this felt more like a teen show on the Disney Channel. Which, okay, I understand that Marvel is owned by Disney, and this is a teenaged Peter Parker, interacting with his teenage chums in high school. But for a handful of Spidey scenes, the first half was more of a sloggy, sudsy teen soap. A very well made and engaging teen soap, but a teen soap nonetheless. Freaks And Geeks, if you will. I would wager to say that it wasn’t until Peter got his high-tech Stark suit taken away from him, that this truly became a Spider-Man movie. The moment that Peter steps up to the hero plate despite not having all the nifty gizmos and gadgets, you didn’t have to say “With great power comes great responsibility”, it was demonstrated by the actions perfectly.

I could continue on like this for pages, but I’d rather just urge you to watch Spider-Man: Homecoming for yourselves. It’s a rather good take on Spider-Man, and kudos for finally getting back home to Marvel. Here’s to many more.

Wait…”Homecoming”…back home at Marvel…I think there was more to that title than just that Homecoming dance in the movie…mind blown…

Movie Review: The VOID

1 Comment

the voidD Films
2016
NR

“Statistically, you’re more likely to die in a hospital than anywhere else.”

When police officer Carter discovers a blood soaked man limping down a deserted road, he rushes him to a local hospital with a bare-bones night shift staff. As cloaked, cult-like figures surround the building, the patients and staff inside start to turn ravenously insane. Trying to protect the survivors, Carter leads them into the depths of the hospital, where they discover a gateway to immense evil.

There seems to be a resurgence of independently made horror movies that takes their cue from the 1980s era, and I for one can’t be any more giddy about this. It’s no secret that it was the era that I consider the best in horror and science fiction; you can argue with me to the contrary until you’re blue in the face, I stand by my statement until my final death rattle.

Take The Void, for instance, coincidentally the subject of this review. This movie plays like a compilation of John Carpenter’s Greatest Hits, mixing up themes from Assault On Precinct 13, Prince Of Darkness, and In The Mouth Of Madness (admittedly, not from the 1980s–1994, to be precise–but it might as well have been, it’s that kind of awesome), and resulting in a very dark and claustrophobic supernatural horror that will mess with your head and then stick there long after the movie is over.

So, the story begins when a Deputy comes across a man late at night in the middle of a deserted road, looking quite the worse for wear. He takes him to the nearest hospital for help, which happens to be the one that’s in the process of being closed down due to a fire some time back, and as a result, has a skeleton crew there, one such staff member that happens to be the Deputy’s estranged wife. Soon, two vigilantes that were tracking the young man arrive, as does the Sheriff to help with the processing arrest, when the hospital is discovered to be surrounded by robe-clad figures. Discovering the hard way that they were not the Polyphonic Spree and in fact mean them harm, everyone finds themselves trapped together inside the barricaded hospital, forced to work with each other to try and escape and survive. Then reality starts bending around them; certain individuals go a bit on the insane side and attack the others, and while the Deputy and the two vigilantes try to find a way out through the basement, they discover that the building is warping reality as well, discovering hallways and rooms that don’t exist according to the blueprints. Turns out, the doctor in charge of the hospital has been messing with some Lovecraft-level dark sorcery in an effort to defy death since his daughter died. Mind-bendy horror ensues, with an ending that will make you go, “huh?” In a good way, I assure you.

Overall, The Void was a great horror flick that had a lot of substance to chew on, as well as tons of dark foreboding atmosphere and great practical effects. The acting was rather good, and the development of the characters was good as well, lending some weight to their plight. The reveal of the doctor as the main Big Bad was, admittedly, cliched and expected. However, the very Clive Barker style ending is very much worth it at the end. Well worth the watch.

Older Entries