Movie Review: The TURNING

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turning, the

Universal Pictures
2020
PG-13

“I know what you’re afraid of. Keeping the lights on won’t keep you safe.”

  • The Turning stars Finn Wolfhard (TV’s Stranger Things) and Mackenzie Davis (TV’s Black Mirror) in a thrilling adaptation of Henry James’ landmark novel. At a mysterious estate in the Maine countryside, a newly appointed nanny is charged with the care of two disturbed orphans. She quickly discovers that both the children and the house are harboring dark secrets and things may not e as they appear.

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I mean, with everything that has been going on compounding in this year 2020–the Beer Virus, job woes, the foot still healing up from the major surgery last year, my father having a heart attack, among other things–I just stopped writing for the good part of the last handful of months. I didn’t know when I would get back to doing so, and frankly didn’t care much. It was a lethargy that I hadn’t experienced since the 90s. Sure, I was still doing the podcasts, but even that wasn’t keeping up with all the movies I was taking in during this period. There needed to be something that would figuratively kick me in the butt, an impetus that would rekindle my passion to write down my unbridled thoughts on a movie. As it turns out, 2020’s The Turning was just the movie to do so.

The pun was unintentional, but pretty apt, I’d say.

The Turning is yet another adaptation of the classic Gothic novel The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. There have been others, but The Turning is the shiny new one, and that’s why everyone should care about it. Wait, no, sorry. My sarcasm seems to be seeping into this review a bit earlier than expected. Let’s see if I can get a handle on that. Now then, as I just mentioned, this is something of a new adaptation of the novel, and if you passed up the DVD back cover blurb I included up there, the movie concerns a nanny named Kate (Mackenzie Davis, doing her best bewildered Zooey Deschanel impression), who is put in charge of a couple of orphaned rich brats: there’s Flora (played by Brooklynn Prince), a rather bright and imaginative little girl with that prerequisite creepiness; and the older sibling Miles (Finn Wolfhard!), the very definition of enfant terrible, with a serious sociopath streak that only the rich tend to develop in these kind of movies. They’re both the wards of their long-time governess Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten), one of those ultra-strict, underwear a bit too starched Victorian types, and not the fun kind.

I should point out that, not only is The Turning an adaptation of The Turning of the Screw, but it’s also a period piece, as it’s established early on that the year is 1994, by way of a television showing the news broadcast of Kurt Cobain’s body found of an apparent suicide. They never actually use music from that time period, mind you; they utilize songs from modern indie bands that approximate the sound of alternative music from 1994 for the soundtrack. Which…is not a gripe. Really, the music used here does well to set the dark mood the movie is going for. And really, “Getting 1994 Right” is not the priority.

What the movie does right is setting a strong Gothic atmosphere, with the settings and especially the mansion interiors. For the first half hour or so, this is what hooked me in. The movie seemed to be doing a good job at building the tension, leading up to…something. It soon became apparent, though, that this was all the movie was going to be: All build-up, no payoff. It was like, instead of adapting the novel, the writers adapted the Wikipedia synopsis. What made The Turn of the Screw a classic that has endured for over a century was the way it was a ghost story that wasn’t a ghost story: it deftly made the reader question whether the haunting was real, or the result of the protagonist’s decent into madness due to mental illness. Here, while it’s established early on that Kate’s mum is institutionalized (all she wanted was a Pepsi), lending the seed that Kate may be not all there in the head, the movie plays it more as a straight haunted house flick…until about ten minutes to the end of the movie, when one of the biggest insults to our collective intelligence happens, causing me to shout, “WAS THAT IT?!?” at my television when the end credits started rolling. I get the feeling that a lot of the movie that may have helped round things out was left on the cutting room floor. And no, I’m not going to buy the DVD to see if there are deleted scenes that do that.

Overall: While I was stoked for a new adaptation of a classic 19th Century Gothic psychological ghost story, The Turning just turned out to be a bunch of nothing. It’s not even a bad movie, just…nothing. A true waste of ninety minutes, with the only emotional response being disgust, like discovering the creme filling in an Oreo cookie was replaced with Miracle Whip. Pass.

Movie Review: PRIMER

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PRIMER
IFC Films
2004
PG-13

“Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m gonna read this, and you’re gonna listen, and you’re gonna stay on the line. And you’re not gonna interrupt, and you’re not gonna speak for any reason. Some of this you know. I’m gonna start at the top of the page.”

  • Everything you think you know about modern science is about to unravel. While conducting experiments in a garage, two brilliant engineers who lead double lives accidentally discover that their project enables them to travel back in time. One man’s curiosity leads to experiments without the other’s knowledge, some with severe consequences.

I first heard about the movie Primer when I was discussing time travel sci-fi movies with the other Exalted Geeks one night at our home-away-from-home, Sean O’Casey’s. One of them mentioned Primer, and described the premise of this independent low-budget sci-fi flick. I was intrigued…but not enough to seek it out at the time.

Since then, I’ve been coming across this title included in more than a few Best Sci-Fi Movies lists. So, long story short, I finally up and rented the stream from Google Play and gave it a watch.

It’s not very often where I stumble across a movie that makes me go “wha…huh?” and leaves more intriguing questions to chew over long after it’s ended. Lo and behold, Primer has done just that. At least, with 2001: A Space Odyssey, most of the questions raised by the movie were answered when I read the novelization.Here, we don’t have the benefit of that. Instead, we have an extremely low-budget science fiction movie written, directed, produced, edited and scored by a guy who has a degree in mathematics and is a former engineer, choosing to not just dumb down the movie for us stupid people. You have to give the guy props for that. However, even I have to admit that this movie can get rather hard to follow at times. There’s a reason why there are numerous online sites and articles dedicated to trying to make heads and/or tails of the plot. Anyway, here’s my feeble attempt at explaining the story.

A couple of engineers are looking to supplement their day jobs with some tech-y start-up inventions. And in true stumbling upon genius fashion, they happen to stumble upon time travel while playing around with electromagnetic reduction of the weight of various objects. As you do. After some refining and fiddling with the process, they test it out on themselves, first going back six hours into their own past, then deciding to use this new discovery for the good and betterment of mankind to make some fast cash with the stock market. Soon, the personalities of both the individuals start to clash, and then soon thereafter the plot devolves into one that only the hardcore fans of Rick & Morty can appreciate: Their present selves try and go back to dissuade one another from doing certain things, only to run into their future selves already having gotten the drop on them, then the discovery that there’s not just one time pod in play here, havoc is wreaked on the the timeline, and the whole thing accumulates in the thwarting of a gunman, and the two parting ways, one of which decides to go to France to build a big ‘ol warehouse-sized time travel box.

So, what we have with Primer is a movie that tries to portray a sci-fi trope in the most realistic and logical sense, without resorting to techno-babble and magic technology, and more or less succeeds. I think. I mean, I would admit that I’m not exactly smart enough to really confirm that the portrayal of time travel as it may actually occurs in reality in this movie is legit; I got confused when the time travel discussion part of Avengers: Endgame happened. Usually when the science-y talk starts hitting hard and fast like that, I just go limp and let it come at me, making notes to pick it apart when I can chew it over at my own special pace.

Overall, while I’m not disagreeing that Primer is a good movie, and a rather intriguing time travel science fiction movie at that, I’m afraid my tastes in that area do run more on the Techno-Magic! side of things. Do I recommend watching Primer? Yes. Most definitely. I can’t guarantee that you’ll understand everything upon your first viewing, but definitely at least view this once. Then do some research. Yeah, it’s one of those kind of movies.

Movie Review: DEATH BY METAL

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death by metal
MVD Visual
2018
NR

  • Here comes DEATH’s probing and pulsing rock doc, DEATH BY METAL, pulling back the palm fronds of DEATH’s origins in Altamonte Springs, Florida, and latching a narrative hook into the headstrong Chuck Schuldiner juggernaut for fifteen gratifying if sometimes frustrating years. As the baby steps become giant leaps, the stable of supporting players grows and continually shines in its own devious light. Excitement grows as Schuldiner, his band, and the world around him evolve, and the music grows ever-more outrageous and bombastic. DEATH’s threat morphs from simple zombie attack to multi-headed mega-monster hellbent on absorbing entire planets. Then suddenly, Chuck is just gone, and the lights go out. The formula for movies about bands dictates that victory is seized from the jaws of mortality in the final act. This is where things get weird. Chuck Schuldiner perished during the moment of heavy metal’s weakest ebb, and possibly the quietest moment of his own career. The drawling guitar demon in the kitty cat shirt will not rise again to tour county fairs, swap one-liners on late-night TV, and jam with Judas Priest at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But this documentary itself joins reissues, partial reunion tours, and an international reawakening as part of a decade-long ascent for DEATH to its proper place of high dominion. As you read these words and watch this film, Chuck Schuldiner and DEATH return to glory, and the legend itself becomes an eternal encore.

If you’re a metal-head (and if you’re reading this, chances are good you are one), then you have probably at least of heard of the band Death, and its enigmatic leader Chuck Schuldiner. I first discovered the band by way of Circus Magazine: I came across a full-page ad for their then-about to be released album Leprosy in a 1988 issue of the mag. I was intrigued by the cover art, to say the least, in the same way that I was intrigued by the cover art of the horror movie videotapes at the local Applause Video store; meaning, I dug the way it looked, but chances are I wasn’t going to be owning it any time soon. I was 13, maybe going on 14, and was fully entrenched in the more accessible forms of hair metal and hard rock at the time. I was a handful of years off from getting into the harder, darker and faster stuff. I do recall seeing a poster of the album hanging on the door of a fellow psyche ward inmate later that year, though. Point is, even before I actually got into Death, I was aware of their presence and importance in the extreme metal history.

So here we have, then, the documentary of Schuldiner’s life and career with one of the most legendary bands to have come out of the metal scene, named after Death’s demo, Death By Metal.Directed by Canadian filmmaker Felipe Belalcazar, Death By Metal is a rather in-depth look at the history of Schuldiner, the formation of the band that would eventually become Death, from the early years through various setbacks, the evolution of the band’s sound over the decade, personnel changes and seven album releases, his work in the band Control Denied, and his untimely passing at the age of 34 from brain cancer in 2001. Featuring archival footage with interviews not only with Schuldiner and the band, but also with his family, various death metal bands that were inspired by Death, former band members, and others in the business that had dealt with him. What this documentary doesn’t do is sugarcoat things when it comes to presenting Chuck’s personal and career issues. There are stories here that include the good times and the bad, and some of the stories are fascinating enough to warrant their own full-length documentary.

Overall, Death By Metal was a very satisfying documentary, giving some insight behind the mind and actions of one of the legendary godfathers of the early Death Metal scenes. Chuck’s story is a tragic one, but also should inspire anyone who has a love for the music. I watched this on Amazon Prime, so it was just the documentary I watched. However, on the physical DVD copy, there’s also a personal interview with Chuck’s mother, a featurette that gives a brief history of the Tampa death metal scene, interviews with Obituary, Autopsy and others, and a full concert at the Eagles Ballroom in Milwaukee, WI, recorded on November 30th, 1991. I would definitely check out the actual DVD if you can, but the bare bones streaming of Death By Metal isn’t a slouch, either. Recommended.

Movie Review: KICKIN’ IT OLD SKOOL

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kickin it old skool
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
2007
PG-13

“You and me in the parking lot, mano a mano.”
“You had mono? Well, I was in a coma.”

  • At a talent show in 1986, young Justin Schumacher suffers a head injury and slips into a coma. Twenty years later, Justin awakes with the mindset and experience of a 12-year-old. He decides to reunite the members of his former dance team and revive their short-lived careers.

Jamie Kennedy isn’t really a name that a lot of people recognize when it’s brought up in discussions about comedy television and movies. Well, maybe that sequel of The Mask immediately comes to mind, but mostly because that movie was such a stink-bomb that it’s hard to forget such a stench. Before that, he was in the Scream movies, and also a hidden camera prank show that pre-dated the more famous show Punk’d by about a year, on the WB, called The Jamie Kennedy Experiment. Personally, I rather enjoyed the show. And not because I couldn’t watch Punk’d for not having cable, either.

Anyway, when it comes to his movies, I never really go beyond a “well, I have nothing better to do” level of enthusiasm. It was the same when I came across this movie he did back in 2007, Kickin’ It Old Skool. I was never aware of its existence until the streaming site’s algorithm recommended it to me due to a handful of comedy movies I watched on it prior. Yeah, it seemed like your standard wacky culture-shock type movie, but I reasoned that it couldn’t be that bad. Besides, I had some time to kill while I was getting ready to head out to church that Sunday morning.

So, at an annual middle school talent show, 12-year-old Justin “Rocketshoe” Shumacher is breakdancin’ wit’ his crew, the Funky Fresh Boyz (which includes Darnell “Prince Def Rock” Jackson, Aki “Chilly Chill” Terasaki, and Hector “Popcorn” Jimenez), against the obnoxious rich kid trope Kip Unger and his crew, when Justin goes for an untested dangerous headspin maneuver that ends up flipping him off the stage and into a coma. Flash forward twenty years later, and Justin (Jamie Kennedy) is still in his coma, and the hospital administrators are about to pull the plug due to things looking grim for ever recovering at this point. However, Justin is miraculously revived by the Herbie Hancock electro classic “Rockit” playing from a janitor’s radio, and he goes home with his parents. It’s painfully obvious that, although he’s now in his 30s, he still operates with a 12-year-old’s mentality, and he’s having a bit of trouble not only bouncing back from his severely deteriorated physical condition, but adjusting to the equally severe culture shock after 20 years have passed him by. Also, his parents are bankrupt due to 20 years of life support payments. He discovers that his middle school crush Jennifer is now engaged to that rich douchenozzle Kip (Michael Rosenbaum!), who just happens will be, through the miracle of plot contrivance, hosting a breakdance contest that will be broadcast on national television, with a grand prize of $100,000. Figuring this will help him pay back his parents, Justin starts planning getting his old crew back together. Problem is, as stated earlier, they’ve all moved on with their lives: Darnell is a toy store employee and a failed inventor, Aki is an accountant and has shed his Asian stereotype, and Hector is a meter maid. It takes some doing (and the prospect of 1/10th of a million dollars), but the Funky Fresh Boyz are back! And really, really rusty. So they practice to get their Funky Fresh moves back, at one point utilizing a toy I remember selling at Radio Shack. In the meantime, Kip is hoping to not let Justin’s crew win, so he hires the Iced Cole Crew to not only compete in the dance contest, but also to play with Justin’s head like a drunken kitten. Which works, resulting in Justin quiting the crew in a fit of existential meltdown, leading the rest of the Funky Fresh Boyz to bring on a homeless guy to round out the team to continue on in the competition. Surprisingly, this works, and the FFBz advance to the final square-off with the Iced Cole Crew. Then, like clockwork, Jennifer realizes what a jerk Kip really is, breaks off their engagement, and finds Justin to give him the rousing inspirational speech to cause him to go back and dance with the Boyz. Will Justin be able to overcome his insecurities and the specter of his greatest defeat in 1986, and lead his team to victory? *pffft* Of course he does. The end.

I guess there are worse comedy movies to watch than Kickin’ It Old Skool. Freddie Got Fingers pops immediately to mind. As does Dumb And Dumberer. But, I still have to say that, here we have a movie that I lowered my expectations to the point where a dachhund could easily jump over, and I still felt like my time was wasted by watching this movie. This is probably the first instance where I felt embarrassed for David Hasselhoff for having to cameo in this movie. He deserves better.

All the jokes in Kickin’ It Old Skool rely a bit too heavily on 80s nostalgia, almost to the point where one has to wonder if someone sat up and watched all of the VH1 “I Love The 80s” episodes with a legal pad and jotting down all of the comedians’ riffing on the pop culture of the era. I found myself cringing more than anything, and I don’t recall anything even resembling a simple chuckle coming from me at any time. I have to say, though, the best thing about Kickin’ It Old Skool is, in fact, Michael Rosenbaum. He does seem like he’s having a blast. And I will say that the soundtrack is pretty cool, speaking as a child of the 80s.

Overall, while I’ve definitely seen worse comedies than Kickin’ It Old Skool, and this certainly isn’t the worst thing Jamie Kennedy has been involved in, I do realize why I wasn’t even aware of its existence until just now, when Amazon Prime spoiled my pristine ignorance by offering me the glistening shiny apple of mediocrity. You won’t be missing anything by skipping this one.

Movie Review: MISSILE X: The Neutron Bomb Incident

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missile x
V.C.L. Communications
1978
NR

  • An American secret agent is sent to Iran to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and comes across a crazed international businessman called The Barron who has stolen a Soviet nuclear cruise missile which the Barron plots to use on a peace summit in the Persian Gulf region.

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Self, what was iconic American film and television star Peter Graves doing in between his roles in the Mission: Impossible television show and the Airplane! movies?”, well, here’s your answer: Missile X – Geheimauftrag Neutronenbombe The Teheran Incident Cruise Missile Missile X: The Neutron Bomb Incident. And, of course, the only decent movie poster I’m able to find is the Spanish language one. Eh, it keeps with the tone of the movie, I guess.

Anyway, Missile X is a 1970s European spy “adventure thriller” that was a joint production between Germany, Italy and Spain, and not only stars Peter Graves as an aging secret agent, but also features John Carradine as a Soviet Russian professor. Also, some German actor named Curd Jürgens as The Baron, whom I’m told is a big deal or something. Oh, and also it was shot in a pre-Revolution Iran, which means something, I guess.

Can you feel my enthusiasm for this movie just dripping off of me, here?

An experimental nuclear cruise missile has been stolen from a Soviet military site by an international terrorist group commanded by a Bond villain wannabe known only as The Baron. The plan is to use the missile to destroy the international peace conference that’s set to take place on an island in the Persian Gulf. Enter US intelligence agent Alec Franklin, who travels to Iran to investigate the murder of a US consul. He’s immediately targeted for death, but they underestimated the agent (probably due to his advanced age), who manages to elude them at every turn. He then travels from Tehran to Abadan and teams up with a couple of Soviet KGB agents and an undercover Iranian policewoman to find The Baron and prevent him from starting World War III.

Missile X is, in a word, boring. It’s clearly another one in a long line of James Bond ripoffs, featuring a lead Peter Graves that, although he was only 52 when he appeared in this movie, his hair was all snowy white, so he came off as much older than what he really was. I would say that it made things kind of creepy and weird when his character got his mack on with the ladies (some of which he only knew for a few hours), but considering Roger Moore was pushing 60 when he played Bond in A View To A Kill, this may actually be par for the course for spy movies.

Keep in mind, I’m not really a fan of the spy thriller genre. The closest I’ve come was playing the N64 Goldeneye game a whole bunch (darn fine game, there). Nothing against them, they’re just not my thing. This being the 70s, and European exploitation movies had a tendency to not really care about plot consistency over style, I had a tough time paying attention to the goings on. Add to this some rather low-key poor-choreographed “action” scenes and some of the lamest “special gadgets” effects, and I have a hard time thinking that even the most hard-boiled spy thriller fan would find something to enjoy with Missile X. Pass.

Movie Review: MUTANT

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MUTANT
Film Ventures International
1984
R

“Nothing human can have this in its veins and live.”

  • When two brothers — Josh and Mike — go to a small southern town or a vacation, they find most of the residents either dead or missing. When Mike himself goes missing, Josh teams up with the local Sheriff and an attractive school teacher to find him, until Josh discovers that the whole town and most of its people have been infected by a form of toxic waste, and they have all turned into toxic vampires who prowl the streets at night for human blood.

So, here we have a movie that was directed by the same guy who directed the Shatner-riffic Kingdom Of The Spiders. Ooooh boy, with that kind of pedigree, we’re in for some fun, here.

Mutant was another one of those movies that was included on the collection of low-budget C-grade horror flicks I got from Walmart one afternoon, 50 for $20. I’m a sucker for those. Apparently, it originally started life as Pestilence, but then released to theaters in 1984 as Night Shadows, but was given the current title when it was released on video. As to why, I couldn’t tell you. More to the point of the plot? We’ll go with that.

So, we begin Mutant with a couple of brothers that are on vacation together, traveling in the American South. And because you can’t have a road trip in the American South without encountering a bunch of rowdy rednecks in a pick’em-up truck, they eventually get run off the road by the unwashed locals. They find themselves stranded in the nearby small town while their car is getting fixed. This is when they start to discover that the locals are acting a bit odd. Well, of course they are, as they’re strangers in a small Southern town. Duh. There’s that, yes, but also the locals are turning into diseased vampire zombies. Bodies start piling up, several other people start disappearing, one of the brothers dies (whom the other brother creepily refers to as “cute” to someone while trying to find him, which just raises questions that never get answered), the surviving brother meets up with a local school teacher, and they both go around investigating what’s going on to cause the townsfolk to, you know, go all Night Of The Living Dead like that. Turns out, a local company dumping toxic waste is the cause of all the locals turning an interesting shade of blue with dark circles under their eyes, like they’re all cosplaying the 1961 version of Carnival Of Souls, and sucking out everyone’s blood by way of hand vaginas, like with the 1990s animated Spider-Man version of Morbius. Only, that was done a good ten years before that show, but I refuse to believe my beloved Spider-Man cartoon was inspired by this movie. Anyway, chases ensue, things go boom, and mercifully the movie ends.

Given the pedigree, Mutants plays like one of those 1950s-style B Movies that were kind of prevalent in the 1980s. Low budget, cheep effects and middling acting are par for the course, but there’s admittedly a certain enthusiasm here that keeps this from becoming just a painful waste of time. The style starts off as a general Southern Gothic, then shifts to a standard horror movie, and finally ending as an action horror. There’s a lot of exposition in here, and the music score is surprisingly top-notch for something like this.

I would be remiss not to mention that Mutant was probably the main reason why the distributor, Film Ventures International, went under. Let’s just say that the movie theaters were as desolate as the small town depicted in this movie. The studio was floundering at that time to begin with, but Mutants was pretty much the final nail in their coffin. That, and the CEO’s pending divorce, which resulted in him grabbing $1 million from FVI and vanishing, rumored to have fled to Mexico. Really, the story behind FVI deserves its own movie in and of itself.

Overall, Mutants was one of the titles that I remember seeing at the local video store back in the 80s gathering dust on its horror shelf. And, depending on your experiences with some of the other low budget horror and sci-fi movies in Film Ventures International’s stead (which includes Pod People, Day Of The Animals and the classic Jaws rip-off Grizzly), Mutants is either a mildly enjoyable low-budget monster horror romp, or a complete waste of time. For me, this lands more in the former than the later.

Movie Review: DOGHOUSE

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doghouse
MPI Home Video
2009
NR

“When we get to the country, we are gonna piss up all the trees, to mark our territory. Then we are gonna find a pub and get so drunk we can’t remember how to speak. And we’ll communicate in grunts like neanderthals, before passing out in the woods.”

  • Six men with mid-life anxiety set out for a weekend in the country in an attempt to reconnect with their masculinity. What they find is a catastrophe so horrible and bizarre that a mid-life crisis turns out to be exactly what they need to survive it.

Hey, look! Another zombie comedy from the UK! I love those! Let’s check it out!

So, a group of guys decide to take a “guys’ weekend” to help their friend Vince deal with his depression over his recent divorce. It kinda helps that they all seem to have women problems of their own, there. So they hire a minibus to drive them out to a remote village called Moodley, where the women allegedly outnumber the men 4 to 1. Only, when they arrive there, the village seems deserted…at first. Then, after a bit of a skuffle involving a teenaged girl and a soldier, they discover that all the women have been infected with a biological agent that turns them all into cannibals that only eat men. Next thing you know, they’re all beset upon by the infected women of the village, causing them to scatter and hide out at various locations, eventually happening upon the military command center, where they discover that a local politician had been involved with the distribution of the toxin disguised as a biological washing powder. Oh, and the zombified cannibal women are evolving into “Phase 2” monsters that are faster and more intelligent. And the only weapon that was designed to stop the zombies isn’t working properly. A bloody battle to survive and the requisite existential quandary moments ensue, leading to an ending that doesn’t exactly resolve much of anything. The end.

Shaun Of The Dead, this movie isn’t. Yeah, you’d be forgiven for automatically making the comparison going into the movie, seeing as that little Edgar Wright zom-rom-com classic is now the watermark to judge all UK zombie comedies. I went in wanting to like Doghouse, as it’s a British zombie comedy, and it co-stars one of the more underrated Doctor Who companions (Noel Clarke!). And while Doghouse does have the standard requisite situational comedy and witty dialogue you come to expect from these flicks, what brings this down for me is the high levels of cynicism and blatant misogyny of the story itself. It may be tongue-in-cheek satire, but it comes off as a bit too mean spirited to be brushed off as fun.

Overall, while Doghouse has a good premise and some rather good effects going, with a script that keeps things going at a good clip, in the end, this seems to be a movie that was done by someone who maybe was turned down for a date in high school and never got over it.

Movie Review: GRABBERS

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grabbers
IFC Midnight
2012
NR

“I need a photograph with it for National Geographic. And Facebook.”

  • On Erin Island, an idyllic fishing village off the coast of Ireland, charming inebriate Ciaran O’Shea is tasked with showing straight-laced police officer Lisa Nolan her new beat. Not that there’s much to police, as most of the community’s troubles are caused by O’Shea himself. But strange doings are afoot: the crew of a fishing boat disappears, whales start appearing dead on the shore, and a local lobsterman catches a mysterious tentacled creature in his trap. Soon it becomes clear to O’Shea and Nolan that there’s something unnatural out there, and that it’s hungry. So it’s time to rally the villagers, arm the troops…and head to the pub.

Grabbers is a monster horror comedy movie that was a co-production between the UK and Ireland, and released in 2012. I wasn’t aware of this movie’s existence until a few years later, when I came across it featured on the Family Video website (I am amazed that physical brick-and-mortar video stores still exist nowadays, somehow). The description made me think I was getting into a low-budget monster flick with middling amounts of pain involved. I was partly right.

Ciarán O’Shea is a Garda (kind of like a policeman, only in the Republic of Ireland) is a bit of an alcoholic slacker on the force, when he’s assigned a new partner, named Lisa Nolan, who is not only (*gasp!*) a girl, but is also a workaholic who volunteered for temporary duty on the remote Irish island that he works at. And a teetotaler. It’s your basic odd couple pairing story device. You know right away that they’re going to be totes a couple by the end of the movie. Anyway, mutilated whale corpses start washing up on the beach, and next thing you know the townsfolk are being attacked by bloodsucking tentacled aliens of various sizes. After the town drunk survives an attack, the local marine ecologist theorizes that it was the high alcohol content in the man’s blood that proved toxic to these “Grabbers”, as they’ve been named. Because there’s a storm that will allow the critters to wander around the town freely, they hatch a plan to get everyone at the local pub under the guise of a party, to keep everyone from rioting and freaking out over what’s going on. This goes as well as you would expect. Baby Grabbers arrive at the pub, the pub is set on fire, O’Shea and Nolan lure the adult Grabber to the local construction site for a final showdown, and while they were victorious, there are a bunch of more Grabber eggs buried on the beach. The end.

Grabbers was a blast to watch. This is your basic low-budget monster flick (only made for 5 and a half million) that is surprisingly well-done, not only in the effects department, but in the overall story as well. The thing that makes it work is the fact that it doesn’t take itself completely seriously–there’s a scene where the Grabber lures the town drunk out of his house by using the body of its victims as a life-sized marionette that got a rather big belly laugh out of me–but just serious enough to make this genuinely scary at times. The characters are fun and palpable, and watching the story unfold was a blast. I know, I know, second time using that word to describe the watching experience, but it’s worth repeating in the same paragraph.

Overall, Grabbers was a surprisingly fun horror comedy. As far as I know, the only one I’ve seen to have come out of Ireland. Fans of Shaun Of The Dead and Attack The Block need to check this one out. Recommended.

Movie Review: EXTRAORDINARY TALES

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extraordinary tales
Gkids
2013
NR

“I don’t want my work to be lost forever. My work is eternal. I want that eternity. I want to be sure my words will survive me, that they will never be lost in time.”

  • Five of Edgar Allan Poe’s best-known stories are brought to vivid life in this visually stunning, heart-pounding animated anthology featuring some of the most beloved figures in horror film history.

Edgar Allan Poe. Any aspiring fan of the dark and morbid tales of yore know the name. I’m pretty certain that a collection of his short stories and poems are issued to you the moment you show any interest in the Goth subculture. I know I was. I remember the first time I encountered the stories of E. A. Poe: it was 7th grade Lit.*, and my teacher Mr. Wilberding describing the story of “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Of course, these stories are golden oldies trotted out every Halloween season; I, however, think that–like Halloween itself–these should be celebrated and read year-round.

Which brings us to the anthology movie Extraordinary Tales. This is a movie that takes five well-known Edgar Allan Poe** stories and animates them, each of them with a different animation style, and narrated by a different actor who has ties to the horror community as well. As a long-time horror enthusiast, I felt obligated to give this thing a watch.

There’s a wrap-around story involving a raven (of course) that supposedly represents the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe, having a bit of an existential discussion with a graveyard statue, worrying about whether his stories will live on long after he’s dead and gone. We then begin with “The Fall Of The House Of Usher”, which is narrated by the late, great Christopher Lee. The animation is flat, with CGI that looks like the finest a Playstation One game can provide. It’s not bad, just “eh”. The second story is “The Tell-Tale Heart”, which is narrated by none other than Bela Lugosi. How did this happen, you may ask? After all, as the song goes, Bela Lugosi’s dead. He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead. A long time ago, I might add. Well, this sounds like an old recording he did reading the story, and the old lo-fi scratchy sound of the recording actually enhances the animation style employed on this one. “The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar” is a nice creepy and ghoulish tale that is narrated by Julian Sands, who was in the movies Warlock and Arachnophobia. This one’s animated style recalls the classic pulp comics, with the main character animated to look like Vincent Price. Neat. “The Pit And The Pendulum” is narrated by Guillermo del Toro, and if I have to explain who he is, you’re reading the wrong blog. The animation style is standard CGI, and to be forthright, this isn’t my favorite short story of his to begin with. I realize Edgar Allan Poe took liberties with historical accuracy with this story (who doesn’t, really), but the situations still make no sense to me no matter how many times I read this. The visuals here didn’t help things. And finally, we end with perhaps my favorite of all of Edgar Allan Poe stories, “The masque Of The Red Death”. Here, there’s no narration, but does feature the voice work of one Roger Corman as Prince Prospero, in the tale of the rich and prosperous locked inside a castle and partying while a nasty plague ravages the country. Given that I happen to be writing this at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic and all the panic that comes with it, this has the added bonus of being a bit close to home.

As adaptations go, they’re pretty standard. I should point out that the stories themselves were truncated, so you don’t really get the full stories. And neither do the adaptations have enough time to let the stories breath, like with Roger Corman’s famous adaptations from the 1960s. But, Extraordinary Tales works as a good perfunctory introduction to the works of one of the more legendary American authors of the Romantic Gothic period. And anything that works as a gateway drug to becoming a reading junkie gets my enthusiastic support.

[*kids, back then, that was short for “Liturature”, and not “exciting”, or “excellent”, although for nerds like myself, you might say Lit. class was actually “lit”]

[**you can’t just say “Poe”; you need to say his full name for full effect]

Movie Review: WORLD’S GREATEST DAD

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world's greatest dad
Darko Entertainment
2009
R

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who made you feel all alone.”

  • Robin Williams stars as Lance Clayton, a man who has learned to settle. He dreamed of being a rich and famous writer, but has only managed to make it as an unpopular high school poetry teacher. His only son Kyle is an insufferable jackass who won’t give his father the time of day. He is dating Claire, the school’s adorable art teacher, but she doesn’t want to get serious, or even acknowledge publicly that they are dating. Then, in the wake of a freak accident, Lance suffers the worst tragedy and the greatest opportunity of his life. He is suddenly faced with the possibility of all the fame, fortune and popularity he ever dreamed of, if he can only live with the knowledge of how he got there.

Bobcat Goldwaith. He’s a rather brilliant comedian, but I think he may be an even more brilliant movie maker. I’m not talking about the movies he was merely an actor in (the less said about Hot To Trot, the better…which reminds me, I need to do a review of Hot To Trot). No, I speak of the movies he’s written, directed and/or produced. These happen to be what you would call “uncomfortable dark comedy”, meaning he manages to take really, really uncomfortable topics and situations, and manages to make you laugh despite that squicky feeling in the pit of your stomach. But, lest you think he’s just being crass for crass’ sake, he actually crafts some subversive meaning underneath all the morbid humor.

I listened to an interview with Bobcat Goldwaith on a local radio morning talk show here in Omaha back in the day, and he was describing World’s Greatest Dad to them, when it was the newest movie he had made at the time. I remember thinking, “this is really, really dark and morbid. I must find this and watch it.” Of course, it tanked at the box office, but I managed to rent it when it was finally released on DVD.

So, Lance Clayton (Robin Williams!) is a high school English teacher and frustrated writer, who is also a single father to his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara!), a 15-year-old misanthrope with a very, very unhealthy addiction to porn. Things are not going well at the high school Lance teaches at: his son is on the verge of being booted out due to his behavior, his romantic relationship with another teacher at the school is utterly pitiful, and another kid is hanging out at his house to avoid his alcoholic mother. Oh, and one night Lance discovers that Kyle has died by way of autoerotic asphyxiation. Too soon to make an INXS joke? Yes? Okay, then. To avoid the stigma of the way he died, Lance then makes it look like Kyle committed suicide. Soon thereafter, the fake suicide note Lance wrote on his son’t computer to complete the facade is published by one of the students on the school’s newspaper, and that strikes such a cord with everyone that suddenly all the students that hated Kyle (which was all of them) started claiming to have been BFF’s and raving as to how deep and intelligent he was. This inspires Lance to strike while the iron’s hot, and write a fake journal that was supposedly his son’s before his death, and publish it. This becomes a phenomenon, and Lance finally gets the adoration he’s always wanted because of this. However, things start getting kind of out of control when he starts gaining national fame and celebrity, and there’s one student that thinks this is kind of fishy. Then, when the school principal decides to rename the school library in Kyle’s honor, things come to a head, and Lance says “I quit” in the manner I really want to go out on: by swimming naked in the school’s swimming pool.

So, let’s go ahead and address the proverbial elephant in the room, here. At the time when I watched this, we were maybe five years away from Robin Williams committing suicide by hanging himself. We had no idea this was going to happen, obviously. For me, this does make it hard for me to want to re-watch World’s Greatest Dad. But, it really shouldn’t, as this isn’t a movie about suicide. It’s a movie about loneliness, the craving for love and acceptance, and the lengths at which we will go to achieve all of this. This is the late, great Robin Williams at his peak best, emanating a pathos that gets under your skin, and while what he does is rather underhanded and despicable, you still get the sense that he did it all out of love for his son, who, it should be pointed out, was not the most lovable kid going. There’s an understatement.

Overall, World’s Greatest Dad is a brilliant dark comedy mixed with solid drama that, unfortunately, many won’t be able to get past the first half hour to truly appreciate. Trust me, though, when I say that you should definitely stick through the movie. It’s one that doesn’t merely go for the feels…it uses the feels as a speed bag while chomping on a cigar and blowing the smoke in your face. Highly recommended.

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