Movie Review: The AWAKENING

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the awakeningCohen Media Group
2011
R

“It’s never darker than when we close our eyes, and yet we keep them shut. Why is that?”

The year is 1921, and author Florence Cathcart is a famous debunker of supernatural tomfoolery and the bane of charlatans in England. She’s contacted by a teacher from a boys’ boarding school, where there have been sightings of a ghost of a young boy at the school, which may have contributed to the death of one of the living boys. He wants her to investigate, to which she initially refuses…but, then she gets all soft-hearted because she, too, was an orphan once, and all that. So, she arrives at the school, and sets up her various equipment she uses to prove whether or not there’s a haunting. Doing her best detective work, she deduces the real culprit in the death of the young boy…and it’s not a ghost. Surprise, surprise. But, even though her job is done and she’s about to leave, something happens that causes Florence to question her sanity and remain at the school a bit longer during the holiday break. She’s beginning to see things, things that may tie back to her past. And also question whether or not there really is a ghost that wanders the halls of the school.

Overall, I found The Awakening to be an interesting old school style Gothic ghost story that has the same slow-burning feel of The Others and The Woman In Black, has a very creepy atmosphere and heavy bit of tension, and unravels as a pretty good supernatural mystery. Rebecca Hall is mesmerizing as the skeptic with a sad past, and I may have developed a bit of a fanboy crush. It tends to happen. I do admit that the way the story unraveled was a bit on the predictable side, adhering to the early 20th Century ghost story formula, but that’s kind of par for the course. The Awakening was a good movie, a decent way to kill a rainy Autumn afternoon (for effect).

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Music Review: BLOOD COVENANT – Sign Of Time

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blood covenant - sign of timeBLOOD COVENANT
Sign Of Time
Darknagar Records
2011

Blood Covenant is a symphonic black metal band from Armenia that formerly went by the name Iron Cross until changing it to their current moniker in 2001. They’ve released three full-length studio albums since that time, along with a couple of singles and a live DVD. This is another band that I came across on Bandcamp and…well, let’s just say I am tremendously happy that I did discover these guys.

Sign Of Time [sic] is the band’s third full-length release, and the first one of theirs that I purchased from Bandcamp. After listening to this several times, I really need to get on the ball, here, and get their other two releases. Because if they’re just as awesome as Sign Of Times is, I need them to be gracing my earholes now. But, as far as Sign Of Time goes…

The metal on this release is epic. It’s a blend of Black Metal and s kind of Symphonic Gothic music that gives everything a dark, swirling depth to things. Imagine if Emperor collaborated with Midnight Syndicate or Nox Arcana, you’ll get the idea of what this album is like.

Sign Of Times opens with the aptly titled “Intro”, a nice use of ambient sounds, synth strings and horns, giving this a nice epic feel. This leads into “Sign Of Time”, a great, furious symphonic black metal blast, a great riff and good use of strings and choral chants, with a bit of King Diamond-style vocals making an appearance. “Unseen War” and “The Call” continue with the great symphonic black metal. This leads to “The Funeral Of The Dark Kingdom”, which is an instrumental that features strings, organ and choral arrangements. “Fall Babylon” continues with the Black Metal assault, has a great horror movie style ambient feel and a guitar solo that sounds inspired by Mozart. “Hayr Mer” is more of a Doom Metal flavor, and has a very Ghost-like choral effects on the chorus. I rather like that. “At The Cross” is another instrumental, and continues with the doom style with the orchestration and features a mournful violin. “Corruptible Reflection Of Reality” hits you with another blast of Symphonic Black Metal goodness, and then it’s another orchestral instrumental with “Golgotha”. The album concludes with “Metanoia” and “Faithful”, the later of which has a great speedy riff and the aforementioned King Diamond style vocals to close us out.

Overall, I am very, very impressed with Sign Of Time, as well as with Blood Covenant. This being my first taste of them, I can’t wait to explore they’re back catalogue as soon as I can. Highly recommended, this.

Movie Review: GOING IN STYLE

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going in styleWarner Bros. Pictures
2017
PG-13

“What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s thinking.”
“It looks painful.”

Lifelong buddies Willie, Joe and Albert decide to buck retirement and step off the straight-and-narrow when their pension funds become a corporate casualty. Desperate to pay the bills and come through for their loved ones, the three men risk it all by embarking on a daring adventure to knock off the very bank that absconded with their money.

So, right about now, you’re probably wondering what I, a man that has a certain geek specialties and tastes in movies, am doing watching a movie like Going In Style, a comedy about three octogenarians planning on pulling a robbery on a bank? Oh, no reason…except for the fact that it stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin as the three feisty senior citizens. Do I need to say anything more? I do? Oh, all right, then. For the sake of padding up some writing space…

Yeah, back when I saw the theatrical trailer in the front of whatever movie it was that I was at the theater to watch, I thought that the premise was done, but since it stared three of the actors that are on my Watch Regardless Of What Movie They’re In list, I figured it was a matter of time before I actually watched Going In Style, but this would probably be one of those kind of movies I would wait until it was available for rental to get around watching. And wouldn’t you know it? Self-fulfilling prophecy. I did, in fact, watch it as a rental.

So, the story revolves around lifelong friends who are retired and run into some issues with their pension being suddenly revoked from the place they loyally worked at for 30 years of their lives. After finding himself at the bank during a well-planned robbery heist, they all plot to essentially do the same to offset the problem of their sudden lack of retirement income. So, enlisting the help of a pet store owner, they plan out to hit their bank. And things…don’t really go as planned. But, really, you were expecting otherwise?

Going In Style is formulaic, nothing new, and quite predictable…and I absolutely adored this. It’s not exactly Ocean’s Eleven, but then it didn’t pretend to be that. What this is, is a fun little heist movie that is probably going to be played on TBS every Saturday ad nausium for the whole family to enjoy. What can I say, but seeing the likes of Caine, Freeman and Arkin play off each other was great fun. And that’s what Going In Style is, a fun little weekend afternoon movie.

Music Review: CRIMSON THORN – Anthology Of Brutality

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crimson thorn anthology of brutalityCRIMSON THORN
Anthology Of Brutality: 1992-2002 The Complete Collective Works
Bombworks Records
2017

As death metal goes, Crimson Thorn ranks up there in my Top 3 favorites. They’re one of the most heavy, brutal, gut-churning-ly fantastic groups to ever have graced my earholes. I caught them live at Cornerstone 2002, around the time when they released their final full-length Purification, a show that congealed my insides and left me with a warm, tingly sensation that I’m 86% sure wasn’t just a minor stroke brought on by the show. If I had one complaint about the band, it’s that the production quality–especially on their first full-length release–left a lot to be desired.

Fortunately, and at long last, the good folks at the always-awesome Bombworks Records understood this, and released a three disc boxed set of the Crimson Thorn albums, along with a few extra odds and sods, all of which are completely remastered to finally showcase the death metal the way it was supposed to be listened to: where you can feel it down deep in the bowels of your very being.

Disc one contains the 1994 debut full-length Unearthed, plus the Plagued demo from 1993. Disc two contains 1997’s Dissection, plus their contribution to the Tribute To Living Sacrifice compilation (“Anorexia Spiritual”), and “Something Else”. Disc three contains 2002’s Purification release, plus three live cuts from a show in Minneapolis: “Intro/Imminent Wrath”, “Sarcastic Deviation”, and “Putrid Condemnation”.

If you’re anything like me, then you already own all of these releases, including the Live In Minneapolis DVD. Well, there’s still a very good reason to get Anthology Of Brutality, and that’s because the remastering has made everything sound superb. The sound is no longer muddled–especially on both the Plagued demo and Unearthed releases–and all of the delicious brutality goodness is made nice, clear and solid. If you’re tired of not being able to crank up Crimson Thorn’s discography as you’d like, Anthology Of Brutality has got you covered.

If you’re wanting a physical copy of the boxed set itself, this was limited to 500 copies, so you’d probably want to be quick about it. However, the songs are also available for digital download from Amazon, which is where I purchased my copy, and if you’re okay with that, it still sounds fantastic. Either way you go, Anthology Of Brutality comes highly recommended by your Uncle NecRo, and gets an enthusiastic five-out-of-five Metal Horns Up.

Movie Review: INSIDIOUS: Chapter 2

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insidious chapter 2Blumhouse Productions
2013
PG-13

“In my line of work things tend to happen when it gets dark.”

I have to admit, I was a bit slow on the uptake to watch the sequel to one of the better horror flicks to come out in the 21st Century. I was kind of on a strictly limited budget at the time, which was mostly focused on the marriage that ultimately never happened. Obviously I spaced out on this and the third entry in James Wan’s Insidious franchise. But, with the upcoming fourth entry coming up in January 2018, I figured now would be a good time to play catch-up.

After a bit of a flashback to a young Josh Lambert getting an exorcism by a young Elise Rainer, Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up right when the first movie ended, with the younger son of Josh’s family saved from The Further, but resulting in the death of Elise. After a police investigation, the family moves in with Josh’s mother, hoping to try and put the events from the previous movie behind them. Soon, though, the bad dreams begin coming back, Josh’s wife Renai keeps hearing the piano playing by itself and begins to see a mysterious woman in white going after the baby, and Josh seems to be…not himself as of late. Meanwhile, Specs and Tucker–Elise’s assistance from the first film–stumble upon the videotape of Josh’s exorcism from the flashback in the beginning, and they, along with Elise’s long-time friend Carl, begin piecing together the truth: Josh wasn’t the one who came back from The Further, but the spirit of a deceased serial killer called The Bride in Black. Also, the real Josh has been trying to send messages to his loved ones from The Further. Soon, there’s a showdown between the possessed Josh in the real world, as well as the spirits in The Further. Do they succeed in putting things back to where it once was? Will the movie end with another booga-booga-booga shock take? Does Jason Voorhees love his hockey mask / machete fashion combo?

When I decided to watch Insidious Chapter 2, it was the first night of my annual self-imposed seclusion trip, wherein I spend an extended weekend in my aunt and uncle’s camper out by their pond. It was storming, lots of lightning, thunder, howling winds and torrents of rain beating down on my cozy dwelling. In other words, the ambiance was perfect for watching horror movies. And the whole thing helped in the amplification of my enjoyment of Insidious Chapter 2 greatly. Because, otherwise, and I’m rather sad for saying this, but I don’t think that Chapter 2 would have been as effective a horror movie as the first one was. Mind you, the story is a good one, the atmosphere builds up the tension nicely, and the effects were very good. Overall, a well-made ghost story with serious teeth. That doesn’t stop the nagging feeling that I’ve been there, done that already. Still, very much worth a rental some night. In the same kind of weather conditions I managed to watch this in. Trust me, it works.

Music Review: DEMON HUNTER – Live In Nashville

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demon hunter live in nashvillDEMON HUNTER
Live In Nashville
Solid State Records
2009

Something I’ve always wondered about Demon Hunter is, what are they like live? Mainly because, despite what you think of them, you have to admit that they have a rather layered and complex sound going than your standard metalcore / deathcore / NWOAHM style that you labeled them with. The vocal harmonies and melodies often made me wonder how they pull it off in a live setting. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to hit Omaha very often when they are on tour, and when they did I wasn’t exactly as big of a fan than I am now, so I didn’t go out to see them and discover how they are live for myself.

Fortunately, Solid State Records stopped ignoring my calls and letters, and released Live In Nashville. This is essentially the audio version of the live show filmed for the second DVD on the 45 Days documentary set that was released the year prior to this. This set was recorded at Rockettown in Nashville, during their Stronger Than Hell tour with Living Sacrifice. That sounded like an awesome show, that. I wish they would have recorded Living Sacrifice’s set as well. I also wish to one day ride a unicorn, but that’s probably not going to happen, either.

Here, they play cuts from their 2002 self-titled debut (“Infected”), 2004’s Summer Of Darkness (“My Heartstrings Come Undone” and “Not Ready To Die”), 2005’s The Triptych (“Ribcage”, “The Soldier’s Song”, “Undying”, and “The Flame that Guides Us Home/Not I”), and of course, the album they were touring for, 2007’s Storm The Gates Of Hell (“Storm The Gates Of Hell”, “Lead Us Home”, “I Am You”, “Carry Me Down”, “Fading Away”, “Follow The Wolves”, and “Sixteen”). After a nice atmospheric instrumental leading up to the famous “Dine in Hell!” clip from the movie 300, Demon Hunter rips into their set, sending everyone into a frenzy (I presume…it’s not like I can actually see them like I could on the DVD or anything, but in my head they’re all going berserk).

As far as how they handle playing their songs live…they do so admirably. Obviously, they don’t reproduce everything exactly like they do on the studio albums. Unless they were pulling a Top Of The Pops and “playing along” to a prerecorded track, that is. They sound live and raw, with no discernible overdubbing, keeping things organic with the execution. And that makes this rather fantastic as a live album.

So, there you go. If you love Demon Hunter, or even just like them, and haven’t had the chance to check them out live, Live In Nashville is the next best thing, while waiting for them to show up in your neck of the woods, methinks.

Movie Review: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2

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paranormal activity 2Paramount Pictures
2010
R

When the first Paranormal Activity movie was released, it made gobs of monies. Inevitably, a sequel was eminent. And so, one did get released in 2010, cleverly titled Paranormal Activity 2. Except, it wasn’t a sequel so much as a parallel companion piece to the first Paranormal Activity movie. Well, except for the very last part, which does take place after the events of the first movie.

Confused yet? Let me explain…

Paranormal Activity focuses on Kristi, the sister of the main character from the first movie, and her family. After a burglary occurs at their home, an elaborate security camera system is installed, and thus introduced our method of “found footage” in this installment. All kinds of weird stuff gets captured by the cameras, which leads to Kristi believing the house is haunted. Of course, her husband disagrees, while her stepdaughter begins investigating paranormal goings on–activities of some sort–and the infant son Hunter finds himself with a friend no one else can see. The dog gets attacked, Kristi gets possessed, and her husband decides to exorcise the demon by sending it to Kristi’s sister, Katie from the first movie, because he’s kind of a jerk. Yeah, that works out well. And in case you’re wondering what happened after the end of the first movie, Paranormal Activity 2 lets you in on that bit of information.

As I mentioned, Paranormal Activity 2 doesn’t stick to the general conventions of a traditional sequel. It does answer a few questions raised by the first movie. Admittedly, much of the tension comes by watching intently, waiting for something to happen, not willing to blink lest even a small clue may be missed. Otherwise, it’s pretty much your standard found footage boo-scare flick that didn’t resonate with me as much as the first film. And that’s not saying much, really. It did manage to flesh out the overall story. Otherwise, meh.

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