Movie Review: The INVITATION

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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.

Music Review: KRIG – Target: Human-Mission: Destroy

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KRIG - Target_ Human-Mission_ DestroyKRIG
Target: Human-Mission: Destroy
Independent
2009

The second full-length release from these Brazilian death metal minstrels (it’s my blog, and I’ll use as much purple prose as I want) finds Krig continuing on with crafting some rather tasty death metal going.

Target: Humanity; Mission: Destroy kicks things off right with the opening cut “Mercenary Pastor”, which is heavy, has a nice groove and is a bit chaotic at points. Krig is definitely not one of those bands that feels the need to be Br00tal for brutality’s sake, and that is evident in the songs “Fatal Brutality”, “Chaos In The Air” and “You Will Be Hated” (not a cover of the Vengeance Rising song, mind), which showcases some good riffs and a nice mid-paced groove. That isn’t to say they’re afraid to bring the full-on death metal goodness and play it safe: “Fast Food” has an interesting riff and breakdown, “My Intestine Is Displayed” is a great gut-churning cut, and the closing track–“Beautiful Mutilation”–ends things with some classic blast beat death metal riffage with a bit of a progressive edge thrown in.

Overall, Target: Humanity; Mission: Destroy is a very good death metal gem from the South American continent. If by now you’re still unaware of the fertile metal community there, you’re missing out. And Krig is (was?) a shining example of that. Recommended.

Movie Review: ALBINO FARM

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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.

Music Review: FREAKINGS – Toxic End

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FREAKINGS - Toxic EndFREAKINGS
Toxic End
Independent
2017

Back in the 2000s, there was a bit of a resurgence of the thrash style of metal, with bands like Havok and Municipal Waste and others resurrecting not only the music, but also the aesthetic that came with it. It was dubbed “re-thrash”, and had its share of detractors from the metal nerds (which I could see their point; why listen to something that sounds like Exodus, when you can just listen to Exodus? And so on…). Personally, I reveled in the sudden resurgence of not only new, younger and hungry thrash bands, but also the way it kicked the old guard in the rear end when it came to getting back to their roots since the great Metal Dark Age that was the 1990s. It may have been played by bands who weren’t even alive in the 1980s, but boy were they a much-needed shot of \,,/METAL\,,/ adrenaline at a time when it seemed metalcore was the only thing going.

Which brings us to the band FreaKings. Hailing from Switzerland, this is a band that, for whatever reason, managed to escape my notice until just recently, when i happened upon them mentioned at the Christian Metal Distro page, and was able to purchase the download of their third album Toxic End off of Amazon. And holy bovine, what was I missing all this time.

From the opening track “Hell On Earth”, right through to the ending cut “No More Excuses”, Toxic End is a barrage of unrelenting thrash metal played fast, loose and heavy. There are some good riffs employed, and more than a few rather tasty rhythms and hooks thrown in to make things a lot more interesting than your standard thrash collection. The vocals use the standard throaty, raspy shout with a snarl type, giving the band a strong comparison to that of Municipal Waste, Havok and Toxic Holocaust.

Overall, while it didn’t change my world as much as some of the classic releases in thrash’s golden age, but in the desert of good metal, Toxic End is an oasis of thrash goodness. I’m going to have to see about acquiring their previous two releases now. Recommended.

Music Review: ADVENTUS – Hell Will Fall

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ADVENTUS - Hell Will FallADVENTUS
Hell Will Fall
Independent
2011

There is hardly any information that I can glean for the band Adventus. Hardly. Anything. And I have some mad Google skills, here. They’re not even listed on the definitive Christian rock and metal database, the Firestream Vault. There’s a bit at the Encyclopaedia Metallum, stating they’re from Russia, and…that’s about it, besides the discography bits. And those album titles are in Russian, not English. Which leads me to think, this may not be the same band. Because, somehow I managed at one point to ascertain that the EP we’re reviewing was released in 2011. Also, the logo on the album art doesn’t match the band on Metal-Archives. I can’t even remember how I came into possession of this thing, really. This is kind of a maddening mystery, the more I try and think about it.

So, regardless of my inability to glean any kind of interesting talking points about the background of either the band or this release, I still have the music to talk about. And if you can find this somehow, floating around out there, try and nab it, because this is a four track collection of some of the better THRASH that I have had the pleasure of listening to. The opening track, “Forgive Me” starts things off with some heavy stinking thrash metal with a great riff to get us primed and going. The next track, “Sepultura”, has a tasty dark opening riff, then settles into a great thrash hook, with kind of a death metal break. “Sky Or Hell” has a piano opening things, then goes into a great metal hook, with a very good mosh break within. The closing track, “Hell Will Fall” has some great riffs and leads going for it, giving this EP a rather satisfying end.

Overall, despite where and how I came across this, Hell Will Fall was a pretty good bit of THRASH metal with a bit of Death Metal influences thrown in. The production is decent, with a rawness that works in the music’s favor. It just boggles my mind that I can’t seem to find any information on either the band or this release. Regardless, good find with some rather good thrash contained therein.

Movie Review: Edgar Allan Poe’s The LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER

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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

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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…

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