Tag Archives: horror

mother! – Review

11 Oct

When I was first getting heavily into film, one of my main inspirations was Darren Aronofsky. He went places with his movies that I never thought were possible. Requiem for a Dream has had an impact on me that not a lot of films have and that impact kept going when I saw his films PiThe FountainThe Wrestler, and Black Swan. I thought this guy could do no wrong. Then came Noah and I saw that maybe he isn’t perfect. Noah was a huge disappointment for me and I always thought it was a strange project for Aronofsky to take. When I saw his next film, mother!, was going to be a strange psychological horror trip down the rabbit how, I felt like it was a return to form and I was super excited. Well, I’ve seen the movie and I still can’t get a grip on what I saw. This is going to be a rough review to write because I still have no idea how I really feel. One moment I hate it, and the next I find something to truly respect. Call for help.

A woman known only as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a secluded, dilapidated house with her husband who is only credited as Him (Javier Bardem). Him is a poet who is struggling with severe writer’s block while Mother works day in and day out trying to fix the house, which is actually Him’s old house which was destroyed in a fire. One day Man (Ed Harris) shows up at Him and Mother’s door, and Him allows Man to stay the night. The actions of Man upsets Mother and things only get worse when Man’s wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), shows up and Him also allows Woman to stay. As Mother is quietly tormented by both Man and Woman, more and more people begin inviting themselves into Mother’s house and invading her life to the point where her very existence is threatened by the endless mob of people.

This movie really is something else. mother! is one of the most polarizing movies of the year, and not just with me, but also with critics and audiences. The structure of the movie, itself, even feels like polar opposites of one another. The first hour of this film is outstanding. I was sucked into it and I was ready to defend this film against anything negative one said. The dynamic between Mother and Him was intense. The abuse that Mother was receiving was quiet and nonviolent but abuse all the same. That’s when I thought, “Oh, this movie’s about toxic relationships where the pain is never from anything physical.” I thought that was a really interesting thematic journey to be on and an idea that isn’t explored all that much. Lawrence, Bardem, Harris, and especially Pfeiffer were all at the top of their games in this half of the movie. When more people began entering the home, I also thought it was a wild idea to think of and then actually execute and execute well onscreen. So far, mother! was gutsy, well paced, original, and had a clever artistic balance. Then the movie slowed down, and that was fine. A slow down was necessary. But then, we get into the second half of the film, more specifically the third act…

It is at this point that both Darren Aronofsky and mother! goes off the rails. Without spoiling anything, more people show up to the house and the great idea Aronofsky had is spoiled by doing way too much with it. Not only that, but he shamelessly bashes the viewer over the head with his religious symbolism that completely destroyed what my theory of the movie was about. It’s a relentless mish mash of violence and allegories and pretension. I get it Darren. We all get it. Settle down. It’s also at this time where both Man and Woman are nowhere in sight, and they were only one of the most interesting part of the movie. The tracking camera work that worked so well in the first half just becomes nauseating as things start getting crazier and crazier. I wasn’t really affected by what I was looking at. I wasn’t feeling angry anymore or upset for Mother. I wasn’t even laughing at the insanity. I was just getting so confused and annoyed at how far things were going that I was getting bored. It was a very strange feeling.

So let’s weigh the good with the bad. The good is the first half of the movie that is filled with excellent performances, an idea I found very unique, and camera work that was very sure of itself. Like I said, I was sucked in for a while. The bad is pretty much everything else. The actual point of the entire movie is pretentious and completely destroyed what I thought about the film. The themes themselves are pretentious, but the obvious way Aronofsky uses them is just annoying. The idea that was great in the first half also goes way too far and is also ruined in the second half. It seems like it may be balanced, but when I  say I hated the second half I mean that I HATED it. I really can’t talk too much about what I didn’t like in the second half because it would spoil the film.

mother! is an anomaly of a movie. There are times where I admire it and there are times that it just bothers me. At this very point in time, I can still say I’m torn, but the film did anger me more than I wanted it to. I like when a movie can be angering for the emotional response that it needs. Detroit was angering, but that was the response that Bigelow wanted. mother! was angering just because of how annoying and pretentious the film got and how Aronofsky went way too far with his idea. I don’t know how I’m going to feel about this movie down the line or after repeat viewings, but this is how I feel right now.

Final Grade: C-

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The Devil’s Backbone – Review

3 Oct

When I think of some of the best film makers working today, one of my go to names will always be Guillermo del Toro. At his most personal, his stories delve into the darkest of fantasies and bring them to life using real world consequences. We see this with films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak. On the flip side, del Toro can create spectacles for the big screen with a vision completely different from any other big budget film maker. Think of the two Hellboy films and Pacific Rim. With it being the beginning of that wonderful season of Halloween, I thought it would be a great time to check out one of del Toro’s most praised ghost stories, The Devil’s Backbone, from 2001. He’s stated that this film is a sort of cousin to Pan’s Labyrinth and it’s clear why. This is a sombre tale of war destroying people’s lives, while also offering a spooky ghost story and a message of strength that bursts through the sadness to offer hope. To put it simply, The Devil’s Backbone should be considered a modern classic.

Carlos (Fernando Tielve), an orphan who’s father was recently killed in the Spanish Civil War, is taken into an orphanage the wise Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi) and his fellow administrator and teacher for the kids, Carmen (Marisa Paredes). Upon arrive there, Carlos finds something very odd about the place, and it’s a something that’s quite obvious. There’s a bomb in the middle of the courtyard that landed and got lodged in the ground, but never detonated. He also hears stories from the kids there about an orphan named Santi (Junio Valverde), who mysteriously went missing when the bomb landed. One night, Carlos is out looking for water and comes across what seems to be the ghost of Santi who warns Carlos that many people are about to die. This apparition keeps appearing to Carlos, and it doesn’t take long for the other kids to believe him. Meanwhile, the groundskeeper, Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), with the help of his friends begin scheming to rob the safe that Casares and Carmen have hidden in one of the buildings. As tensions rise between all parties, Santi’s warning of violence and death becomes an inevitability.

There’s so much to love with The Devil’s Backbone, it’s hard to find a place to start. Let’s go with the story. Guillermo del Toro is a master storyteller, and he works really well with telling these creepy tales through the innocent eyes of children. We see what Carlos sees and we know only what Carlos knows. There are only a few scenes where we are privileged enough to look behind the closed doors of the adults at this orphanage and see an establishment that is haunted by both the ghost of a young boy, but also crime, deception, and lust. While being a horror story and a drama and an allegory for war, The Devil’s Backbone has a strong mystery at its core. What’s the deal with the bomb in the middle of the courtyard? How did Santi really die? What does the warning of violence and death that Santi give mean? There’s so many questions asked during the slow burn of the plot that it had me riveted. I had to keep watching to find out more, and the payoff is quite literally explosive.

One of the most fun reasons to watch one of del Toro’s movies is his blending of genres and the fantastical with the brutal realities of life. The Devil’s Backbone is definitely a traditional ghost story at its core. A boy goes to an orphanage during a time of violence and is haunted by a ghost of one of its former residents. That may have been enough to support the movie, but it goes the extra mile. The humans in this movie often become creepier than the little ghost boy. The talks of the war and brutality that is happening in Spain is an ever present discussion by the adults in this movie that the kids can’t seem to comprehend. Jacinto also provides most of the actual horror in this film. He’s conniving and unpredictable and a true sociopath if I’ve ever seen one. Who’s stuck in the middle of all this? The children. They’re caught between the horrors of the real world and the people who inhabit it on one side and on the other the manifestation of the consequences of their actions. It’s not horror in the traditional sense, but it’s horror nonetheless.

Amidst all this terror is a film that’s shot beautifully. There’s something about Guillermo del Toro’s eye for things that isn’t extravagant, but it’s enough to hold your attention. It’s hard to explain, but he just has a way of showing just what needs to be shown in the exact way it needs to be. Can I get any more vague than that? Probably. Just give me the chance. The design of the ghost is also great, and it’s clear that he puts a lot of effort into creating his different specters and creatures for his movies because they always seem to stand out in some way. Santi is one of his greatest creations. He’s just a pale ghost that can be seen through, but what really makes it special is the trail of blood that comes out of his head and slithers through the air. Try to get that image out of your head. I dare you.

What else more can I say about The Devil’s Backbone? I absolutely loved this movie. It’s a haunting tale of ghosts, violence, and war but ultimately ends with a message of strength and bravery even for the most innocent of people. This is a film that masterfully blends gothic horror and the drama of the real world with the victims here being children. Sounds pretty heavy, right? It is and I respect del Toro for making a movie like this. He truly is a master and this is one of his greatest creations.

Final Grade: A+

Return of the Living Dead Series – Review: Part II

2 Aug

The first three films in the Return of the Living Dead series work at varying degrees of success. The first film is a riot that boasted some excellent special effects, the second film overuses slapstick, but provides enough entertainment to have some fun. The third film was kind of a departure and worked with a more serious approach, which felt kind of funky at times, but I still loved the zombie action and special effects. Now we enter the world of direct-to-DVD where no one is safe and you really never know what you’re going to get. That being said, lower your expectations to the most basic settings and let’s see what these movie have to offer.

Both films were shot back to back and released in 2005, with the first being Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis.

Julian (John Keefe) knows his Uncle Charles (Peter Coyote) is into some shady business at his job in the multibillion corporation known as Hybra Tech, but he isn’t quite sure how deep down the rabbit hole he is. One day, Julian’s friend, Zeke (Elvin Dandel), injures himself in a motocross accident and is taken to the hospital but declared dead before he even arrives. Julian and his group of friends soon find out that isn’t the case and he has in fact been taken to Hybra Tech for testing and experimentation. The gang decides the best idea is to break into the company’s headquarters and rescue Zeke. While there, they find evidence that Charles and Hybra Tech has been experimenting with the deadly Trioxin gas to create zombies to use as ultra powerful bio-weapons. One thing leads to another and the experimental zombies are on the loose in Hybra Tech which forces everyone stuck inside to fight for their lives or join the undead horde.

I really don’t know where to begin here. This is one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, and I do say it was a pleasure because I laughed out loud at the unabashed idiocy this narrative had to offer multiple times. First of all, the fact that a group of teenagers think it’s a good idea to use their extreme sport skills to break into a highly secured building is something that I can’t suspend my disbelief towards. They come up with this idea so fast and unanimously without any hesitation. They’re also really skilled with all types of firearms, which is really convenient since they’ll need all the help they can get when the zombies finally break out. Oh, right. The zombies. Yeah, it takes forever for more than two zombies at a time to be shown on screen. This is a low budget movie that went straight to DVD then to the SyFy channel, but my god, this movie drags on and on with the stupidest characters I’ve seen in a while.

There’s just so little logic used in this movie that it numbs the mind to such an excessive degree. One of these teenagers WORKS SECURITY AT HYBRA TECH. What did they think was going to happen with employees like a teenager and three other inexperienced hacks being the only line of defense for the Trioxin gas and a horde of zombies? Were the writers thinking about anything at all? When the zombies do start showing up and the action gets going, there are a few moments of fun, but how many fist fights with zombies are there gonna be? Why can the be so easily killed while the zombies in the first three films proved to be so difficult? I just have so many questions for the writers that I seriously don’t know where to begin.

I could go on and on about Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis, but I just start running myself in circles with unanswered questions about direction, acting, editing, and how this could’ve been green lit in the first place. This is one of the most hilariously sloppy films I’ve ever seen and it completely besmirches the anarchic attitude of the first three films. This is so mind numbing and senseless that I can’t recommend it to anyone. It’s good for a laugh considering how terrible it is, but do you really want to waste an hour and a half of your life that bad?

Final Grade: D-

Here we are at the last film of the series. I just want to take a moment to look back to 1985 when the first movie was released, and the impact it had on audiences looking for something to have fun with. We’ve gone from cult classic to this, and this here is the bottom of the barrel. You can just tell by the title: Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave.

A year after the events of Necropolis, Charles has the remaining Trioxin and plans to sell it to Russian Interpol agents whose job it is to destroy. Unfortunately, the Trioxin is released once again and the threat of a zombie apocalypse looms its undead head. Julian and Jenny (Jenny Mollen) find more Trioxin in Charles’ house and bring it to Cody (Cory Hardict) in the university science lab. It’s found that the Trioxin has similar elements as some hallucinogens, where Jenny’s raving DJ brother Jeremy (Cain Mihnea Manoliu) has the bright idea to try a bit of the Trioxin and sell it as a new street drug called “Z.” Much to Julian’s protests, the Trioxin is synthesized and sold to the students before the rave, and it doesn’t take long for the real effects of the gas to show. Now it’s up to Julian, his friends, a duo of bumbling Interpol agents to save the world from certain zombie doom.

This movie is the purest of garbage. It’s such an insult to what this series once was and the craft of film making in general. Let’s talk about the most glaring problem Rave to the Grave has, and there are plenty of them. I’ve never seen a movie with such a huge problem maintaining continuity. Ok, that’s not quite true. The Pink Panther movies are all over the place, but at least those films are enjoyable. This one has the audacity to name the characters the same names but completely wipe their memories of what they saw in Necropolis. Why are they surprised and completely unprepared when it comes to zombies? Why is Cody being such a jerk and fooling with Trioxin gas like he has no idea what it is? Why is Julian still living with his Uncle Charles? Is there any attempt to maintain continuity at all? I was so confused at first, not knowing if this was a sequel or what. I still don’t know, but why should I even care?

The creators of this film also try really hard to bring comedy more to the foreground with this movie and it’s an absolute failure. The comedic relief comes with the Interpol agents, but the extent of their humor comes from misunderstanding each other and shooting someone by accident while yelling “SORRY!” It’s the basest kind of comedy there is and a far cry away from the biting humor of the original film. We also just have characters that make the worst decisions of all time. Like, “We found this chemical in my uncle’s attic, so let’s synthesize it and sell it as a drug, or, “Let’s just fire our weapons in a crowd full of innocent people.” These have to be the dumbest people I’ve ever seen in a movie. I wish I could say their acting at least saved their characters a little bit, but I can’t. The acting is awful. That’s enough about that.

Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some real stinkers in my time. There’s nothing funny about it, there’s nothing even remotely scary, and much like the last film it’s just plain boring. What started out as such a fun series has devolved into this, and there’s really no redeeming it at this point. This film deserves the lowest grade I can possibly give, and that’s exactly what it’s gonna get.

Final Grade: F

These last two films are a huge disappointment in an otherwise solid series. The first three films are certainly worth the time of any fan of the horror genre. These last two, however, shouldn’t even deserve to exist. There’s barely anything worthwhile in Necropolis and nothing in Rave to the Grave. Skip these two entirely.

The Return of the Living Dead Series – Review: Part 1

14 Jul

Zombie films, at this point, seem to have been done to death. There was a time however, where messing with the formula was providing audiences with some new and exciting content, and one of the most popular blends of genres just so happens to be the horror/comedy. Enter Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a cult classic from 1985 called The Return of the Living Dead, which despite what the title will have you believe, is not related to George Romero’s series of films. It didn’t end there however, with four sequels being spawned to create a series that has lasted over a couple decades, with varying results of course. In this review, I’m going to be looking at the first three and will finish up with the last two in the second part.

Let’s kick this off with O’Bannon’s cult smash.

Freddy (Thom Matthews) is a bumbling punk kid who just got a job at a medical supply warehouse and is being trained by the equally bumbling foreman, Frank (James Karen). While trying to impress the new hire, Frank shows Freddy a container in the basement which contains a corpse and a toxic gas, which was part of an experiment that reanimated the dead and inspired George Romero to make Night of the Living Dead. After fiddling with the container, it springs a leak which released the toxic gas into the warehouse and reanimates the corpse within it. After calling their boss, Burt (Clu Gulager), to help destroy the corpse with the mortician next door, Ernie (Don Calfa), the groups actions poison the rain outside that is falling over a cemetery which causes all of the dead resting there to come back to life. Of course, a group of Freddy’s friends happen to be loitering there at the time and make a quick escape to the mortuary. From this location, the group must get innovative with their surroundings if they are to survive, but chances begin to get slimmer and slimmer as members of their party start falling victim to the zombies.

The Return of the Living Dead is a special kind of movie. It’s just the right blend of horror and comedy that is so hard to come across. Everything from the poster to the characters and even the way the zombies are design and behave just scream of a punk rock attitude, and that’s exactly what writer/director Dan O’Bannon was going for. It’s so funny to think that the mastermind behind the original Alien would go on to write and direct a movie like this. I’m not saying this is a bad movie at all, it’s just such a departure from what I’ve already seen of his work. So anyway, what this movie is is a comedy with horror elements, and boy can it be funny. What really helps the humor is that this movie takes place in a world where George Romero’s zombie films are around and just as popular. This fills the character’s heads with useless knowledge about zombies that don’t apply to these zombies in the least. In fact, the zombies from Return of the Living Dead are responsible for all the impressions of the undead that involved someone yelling “BRAAAAINS!” Even if you haven’t seen this movie, it’s reach still extends to you through the powers of cult film references that abound.

While The Return of the Living Dead holds up well as a comedy, it also has to hold up as a horror. In that respect, it also succeeds. This isn’t really a creepy movie, but more of what you’d expect from a zombie film. That’s lots of gore and some really great special effects, like on the Tarman zombie that hides in the basement of the warehouse. The other zombies also look great, with some really great make up and practical effects used to complete the illusion. I do have a couple minor complaints with the film as a whole however. For one thing, the set goes on for way too long and it really takes a while for the movie to really get going. Once it does, it’s off the walls, but I was surprised that so much time was used up in just laying the ground work of the story. A story that isn’t really that hard to understand, I might add. The ending also isn’t that spectacular. It is admittedly funny and does work with the nihilistic punk sensibilities, but it all happens way too fast and then the credits just begin to roll. Kind of an odd way to end the film, but it does leave me wanting more.

The Return of the Living Dead shouldn’t have to be compared with something like Dawn of the Dead, but it is possible. This isn’t a perfect zombie film, but it does reinvent the formula in such a way that makes it stand out from the massive amount of other works in this subgenre of horror. This is also a really funny film with a cast of faces you will probably recognize from some other cult favorites. The make up and effects are on point and the gore will leave any horror fan satisfied. If some of the pacing and storytelling issues were cleaned up, you’d have something close to being a perfect horror comedy. Even with those flaws, The Return of the Living Dead has rightfully succeeded in standing the test of time.

Final Grade: B

When The Return of the Living Dead proved to be a critical and box office success, it’s pretty easy to look back now and see that a sequel was inevitable, only this time without Dan O’Bannon. Instead, Lorimar Pictures took a script by Ken Wiederhorn and said they would fund it if he turned the story into a sequel of Return of the Living Dead. He did just that, despite wanting to get out of the horror genre, and it’s certainly weaker than the first film but it isn’t without its charms.

After a barrel of Trioxin falls off of a military transport truck and lands in the river a small town, it’s pretty clear that something very bad is going to happen. After being bullied by a group of neighborhood kids, Jesse (Michael Kenworthy), and his tormentors find the barrel and accidentally open it. Jesse was long gone at that point, but the other two kids weren’t so lucky. Meanwhile, two inept grave robbers, Joey (Thom Mathews) and Ed (James Karen), witness firsthand the dead begin to rise from their graves after a rainstorm sends the gaseous Trioxin underground. Joey and Ed soon meet up with Jesse, his sister Lucy (Marsha Dietlein), and their cable man Tom (Dana Ashbrook), who have also been slowly learning the truth about the undead crisis. With the military surrounding and barricading the town, this unlikely group of heroes have to fight for their lives against the zombies at any moment while also looking for anyway to stop this disaster before it gets any further.

The first thing I noticed about this movie is that it’s shameless about ripping off major plot points of its predecessor. If you go into this movie expecting a sequel that builds off of the events of the first film, then you’ll be let down by this movie on a major level. Return of the Living Dead Part II is a watered down retelling of the first film on a bigger scale. While the first film just took place in a very contained area, this one takes place in an entire town. This change doesn’t necessarily make for a better movie and it just makes the zombies seem stretched thinner. The first movie was tight and made it a lot harder to avoid the undead, where in this one there’s plenty of places to hide. The humor in this one is also watered down big time, which was done in order to attract a wider audience. This backfired miserably since it only made $9.2 million while the original grossed $14.2 million. The zombies in this movie are utter buffoons. This choice sacrifices the wit and anarchic attitude of the first film for zombies that fall all over each other and just meet whacky demises. I really did miss the clever dialogue and original humor that the original offered, but there were still some laughs to be had in this sequel.

I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t an entertaining movie. It definitely had its moments, and they can’t be forgotten just for the sake of railing on the film. The kid that played Jesse was actually very good and it was fun to see Thom Mathews and James Karen practically revive their roles, even though other actors probably could have been chosen. James Karen is absolutely hilarious though, and its a better movie with him in it. There’s also some really good special effects that stand up well with the effects of the original film. Return of the Living Dead Part II is a very light hearted film that relies way more on the comedy than the horror, instead of finding a balance between the two. This is a pretty bad movie, but it’s a bad movie that’s easy to like just for its absurdity and self awareness. Just don’t go into this movie expecting quality.

Final Grade: C-

Return of the Living Dead Part II was the last of the series to be released in the 1980s, and also the last to have a wide release in theaters. In 1993, Return of the Living Dead 3 was released in select theaters and admittedly has the worst box office results of the first three films. Other than financially, how well does it hold up with the others that came before it.

After stealing his father’s high class military key card, Curtis (J. Trevor Edmond) and his girlfriend, Julie (Melinda Clarke) sneak onto an army base and witness a group of scientists and officers reanimate a corpse with the Trioxin gas. Col. John Reynolds (Kent McCord), Curtis’ father, is part of the project and when it ultimately fails he is reassigned to another state, much to the devastation of Curtis. Curtis decides he isn’t going to leave and runs off with Julie, but the two get into a motorcycle accident that kills Julie. Curtis soon realizes that he still has the key card and uses it to get back onto the base to reanimate his girlfriend. As the two lovers start realizing that this new life (or afterlife in Julie’s case) isn’t going to be easy, Julie’s need for human flesh and brains causes an out of control situation of undead flesh eaters that could cause the next apocalypse if not contained quickly.

The mood of Return of the Living Dead 3 is way different from the mood of the first and second. The first film is a witty dark comedy/horror film while the sequel is mostly an exercise in slapstick. This entry totally does away with the comedy, while still retaining the sense of punk rock, even more so than the second film. I’ll get into the positives of that later, but I do want to focus on some of the not so great elements of this movie. For one thing, it’s kinda boring. Compared to the craziness of the first two, this entry is really tame. I could easily count the number of zombies in this movie and there’s never really a moment where they seemed to be overpowering anyone. Zombies work best as a horde, not a clump. We’re also meant to really buy the romance between Curtis and Julie, but Curtis is such a selfish idiot, it’s really hard to root for him in any circumstance. I ended up feeling bad for Julie having to be stuck with him and his awful ideas.

As a whole, though, this is a pretty solid movie. It isn’t anything grand, but it has some strong redeeming qualities. For one thing, and this is probably the most obvious thing to praise, Julie’s design for when she gets progressively deeper into “zombie mode,” if you will, is awesome. This make up and costume design is an under appreciated gem of the horror genre, and it’s something that needs to be revisited. This film also feels like it can stand on its own. The second film relied on the first one so much that it felt like a crutch. Return of the Living Dead 3 has its own style, mood, and storyline that is, for the most part, completely its own and unique. I also have to once again give props to the special effects department for once again showing that practical effects is the only way to successfully craft a zombie film.

As I already said, Return of the Living Dead 3 is a solid movie that does have some major flaws which will surely annoy viewer. It’s a tad boring and feels much smaller and less suspenseful than a zombie movie should. It does, however, have a cool concept to work with and it does try to make its two leads something more than just generic horror characters. This isn’t a movie that will ever be seen as a classic, but it does have some neat effects and costume design. For fans of the genre, I’d say give it a try.

Final Grade: C

So there’s the first three films in the Return of the Living Dead series and the only ones to be released in theaters. When I return with this series review, we’ll be heading back to the wonderful, yet often startlingly absurd world of direct to DVD.

Epidemic – Review

21 Jun

Here we are once again revisiting the work of the Mad Genius of Denmark. Of course, I’m talking about the one and the only Lars von Trier. I probably say this every time I review one of his movies, but I can’t stress enough that there’s something about his movies that keeps drawing me back in. Today, I’ll be talking about one of his earlier works from 1987 called Epidemic. This is the second part of his Europa Trilogy which also contains The Element of Crime and Europa, both films I’ve talked about already. Out of the three movies, Europa is by far my favorite, and Epidemic takes the unfortunate spot as my least favorite of the trilogy, and quite possibly my least favorite of the von Trier films that I’ve seen.

Lars von Trier and screenwriter Niels Vørsel star as themselves in this film. They are two struggling artists who, on the break of a deadline for a screenplay which bears a striking resemblance to The Element of Crime, lose everything they’ve worked on and have to start from scratch. Soon they think of an idea that features a doctor named Mesmer, who in the midst of a plague, heads to the infected area to help the sick that are there. As the duo become deeply involved in creating the story, they fail to notice warning signs of a viral epidemic breaking out all around them. The two writers travel to find inspiration and spend time discussing different points of view, which they incorporate into their story, and when the time comes to present their work to the producer, an unexpected tragedy strikes.

This is a hard film to review because it doesn’t really have that much of a story. Like some other films that I’ve reviewed, this one is almost just a collection of scenes involving von Trier and Vørsel getting inspiration for their story and becoming so obsessed that they lose themselves in their fiction. This is something that I do like about this story. As a fan of film and writing, I know that it is easy to get lost in something that you’re working on or watching, and it also can be seen as things that happen in a story, wether on paper or on screen, can have an effect on real life. The banter between the two stars is often very relaxed and believable, and their chemistry is definitely there, but the whole experience seems very long winded. There are plenty of conversations that go nowhere, and only a few times do I really see the parallels in real life and the story they are writing. It’s such a missed opportunity, and in this case the degree of minimalism they were going for just didn’t fit what the movie might have been trying to be. I’m really not sure. I honestly don’t get this movie.

So, while I’m really grasping at trying to find the meaning of this film, which I’m failing to do I might add, I can say that this is a really excellent looking movie. Say what you want about Lars von Trier, because in many instances you’re probably right, but he really has an eye for cinematography and that shows once again in Epidemic. It doesn’t quite have the visual flair as the other two movies in this trilogy, but it definitely separates itself as it’s own style. The scenes that show von Trier and Vørsel planning and writing their film are shot using 16mm film, while the scenes of the movie they’re writing is shot using 35mm film. The stuff shot in 35mm looks very crisp with very smooth lighting while the stuff shot in 16mm is the really cool stuff. All of this is harsh and grainy and highlighted by some really cool contrasts of light and shadow. This is what kept me involved with the film the most. One really annoying thing is that throughout the film, and in bright red lettering, the title of the movie is kept at the upper left hand portion of the screen. I thought it would get less distracting as the film went on, but I was sadly mistaken.

Like I said, Epidemic is broken up into two parts. There’s the segments that show the screenwriters hard at work developing their story and ignoring the warning signs of a plague and the actual movie they’re writing. Whenever the movie cuts away to the film within a film, I kinda got lost. It just wasn’t very interesting and I couldn’t help but think that if they didn’t do that, more time could have been spent developing the plague that is surrounding the writers. That’s what really interested me about the movie, but it totally fails to live up to that expectation and instead tries to be a super meta art house film that doesn’t even live up to that potential. That sounds harsh, but I expected a lot more from this movie.

I had pretty high hopes for Epidemic simply because I really love the work of Lars von Trier. This may actually be my least favorite of his films with the only competition being the absolutely idiotic Manderlay. The concept of this film is very intriguing and the look of it had me interested enough to keep watching, but it’s really the bottom of the barrel compared to his other works. It’s a pretentious, self indulgent mess that doesn’t go anywhere interesting, and the shock ending feels so tacked on that it really didn’t affect me in the least. Only hardcore von Trier fans should try this one out, just to say that you’ve seen it. Other than that, it’s not worth your time.

Final Grade: D+

The Mummy – Review

14 Jun

Since 1932, The Mummy franchise has gone through many different variations. There was a whole classic Universal monster series that started with The Mummy in 1932 starring Boris Karloff and spanned all the way to 1955 with Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. Then Hammer Studios made their own series which started in 1959 and ended in 1971 with Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. I did a whole review on this series so you can see my thoughts on that there. In 1999, it was revamped by Stephen Somers which went on until 2008 with Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Now, we have a whole new Mummy movie which is meant to kickstart Universal’s Dark Universe. While I’m sure they wanted this to start with a bang, it’s more like a very loud thud.

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his partner, Chris (Jake Johnson), are two treasure seekers who use their military travels as an excuse to find hidden artifacts around the world. Their latest find comes as something of an accident. In Iraq, the two find the lost tomb of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a member of the Egyptian royal family who was cursed and buried alive for attempting to unleash the evil force that is the dark lord Set. While wanting to keep the find for himself, Nick reluctantly hands the find to archeologist Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), who loads it into a cargo plane en route to England. The plane soon crashes and Nick is presumed dead. This doesn’t last long, however, since he soon wakes up in a morgue only to learn that Ahmanet wasn’t found in her sarcophagus, while also being haunted by visions of death and the past. Realizing he is cursed, and with Ahmanet wreaking havoc across London, Nick and Jennifer have to team up with mysterious forces to stop the mummy from giving Set life and overtaking the world with their dark powers.

If I can surmise something from The Mummy, it’s that Universal doesn’t seem to have any intention of making their Dark Universe scary in the least. This is the first majorly disappointing thing about this movie. The original Universal series and the Hammer series mainly focused on the eeriness of the curses and the slow but strong force that were the mummies. When Stephen Sommers made the reboot, it was more of an action movie, but there was more than enough horror with the scarabs and other effects to keep me entertained. This one feels more in the vein of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, except that it’s nowhere near as awful. What I’m getting at is that this is more of an action film, so it’s appropriate Tom Cruise was cast in it, even though this character is so boring I’m pretty sure anyone with half a brain could have played it. Looking at it as an action movie, there are some pretty cool sequences, but Princess Ahmanet is really only responsible for one of those cool scenes. I thought this movie was called The Mummy. Sofia Boutella really tries to bring this character to life, but there just isn’t enough for this particular monster to do, and that’s another major disappointment.

What this movie did really succeed at doing is making me curious about what is to come with this franchise. There’s a part of the movie that I won’t spoil that became way more interesting than the main plot with Ahmanet and the curse. This had to do with Russell Crowe’s character and the place he’s in charge of. This whole segment is a major divergence from the plot, but it did give me hope that the studio has big plans for what they want to do. This is where a lot of exposition happens as well, but it also give Boutella to do some more acting and actually put some passion into a role that seems almost completely devoid of anything cool. Crowe is also excellent in his role, which again, I will no spoil. Let’s just say I demand more of him in the movies to come.

When the movie isn’t in blockbuster action mode, there really isn’t a whole lot to say about it. It starts off pretty well with some exciting moments and the character set up isn’t bad. The film also showcases some good CGI along with pretty well done practical effects and make up. Anyone who knows me or reads this knows I’m a fan of practical effects, so it was cool to see some in this movie. When all of this slows down, however, and we spend time with just the human characters talking about the curse and the mummy, it’s really not all that interesting. In fact, they utilize so many flashbacks and tricks with losing time that I was just getting annoyed. There’s way too many flashbacks and way too much basic exposition. I saw that there were a lot of writers attached to this film which makes me wonder if the script got bounced around so much that something more subtle was just lost in translation somewhere down the line.

I can’t really say I’m too disappointed because I didn’t go into The Mummy expecting much. Even with those low expectations, I felt like they missed out on something that could have really kickstarted this franchise well. There have been plenty of really good Mummy movies in the past, so I know the concept can be done well. Of course, this one balances setting up a whole universe, but I still believe it could have been done much better. This film isn’t awful and it is watchable, but it’s also very underwhelming and since the days have passed since I’ve seen it I can also say it isn’t all that memorable. Hopefully future movies in the Dark Universe will bring something more to the table.

Final Grade: C-

Snowtown – Review

5 Jun

You know that feeling you get when a movie just completely obliterates you? The credits are rolling and you’re just sitting there, numb to the world, with the film acting as a sort of pressure prohibiting you from doing anything at all? That’s how I recently felt after my viewing of Justin Kurzel’s 2011 film Snowtown, also called The Snowtown Murders in some parts of the world. This piece of unequivocal horror is based on the brutally true story of Australia’s worst serial killer, and the people he drew into his web of torture and murder. This is not an easy film to watch, and I’m sure there are some that may call it unwatchable, but I firmly believe that this may be one of the most horrifying films I’ve seen in a long time.

Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is a teenager growing up in a poor suburban area of Adelaide. He has a couple of brothers and a loving mother, Elizabeth (Louise Harris), who despite the love has a hard time making ends meet. After the short lived relationship she’s in with her neighbor ends with her sons becoming in danger, Elizabeth doesn’t know where to turn. That is until she meets John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), a charismatic man who has a sort of team of vigilantes who keeps a harsh eye on certain people in the neighborhood. Jamie takes and especially strong liking to John, and it doesn’t take long for John to become Jamie’s mentor and father figure. As Jamie spends more and more time with John, he begins to notice certain behavioral patterns that don’t seem quite right, and when more and more neighbors begin to disappear the pieces really begin to fall into place.

Snowtown is a ten ton punch in the gut, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Kurzel does not mess around with what he’s willing to show and it makes the movie all the more horrifying. There’s terror to be seen everywhere from the people living around this family to the actual members of the family and finally from John, who is a presence that’s hard to describe. It was also a smart choice to have this film shot mostly in a hand held style with the surroundings often times being close to colorless. This is a very down to earth movie in the way it’s presented, but the lack of color brings in a layer of hopelessness and the living situations make it seem impossible for these people to escape the horror that is plaguing their lives. This is how you do it, ladies and gentlemen. This is top tier horror film making.

It’s kind of hard to find really serious problems with Snowtown because they really feel very few and far between. There’s some unnecessary padding to the plot in a couple of scenes. A few bits go on a bit too long, but it’s really nothing that noticeable unless you’re really trying to nit pick, which I’m certainly not. The plot moves at a very certain pace, which boarders between being a slow burn and an edge of your seat thriller. The only thing that really sticks out to me that I can complain about is the way the passage of time is shown. There are a few cues to show that time is passing, but I feel like a lot happens in this movie without any sort of clue as to how much time has passed from one scene to another. This movie could happen over the course of years, months, or weeks. I’m really not too sure. This does add a layer of disorientation, which is kind of cool, but it still would have been nice to have seen progress shown in a more clearer fashion.

With this movie being told in the way that it is, the actors would really have to sell that they aren’t actors playing characters, but are the actual people they are playing. It’s clear Kurzel wanted the audience to completely lose themselves in this movie and not just switch off and watch it. That being said, he casted a lot of people who aren’t actors, but were rather people who lived in the area. Lucas Pittaway, who was never in any kind of film before this, is excellent as Jamie, who gets completely entangled in John’s plans. His mother, played by Louise Harris, was also virtually unknown before this and she does a great job at bringing this character to life in a realistic way. Finally, Daniel Henshall, who plays John Bunting, was only known for some performances in television, but he gives a horrifying performance as the murderous mentor of Jamie. It’s something I won’t soon forget.

Snowtown is a prime example of true, excruciating horror. Justin Kurzel and his team do not hold back with this movie. Some truly terrible acts that really happened are depicted in this movie, which may turn some people off. It’s definitely not an easy movie to sit through, but it does tell a story that will guarantee to send shivers down anyone’s spine. I can’t emphasize enough that this is the way horror films should be made, even though this particular one is also filled with a lot of drama and true crime elements. If you ever get a chance and think you can stomach the content, I would highly recommend checking this film out.

Final Grade: A