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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Hey cool---Sid Haig plays a good guy!, 21 November 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This has happened so seldom in his 55-year career that when he is presented in "The Inflicted" as a kindly avuncular psychiatrist, I was worried that the star/writer/director Matthan Harris was going to "pull a fast one" and have Haig's character turn out to be some Hannibal Lecter-type whack job, but I guess Mr. Harris figured one psycho character (plus a copycat) was enough. Haig is so warm and likable in this role that it once again seems a shame that career movie villains hardly ever get a chance at an Oscar nomination; Haig is that good, and I hope he plans to keep working until he's no longer with us. Also good is Haig's fellow Rob Zombie alumnus Bill Moseley in a more complicated role as an apparently well-meaning father who just can't regard himself as an evildoer. But other than these fine performances by these seasoned veteran performers, there's really not much to recommend "The Inflicted," a hodgepodge of so many other horror flicks I couldn't keep track of them all. As an actor I couldn't be sure if Mr. Harris is good at playing creepy or is just naturally creepy himself. He seems to be competing for the Dennis Hopper Most F-Words Award, forgetting that one needs Hopper's surreal charm to make that surrealistically charming. The plot is ridiculous, set in that alternate cinematic universe where criminals can go around doing anything they want as though they were invisible, and the police only ever appear in situations where they can be easily killed, without their colleagues knowing their location etc. One cop is played by an actor with a thick Italian accent with no explanation at all of how he wound up in Texas, which is the most amusing thing in the movie (probably unintentionally so). Near the end is a sequence in a mental hospital that reminded me of when I worked in one, with the drab institutional drug-enforced ennui hanging over everyone like a cloud. But even this is ruined when the killer appears standing atop the wall with a sniper rifle, again unnoticed by anyone. Please don't pay any money to rent this, but if it happens to appear on your cable on-demand service, I can recommend the parts with Haig and Moseley, feel free to fast forward past the rest of it.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Tovarish kicks butt!, 2 June 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Nominally about yet another horrible disease threatening to eradicate humanity, the treat here is watching a squad of Russian soldiers battling hordes of sinister Asians. Led by mixed martial artist Fedor Emelianenko who has a nice Jason Stathamesque quality, these guys wreak havoc with every available weapon, including bare hands if need be. Nice to see Russians finally depicted as "the good guys" in an action flick; I'd still like to see their version of a "Platoon"-type saga about Afghanistan, reminding us Yanks how much we failed to learn from their experience, just as we'd failed to learn from the French in Vietnam. (Now if we could just find a new set of movie criminals to replace the "Russian Mafia" who are depicted as almost cartoonishly vast and powerful.) The directors do a nice job of letting us see enough of (but not too much of) the soldiers' "human side"; when Fedor, about to take on an overwhelming enemy force, intones "God save my sinful soul," it's affecting without being corny. The "name" players, Rutger Hauer and Michael Madsen, have what amount to cameo roles, the former as an evil drug company overlord (is there any other kind?) and the latter as a mercenary who works for him leading the above mentioned Asian hordes. Depressing seeing how old Hauer's become; Madsen can still be effective with his squinting underplayed menace and has a great scene terrorizing a female Russian hostage with her hands tied behind her back--is there any other kind? Also on hand is a Korean guy (I confess I forget his connection to the plot, but he seems to be a "good guy" also) who at the end gets to be a kind of one-man Wild Bunch fighting past a phalanx of goons to get to Hauer. So I'll definitely "take the 5th"; maybe it doesn't add up to that much in the grand cinematic scheme of things, but I found it well worth my time and it made me glad I have the "Streampix" function with my cable....

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Warning to animal lovers, 21 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The only character I actually liked in this movie is a dog, who meets an unfortunate demise which is mostly off camera and, I guess, "relevant to the plot," but it does sour my memory of this brooding Teutonic mood piece. A sallow little punk named Anton has apparently largely withdrawn from the world since he found his suicidal father's body in the tub a while back---or that's what he says happened; one of the messages in "What You Don't See" seems to be "If you don't see it, don't take it for granted--or even if you do see it." His mother and her current squeeze have dragged Anton off to the remote northwestern French coast for a vacation, where our lonely lad meets a neighboring duo of similar age who may or may not be brother and sister, and whose own father may or may not be dead, and who may or may not even exist themselves. (Whenever there's a character who's only ever seen by one other character. a warning bell should go off...) Over the week of the vacation (although it seems to last longer) Anton participates in various youthful hijinks with the uninhibited pair and becomes less inhibited himself, becoming downright uppity with his mother and prospective stepfather. Eventually some bad things happen (which the local cops basically blow off, since that's their function as movie hick cops) and Anton and now just his mother head back home, where presumably he'll eventually become the next famous-for-fifteen minutes German mass murderer, like that pilot who flew the plane into the French Alps. What "What..." chiefly has going for it is director Wolfgang Fischer's ability to make the French coastal area look like a foreign planet, which (along with some nice atmospheric choral music) lets one follow along with the dreamlike ambiance. But in hindsight all I can really focus on is the dying dog. Herr Fischer, in the future please restrict yourself to hominid victims. A note on the English subtitles: When a character occasionally tells another to "Hau ab," which in the German vernacular means "Beat it" or "Get lost," the subtitle renders it as "Piss off," a largely British expression. The other subtitles don't seem particularly directed at a British audience, so it's a little puzzling. The Germans have a lot of words relating to bodily functions such as urination---not surprising, given that they're toilet trained virtually at birth--but "abhauen" isn't one of them....

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A kind of Anti-Matthew 5:27-28?, 19 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

That of course is where Jesus supposedly said "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." That is to say, thinking about doing a thing is as bad as doing it. That precept never made much sense to yours truly, and apparently it didn't to Luis Bunuel either, because the whole point of this movie seems to be to refute that notion. The title character fantasizes about killing various women he comes across, but circumstances always seem to conspire to prevent it. At the end when he demands to be arrested, an authority figure replies, in effect, "For what? You didn't do anything." The best part of the film is the opening sequence apparently taking place around the end of the Mexican revolution period c. 1920, with Archibaldo as an insufferably spoiled only child giving grief to his long-suffering but stoic nanny. Filmed in Bunuel's trademark style with long takes and barely perceptible camera movements, this battle of wills is fascinating until the arrival of the lad's rich idiot mother (rich idiots being one of Bunuel's favorite lifelong targets). Meanwhile the nanny watches through the window as a gun battle unfolds in the street below; she catches a stray bullet, and young Archibaldo finds himself fascinated with her corpse. Cut forward to the adult Archibaldo, now a rich idiot in his own right plus an obsession with being a serial killer. This main part of the film was less interesting for me, mostly because Bunuel allows the adult actor to perform almost like a cartoon, with bulging eyes and goofy leer, like a mentally retarded Snidely Whiplash. The supporting cast are competent performers but in my memory I have trouble telling some of them apart. There are some nice fantasy sequences, such as Archibaldo ordering his bride to undergo an elaborate Catholic ritual before shooting her. Probably the best known sequence, Archibaldo cremating a mannequin, left me more or less unmoved, although it probably seemed more sensational in 1955. Part of the problem here is that, as in the later "American Psycho," how compelling is it if all the bad stuff takes place inside the guy's head? Also there's a lack of that great sexual tension that Bunuel was able to generate in some of his other Mexican work, such as "Susana" or "El Bruto." But certainly it's a must see at least for Bunuel fans; like Hitchcock's "The Trouble with Harry" from the same year, this is the closest this director comes to true whimsy (especially the parts with the American tourists) in a career of mostly much darker shades.

Lucy (2014/I)
2 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
OK, so now what does Luc Besson do for an encore?, 31 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

From "La Femme Nikita" onwards I've been a big fan of his, in fact he's the only foreign director I can think of whose name alone would pull me into a movie theater. I've been trying to put my finger on just what it is that makes his stuff so capital-W watchable; maybe it's his ability to combine an innately playful (even zany) quality with gut-wrenchingly brutal violence and cruelty into a seamless whole; add to that an aura of inevitability that maybe one just has to be European to be able to render, the moments of joy in the face of impending doom. Being French in particular, he can't help but ponder deep philosophical issues amidst the gun battles and car chases, and with Lucy he's decided to "shoot the moon," try to capture the entire essence of human nature and potential. As they supposedly like to say in New Orleans, "Let the good times roll...." Your reaction to this movie will depend entirely on how well you think Scarlett Johansson carries off the title role. I have to 'fess up that before this I of course had heard of her but had never actually seen her in something. As per the late Siskel and Ebert, thumbs up for me. She plays the significant other of a shady sort called Richard (who wears a straw cowboy hat for no clear reason) who lives in Taiwan and works for a mysterious kingpin called Mr. Jang. He insists she carry a briefcase into a hotel lobby for him but won't tell her what's in it, and when she shrewdly resists, he literally handcuffs her to it. Her latent terror combined with desperate hope that all will turn out well is exquisitely manifested by Ms Johansson. It turns out that she and a few hapless others have been designated by Mr. Jang to be human mules for some super-synthetic drug which she accidentally ingests into her system. This gives her a "brain boost" (to borrow a term from "Forbidden Planet") resulting in steadily increasing superhuman abilities. Much wackiness ensues as the action shifts to France involving gangsters and cops and also the apparently immortal Morgan Freeman as a professor whose function is to render arcane scientific concepts digestible for most of us movie viewers. There's a lot here that can fairly be described as derivative; one nay saying critic referred to half a dozen titles he saw as influences for "Lucy" (I'm surprised he missed "2001: A Space Odyssey"). Certain plot holes can seem like black holes, such as the sequence where she seems to be disintegrating inside an airplane restroom---which by the way must be one of the most gorgeously ominous things I've seen on screen---next thing we know, she's bodily intact again. But these quibbles, while valid, seem to be missing the point, which is to let oneself get swept along for this ultra-Bessonian ride with Ms Johansson the ever calmer rock upon which we can position ourselves. This may sound corny, but by the time Lucy finally surpasses the need for corporeality but informs us via someone's cell phone that she is "everywhere," I personally found that reassuring. Kudos also to the other actors, in particular Min-sik Choi as Mr. Jang; he is quite possibly the best actor on the planet---okay, a bold statement, but catch him in "Oldboy" and his other Korean flicks--in fact, "Oldboy" alone should do it for you. (I didn't even dream of contaminating my memory of "Oldboy" by watching the American remake.) Also very nice use by Besson of various pieces of stock footage, it all fits right in. Great evocative music too, I may even buy the soundtrack CD. So bottom line, don't worry if this movie is "cool" or not (seems to be doing okay at the box office). It'll be dark in the theater, no one has to see you enjoying yourself....

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Somehow I doubt this is the film face Norway really wanted to show the world...., 7 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Okay, granted, my knowledge of Norway and movies pretty much begins and end with Sonja Henie, but this short could be seen as an addition to the international ultra-black-humor canon as exemplified by, say, Belgium's "Man Bites Dog" about which I had some bleak things to say in 2005; my review was titled "Does Belgium actually need to exist?" One could ask the same thing about Norway after seeing "Angst...." Okay, a gloomy man and an even gloomier woman live in a complete crap-hole; she never seems to leave, he only seems to leave to go murder people with a meat cleaver. (He doesn't seem to have a job, buy maybe Norway has a generous welfare state like it's neighbor Sweden.) Apparently they used to kill together, but now only he does. (All cinematic serial killers seem to live in this alternate universe where they're always conveniently alone with their victims and no one ever sees them and they never leave any evidence behind.) In one of the few uses of dialog in the short, he asks her if she would like to go out with him again, is met with stony silence and if I recall right, never talks to her again. Eventually he gets tired of her (exactly why is unclear), files for "serial killer divorce" i.e. chops her up, spruces himself and the place up somewhat, lights some candles and has her for dinner. The end. Obviously if these people weren't killers there'd be nothing of interest whatsoever about them, but I think this whole "banality of evil" shtick is really really old by now, and in fact was nine years ago when I reviewed "Man Bites Dog" (at least here there's no "movie within a movie" gimmick). So let's start an on-line petition, folks: from now on movie killers have to be held to the same standards of being compellingly watchable as characters are who just "ordinary people." Who's with me? ---Okay, never mind. As for whether "Angst..." is worth 20 minutes of your life: with enough beer and maybe some classic Rob Zombie music playing---if you don't have any classic Rob Zombie music at home, why not?---sure, maybe, but now that the channel seems to have yanked it, I have no idea where it would be seen....By the way, since the man is seen smoking countless cigarettes, maybe it would have been fun if the auteur had added a flash-forward of him dying of lung cancer in some gloomy hospital---at government expense, of course...

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Makes Robert Rodriguez look like the Disney channel...., 3 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In the midst of the current concern about kids bullying other kids (highlighted by the 12-year-old in Florida who committed suicide after being "cyber"-bullied) we have this Portuguese short inviting us not only not to take it too seriously but to channel it into the ultimate cranked up revenge fantasy. In this case a dorky kid has his lunch stolen by punks who stuff him into a toilet to boot; he goes home to complain to his dad, who's pumping iron wearing a full pro wrestling costume including "luchador" mask. Papa emits an outraged growl---this is the only sound he makes in the short, he has no lines as such---and off he goes to retrieve his son's lunch box, and then some, and then some more. Now, we're used to cartoonishly stylized violence in the movies, most recently and notably from Mr. Rodriguez in "Machete" and "Machete Kills," but here it's stripped down to the bare bones (and blood, and internal organs) and shoved at us with warp speed and gleeful mania; we barely have time to react to the demise of one punk before the next one is underway. Remember the inventive use of intestines that Mr. Rodriguez employed in the above two flicks? Well, here Fernando Alle outdoes that---I won't say how, you really should see for yourself. When Papa is done with the carnage---undisturbed by the arrival of policemen or some such---he returns home with the lunch box (adorned with a pair of eyeballs) and goes right back to pumping iron. A nice little anarchic blast, unmarred by some lame ending like turning out to be the nerd's imagination or having cops show up at the wrestler's house. Of course the topic of bullying still waits to be grappled with afterwards. One of the many reasons I'm glad I never had kids: I would have had no clue what to do or say if one of mine had turned out to be either a bully or a victim of same. "Well, remember, life's a bitch, then you die..."

7 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
A kind of anti-"Funny Games"?, 25 August 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Okay, truth be told, I haven't seen either the original German "Funny Games" or the American remake (I did catch a clip of the latter on You Tube, with the volume turned down) but the original did precede (and inspire?) American horror flicks from the mid-2000's like "Saw," "Hostel" and "The Devil's Rejects" (and more after those, like "The Strangers") with two basic common features: (A) the "good guys" are doomed from the outset, and (B) the "bad guys" get away with it. Now to some extent we'd been used to movies where most of the victims died except for maybe one (usually the cute heroine, who might wind up nuts or something, as per the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"). What seemed new in the 2000s, though, was the idea of the good guys having NO CHANCE and the bad guys like some primeval force blowing through an area, annihilating everything in their path and moving on without a second thought (or their victims coming to them and getting annihilated). To me this was the "porn" part of "torture porn," not so much the violence itself but the notion that it's MEANINGLESS, that the people die because they're there, like bugs getting swatted, with no "message" beyond "You don't like it? Why you watching it?" Well, I don't know---why do we watch anything that's presented to us? For me, I want to see what perspective the writer/director brings to it; if I just want to revel in bad things happening, there's always You Tube. And oh, by the way, I do love good conflict, I do love a good chase or other Perils-of-Pauline-type predicament, and some gore or mayhem along the way spices up the gumbo, of course...But virtual "snuff films"? No thanks, y'all....

So here we have Adam Wingard, whose previous stuff I haven't seen (still haven't broken down and bought a DVD player) but have read about; "He brings back that gut-churning uncertainty from the 1970's," someone gushed about "Home Sick." If you've seen the trailer for "You're Next," you know the set-up. As the attack by the bad guys interrupts the suburban family's dinner, my first thought was "Wonder how they'll explain that nobody can call the cops with a cell phone..." Then a character suggests the bad guys have a "cell phone blocker"---okay, whatever. (The person who says this turns out to be significant.) Soon the "anti-Funny Games" element emerges in the character of Erin, who we learn grew up in an Australian survivalist colony--okay, whatever. The point is, SHE can kick bad-guy ass and SHE is the chief reason to watch this thing. (Yeah, she gets bloodied herself. She's not Steven Seagall after all.) Mr Wingard has rescued the horror genre: once again, it's a contest, not just a slow execution, and that I like. Oh, and Michael Haneke, the Calvinistic director of "Funny Games"? Up your prim and pure butt, Euro-dude...I haven't even mentioned a really cool plot twist that I WILL NOT give away; others may claim they saw it coming, but now I may go see "You're Next" again to see how it all fits in. Very capable performances by the unknown (to me) cast, and as for that Australian chick--I think I'm in love. A few quibbles, like some scenes where the bad guys set something up that seems to rely on their having read the script, and did we really need to hear that early song over and over again? THAT's the "torture" part....The ending reminds one of a classic horror flick from the late 1960's that I also don't want to name---I'm sorry if I "spoiled" ANYthing, just go out and make some money for Mr Wingard so he can keep single-handedly saving the genre. I'd heartily recommend he keep Erin as a recurring character, or at least keep using that actress in other roles...

Lille Lise (2005)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Nothing you haven't seen before..., 29 June 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This Danish short from 2005 starts out hugely promisingly, with a little girl standing outside clutching a doll with her head cocked to the side staring intently at something, then we see what: a man (presumably her father) carrying the body of a woman (presumably her mother) to their car and loading the body into the trunk, then he announces to the girl that they're going on a trip. If the writer/director had had the fortitude to stick rigidly to the little-girl's-eye view of this unfolding tragedy, it could have been both horrifying and fascinating as we would be forced to watch what sadly is an all too mundane situation through these young innocent eyes. (Years ago when "Dick Tracy" was still a newspaper comic strip, Tracy is once told that maybe a certain murder case isn't "important enough" for his unit. Tracy grimly replies "Murder is always important." Is it? Is it really? Presumably it should be...) Unfortunately "Little Lise" then devolves into yet another dumb-ass little supernatural romp. No cliché is missed, including the girl's eyeballs filling up with blood (to show she's being possessed by an evil spirit, get it?) and having a car start itself ---because the evil spirit is driving, get it? As the car drives itself off through the woods, we don't know what will happen to the girl and---here's the real "thumbs down"---we don't really care. Some good subtle performances by the actors playing the parents, especially in a flashback scene where each tries to wrest the girl's affection away from the other. But bottom line, if you see this listed as an entry on the FEARNet channel under Shorts, find something better to do with your twenty minutes.

Slither (2006)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
"It came out of the sky.....", 1 April 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

That, in addition to being the title of (in my humble opinion) Creedence Clearwater Revival's best song (from "Willie & the Poor Boys"), could've been the title of "Slither," which is not a remake of the 1973 cynically comic crime caper with James Caan but rather a loving tribute to every 1950's drive-in B-movie about some kind of menace from outer space. It's not particularly scary (every jolt is telegraphed well in advance) nor especially gory by current standards, nor will the "ick" factor (as seen in the ads) knock your socks off. There are some laughs here and there but this not an "inside joke"-fest. It's a straight-up trip down memory lane circa 1956 but with more money for special effects and of course the "We demand an R rating" language. Tony Soprano's favorite epithet (rhymes with "stock trucker") sounds odd in the mouth of apple-pie Gregg Henry but it fuels my second-favorite scene in "Slither" with Henry in his car barking the term at a guy parked in front of him immediately before a woman with a little girl calls out "Good morning, Mr. Mayor," a moment right out of John Waters at his most subversive.

A big rock hurtles towards our planet and true to the genre lands not in Carl Sagan's back yard but rather in backwoods South Carolina, played with great relish by Vancouver, Canada, the place that (as per "X-Files") apparently can pass for any location in America. Writer/director James Gunn (who nods to his Troma origins in one scene) establishes the mood with a 1950's –style billboard and then a montage of maybe the most hideous-looking people I've seen in a movie since Pasolini's "Salo"; I mean these people are "ordinary" with a (fierce) vengeance; I mean they couldn't appear on Jerry Springer----maybe on some future Fox freak show. Fortunately we then move on to the main cast members, who are played by professional actors which means we can at least stand to look at them, but I wondered if Gunn were trying to pull a "Rhinoceros" suggesting that hominids're the "true" beasts, or in this case aliens. Gunn pokes plenty of fun at redneck culture (what IS the big thrill about killing a deer, anyway?) without being too heavy-handed with it---after all it's basically "shooting fish in a barrel," no great artistic effort is needed---plus he wisely lends his local yokels just enough personality to keep us passingly interested in their fate, even throws in a lesbian cop for some variety (unfortunately that subplot hits a dead end, like most of the characters). I won't dwell on the plot points of the alien attack; you've seen everything here before somewhere or other; one image near the end is out of one of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" sequels (sorry I can't remember which one, they tend to blur in my memory); even the film's most striking visual grotesquerie (hint: "Something's wrong with me") conjured up a scene from "Blade." For much of the running time it's a zombie flick only (a la "28 Days Later….") the creatures aren't "really" dead, just infested with parasites somewhat resembling overgrown slugs, etc. In a way there's something comforting about all the familiarity ("Kill the one and they all die, right?"), like the old favored shirt one wears at home without ever wanting to toss it or give it away. I can envision "Slither" as something I'd look forward to on HBO some night (wouldn't be worth purchasing it) with much beer at hand, appreciating the sheer hilarious wretchedness of Air Supply's only hit (hey, I had to hear it endlessly when it was recorded, folks) especially in context of possible consummation of man (or monster) and wife.

Other than Henry (who should only be allowed to do comedy from now on) I only recognized Nathan Fillion from "Firefly"/"Serenity" (essentially playing Mal again) and Michael Rooker (who for me will always be Henry the Serial Killer) who with his bald head and wire-rimmed glasses somewhat resembles a young Dick Cheney, maybe intentionally so? Depending what one wants to read into it, "Slither" could be taken as a sly whack at the Bush gang with the blood-dripping creature intoning bromides about morality and each new disciple becoming just a channel for the creature. "I'll just keep getting bigger," the thing threatens at one point---rather like our burgeoning police state at home and imperialism abroad? Earlier I mentioned my second-favorite scene; the favorite is again with Gregg Henry who (when the lesbian cop exclaims "Praise Jesus" at some slight pause in the catastrophe) demands to know what connection with God she sees in any of this. Well, I've heard the Lord works in mysterious ways…..

Rob Zombie's voice is heard briefly on the phone as a doctor; he sounds, well, like a doctor, albeit with a somewhat sinister urge, let's say. One looks forward to hearing (and seeing) more of him in future screen projects. But here's what I'd like to see less of: dead dogs and cats (even after the closing credits there's a final shot). I know it's not real but it seems a cheap writing ploy; while from "Taxi Driver" onwards I've never expected cinema to be held responsible for the actions of those who watch it, still, to borrow a phrase from a recent Ebert piece, "there is a line." It's been reported that many serial killers started out as kids abusing animals. Isn't that a flame we want to snuff out early on rather than fan it even somewhat by serving it up in glorious 35 mm? But for us adults who know better (in the ostensible R-rated adult audience) "Slither" should induce a fond grin, make us want to dig out our old "Mad" magazines or even "EC Comics" if one goes back that far…. By the way: if you're a pregnant woman: did anyone warn you not to see the remake of "The Fly"? Well, don't see this either…….

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