Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
The Disintegration of a Troubled Teenager
First time writer/director Richard Bates Jr. must have impressed some quality people and their hefty wallets with his short, EXCISION back in 2008. Not only does he bring a full-blown production to the screen, but the cast includes the likes of Traci Lords, Roger Bart, AnnaLynne McCourt, Ariel Winter, "Twin Peaks" alum Ray Wise, and Malcolm McDowell, as a high school teacher, no less and John Waters as a deadpan minister. Wow.
We've seen movies bottom out regardless of the phenomenal cast because story is king (or queen), and without a great tale to tell, the rest doesn't matter (add your James Cameron movie of choice here), because style only trumps substance in the minds of fools who hold special effects or cool characters over a vibrant yarn. With story as foundation, the actors that inhabit films through their characters can better enhance the narrative, and remarkable special effects will help sell the story as well. EXCISION has all of these elements in place, and then some.
If you love the "quirky" comedic horror, such as Canada's GINGER SNAPS (2000) and Lucky McKee's amazing MAY (2002), you should find Bates's tale more than satisfying. The story revolves around the enigmatic troubled teen, Pauline, brilliantly portrayed by McCourt, and her dysfunctional family: passive-aggressive and not-all- there dad (Bart), her younger cystic fibrosis plagued sister Grace (Winter), and the matriarch in control, a demanding mother who cherishes Grace among all things (Lords who will amaze). With Pauline, we can make comparisons to her adult counterpart in May, where she doesn't fit in among the masses. However, where May wants to belong to the world at large, Pauline has other pursuits in mind. What they are can only come from indulging in the film where she has discussions with God while performing rebellious deeds with one thematic prize in mind. Theme is the crux of the tale, which is full of Pauline's horrific, bloodlust laden fantasies, and her penchant for setting everyone on edge whether at home or in school. Although one would think she'd despise her ill sister, there is a sort of camaraderie there, much like Ginger and Brigitte in GINGER SNAPS. Right from the beginning, however, with all its quirkiness and black comedy, we know all too well that something really awful is coming, and Bates does not disappoint thanks to a sub-layer of tension that permeates the movie. Even better, thanks to excellent writing with exemplary dialogue, we are delivered a full blown upper cut in thematic subtlety (yes, I know that's a contradiction), that seems to become lost on many viewers who simply despise the movie see my point about those choosing style over substance.
The film does have style, and lots of it. Itay Gross relied on solid lighting to enhance every detail without creating a perfectly sterile environment, and kept us off-kilter with often straight on wide shots that deceptively mimicked a "wonderful world" of sunshine and warm colors. During dream sequences, he amped up the lighting to create a heavenly glow in contrast to the blood and carnage, which mirrored the conflict in Pauline's ravaged mind, leaving us in a beautiful domain with sumptuous people drenched in muck and gore. Yet, when Pauline talks to God, the camera shines down on her in the dark, revealing only her white face and folded hands as she peers upward, which is in direct opposition to her visions of fashionable blood and butchery. Once again, the disconnect in Pauline's mind is made clear through imagery. Gross's achievement further enhanced Armen Ra's production design, which again mislead us with seemingly generic venues both innocuous and comfortable, and as inviting as the gingerbread house in the old Hansel and Gretel story or a "Brady Bunch" episode. Then again, isn't this why Bates deceived us with the comedy element? In this regard, he's reminiscent of Tarantino who misdirects with fun and games until someone is brutally killed, as if he had coaxed us in with candy before bludgeoning us with a hammer.
It's not hard for one to see that Pauline has much in common with Carol (Catherine Deneuve) from Polanski's dramatic horror REPULSION (UK, 1965). Like May and Carol, Pauline is in crisis, though unlike the others, she knows it, and like the others, does her best to bend reality to her crazed will. All of these women, in order to right the perceived wrongs done to them, become the destructor to bring about change and inner growth they think will lead to solace, even at the highest of prices. Although we see May and Carol on their own, eighteen-year-old Pauline cannot escape the family unit. At least her mother, anyway, who lays down the law (or at least tries to) while Pauline fights back with wit and a bit of craziness.
Don't think this is some cliché-ridden tale with the typical family dynamics we've come to loathe from other movies, or the stock bullies one finds at Hollywood movie high schools. Bates constantly adds little touches to keep things askew, and delivers the best and worst of each character in subdued ways. Like Paul Solet's completely under-appreciated GRACE (2009), it's hard to find "evil" in a character when they are simply doing what they think is right only to have some major realizations come calling by film's end.
Pauline's journey is an intriguing and disturbing venture sure to connect with many, while others may not grasp the nuances of Bates's artistry and guile. I certainly hope to see more of Bates and his work much sooner than later.
More horror at www.crashpalaceproductions.com
The Babadook (2014)
There's Depth in Horror...
If you live under a rock and haven't heard, THE BABADOOK (Australia, 2014) is supposed to be the greatest horror in the past ten years. Even THE EXORCIST's William Friedkin said it's "the most frightening movie I've ever seen." Coming from the director of what many consider to be the scariest movie of all time, that's saying something. Still, I was skeptical; though my intrigue was peaked just enough to order first time feature director Jennifer Kent's film.
If you didn't know, a successful crowdfunding campaign earned Kent a little over $34,000, which apparently went to the art department. Beforehand, the Australian acted in several projects, and directed two shorts and a television episode. I have not seen her previous work, but after watching THE BABADOOK, I know there are many features in her future.
THE BABADOOK stars Essie Davis (Amelia) as a struggling single mother with a rambunctious and creepy son, played by Noah Wiseman (Samuel). Davis is absolutely phenomenal, whether she's sheepish, scared, or on the psycho-mom warpath. Wiseman is equally fantastic as he goes from a socially inept persona to a kid on a mission. In fact, regardless of the role, every actor delivered. It's clear they all had the required skills, but Kent definitely got them to bring their collective best to every take.
To close out the trinity, cinematographer Radek Ladczuk brings a remarkable balance of light and dark, along with some interesting camera angles, to create a foreboding atmosphere that never wanes. Thanks to this big three of directing, acting, and photography, each scene is loaded with top-flight layers to keep us focused on the screen, and ready to march forward with each character and whatever situation awaits them.
Most of the action takes place in Amelia's home as she and her son face the uncanny in the guise of Babadook. Sure, the name sounds silly, but it's an anagram for "a bad book", and Babadook does not play. The most interesting element of the narrative is how the whacked out child and semi-stable mom change mental roles as the film progresses. Mom may not be able to handle the uncanny, but Samuel steps up as if he's waited his whole young life to prove himself and this is his coming of age moment.
As we all know, movies work or don't work depending upon what we bring to the film. Sure, many scoff or outright dismiss THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY for several reasons, but both movies worked for me (especially PA) because they both played on my childhood fears and nightmares. THE BABADOOK may work on those who have young children. When they fear for Samuel, they actually fear what might happen to their child. And as parents, they probably fear holding onto themselves in the face of "the other", much as Amelia does. If so, one can understand all the over-hype and five star ratings. Yes, I felt a couple of little jolts, but nothing substantial, and I never really feared for the characters or my own sanity. After all, at this level, what would really happen to a child in a major independent film?
Although I have a couple of questions regarding the end of the tale, and although fear didn't sweep me away, the overall execution is enough to warrant 3.5 if not 4 stars. I lean towards the latter because of Kent, Davis, Wiseman, Ladczuk, and even Jed Kurzel's music, which tied in seamlessly with the story. Overall, THE BABADOOK is a great dramatic horror, but nothing to keep you awake at night.
More horror at www.crashpalaceproductions.com
The Cobblestone Corridor (2015)
Near Perfect Neo-Noir
Director, writer, and star, Erik C. Bloomquist brings us The Cobblestone Corner, a Neo-Noir thriller with snappy dialogue, strong characters, and a solid premise that one could easily find on any college campus: the destruction of a professor's career thanks to questionable means. But we're not on a college campus. We're at the Alfred Pierce Preparatory School where posh kids live up to tradition by being stalwart and smarmy, as they flip imaginary bitcoins to decide if they should go to Princeton or Harvard.
Right from the beginning, however, we know something's different about this story. After all, we're with high school kids who are certainly in an adult situation, and handling the world as if they've had years of experience under their belts. Even the school's newspaper, run by the unyielding Allan Archer (Bloomquist), tackles the periodical as if it were The New York Times. You want to find out about the next school bake sale or whose birthday is coming up? Forget it. The Pierce Gazette is about hard news: baseball team steroid controversy, the all-girl fight club, and more.
Sure, I was on my high school paper, and as Feature Editor when I wrote a piece about a crack in the gym wall (almost twenty feet long, mind you), it was cut to avoid issues with the administration. But when Archer begins his narration about how he's "different", he's informing the audience that this whole tale is different. Think of Bloomquist as bridging the gap between Rian Johnson's Brick and David Lynch's Blue Velvet. We're definitely in an alternative and cooler universe for certain.
In The Cobblestone Corner, as in Brick, the teens talk like they're thirty, and their mature nature is frightening. It's as if they started mixing mommy's cocktails at age nine when they had their first cigars. Bloomquist takes it one step further by having the characters deliver banter from the forties. The great thing? It all works. Thanks to excellent characters, and a consistency in how they collectively carry themselves, suspension of belief about age and capability is not only acceptable, it's warranted as well as welcomed. Forget about tears and whining, these kids most likely handle stress with Xanax and single malt scotch.
Besides Archer, we have Logan Underwood (Alec Richards), the first year student with a lot to learn about writing hard-hitting news. Johnny Baker (Adam Weppler), the kid who could probably run a prison because he can get his hands on anything, shines as that guy in the know. Nicholas Tucci plays the patient yet stern teacher/adviser to Archer, and he works hard to make certain his Editor-in-Chief knows his place, even though Archer maintains a little smile along with every quip. And Elizabeth Merriweather (Madeleine Dauer), the femme fatale who knows she's gorgeous and could manipulate most anyone to do anything but can she get Archer to do her bidding and investigate a respected instructor's sudden demise? Sure, there are others of Peirce's finest with goals and desires, and this creates a great soup of characters that keeps the story rolling at a high rate of speed and the dialogue razor sharp.
Cinematographer Mike Magilnik kept the camera moving, and he brings the viewer some great angles, even in talking head scenes that would normally sink larger productions. The great thing, especially with the Neo-Noir element, is that he didn't rely on dark scenes and long shadows. Yes, they were present on occasion, but just like Bloomquist's dialogue, we weren't hit with classic Noir tropes at every turn. Otherwise, with a little more money and a hairstylist, The Cobblestone Corner could easily have been a period piece.
As editor, Bloomquist knew when to keep scenes crisp and fast like Sam Peckinpaugh, and when to let them roll on a little longer to create atmosphere and intrigue. This helped maintain a steady beat that also matched the rhythm of the dialogue. Therefore, the last item to work in concert with the other elements is Gyom Amphoux's score and like a diligent gumshoe on the case, he always hit the right notes at the right time.
So what happened to the professor who may have been forced out of a job? You'll have to wait and watch The Cobblestone Corner for yourself. Most important, any producer can see that this short would make for an excellent and offbeat television series (on cable without restrictions, please), or, with a few more additions, one awesome feature film. The only misgivings to be addressed: it was hard to tell if the lovely Madeleine Dauer was trying to play it sultry or coy near film's end, and it would be great to see Archer in some sort of danger. And as for those who might complain about little to no character arc for our journalist hero, well, that's Noir, baby. The reason Archer can take on the mystery is because of who he is. It's Archer's personality, his character, that leads us to story's end.
Now, why did I write about a film that isn't a horror? Because, if you recall from Bloomquist's THE LAST KNOCK interview from February 2014 (http://bit.ly/1EqMK9b), he has his mind set on his horror, Founder's Day. Like all filmmakers, he needs funding to make that happen, and it's hoped that The Cobblestone Corner will prove to be an excellent calling card and it should definitely open doors as well as wallets. To find out more about The Cobblestone Corner, visit http://www.erikbloomquist.com/, and to learn more about Erik C. Bloomquist, check out his IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4620395/.
Crawl or Die (2014)
A phobia-inducing nightmare
I was sold on CRAWL OR DIE nine months ago when I saw the trailer the best one I'd seen in twenty years. Granted, a trailer is a promise that you are going to see something worthwhile and entertaining. As we know, all too often, filmmakers fail to deliver on that promise, but not Oklahoma Ward.
A military unit is on a single-minded mission: protect the package, and get it to safety. Sounds simple, right? But in CRAWL OR DIE, it's far from easy. Right from the beginning, we find ourselves running for our lives as the group does its best to stave off slaughter from an unseen attacker. To do so, they must go underground into the unknown, and that's the least of their worries.
What Oklahoma Ward does best is he keeps the audience right in the action with close- up and sometimes extreme close-up camera work. This creates one of the most intimate and oppressive sci-fi horrors. We not only feel the claustrophobia the characters endure, we experience this firsthand as if we're stuck with them. I have no problem with tight spaces, but while immersing myself in CRAWL OR DIE, I realized my breathing became labored. Twice, I gasped for air. I soon realized I needed a therapist on speed dial, with a chiropractor at the ready, as well as the promise of a hot shower to carry off the dirt and sweat.
The film stars Nicole Alonso as Tank, and what she endured while filming must have left her with dozens of bruises from crawling through one tight space into another one that was even tighter and dirtier. At times, with her gasping and near panic, I wondered if she was acting or feeling the constraint and near hopelessness of her character.
Most films suffer the second act doldrums, but this is truly where the film shines, because fear and trepidation rain down aplenty. It's easy to watch the characters struggle, to hear them gulp for air and sweat, but there's no doubt many in the audience will ask if they could handle such an experience.
CRAWL OR DIE could have easily been a shoot 'em up horror, but writer/director Oklahoma Ward chose to keep us nearly trapped in ultra-close quarters, evoking what any great horror film should do fear and suspense. The camera angles, editing, and ambient sounds add to the thematic tone. We watch and become crushed under the weight of earth and metal, under the pressure from being trapped below ground, barely able to move while something hunts us with abandon. If that isn't enough, Tank and company (including the great filmmaker/actor David P. Baker as Sniper) must endure other hardships: lack of food, water, and medical supplies, and low ammunition, and absolutely no roadmap. They are underground, on their own, with only one option: CRAWL OR DIE.
Isolation hasn't worked this well since 2010's BURIED (Spain/USA/France), where we watch Ryan Reynolds wallow in a box for ninety minutes. But CRAWL OR DIE graces us with a feeling of hope, which ramps the tension and suspense because we don't want to see it fall apart. Sure, any of the characters could have taken themselves out due to fear, but what if there is light at the end of tunnel? Maybe this is why Tank pushed on even when she knew the odds were steadfast against her.
The music is minimal, and oftentimes non-existent, and its absence only adds to the oppressive feeling. The lighting is perfect, creating little pockets of possibility in the tight knit abyss.
Dive into CRAWL OR DIE just like the characters and go for the ride. An experience that will plague you long after the credits roll.
In the meantime as you wait for CRAWL OR DIE to arrive in the mail, get yourself ready with THE LAST KNOCK interview of director Oklahoma Ward and star Nicole Alonso right here: http://crashpalaceproductions.com
Definitely don't miss the most phobia-inducing horror since FINAL DESTINATION's (USA/Canada, 2000). But where that movie left you off the hook after the first act, CRAWL OR DIE will bury you.
Mission X (2009)
A young filmmaker, Grant Timmins, finds himself documenting an upcoming mission by a band of veteran soldiers. Their leader is Ryan (David Paul Baker), who lets Grant film his almost every move.
Don't think this is just some mindless action-adventure. Filmmaker Baker delivers a strong tale of not only a mission, but a coming-of-age tale with Ryan as a sort of unlikely father figure.
This low budget feature incorporates great acting, cinematography, and editing. Better still, it's a fast movie with a lot of staying power - and some great dialogue.
If you love action films with substance, this one is for you. MISSION X will definitely make your night worthwhile.
Before Breakfast (2010)
Paulie Rojas is One to Watch
I saw this short at "Movies at the Mill" on September 22, 2012 in Easton, Pennsylvania. Though it had a nice feel, the story relied on a bit of silliness instead of something witty.
The acting was fine, but Rojas was a complete standout as Audrey Hepburn. She truly embraced the real life natural beauty, and completely captured her in mind and body. Her delivery was exceptional, and Levin's short, based on Keller's script (she also played the role of Grace Kelly), is worth watching simply for her fabulous performance.
I'm not sure why the element of the police officer was brought into play, and why costumer Betsey Potter seemed to have no concept of what kind of sidearm he would have during that time period.
Regardless, the story is "cute" when it could have been wonderful.
Head Trauma (2006)
One of the Greatest Low Budget Horrors - Ever
Screenwriter and Director Lance Weiler's film (Brian Majeska shared writing duties) is an unexpected, quality driven dramatic horror that sinks deep and doesn't let go long after the end credits roll. Using "any means necessary," Weiler delivers a solid feature of milieu and atmosphere, psychology and imagery. Without a doubt, after watching over 1,250 horrors, and many of them low budget, this is one of the very best I've ever seen.
Though some say the movie is slow, they're missing the point. Horror is not just blood, guts and action; in fact, nailing down a definition may lead to a full-blown migraine. This is a character study of George Walker, the teen who left home and came back as a man to reclaim his grandmother's residence from demolition. However, from the opening credits, George quickly learns that one can't go home again.
Vince Mola is rock solid as the tormented and slightly off protagonist whose only apparent goal is to fix up his deceased grandmother's abode and sell it. On this adventure, which spans a mere set of days, George encounters old neighbors, both good (the Thompson family) and bad (Chester Jackson), and old romantic interests (Mary Sherman). Woven throughout are George's nightmares, which seem tie in to a Christian-based "Come to Jesus" booklet and that of a missing young woman.
Throughout the film, Weiler brings us perfect lighting, the excellent cinematography of Sam Levy, great characters, surprises and enough imagery (minus the heavy-handedness of Lars Von Trier) to paint an extraordinarily vivid picture of internal strife. From aerial shots, thanks to an ultra-light pilot who accepted a case of beer and gas money, to the wonderful visual effects of Scott Hale and Andy Williams, to the perfect score by Brian McTear and Amy Morrissey, this is one of the most well constructed narratives I've seen in some time.
As for story, though seemingly simple and oft heard, there is far more to it than that. The tale intrigues and even in the end, one can argue and discuss about several points. And no, this does not mean the story leaves the audience hanging, yet there is no perfect bow on the package either, just like real life. Whether intentional or not, Weiler and Majeska have created a story that walks the fine line between a boring and blatant American ending where everything is explained to the obscure endings of Europe that usually leave Americans scratching their heads. This well-crafted finish should satisfy the cinematic needs of both groups.
Also known for the gripping THE LAST BROADCAST, Weiler continues to create solid features. I only hope someone with deep pockets will sponsor his future full-length projects so we can enjoy more of his dramatic stories of absorbing atmosphere and character.
Like VAMP - but without the bite
Danny Draven's Book of the Dead, about independent horror filmmaking, is an excellent must-have reference. The DVD of his film CRYPTZ, however, isn't worthy of being used as a coaster for drinks.
Like VAMP (1986), a comedy/horror favorite for many, the story takes place in a vampire "sponsored" nightclub, which is simply a web to catch flies. And that's about all one needs to know. VAMP, however, with the ever wild Grace Jones, is full of laughs and jolts within the confines of a solid narrative, but CRYPTZ, thanks to its characters, just stands there. In fact, if you watch the movie, see how often characters stand around and do absolutely nothing from scene to scene. Quite often, we go from talking head spot to another. This alone made the production look like a dispassionate high school play after the funding had been stripped away. And to slow things down a whole lot more, slow motion camera work plagues this feature on a grand scale and the mind-numbingly weak motion brings what little story there is to a screeching halt.
Choice Skinner, as protagonist Tymez Skwair, never came off as a young man. However, Rick Irvin (Fuzzy Down) and Denis Waller (Likrish) did have their moments, though their over- the-top comedy business at the club was way, way too much. I only wish Fylicia Renee King (Skwair's mom) had much more screen time.
One of the worst moments: Tymez Skwair gets his tattooed carved out of his chest, but the flaying takes place on his left breast, though the wound appears on his right breast throughout the picture. Yikes.
Something this bad might be a fun romp for laughs, but with the characters being extremely inactive, CRYPTZ sits like a pile of rotting meat.
The half-star goes to Ms. King.
From Cool to Ho-hum in Record Time
Part of what makes us indulge in horror movies is to see death presented to us in a different manner, through a story that compels us. NEEDLE had a wonderful premise with a wonderful little mystery that screenwriters Anthony Egan and John V. Soto (who also directed) could not bring to light.
And that really bothers the heck out of me.
If the pair had really invested in a riveting narrative, this could have comprised the mystery element of the United States based version of THE RING with Clive Barkers HELLRAISER for one potent and unforgettable horror. Instead, after coming up with a wild idea, Egan and Soto clearly didn't know what to do with it. Instead, it became hack-and-slice cinema that offered little stimulation to the senses. By movie's end, the tale had become so old and lame, the climax was abysmal and unsatisfactory. In fact, it cheats the audience and sets up a sequel, though I doubt they'll ever have the chance unless an intelligent producer with deep pockets comes along and shows them how to do it the right way.
At first, when the lame commercial-hard rock commenced as Ben (Michael Dorman) ran across a college campus, I thought this was going to be typical teen fair. Then the premise was revealed and intrigue set in only to collapse into typical teen fair. Worst still, Travis Fimmel, who played Ben's older brother, came off as being creepy in one scene, and a determined guy out to solve the mystery in another. Now, this did not leave the audience with an enigmatic character (such as Stellan Skarsgård in INSOMNIA or Ji-tae Yu in NATURAL CITY) but a confusing one. However, seeing how the story imploded into mediocrity, I have little doubt the director had told me to act in this manner. Think of George Lucas directing kids (unless they're stuffed into ewok costumes) and you'll get the idea.
Revenge horrors have become a "give me a break" kind of subgenre, that is a simple and clichéd plot device for writers and directors to use as an excuse to slaughter. NEEDLE reminds us filmmakers need to deliver so much more. And this movie is only worth watching to see how a couple of writers came up with a great idea and didn't know how to make it work.
Balada triste de trompeta (2010)
Laugh Clown Kill
Laugh clown kill
A sad clown falls in love with a starlet and challenges her misogynistic lover in post-war Spain.
The logline above is far too simplistic for this multi-genre and multi-thematic film. Written and directed by Álex de la Iglesia, best known in the US for his 2008 feature THE OXFORD MURDERS, brings us a monster mix of mayhem that spans from the Spanish Civil War to 1973. Sort of like Tim Burton on a lot more acid.
Soft-spoken Javier (Carlos Areces) survives the war to become a sad clown in a low budget circus. In the show, he plays second banana to Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), the happy clown who is ultra-hostile off stage and keeps the other performers walking on edge due to sudden tirades and extreme violence. His lover is the lithe Natalia (Carolina Bang) torn between Sergio's rage and the safety of Javier. Okay, that sounds like straightforward romance plot number one but it doesn't come close. This tale engages war, politics, drama, comedy, horror and romance while exploring themes regarding obsession, response to trauma, politically induced Frankensteinian creations, and the failure of dreams within a fascist state. Fascism, whether it is Franco's or Sergio's, is the running thread that holds this wild fantasy together.
Kiko de la Rica is the photographic genius that created one amazingly vivid cinematographic ride that even in the daylight never seems pristine or dreamy enough. The world is always tainted darkened by something from the edges as well as within the hearts of the characters, and his skill brings this to light frame after frame.
The acting is absolutely brilliant and riveting, with Areces and de la Torre going toe to toe at every turn. I can only imagine how mind-numbingly drained the performances had left them. Then again, how could any actor in the film not embrace the quirky and enigmatic characters created by Iglesias? None of the characters were run of the mill or plucked off the shelf like so much Hollywood drek.
However, though this falls under the realm of horror, I sincerely doubt many fans of the genre would embrace the movie. This is not because horror aficionados are stupid and only adore slasher films, but this is one of those movies that could easily make someone question the very definition of the genre. And with a multi-faceted feature such as this, horror plays a role, like a character, and does not permeate the tale.
Regardless, there's something for everyone in THE LAST CIRCUS, and if you like freaky films that defy description, you should enjoy this riveting feature.