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Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)
You're Better Served Driving Nails Into Your Head
As a fan of the Hellraiser franchise, I refuse to accept this as a part of the series. As bad as the last few installments were, none sunk this far below the bottom of the barrel. Instead of actually reviewing this terrible piece of crap, here are some random thoughts and musings that crossed my mind while watching it: *It is quite odd how many white people populate these Mexican bars.
*Pinhead now lives inside the walls of this family's house?
*Despite her brother and boyfriend disappearing, the girl is extremely disturbed that her obvious d-bag boyfriend was banging a whore while in Mexico.
*Did Pinhead become a car thief since his last movie?
*I love how the wife was momentarily shocked at the prospect of there being a gun in the house.
*Did the film makers believe two lame Pinhead imitators would distract from how bad this movie is?
*Is it impossible for modern horror movies to have any remotely likable characters? I would cheer the Cenobites, if they weren't pale shadows of the original characters.
*Pinhead didn't kill the wimpy boy down in Mexico because ?
*Just out of curiosity, how common are Asian hookers in Mexico?
*That red headed kid is so brutally not intimidating, even with a shotgun in his hand.
*This movie can somehow warp time and space, as its 75 minute run time feels like two long hours. (Written at the 45 minute mark).
*Oh, a subplot about cheating amongst the parents. That's exactly what I thought the other Hellraiser movies were lacking.
*Considering the roots of this franchise and how grisly it could be, this one is easily outdone by any of the Saw movies.
*Uh, is that supposed to be a cliffhanger ending?
Why this "film" ever saw the light of day is a mystery. I understand it was only made to retain the franchise rights but that doesn't mean it needed to be released to the general public. I give this "movie" 1 star, simply because it makes me appreciate the original even more than I already did.
The Thing (2011)
I Appreciate The Effort, But...
John Carpenter's The Thing is one of my all time favorite films. In terms of atmosphere, suspense and a real sense of mystery, it is hard to find any movies that can match it. And the practical effects are still fascinating to this date, despite being a little dated at times. With so much love for the original, I had many reservations about a prequel but was willing to give it a try. While it does manage some suspense early on, it eventually succumbs to modern day horror movie clichés and becomes just another monster movie.
The film is set in 1982 and focuses on a Norwegian outpost in Antarctica that makes a world changing discovery: a large extraterrestrial craft buried beneath 100,000 year old ice. They also find and extract it's alien pilot from the ice. The creature revives and kills a member of the team before being dispatched. Upon autopsying the remains, they learn that the creature has the ability to perfectly imitate other lifeforms. Soon the team isn't sure who they can trust and who is no longer human. After the team is slowly killed off by the thing, the camp is eventually completely destroyed. The last thing attempts to escape using the spacecraft but is killed. We are then treated to a sequence during the end credits setting up the original movie.
I really enjoyed the first 45 minutes of this movie. While a bit rushed, it felt very much in the spirit of the original. But as soon as the CGI started rearing it's ugly head, the movie lost me. All the tension evaporated and it quickly devolved into a more basic 'chased by a monster' movie. Part of the problem is the thing is not supposed to be out in the open, chasing people like an angry dog. The worst part of the third act is the creature being reduced to a lumbering CGI animal. And on the subject of CGI, it's horrible and inexcusable. Given the incredible practical effects of the original, this is a punch to the gut for fans. Much of the bad CGI could have been done better with practical effects but Hollywood prefers taking the easy way with these kinds of effects.
Another problem is the cast. It's not that the acting is bad, as it works well enough. But there's just too many characters and we never get to know most of them. One of the strengths of the original was the use of a small cast in an isolated area to build tension. Did we know all of their life stories? No. But they were all able to speak often enough for us to care about them. When the team in this movie is getting picked off, I struggled to remember their names and usually didn't care when I couldn't figure it out. There are also a number of continuity errors between this movie and the original, which is another insult to fans. If your script does not match up perfectly to the original source material you are preceding, rewrite your damn script!
In the end, The Thing feels like a missed opportunity. I personally believe that if they had used little to no CGI and had a stronger third act (save for the setup of the original) that this movie could have been very good. Instead, it's just a mediocre retread of the original. Score: 4/10
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
It is better to be original. This remake proves it.
I will start off by saying I am a huge fan of the original NOES franchise. The first film is a classic in the genre and holds up well despite being decades old. While the sequels diminished Freddy into a cackling jokester, he is still an iconic boogeyman. All of that is why this movie is so very disappointing.
The story is fairly simple. A number of high school kids start dying under suspicious circumstances and the remaining ones begin to suspect something sinister at work. They realize that they have a shared nightmare of a burnt man with knives on his hand and struggle to uncover the truth while trying not to fall asleep. As more of them die, they discover that the burnt man is Fred Krueger, a gardener at their preschool who molested them all as children. When the parents found out that this was happening, they chased him into an abandoned building and set fire to it, vowing to never speak of him again. Now, he has returned for 'his' children.
My absolute biggest complaint, beyond the one dimensional characters, overuse of jump scares and clunky dialogue, is that they completely changed Krueger. In the original movies, he was a child murderer, plain and simple. But they decided to turn him into a child molester for this remake. It not only completely changes the dynamic of the character but it adds a layer of sexual grime to the entire film that is unnecessary. In the original, he was a killer, so it made sense that he would want to kill the kids in their dreams. Changing that poses the question of WHY he suddenly wants to kill them, not to mention giving him way too many terrible innuendos.
The cast of teens/fodder are all poorly drawn reheats of the usual clichés. Popular athlete, artistic female outsider, pretty blond, brooding guy with a dark side. They all say the lines and scream when they are supposed to but that is about it. As for poor Jackie Earle Haley, he does the best he can in playing a character beloved by millions of horror fans. The script hampers the character, who cannot decide if he is a terrifying boogeyman or perverted jokester. It is as though the writers could not decide if they should base this new Freddy on just the original movie or the sequels, so we get a little of both. And it just does not work. Also, the Freddy makeup is awful. He looks too much like a cat in my opinion, especially the early flashes of him.
I will give the writers some credit, as the whole 'micro-naps' idea had a ton of potential. The problem is they use it more for jump scares than anything else. Plus it seems inconsistent with regular sleep. For example, when Nancy is pulled out of the car by Freddy during one of these micro-naps, she wakes up back inside of it, completely unscathed. She should have either been on the ground outside the car or scraped up from that. But I digress...
Horror movie remakes are constantly churned out, usually for a quick buck. But some others actually attempt to re-imagine the material. I feel that this one falls somewhere in the middle. It falls victim to many modern day horror trappings, which adds a feeling of lazy cash in. While I respect them doing something as risky as altering an iconic horror figure, they simply did it the wrong way. Overall, the movie is nothing impressive, although it is better than some remakes I have seen. A few interesting visuals involving the dream world scattered among an otherwise boring and almost dirty feeling film. I would say stick to the original if you really want a movie that will disrupt your sleep patterns.
Black Swan (2010)
A Slow Dive Into Insanity
I know many people probably saw the previews for this movie and dismissed it on the basis that ballet is the main focus. I mean, if someone doesn't like ballet, why would they want to see this movie? At the risk of sounding cliché, this movie is much more than skinny girls dancing. It is a slow, tense and thrilling ride along with a young woman whose mind gradually slips into darkness.
Nina is a meek, polite and fragile ballet dancer, living with her mom and mainly dancing in the background of her dance company. When she finally gets the opportunity to step into the spotlight as the lead in Swan Lake, she must learn to embrace the duality of the character. The sweet, innocent White Swan flows easily from her but it is her evil twin, the seductive Black Swan, that Nina struggles to find. Pushed to the brink mentally by her sexualizing director, overbearing and controlling mother and a new dancer that in many ways represents her Black Swan twin, Nina begins to delve into the darker aspects of the character in her actual life, slowly losing grips on reality as she goes deeper. By the time the final performance arrives, her director tells her to lose herself but it appears that she already has.
This is a film best described as a psychological horror/thriller. Much of the horror is derived from Nina's slowly worsening hallucinations, which is some of the best usage of body horror since David Cronenberg's films in the 80s. Ballet itself tears up the human body and that is the initial cause for those scenes. But as the film gets darker things become even more unsettling. Adding to this is the wonderfully filmed hand camera scenes, especially during the dance sequences. The shots are tight and almost always moving, creating unease and adding tension.
As far as acting goes, if Natalie Portman doesn't take home and Oscar for this movie there is no justice in the world. Aside from her physical transformation and training just to play the part, her performance is nothing short of incredible. She is a fragile, weak human being throughout the entire movie that seamlessly moves to graphic for the short scenes. This doesn't change throughout the movie. The character doesn't have some magical snapping point where she's suddenly evil. In fact, when we think we got this snapping point, it turns out to be a hallucination. Nina is basically a victim of her own mental foundation crumbling out from under her and Portman plays this to perfection. Mila Kunis does a great job as Lily, the counterpart to Nina who becomes her main competition. The character is very important to Nina's spiral and Kunis infuses her with the right attitude. Vincent Cassel is perfect as the slimy director and Barbara Hershey does a good job as Nina's controlling mother. Both characters do a good job at earning your disgust, as they should.
The only pitfall I can see with this movie is that it might be hard for some to stomach. It will mess with your mind and make you uneasy numerous times and some people can't handle that. And yes, those who loathe ballet should probably look elsewhere. But for those who can handle it, this movie is an excellent look at how a person can slowly fragment into insanity.
A guilty pleasure that is actually quite good
It's needless to say that this is an extremely polarizing type of movie. A throwback to the old grindhouse exploitation days, Machete was never intended to set the world on fire or rake in Oscars. Rather it was crafted to be over the top and fun and on both of these fronts it succeeds impressively.
Danny Trejo stars as Machete, a former government agent whose wife was murdered in front of him by a drug lord (Steven Seagal). Several years later, after becoming a street worker, he is unwittingly recruited to assassinate a corrupt politician (Robert DeNiro) with big plans for getting illegal immigrants out of the U.S. When it turns out the assassination attempt was actually a setup to boost the popularity of the senator, Machete finds himself with the opportunity to get revenge for his wife. Helping along the way are a taco vendor/underground freedom fighter (Michelle Rodriguez), a government agent (Jessica Alba) and his shotgun wielding priest brother (Cheech Marin).
The movie epitomizes over the top. At one point Machete repels out of a window using the intestines of a still living enemy for rope. There is plenty of ridiculous action to be had, along with fun small roles for Lindsay Lohan (playing a coked out internet porn star, imagine that) and Don Johnson. The rest of the cast appears to be having a blast, except for Danny Trejo, who is too busy playing the ultimate bad ass. There's plenty of tongue in cheek moments with both the dialogue and music to give a few good laughs along the way. If approached with the right mindset, Machete is a couple hours worth of over the top violence and fun that you won't feel guilty for enjoying.
A dense, superbly made, mind-bending masterpiece
Christopher Nolan has been a hot name in Hollywood for the past five years and rightfully so. He revived a dead in the water Batman franchise with two fantastic genre transcending films and also delivered a strong character driven revenge story with The Prestige. But Inception marks his first truly original story in a decade, one that took almost a decade for him to craft. With his streak of strong stories at stake, Nolan meets and exceeds the expectations his previous films have set.
Inception is difficult to sum up entirely. The plot works something like this: Cobb and his associate Arthur work as Extractors. They enter the mind of a person through their dreams in order to extract information. When they botch a job and prepare to run, they are instead offered something different: inception, the planting of an idea into someone's mind. This is far more difficult and after assembling a team for such a task, they venture into the man's mind in order to plant the seed of an idea deep in his subconscious.
This is obviously not a film for someone who just goes to the theatre to see explosions and hear one liners. The story is dense, as the team needs to venture into highly complex dreams within dreams in order for the idea to take. Because of this, there are events co-occurring on different levels (and within different speeds of time) and these varying levels can be challenging to follow for those not paying attention. At one point, the team is three levels deep within the dream world, meaning events are occurring on four levels. But somehow Nolan makes it possible to follow.
Another strength of the movie is it's cast. Leonardo DiCaprio gives his usual strong performance as Cobb, a man who has a bad past with entering dreams but continues to do it because he is the best. Joseph Gordon-Levitt works quite well as Cobb's partner and Ellen Page gives another great performance. Both of those two have big things in their futures. Cillian Murphy is strong in his slightly supporting role of the man whose dreams are entered and Ken Watanabe is great as the man who originates the idea to incept. In whole, there isn't really a weak member of this cast.
Although this is a very dense story, there is some very interesting action included, at least enough to break up the more talkative parts of the movie. The special effects are also top notch but don't appear enough to take away from the narrative. As the movie is mostly character driven (particularly around Cobb's past), these elements aren't as necessary to the story but are both strong none the less.
This movie was not made for anyone. Some people may find it too dense and layered for their liking while others will complain that you don't really take anything away when it's done. But there are so many levels to examine that the inability to find something interesting is impossible. This is a film that warrants multiple viewings in order to truly embrace every aspect of the story and for some, this is too much of a chore. But if you are the kind of person that likes a deep, layered movie that will require your attention to follow and comprehend, then Inception is the type of film made for you.
Batman & Robin (1997)
A franchise dies in a neon colored toy commercial
The first time I saw this movie, at the age of 10, I thought it was awesome. Unfortunately, reality eventually set in. This movie really was a perfect storm of studio executives wanting an even more family friendly movie and the previous movie doing as well as it did with it's lighter, more campy tone. The result is a loud, bright and bad take on the Batman.
If you know anything about comic books, the plot is easy enough to understand. Mr. Freeze needs money to save his ill wife and plans to freeze Gotham City and hold it ransom in order to get it. Poison Ivy wants to kill all humans and overrun the world with her super plants. Only Batman and Robin can stop them! And along the way, Alfred the butler has a niece show up and then falls ill. Of course, Batman and Robin have a spat over Ivy and Alfred's niece becomes Batgirl. In the end, good triumphs over evil and Freeze even helps cure Alfred, who had and early stage of the same disease his wife does.
There are so many bad things about this movie that I feel the need to list them. So here goes: Mr. Freeze only speaks in ice and cold related puns, which wears thin after about five minutes; Batman and Robin have nipples on their suits. We don't know why; Poison Ivy comes off as a murderous Jessica Rabbit, thanks to Uma Thurman's "performance"; Gotham City has become some kind of neon nightmare with giant statues of muscular men scattered about; Alicia Silverstone, as Batgirl, is terrible. On top of that, they completely botched the origin of her character; Batman has a Bat-American Express card; Batman comes off as possible being in the closet (George Clooney later admitted he played the character as being gay); Right before the final battle, Batman, Robin and Batgirl rush off, as time is short. Yet they still take time to change into entirely new suits and get new vehicles while Freeze starts to ice the city; there are so many big flashy vehicles that it feels much like a toy commercial; in an early sequence, Batman and Robin sky surf; in another early sequence, Batman and Robin somehow have ice skates that appear from the bottom of their boots; Bane, a brilliant criminal mastermind in the comics, is reduced to a giant oaf who works as Poison Ivy's thug; I don't feel the need to go on.
Despite the lashing I just gave this movie, you may have noticed I gave it a 2. The reason this did not get the lowest possible score is that it's epic failure was enough to cause an eventual reboot of the franchise, which in turn became two of the best comic book movies ever. For that reason, it gets a full point more than it would have on merit alone. The best thing to do with this movie is to view it right before watching Batman Begins and/or The Dark Knight, as it's pitiful existence makes those films seem even better than they already are.
It's something different and compared to most modern horror, that wins
If you are a horror fan like myself, then I'm sure you've felt the pain of the recent trend in Hollywood of remaking classics and pumping out PG-13 horror aimed at tweens. Something fresh, original and exciting is a rare find in the genre these days and even more rare is something generally suspenseful and scary. Splice manages to be one of those two and for that reason, it is head and shoulders above most modern horror.
The story is classic 'scientist screwing with nature' at it's core. Clive and Elsa are two married scientists at the head of a program that is splicing DNA to create new lifeforms in order to create and harvest useful proteins for a variety of reasons. They have a rousing success in creating a completely original species and want to move to the next step: adding human DNA to the mix. The owner of the company balks at this idea, citing both legal and ethical reasons and instead wants them to move forward with cultivating from their created worms. The two decide to splice the DNA cocktail including human and let it sit until the right time. After doing so, Elsa decides on a whim to just attempt to make a viable embryo, to see if it will actually work. Clive objects but the embryo quickly grows and is born within days. The resulting creature metamorphoses into an off little creature and the pair decide to observe it's rather fast life cycle while they have the opportunity. The creature, who Elsa lovingly names Dren, rapidly matures into a humanoid, with Elsa acting almost as a mother to her. They hide her in an old storage floor of their research facility and act almost as her parents. Everything comes unraveled when a public presentation of the two created worms turns nasty as one had transgendered into a male and the two fought each other to a gory death in front of the media and a live audience. This forces Elsa and Clive to move Dren to the childhood farm house belonging to Elsa, as the research facility is now under heavy watch. While at the farm Dren begins to rebel against Elsa, who was revealed to have been abused by her mother. When Dren reacts badly to a gesture by Elsa, she removes part of Dren's tail and uses it to get the protein needed by the company. Clive, having grown distant from Elsa, is seduced by Dren and they have sex, which Elsa walks in on. This, combined with Clive discovering the the human DNA in Dren came from Elsa, makes the two of them realize that things have gone too far and it's time to end it. They return to the farm to find that Dren is ill and dying. They bury her body after her death and begin to burn any signs she was there. As they do this, their supervisor and Clive's brother arrive and demand to know where the creature is (the brother knew all along and the strains Elsa cultivated were found to have human DNA). As soon as they tell them Dren is dead, there is a loud shriek and they see Dren's new transgendered male form. He quickly picks off the brother and supervisor as Elsa and Clive scatter into the woods. The creature targets and rapes Elsa before killing Clive. Elsa is then able to kill Dren with a rock across the skull. The movie ends with Elsa negotiating a deal with the owner of the company, which is revealed to involve the baby Elsa is now pregnant with.
The two things that stand out the most in this movie is the top notch acting and the special effects. The three leads take a premise that could have easily been very campy and make it a lot more believable than it should be. Special mention should go to Delphine Chaneac, whose first role as Dren is nothing short of amazing. Striking just the right balance between scared animal and curious child, she is so convincing it's downright scary. Her performance, coupled with some of the best special effects seen in a while, make the creature both interesting and later threatening.
The downfall of the movie is it's third act. What starts as a timely and interesting concept abruptly becomes a monster in the woods movie. Add to that the snicker inducing sex scene and it's easy to see that the writers must have started with an awesome idea but then didn't know how to end it. If a better ending had been attached, this easily could have gotten a 9.
The true merit of this movie is viewing it as a cautionary tale of the times. Science is doing so many new and unusual things these days and this movie is a not-so-far-out-there tale of what could happen if you screw with mother nature. If you can get past the rough ending and some very cavalier takes on science, the movie is strong enough on the acting of the leads and suspenseful enough early on to merit a viewing.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)
For the fans, it's perfect. For everyone else...
One of my favorite things about the entire Twilight phenomenon is how it polarizes people. There's the lovers, haters and those indifferent, each with their own reasons for where they stand. That's what makes this movie so interesting, because depending on where you stand, your experience will be vastly different.
For anyone who doesn't know they story, here's the quick recap. Human Bella is in love with vampire Edward. But an accident on her birthday reminds Edward just how dangerous it is for a human around his kind. So he decides he and his family need to leave, which all but destroys Bella. She is literally a zombie for the next four months until she accidentally discovers that doing something reckless allows her to hallucinate Edward. So she decides to enlist her beefed up friend Jacob to fix up some old motorcycles. But as the two spend time together, she starts feeling better and he starts feeling hot for her (and temperature wise). Eventually he pulls a sudden attitude shift, cropping his hair down and getting inked like a cult-like group on his reservation. Turns out this group are actually werewolves that only arise when vampires are around (to kill them) and Jake is one of the wolves. The pack are trying to stop Victoria, the ticked off mate of the bad vampire from the last movie, from getting to Bella, but Jake being gone so much drives her to need an Edward-inducing rush. She cliff dives and is saved by Jake, although not before alarming Edward's future seeing sister Alice. A misunderstanding with Edward leads to him wanting to off himself under the belief that Bella is dead. The only way he can do this is to tick off the Volturi, which are basically vampire royalty. So Alice and Bella race to Italy to stop Edward from doing this. After talking their way out of a tight spot, Edward and his family return and the family votes that Bella can become one of them. Jacob reminds Edward that the wolf-vampire treaty forbids any biting of humans and would spark a war. Bella tells Jake that she does love him but Edward is always her first choice. He runs off hurt and Edward tells Bella that if she wants him to change her himself, she has to marry him.
The movie is far and away better than the first one. While some of the writing is still groan inducing, the lack of blue filter and independent movie feel do wonders. The cgi wolves work well enough, although I'm sure people will whine about them looking 'unreal'. Sorry, didn't know a horse-sized wolf could look real. Kristen Stewart is much better in this movie and Taylor Lautner does a pretty decent job (when he's not showing his abs). Robert Pattinson is still awkward as hell but his lack of screen time helps. As for the rest of the cast, Billy Burke as Bella's dad is a scene stealer and Ashley Greene has some of the better one liners. And the entire Volturi came off very creepy, especially Dakota Fanning, which suits them very well. The wolf boys serve their purpose but are more bit players, as are Bella's school friends and the other Cullens.
So how does the movie rate? Back to what I said in the beginning, it depends on who is seeing the movie. To a pure hater, it'll always be a 0, even without seeing the movie. To a pure fan, it's a 10 regardless of quality. Indifferent people could go either way. As a fan that does see the movie (and the books, for that matter) have their flaws, a 7 seems about right. Better than the previous movie but still not gonna make any haters into believers.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Despite trying hard, it is a lot of hype
Before you continue, I would like to make it clear that I am a seasoned veteran of horror films and most of them don't affect me in the least anymore.
I'm sure you've heard all the comparisons to the Blair Witch Project but this movie takes the whole 'paranormal stalker' idea and brings it a little closer to home. Literally. Katie's the pretty college student, Micah is her slightly moronic boyfriend. And something is banging on their walls at night. They bring in a ghost expert, who tells them they have a demon, which has been messing with Katie on and off for years. He gives them a number to call for a demon expert and tells them not to provoke the angry entity. So what do they do? Not call the expert and Micah starts trying to screw with the demon. Things start getting worse. So he starts acting like more of an idiot. And by the time they finally get around to calling the master of demons, he's out of town and the ghost expert tells them he can't do a thing. The unseen demon makes it known that it isn't happy with Micah and despite deciding to leave the house (which won't help because Katie is what draws this thing), they stay one last night...
While the idea is very fresh when compared to recent horror films (mainly remakes), the scares aren't that bad for a horror veteran. A moving door, powdery footprints that appear out of nowhere, loud noises downstairs, etc. But to those who are desensitized to these simple scares, it becomes another horror movie. There are too many 'duh' moments where a logical person would say 'why are they doing this?' It really kills suspension of belief when someone does (or doesn't do) something so clearly stupid that you slap your forehead.
If you can maintain suspension of disbelief for the 100 minutes, it is decent. It gets points for being original compared to recent horror. But is it the 'scariest movie in the last 10 years'? Not unless you never see horror movies at all. It's good for a Halloween scare but the hype around it will soon fade when the sequel is officially announced.