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Predictable and Disappointing
I stumbled across Macabre literally by accident. Bored and scanning Netflix relentlessly for something refreshing to watch, I came across this Mo Brother/ Indonesian film that caught my attention with its 4-star approval rating. I had not heard of the film prior and after reading a few user reviews, I was hoping for a The Lovely Ones or a Dream House namely, a film that flew under my radar then impressed me to no end at the conclusion of its screening.
Directed by Kim Stamboel and Tim Tjahjanto (as The Mo Brothers), Macabre is the story of a group of five friends (one eight months pregnant) that pick up a young girl who claims to have been robbed and is looking for a ride home. When the group arrive at secluded house of their picked-up stranger, they are met by a Lucy Liu looking mother figure that looks as creepy as she will prove deadly as the story progresses.
Unsuspecting that their hosts (which also includes two male figures) are murdering cannibals, the five guests enjoy a meal with the seemingly thankful clan before they are drugged, bound and tortured resulting in plenty of the red stuff being sprayed liberally in almost every room in the house. All put up a fight, but few survive in what becomes a very bloody evening with a body count that reaches the double digits.
Horror films which circle around a group of friends ending up in a remote house where a sadistic and murdering family reside are nothing new. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tourist Trap, Silent Scream, House of 1000 Corpses there have been countless horror titles that could be summed up with the same synopsis.
So what separates Macabre from the rest of them? Nothing really. When stripped to the bone, Macabre is just another stupid horror movie where stupid people do stupid things which eventually get them killed. In fact, I don't remember a movie in recent memory where people did as many stupid things. Worse still, it is all the stereotypical horror movie stupid things. People drop weapons after inflicting non-fatal wounds; people stay when they should run and fall when they do decide to high-tail it (a drinking game of taking a shot every time someone falls down or slips in Macabre would lead to alcohol poisoning); and why would anyone go back to a house of death if they had a chance to continue running through the woods until they find safety? These elements are all too present in Macabre and take away from some pretty good scenes of blood soaked gore. It is sometimes hard to judge the acting when you are busy reading the subtitles, but everyone involved seemed to be doing their part with the elements of the predictable script.
As you can likely ascertain, Macabre will not get a recommendation from this post. It was never boring but it wasn't anything revolutionary or different that would constitute a positive word-of-mouth event.
Las brujas de Zugarramurdi (2013)
Very Well Done
A surprise winner at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival as a Midnight Madness selection, Witching and Bitching has been quietly playing the festival circuit before now landing on VOD with a high recommendation.
Directed by Álex de la Iglesia (The Oxford Murders, The Last Circus), Witching and Bitching is a Spanish film that tells the story of a gang of jewellery thieves who end up in a town home to a coven of witches while fleeing a lucrative heist.
The opening heist is very entertaining with the thieves dressed as street performers before the firepower is revealed and action ensues (seeing Spongebob Squarepants get riddled with bullets was a highlight). The smash-and-grab is aided by the gang leader's son who will accompany the fleeing criminals as they try to escape the country by forcing a cab driver to abet their plans.
With the police and an ex-wife in quick pursuit, the gang lands in a town that could not be any worse than facing the police in a shoot-out. Three witches that reside in a lavish estate convince the men into their home and before you can say 'hocus pocus', they are tied up and tortured (some playfully, some violently) with the intention of being served as the main course for the countless witches that have been invited over for dinner.
Equal parts of comedy and chaos ensues leading up to an unexpected and highly enjoyable climax that includes a giant naked witch that towers over her human counterparts who exponentially aides the body count.
The sub-plots that help fuel the main story are every bit as interesting without impeding on the film's focus. There are the two cops that are following the ex-wife of one of the thieves, the innocent cab rider that ends up being tortured time and time again and there is even an interesting budding love story between the main character and a young witch who is torn between her feelings for the human and her commitment to the coven.
The special effects department did a wonderful job on bringing everything to life and the script as penned by Jorge Guerricaechevarría and Álex de la Iglesia is incredibly enjoyable and maintains its consistency throughout the full 112-minute running time. Because the screen never gushes with blood many might not so easily classify Witching and Bitching as horror. But whether it is horror or just a really good thriller, either way it is a very good film.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Character Piece Ultimately Bores
I am all vampired out. Hate to admit it, but it's true. And I have been all vampired out for quite some time. The fascination with the fanged undead started to peter out in the 90's after From Dusk Till Dawn and Interview with a Vampire. Since then, we have been vampired to death at the theatre and on television with countless vampire movies/series just in the past 20 years. Vampires that sparkle (Twilight), vampires in comedies (Dark Shadows), television vampires (True Blood), vampires fighting Presidents (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and even animated vampires (Hotel Transylvania). The only thing vampires have stuck their teeth into more in my lifetime is my wallet which pays to watch these mythical beings suck their way to the end credits.
Because of the over-saturation of titles, I have grown increasingly numb to the whole mythology. Worse still, there hasn't been more than a handful of vampire films that have offered its audience anything new or radically different to the folkloric tale. In recent years, more established directors have tried plied their trade to the genre including Neil Jordan (Byzantium) and Amy Heckerling (Vamp) have attempted to put a unique spin on the tale only to leave audiences rather uninterested in the quest.
Now comes a new vampire film from writer/director Jim Jarmusch (who looks like a vampire himself) who is known for art/independent films such as Coffee & Cigarettes and Ghost Dog. Only Lovers Left Alive revolves around vampires Adam and Even (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton). Adam is a vampire residing in Detroit and is in a depression bordering on suicidal tendencies. Adam's love, Eve, is a vampire living in India who flies to Detroit when Adam's melancholy becomes apparent. When Eve arrive in Michigan she finds Adam in familiar surroundings. Adam has found a home in the abandoned outskirts of the city where he spends his nights recording music played on instruments provided to him by human friend Ian (Anton Yelchin). When Adam and Eve are reunited it is a muted reunion. There are no mass killing sprees (they get their blood supply from a doctor played by the always veritable Jeffrey Wright), no wonderous sex or conflicts or any kind. Instead audiences are treated to tours of a ruined city and monotone conversations between the two undeads.
The film meanders along until the wonderfully vibrant Ana (Mia Wasikowska) appears. Introduced earlier as a sister to Eve, Ava is a young, reckless vampire that yearns for the drug-like euphoria of human blood and the adrenaline of a city's nightlife. Her appearance in Detroit infuses the film with much needed air and turns the story from being a full-out bore love story to an interesting family dynamic with a loose cannon (a deadly one at that) on the couch.
Sadly, Ana's induction does not last long enough nor does it elevate this flat lined movie into anything more than just an interesting character study. Vampire movies with a body count less than the number of noses I have on my face are far less interesting than a rollicking Blade or Underworld. Jarmusch's script is apt and there is some good dialogue between the two goth-looking leads (both of which perform admirably), but there wasn't enough meat on the bread to make a lunch sandwich.
Only Masikowska's performance elevates Only Lovers Left Alive into a 2.5 out of 5 rating. And although I am glad that the vampires in this tale did not sparkle, I am disappointed that they didn't really do much of anything.
Torture Chamber (2013)
Torturous to watch
It is ironic that Torture Chamber contains the word I felt most in tune with while viewing torture. The new horror film from writer/director Dante Tomaselli (Satan's Playground) was so bad it was torturous to watch through 93 minutes. The film opens with our introduction to 13-year-old Jimmy (Carmen LoPorto). For reasons to be explained later, Jimmy's first appearance on screen has him bound in an animal cage. His face appears burned and scared making his blue eyes all that more piercing and ominous. A Catholic priest is present but Jimmy is possessed by an extreme evil and his powers lead to his escape. Jimmy then recruits an army of children who follow his instruction on a murderous rampage on teachers, doctors
.just about anyone who ever looked at Jimmy in his past. The victims are dragged to an abandoned hideout where they are tortured until death. The above synopsis may sound like a film full of fun, blood and satanic overtones, but Torture Chamber is handled so ineptly that you can't help but think that being a victim of Jimmy would be less painful than trying to squeeze any drip of entertainment value out of Tomaselli's effort. Most of the faults can be found in the screenplay and the unmotivated actors that were hired to play out Tomasell's script. None of the cast comes out smelling like roses but its Soprano's star Vincent Pastore who has the most egg on his face as Dr. Fiore. The actor says his lines as if he was acting in a high school play without the benefit of a rehearsal. Most of his dialogue sounded as if he was just winging it forced and awkward. It's been a long time since I have been embarrassed for an actor involved with a paying project, but poor Pastore was in my prayers after screening. When it comes to the horror genre, you can sometimes mask bad acting, a bad script and any misdirection if you have the gore to help you overlook the faults. Not here. Torture Chamber's gore is ridiculously bad. Hardly any blood. Hardly any ingenuity when it comes to the ritual killings. Hardly any fun. All this makes Torture Chamber one of the worst films of the year. A zero out of five stars. That's not to say that we won't have interest to see Tomaselli's next effort, but this one needs to be put in a plastic bag with spray paint fumes and burned.
The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)
In September of 2011, we walked into a darkened theatre while attending the Toronto International Film Festival to catch Gareth Evans', The Raid. Little was known of the film by the sold out audience. But by the time the end credits rolled on screen an action classic was the consensus of the crowd.
Now three years later, Evans goes for the jugular again with The Raid 2: Berandal, a sequel that knows what a sequel should be bigger and better than the original.
The Raid 2 picks up where the original left off. Police officer Rama (Iko Uwais) fought his way out of a building teeming with fight-to-the- death bad guys. But any attempt to go back to a normal life is thwarted when gangsters threaten the safety of his wife and child. Rama's defence will come in the form of an undercover assignment that will have our hero infiltrate the criminal underworld which reveals corruption at all levels of the felonious enterprise.
Rama then fights and fights again and then fights some more in countless outnumbered battles choreographed to perfection. At a whopping two-and- a-half-hours, The Raid 2 has plenty of blood, sweat, kicks and punches to do last us the remainder of the action film release year. It is an exhausting punch to the face that will have audiences cheering at the conclusion of each action sequence. Watching Iko Uwais find the energy to kick, punch and stab his way through a virtual army of bad guys will have you embarrassed of the notion that Jackie Chan was still recently considered one of the best at his craft. What Rama faces in the first 45 minutes would have killed two Chan's and makes Jackie's films feel like a made-for-television After School Special.
The Raid 2's buffet of violence uses every obtainable weapon available to the combatants. Knives, hammers, guns, fists if you can grab it, swing it, shoot it or throw it, it's a tool for your survival. Evans clearly knows how to film great action whether in large rooms or in the backseat of a car. He is relentless in his presentation you can't help but marvel over the preparation that was undertaken to pull off such a masterful stroke.
The Raid 2 is everything we wanted it to be. And more. I don't know how Rama could possibly have a third adventure left in his body (I was sore for him just watching him take a beating). But if a trilogy does materialize, I will be first in line.
Draft Day (2014)
Second Round Draft Pick is no Moneyball
Kevin Costner is no stranger to sports themed movies. The Tin Cup, Bull Durham, For the Love of the Game star has stared in five separate sports films and now rounds that number to an even six with the football themed Draft Day directed by Ghostbuster's helmer Ivan Reitman.
Taking on a role more his age (Costner is a football yard short of 60), Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns in the NFL. The action picks on NFL Draft Day, the day in which 200+ young budding stars get drafted by big league teams in a huge televised event taking place in New York City.
Sonny's Cleveland team was a lowly 6-10 the season before largely due to the injury to their star quarterback. The Browns are given the 7th round draft pick on draft day, but pressures from Brown's team owner (Frank Langella) and an aggressive offer from the Seattle Seahawks to swap the number 1 pick for future options leave Sonny with only hours to think of both his legacy and what is best for the city's revered team.
The film all takes place within the 24 hours on draft day and a running clock that appears a handful of times during the film reminds us that the time is ticking and decisions need to be made. Impeding such forward thinking are the films distractions which come in the form of two female characters with ties to Sonny. Jennifer Garner plays Ali, the love interest of Sonny and the lawyer and number cruncher who is responsible for keeping the Browns under the NFL salary cap. With the film only a few minutes aged, we learn that Ali is pregnant with Sonny's baby a subplot that was hardly necessary to keep things moving. Also complicating things is Sonny's mother played by Ellen Burstyn. Sonny's father was a former Cleveland Brown's coach (fired by Sonny Jr. the year previous) and has recently passed away. Sonny's mother for reasons that were hard to understand considering she lived a life with football at the core of the family, decides that draft day is the day in which she wants Sonny to spend some time completing his father's last wishes as identified in his will.
Both female stories go nowhere and could easily have ended up on the cutting room floor. Instead, in a weak attempt to connect with a female audience, the two characters are awarded ample screen time to emote and distract Sonny on what is arguably the most difficult and focused day of his career.
When Sonny is not tripping over the estrogen pitfalls, he is struggling with his coach (Dennis Leary) and working the phones discussing trade possibilities with Jacksonville, Buffalo and Kansas City in an attempt to save the city the embarrassment of selling the golden goose for a few magic beans.
It is when Sonny is working his draft magic that the movie is at its best. His calls to and from potential and existing players had an authentic feel and the chaos of draft day is captured with tense complexity and legacy importance.
Draft Day wants to be football's answer to baseball's Moneyball. But the Aaron Sorkin written baseball film starring Brad Pitt had rocket-fire dialogue that catapulted the film to an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. Draft Day instead is fluff, but it's good fluff. Costner consistently makes every film to which he is involved better than it should be and Reitman is smart to give appropriate cameos (Roger Goodall, Bernie Kozar, Jim Brown), he keeps the spotlight on his star heaving the film on Costner's shoulders in an attempt to score a box office touchdown.
Draft Day was a fun distraction. Browns fans will likely enjoy a fantasy film of their team making right decisions (the Browns have not made the NFL playoffs since 2002), and football fans should find valued entertainment in the behind the scenes peak into the day of a General Manager. But film fans hoping for a Moneyball or something smarter than Draft Day's trailers have revealed should look elsewhere.
Blood Shot (2013)
Enough Fun to Warrent a Sequel
Some of my guiltiest pleasures come in the form of horror comedies from the 1980's. Waxwork, Dead Heat, House, are just three of the many titles that I would step on and over young children just to get in front of the screen to which they were projecting. Generally, the films are not very good. But they had a playfulness to them and I will give the benefit of the doubt to the producers that they knew exactly what they intending and to what audience it was intended.
The new millennium has tried to produce some of the magic of the horror/comedy peers of yesteryear, but have been largely unsuccessful. With exceptions handed out to a small few (including the best example of late: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil) the studios try too hard to mix the different genres without just letting it flow and develop into what it might become.
The latest horror/comedy to cross our desk was Blood Shot a film that has brought 80's horror actors Brad Dourif, Lance Henriksen and Christopher Lambert together (even if none of the three share a scene). Blood Spot is a typical buddy cop film that is not your typical buddy cop film. Brennan Elliott plays Rip, a rogue cop who fights both terrorists and vampires. Bailey Smith plays a vampire a vampire that works for the CIA (Vampire Division) under the direction of Sam (Henricksen). Rip and the Vampire are constantly at odds with each other with Rip trying everything from garlic to holy water to bring down the undead bloodsucker. But both are crusaders for good. And both find themselves having to team together to fight an evil Middle Eastern terrorist (Dourif) who is planning a nuclear attack on U.S. soil. That's the story. Long and short.
Blood Shot is based on the short film of the same name by writer/director Dietrich Johnston. Johnston gets a bigger budget (estimated at $3.5 million) for this full length feature and does the best with opportunity spinning an enjoyable tale that has a handful of good one-liners and a whole lot of fun as the story plays out.
The film never takes itself too seriously and comes very close at times to resembling a deleted scene from The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! But it manages to consistently pull itself back in from the brink of absurdity to get back to what it does best entertain.
The story in itself is not ground breaking and painting white actors brown to look like Middle Eastern terrorists will either be offensive or hilarious depending on one's sense of humor. But the action and the relationship between the two reluctant partners is enough to keep this film afloat and amass enough appreciation to present a recommendation.
More interestingly still is where the premise can go from here. The idea of a vigilante vampire has been done before with Blade, but Blood Shot doesn't attempt for spectacular stunts and action sequences. It instead spends time on character and that makes the idea of continuing the series an interesting premise we would like to see exploited.
Nurse 3-D (2013)
With a series of film posters that oozed blood and sex, Nurse 3D quickly affirmed itself to my Must See list of 2014. Sure, that might sound shallow. But why should I pretend differently. Any of the one-sheets that were put out by the studio highlighted actress Paz de la Huerta in a tight nurse's outfit either drenched in blood or riding a giant syringe phallic symbol. Yip, my libido was sold.
Add to the mix that the film was an entry into my favorite genre and a relaxing position on the couch and glass of scotch was all that was needed to sit back and enjoy.
Nurse 3D (for the record, we screened the film in only two dimensions), stars Paz de la Huerta as Abbey Russell, a dedicated nurse who oozes sexuality. Abby's life outside of the hospital is a dramatic turn from her life saving efforts within. When not administering to the sick, Abby uses her sensuality to lure cheating men to the brink of performance only to brutally kill them in some really nasty ways.
Adding to Abby's complicated life is Danni (Katrina Bowden Tucker & Dale vs. Evil), a fellow nurse who Abby takes a sexual liking. Danni and Abby become friends, but when Danni's stepfather is killed Danni is suspicious of Abby and the friendship soon turns into battle between the two that leaves plenty of blood and dead bodies in its wake.
Nurse 3D is good for what it is. Paz de la Huerta plays an evil Jennifer Tilly type role and parades around, sometimes in full frontal nudity, while she manipulates or brutally tortures others. Abby shows little emotion throughout her various ordeals which is one of the films unfortunate faults. When Jason Voorhees kills you can tell he enjoys it (or is at the very least fascinated by his handiwork). But Abby just kills for the sake of killing. She seems to kill because the script tells her to and does not seem to have any layers underneath the blood stained nurse's outfit of conflict or pleasure.
There are other subplots that do little but to add to the film's running time. There is the requisite cop who suspects the wrong person, the boyfriend of Danni who will turn 360 degrees in opinions towards the chaos occurring around them, and there is a doctor (Judd Nelson) whose only purpose seems to be to allow Abby to up her body count.
Yet, for reasons that I cannot quite put to words, Nurse 3D was a watchable horror film that goes through the motions but does so with a style and pace that keeps things moving along even if this is a path that we have taken many times before in better films. The kills are not overly inventive, but they are bloody. And the randomness to Abby's spree late in the film was welcomed with a smirking grin.
I will not be lobbying for a Nurse 2, but if it happens, I would be interested in seeing what hijinks Abby might find herself in at a new hospital in a new city. Besides, there must be an inch of her naked body somewhere that I have yet to see.
Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (2014)
Just Enough To Keep The Franchise Going
I am guessing that when Eli Roth brought his small debut film Cabin Fever to the Toronto International Film Festival in 2002, he had no idea that the story of an infectious skin disease would generate two sequels over twelve years. But that is exactly the grounds to which we find ourselves with the direct-to-DVD release of Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero due on DVD and On Demand later this spring.
The original film took place in a remote forested area. The sequel took the horrors of infection to a local high school. And now, Cabin Fever 3 brings us to a remote island where a prisoner named Porter (Sean Astin) is considered patient zero someone who is immune to the infection that starts with itching and blisters before spreading exponentially to a point where the skin just peels from the bone like a chicken breast left in a slow cooker for 12-hours. A laboratory full of doctors and good looking nurses run experiments, meanwhile, a bachelor party of three guys and one female land on the island for a day of fun, sun and snorkeling. Their trip soon turns to terror when the female of their party starts to show signs of the infection. Stranded and without a radio signal, the men head to find help on the island. Help that will bring them to the medical facility housing Porter and a discovery that will bring more blood and death than any could have imagined.
Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is promoted as a prequel, but honestly, it is so independent from the other two films, it could be a prequel, a sequel or could even been occurring at the same time unless I am missing something. And in this second sequel there is enough blood and gore to fill a few cabins with body parts.
The plot is fairly predictable and follows the typical horror playbook. There will be one or two survivors, there will be plenty of gruesome deaths and characters will sacrifice others and climb over their dead bodies for the opportunity to get off the island.
How we get to the final reel however is fairly enjoyable entertainment. From a sexual act that reveals the seriousness of the first outbreak to a skin pulling cat fight between two females that ends in a crowd pleasing bashing of jelly-like skin, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is able to overcome the script's routine-ness by giving the audience enough bloodshed to keep us interested through the full 91-minutes.
Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is not reinventing the wheel. But our guess is that director Kaare Andrews wasn't looking to patent anything when he took the reins to continue Eli Roth's original vision. Still, there is just enough to get us to recommend Patient Zero, and when you think about it, when was the last time a third entry in a horror series provided any value whatsoever.
Vampire Academy (2014)
Easily the worst film of 2014 so far
I had a glimmer of hope for Vampire Academy. The faintest bit of optimism that the film might actually be something that Ender's Game and Beautiful Creatures was not. I knew nothing of the books. Seven in total I am told from my vampire novel-loving partner. But surely it a major studio release couldn't be as bad as the Twilight films. Surely just out of blind luck, a vampire film targeting the tweens might actually be watchable.
Vampire Academy not only fails to exploit my flicker of faith but it pulverizes any rational reason as to why the screenplay was greenlit in the first place. A monstrosity of a mess, Vampire Academy is a clear front runner for worst film of 2014.
I could attempt to educate you on the script, but I am not quite sure I understood it all myself. In the first five minutes alone we see a car crash, get introduced to a vampire and her half-vampire/half-human guardian, force fed the supernatural bond between the two, learn that vampires can control the four elements and are given a description as to dhampirs, Morois and Strigoi's. Whew.
Zoey Deutch (looking very much like a young Rose Byrne) plays Rose Hathaway. She is a dhampir who is protecting Princess Vasilisa Dragomir (Lucy Fry) from Stigoi an evil vampire breed created when a vampire takes a human life. Maybe more evil still are Vasilisa's classmates at the Vampire Academy who resent her return after being in the real world for the past year. It's like Mean Girls with fangs.
There is some sort of plot. Vasilisa is tormented by someone or someones in her school who sacrifice wolves and cats in an attempt to gather her attention. Vasilisa seems less concerned about those trying to kill her than she is about the boys in her school and her desire for acceptance. That brings a few Robert Pattinson look-a-likes into play that add nothing much else to the story than doing just enough to get us to the next DVD chapter without displaying any real character. There is also a love interest for Rose, large wolf dogs, more vampire mythology and Gabriel Byrne trying his best to ensure that he is not overlooked by next year's Razzie nominations.
The screenplay by Daniel Waters is the film's largest obstacle. The dialogue is Aaron Sorkin fast but written with a Uwe Boll sense of direction. Characters talk quickly to each other and then the scene will just cut as if we came to the end of a chapter and the director didn't know how to transition to the next scene with any sense of flow.
Those holding out for strong action scenes to be the glue that holds you between naps can forget about it. Poorly choreographed and uninspiring hijinks are the norm as the film stumbles towards a final shot that suggests a sequel (it will not happen).
Vampire Academy might have worked as a television series. Why not. Dirty Little Liars Meets True Blood on CW. But this mess is easily the worst film of the year. At least until the next Adam Sandler film is released.