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After the Ball (2015)
Surprisingly good comedy with good performances
After the Ball is an entertaining little comedy that takes a few elements of Cinderella and uses them to tell the story of a young fashion designer who manages to get a job at her father's design company, only to be ousted by her stepmother and stepsisters. With the encouragement of her aunt and her actor friend, she disguises herself as a young male designer and manages to get hired back at the company where she battles the evil forces out to get her/him, but with newly found self-confidence.
I was expecting nothing from this movie, but my daughter wanted to watch it and it had a rating higher than one star on Netflix, so I figured why not. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. While it's predictable in the extreme, it's genuinely funny and moves along at a good pace, with a solid screenplay and likable characters. I had never heard of Portia Doubleday before watching this movie, but her performance is terrific. She's funny, sympathetic and simply a pleasure to watch.
Don't expect a profound or earth-shattering experience, but if you are in the mood for some lighthearted fun, you could do much worse than After the Ball.
Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)
Dreadful, idiotic comedy that is saved by bizarre, hilarious moments throughout
Transylvania 6-5000 is really quite terrible. It's a juvenile, sophomoric, amateurish comedy that the actors and filmmakers appear to have made up as they went along and then stuck together in the editing room. But the movie is chock full of non sequitur moments that range from bizarre to hilarious.
As the two tabloid journalists who travel to Transylvania to get a story, Jeff Goldblum and Ed Begley, Jr make a strange duo. Goldblum's performance is offbeat and funny one minute then uncomfortably flat the next. One gets the feeling he started out having fun but at some point during the production grew bored. On the other hand Begley is great as the dopey, manic reporter who really believes they're going to blow the lid off the Frankenstein legend.
Michael Richards's only direction seems to have been "be weird." He takes his chiropractor character from "Fridays" to unprecedented heights of outlandishness and his unhinged performance is one of the highlights of the movie. Jeffrey Jones, John Byner and Carol Kane are, as always, goofy and fun, as is Joseph Balonga as a mad scientist who only seems to go mad when he physically steps foot in his laboratory. Rounding out the principal cast are Geena Davis as a sexy vampire lady and Teresa Ganzel as Goldblum's love interest. Ganzel appears to be so delighted to be in the movie she never quite manages to do anything except smile giddily.
Rudy De Luca (a far cry from his work with Mel Brooks on Spaceballs) directs the movie like a TV show. It has a Disney Channel blandness to its photography and pacing. Were it not for the aforementioned work by Richards and Begley, Jr this movie would probably be a gargantuan task to sit through. But there is enough oddball humor sprinkled throughout to make it worth watching, though apparently much of the comedy was improvised by the actors, which leaves little credit for De Luca, who seems to be a much better collaborator than solo writer-director.
I have never wanted to like a movie so much, but...
I cannot put my finger on what turned me off of Perks of Being a Wallflower. I lived in Pittsburgh in the 80s through the 90s, was friends with the other misfits in high school and college and even performed in the cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show for a couple of years. This movie is pretty much about me and my friends.
The cast all did marvelous work, particularly the three leads who all turn in rich, understated performances. There is some wonderful dialog, even a few lines that I would go so far as to call brilliant (e.g. "we accept the love we think we deserve" and "I feel infinite") and the movie is shot in a creative and cinematic way without ever getting flashy.
And yet I found myself oddly unmoved and disconnected from the characters and their plight. Moments that were supposed to be emotional and poignant came off as trite and tedious to me. Maybe it was because it was really nothing I had not already seen or that I didn't quite believe it. Maybe it's because as an adult I am kind of embarrassed at what a slacker I was at the time and the movie brings back bad memories of that period in my life.
I'm not sure, but whatever it is the movie just never clicked with me. I'm disappointed about that, because I was expecting a really profound experience watching it. Maybe that's it. Maybe I am too close to it to objectively experience it.
Perks of Being a Wallflower has some great things going for it. I really, really wanted to like it, but unfortunately I didn't. I feel compelled to recommend it anyway, as it will probably mean more to others than it did to me.
Megan Is Missing (2011)
After a rocky start this turns into a very disturbing chiller
Megan is Missing is a very effective and disturbing horror movie. While it could certainly be viewed as a cautionary tale I think that is inadvertent, much like Last House on the Left was a cautionary tale regarding buying drugs or talking to strangers. Here the destructive behavior is falling victim to online predators, and while the movie is far too exploitative to be taken very seriously it does provide a pretty unsettling "what if" scenario.
The movie is seriously flawed in a number of ways. First and foremost is the acting and dialog. While the acting in general isn't flat out awful, the dialog never quite rings true. The actors do their best to try and make the obviously written dialog sound natural and they just can't pull it off. This is a much bigger problem in the first half of the movie when more characters populate the story, but once the movie concentrates more on Amy and Megan, both young actors turn in very moving and effective performances.
Another issue that directly affects the movie's ability to come off as genuine is the fact that, while the footage is supposedly made up of camcorder, cell phone and webcam video, it appears to have all been shot with the same camera. This seriously impairs the authenticity of the footage. Even more bewildering are awkward faux news reports that are not only unconvincing but also act as an attempt to interject satirical humor into the movie and fall uncomfortably flat.
When the movie works, however, it works well. There are quiet moments between Amy and Megan that are quite touching. Amy recording a video diary is also very compelling (and leads to one of the movie's creepiest moments). When shocking photos supposedly showing Megan alive are flashed on screen my heart jumped into my throat, and the last twenty minutes (comprised almost entirely of footage found on Amy's video camera) of the movie is genuinely horrifying.
When it was over, I found myself to be chilled to the bone by this movie despite its serious flaws. I think the actors and director all have talent that just needs to be more focused. Only about half the movie works. But that half is quite effective and makes it worthwhile viewing. Just be warned that when the movie doesn't work it's terrible; when it does work it's terrifying.
The most expensive low budget Alien rip off ever made
Prometheus is the most expensive low budget Alien rip-off ever made. It's nothing more than Galaxy of Terror or Forbidden World, only with 100 times their budget. I found this movie to be an entertaining piece of blood-drenched schlock disguised as a science fiction epic.
While it has been promoted to some extent as a prequel to Alien, it never seems to be that, if only because the technology on display is far and away more advanced than what is available in the first four Alien movies. It seems just as likely to me that the movie is actually a sequel, taking place decades after the events of the original "quadrilogy." Regardless, my feeling is that Ridley Scott wanted to make another Alien-like movie and did not want to be accused of ripping himself off, therefore added a few ambiguous nods to the original movie to make this at the very least a companion piece to the Alien series.
While there are plenty of the metaphysical ideas introduced in Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection floating around, and while the movie tackles some heavy philosophical themes regarding our origins (not a particularly original concept), it's obvious that Scott's intention is to create a gory freak show, with enough slime, blood, mayhem and creepy crawlies for a dozen horror movies.
That may sound like a criticism, but it isn't. Prometheus is a rich, fast-paced and intriguing thriller and is as entertaining, intense and scary as any other horror movie I've seen in recent years. It just isn't as deep as it's makers would have you believe.
This movie is dreadful almost to the point of seeming deliberately so
There are very few movies I've seen that I found so monumentally awful that I felt compelled to watch them again because I was convinced they could not have really been as bad as I thought. I have not yet re-watched Paul Morrissey's Hound of the Baskervilles, but I intend to. Until then, we'll have to go with my initial, head-spinning thoughts on the movie.
To say this adaptation of the classic Arthur Conan Doyle story (screenplay by director Morrissey and co-stars Dudley Moore and Peter Cook) is terrible is an understatement. It is beyond terrible. Other than a few chuckles and maybe one actual laugh the movie is brutally unfunny. The look of the film is drab and unattractive, the pacing is slow and the filmmaking is sloppy and scattershot to the point of seeming downright amateurish.
Moore and Cook, two comic geniuses, enthusiastically dive into their characters but cannot wring any joy or even mild amusement out of the material. The rest of the cast, made up mostly of familiar faces that populated classic British cinema in the 60s and 70s, appear utterly confused, as if they walked on the set and Morrissey just turned on the camera and said "action."
It appears Morrissey is trying to recapture the gleeful irreverence of his Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula but forgot how he managed to accomplish it. The outrageous gore, bizarre characters and non-sequitur dialog juxtaposed against such lush and pastoral settings made for a pair of genuinely idiosyncratic films (which were shot back-to-back).
That same magic never materializes in Hound of the Baskervilles. It is an utterly lifeless movie. The actors' performances are akin to witnessing the death throes of a drowning animal desperately trying to stay afloat. That mixed with the mind-numbingly awful screenplay and leaden direction results in an intensely unpleasant and uncomfortable experience.
Considering Morrissey's roots with Andy Warhol's Factory, one wonders if that were not his intention all along.
Død snø (2009)
Disappointing, by-the-numbers zombie flick
I found Dead Snow to be so disappointing because it started out great. I thought it was really atmospheric and intriguing for about a half an hour. Then the zombies showed up and the movie turned into yet another post-Braindead/Evil Dead 2 gorefest.
The movie takes its time letting us get to know the characters and their surroundings and these first scenes are nicely paced and effectively eerie. The movie switches gears abruptly when the zombies attack, leaving behind its refreshingly restrained approach for the more audience-pleasing mixture of over-the-top splatter and armed-to-the-teeth protagonists. Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson did it already. No need to do it again. And again. And again.
Instead of atmosphere, we get buckets of blood. Instead of style, we get increasingly elaborate ways for people to die. Instead of suspense, we get the usual loud noises and bursts of music.
So much could have been with the scenario (not that the idea of zombie Nazis is new in the first place), but it's obvious the filmmakers chose to use the story as nothing more than a clothesline for a series of gory set-pieces. Gore simply doesn't do it for me anymore. And that's about all Dead Snow has to offer.
I Spit on Your Grave (2010)
I Spit on Your Remake (Because it SUCKS)
The ONLY positive thing that can be said about the remake of I Spit on Your Grave is that it has made me realize how good the original is. I never liked Meir Zarchi's rape-revenge shocker, but I now can appreciate it for the gritty, basic thriller that it is. Remakes are almost always pointless, but in horror cinema, remakes are an opportunity new filmmakers to polish, upgrade and outdo the original. In attempting this, director Steven Monroe has more or less made a movie which lives up to the unfair negative press the original received. In other words, it is a movie which is misogynistic, exploitative and far sleazier than the the original.
Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) is an independent young woman who has rented a cabin in the wilderness to write a book. She gets unwanted attention from the local rednecks who eventually attack and rape her. After enduring several hours of sexual assault, she wanders off, lays low for a while, then takes violent, poetic revenge on her attackers in various gruesome ways.
Sounds pretty similar to the original plot-wise. So what are the significant differences that make this movie so horrendously awful? First, the character of Jennifer is turned from an average, likable young woman into a smoking hot model who also happens to be kind of a bitch. I found the character to be pretty obnoxious. It doesn't mean she deserves what happens to her, but making me not like her made it that much harder to care about her.
Secondly, the rape scenes, while not outright glorifying the rapes, are far more exploitative than the scenes in the original. My biggest gripe about them is the attempt to make sure Butler always looks attractive before, during and after the rape scenes. In the original, Camille Keaton looked like she'd been run over by a truck. Despite being completely naked there was nothing sexy about her appearance whatsoever. On the other hand, Monroe makes sure there's not TOO much dirt and blood on Butler's face and body, as he wants to make sure she still looks at least a LITTLE sexy. There's a conspicuous effort to get as many shots of her ass on screen as possible - and to make sure it always looks cute.
Third, the ridiculous revenge scenes. Here's where the movie basically stops being a remake of I Spit on Your Grave and becomes a rip off of SAW. Apparently being raped and beaten has shocked Jennifer into suddenly becoming an expert in the engineering of Medieval torture devices. Whereas she seduced and killed her attackers in somewhat plausible ways in the original (except maybe for the over-the-top outboard motor disembowelment), here her revenge is pure fantasy. She sets up absurdly elaborate mechanisms to torture and eventually kill her attackers. And the movie is so eager to hurry up and get to the third act bloodbath it leaves inexcusable pot holes unresolved.
I Spit on Your Grave UNRATED (as it is proudly titled) is not just one of the worst remakes I've seen, it's one of the worst movies I've seen in a long time. It's a waste of time and energy for all involved including the audience. Once again, in their attempt to make the "sickest movie ever made," a group of filmmakers have succeeded only in making a movie that is trite, boring and stupid.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
If you like being scared, you'll love it. If you don't like being scared, you won't.
I really, really liked Paranormal Activity, but I tend to like this kind of movie. I know that there was a something of a backlash against this movie, as there was with The Blair Witch Project, and I think that it has to do with two things: the enormous return on investment and the refusal to go along for the ride.
The first is pretty easy to understand. Even I as an aspiring filmmaker am kicking myself for not coming up with the idea (as I did when I first saw Blair Witch). Someone making a movie for $10,000 or $15,000 and going on to make tens of millions of dollars as a result can frustrate anyone and some viewers allow those sour grapes to ruin the movie for them.
The second reason is more hard to understand: refusing to go along with it. In other words, some people a) can't get lost in the story and suspend their disbelief and b) simply don't want to be scared. I don't mean they're afraid to be scared; I mean they don't want to allow themselves to be scared. They hear that a movie is scary or disturbing and they have a desire to take the wind out of its sails be watching it and then boasting how trite and boring they found it. It's sort of an ego boost: THAT didn't scare ME.
I've now seen decades of horror movies and can honestly say that only a handful have really truly frightened me. Night of the Living Dead, Jaws, The Shining and the aforementioned The Blair Witch Project all had at least a few scenes which scared the crap out of me (The Shining has a palpably terrifying atmosphere from beginning to end).
In the past ten years or so, I can only say that a couple of movies got under my skin. Session 9 I found to be a genuinely creepy movie with a few heart-in-my-throat moments, and David Lynch's Inland Empire, thought perhaps not a straight horror movie, had a few moments that were the first to make me jump out of my seat in years.
You can imagine my delight, therefore, when I found myself jumping and actually being SCARED while watching Paranormal Activity. A very simple, well-made horror movie that works because it leaves so much to your imagination. Instead of throwing a barrage of gruesome CGI imagery at you, the movie creates a truly creepy atmosphere through sound, the occasional inanimate object moving and, most of all, the effective performances of the cast.
While the acting has a touch of the histrionic theatricality that most Hollywood performers display these days (something which Blair Witch avoided completely), the sense of fear and heartache is completely believable. Katie Featherston's terror is tangible and later, when frustration, anger and guilt join the cocktail of emotions, her final emotional breakdown (which is only briefly shown) is heart-breaking. This then makes her suddenly calm and tranquil demeanor toward the end all the more bizarre and unsettling. And Micah Sloat's alpha male smugness in the face of this unseen intruder is perfectly juxtaposed with his fleeting moments of real fear.
I like the fact that Micah never believes that they are truly in danger. I also think it's somewhat touching that no matter how angry or frustrated he gets with Katie, he is still ready to bolt to her rescue every time she calls to him. He truly loves and cares about her, which makes the conclusion of the movie all the more tragic. I should mention that Katie Fetherston should go down in horror history as one of the all-time best cinematic screamers! There is only one thing about the movie that I can really criticize: no matter how bad things get, they continue to sleep with the lights off. Simply from a believability standpoint, I would think that by a certain point, they would be far too unnerved to sleep in the dark.
But, I admit, that's nit-picking. Paranormal Activity will go down as one of the scariest movies I've seen in a while. I highly recommend it for horror fans who truly want to be scared and are willing to let their guard down and let the movie in.
Survival of the Dead (2009)
Not bad, not good, not really much of anything
I was one of LAND OF THE DEAD's biggest fans. I was thrilled that George Romero had a new entry in the "Dead" series and even more so that he had a major studio releasing it worldwide. The movie lacked the out-of-the-mainstream edge and effortless wit of the previous movies, but it was still refreshing to see a horror movie with subtext and satire rather than just a brainless gorefest.
Unfortunately, Romero's new notoriety gave him the means to restart the "Dead" series and he unleashed the intelligent but mind-numbingly boring DIARY OF THE DEAD. He made some good points and got decent performances from his cast, but the movie made the heavy-handedness of LAND OF THE DEAD seem laid back. If DAY OF THE DEAD was a little on the talky side, then DIARY OF THE DEAD was shamelessly preachy.
With his latest entry in the "new Dead" series, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, he improves a little bit on DIARY, if only because SURVIVAL zips along at such a fast pace it never really has the chance to become boring. But the relentless pontification of the characters and the use of the zombie plague as nothing more than a backdrop for a sociological study weigh the movie down and keep it from really taking off.
Other than some embarrassing CGI gore effects toward the beginning, there is little in SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD that is flat out awful. As always with Romero's "Dead" movies, it's intelligent, topical and compelling. Unfortunately, it lacks wit, charm and humanity. The characters are pretty much two-dimensional caricatures about whom we don't care very much. In the first two movies, we got to know Ben, Barbara, the Coopers, Flyboy, Peter, Fran and Roger. We could relate to them as people; they were never just pawns with no purpose other than to move the story along.
And I think that's the problem Romero has been having lately. He is intent on filling his movies with satirical and political content but has lost the finesse (or the desire) he once had to weave it into the story. Instead of being a scary, thrilling or entertaining horror movie, it seems more like the self-righteous ranting of an angry old man. And that is more depressing than the classic finale of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.