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5/10
Great acting. Great sfx. Not a great script.
12 March 2019
Sadly, the fact that this had eight writers really shows. It's script is dull and predictable in places and just messy in others - feeling very much cobbled together. You can almost hear the producers bickering over what gets included. Way too many cooks in the kitchen here.

Worst of all it's missing a good character arc for the hero. One of my favorite elements in superhero movies is that spine tingling moment of self-belief or insight that enables them to finally reach their full powers and start kicking ass. These pinnacle moments really work when the character has believable self-doubt and the plot takes them logically to their full potential - think Neo in the first Matrix suddenly being able to 'see', or the moment in Thor Ragnarok where he realizes he doesn't need his hammer ("what were you the god of again?"), or Wonder Woman realizing she is the "God Killer", not the sword. Captain Marvel attempts to do something like this with the "always getting up" thing, but it just doesn't work. She's a badass from the opening moment and there's not really any believable or satisfying moment of insight for her that lets her overcome whatever was holding her back because, well, nothing was holding her back. Nothing satisfying at least. Her revelation just seems to happen randomly.

I was super hyped up for the first Marvel female-led superhero movie (though I still kind of think it should have gone to Black Widow in fairness). Especially after DC rocked it with Wonder Woman, my line of thinking was "if DC can do it that well after muffing up everything else, then maybe Marvel will totally blow us away". Not the case unfortunately.

On the positive side. Larson was great. The CGI de-aging of Fury and Coulson wasn't too distracting. And it had some funny moments. Also a touching Stan Lee opening animation and an after credits scene worth waiting around for.

Oh and it passed the Bechdel test too.. so at least that's progress.

I think the Russo brothers will really do great things with Captain Marvel in Endgame. Sadly, the smorgasbord of writers and directors here didn't.
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Thirst (III) (2015)
4/10
I see what they were going for, but they didn't pull it off
24 April 2017
Thirst started out kind of fun. By the 30 minute mark we had a nicely established cast of characters (if a little cookie cutter), in a plausible wilderness scenario and I was enjoying myself ready for them to get picked off one by one by the creature.

The creature itself was satisfying enough. The sfx, while not great, were passable, and the centaur/biomechanical alien design was unique. They showed it a bit too much imo, when they could have hidden some of the dodgier cgi moments with cleverer direction, but overall the beast was well done.

Unless I'm very much mistaken, the director and writer were going for a fun, 80s style horror in the vein of Tremors or The Blob remake. Props for that, because in these days of convoluted plots, a simple people vs monster story is always welcome.

However, after the first act, the film falls apart quickly. The characters become increasingly unlikeable as the movie progresses due to really dumb choices and forced bickering. The director makes the poor decision of killing off the most likable and interesting character first, and so the one guy who might have carried the movie is quickly lost.

Thirst also suffers from the same problem many indies face - ill fitting music. The score might be fine as a standalone composition but it really just doesn't fit with what's going on on screen. It's tension building when it should be exciting, exciting when it should be tension building, ominous when it should be sad... it's almost like the composer was flying blind and trying to score without actually seeing the film. This along with some lackluster directing really kills any sense of fun, atmosphere or excitement that the movie could have had. Shame, because I usually love these kinds of films. 4/10
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Life (I) (2017)
7/10
Flawed, but still entertaining and horrifying
10 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I went in to LIFE with zero expectations and ended up quite enjoying myself.

No, scratch that. "Enjoying" isn't really a term that can be applied to this movie (unless bleak and horrifying downer scenarios are your fetish), so let's say I was "entertained" instead.

It's your standard 'Alien'/'The Thing' scenario - small group of people stuck in an isolated location with an unpleasant lifeform - That's pretty much it. However, 'Life' doesn't come close to creating the atmosphere or tension of either Alien or The Thing. The reason for this is, I think, in the characters who weren't near as empathic or sympathetic as those in the aforementioned masterpieces. The big flaws here lie in some illogical character decisions and some phoned in acting.

Where Life does succeed, though, is in three areas: 1) It gives us a believable and horrific creature, that thanks to its early introduction scene makes you uneasy every time it appears on the screen. The sense of danger was very palpable and well handle. 'Calvin' had me squirming for sure.

2) Wonderful sfx, most notably an impressive single tracking shot that opens the movie.

3) And this is the big one for me - it dared to do something that even Alien and The Thing didn't do - to not have a happy or even ambiguously hopeful ending. For this I give it major props. If you're wondering if Life should be categorized as a sci fi or as a horror, by the time the credits roll, it's firmly, unequivocally horror.

I'd recommend it to all sci fi horror fans - If you liked Event Horizon, Pandorum, The Blob, Europa Report, Infini, Leviathan, deep Star Six, Deep Rising, Titan Find, Splinter, Sunshine etc. then you're probably going to enjoy this. It's not Alien or The Thing, but fortunately it's not Harbinger Down or Supernova either.
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Ghostbusters (2016)
7/10
Messy and imperfect, but still lots of fun and very respectful to the original
16 July 2016
To set the context for this review, I came at this movie as a middle aged guy who grew up loving the original and I don't care one bit about the "all-girl" reimagining. I wasn't impressed by the trailer much and I was worried it would be unfunny since nothing on the trailer made me crack a grin. All I went in hoping for was an entertaining movie, and that's exactly what I got.

What surprised me was that I also got more than bargained for. I was pleasantly surprised me with how respectful of the original it turned out to be - even having the courage to open with the original Ray Parker soundtrack instead of the modernized 'Madeon' sounding one on the trailer. It's got to be a really tricky task to navigate a route between a brand new story and a classic old one, but they pulled it off nicely, giving plenty of amusing nods and homages to the source material while still managing to tread fresh ground.

Another nice surprise was that the trailer hadn't shown all the cards, which is unusual for an A-list film these days. The villain and his nefarious plot wasn't shown on the trailers, and the role of Chris Hemsworth was hugely downplayed (he actually has a much bigger part in the movie than the trailers suggest).

Although I was surprised by the anti-female backlash directed at the trailer, I was initially offended that the only black member of the cast appeared to have been once again relegated to the non-smart, non- scientist role. But while the character isn't a scientist, she is played as the smartest of the group - passionate about New York history and the one that puts most of the mystery pieces together, which was nice.

Hemsworth steals the show really, he's clearly enjoying making a fool of himself and you'd have to be in a pretty bad mood as a viewer not to let that enjoyment infect you a little. He hams it up with glee and that's enjoyable to watch.

As for the supposed "feminist agenda", I really didn't see it. There's a little material that seems to have been added maybe as an afterthought, poking fun at the youtube commenters, and there's a couple of jokes which I guess could be construed as "feminist- agenda" if you were really desperately stretching - a line about how "safety lights are for dudes" for example, or a moment where they shoot the evil ghost in his twig and berries, but you seriously have to be stretching to think this an anti male movie.

I've seen some reviews on here about how it was unfunny and cinema audiences being "in silence". All I can say to that is the auditorium I was in was only half full and there was plenty of laughter. A few of the jokes were misses for me, but there were enough that made me laugh aloud to let the weaker ones slide.

Probably the only big downfall for me was the messiness of the script which seemed to lack a second act. It feels a bit like it jumps from the intro act to the climax without much of a build in the middle. I'm not sure if it was a product of the writing or the editing, but it's not much of an issue since, let's be honest, we're not expecting an Oscar winning script from a Ghostbusters movie anyway.

In summary, it's fun, it's entertaining, it's good natured, and it's respectful of the original. It's not feminist, it's not unfunny, and it's not perfect.
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Zoolander 2 (2016)
6/10
Not as far below the first one as some of these reviews would have you think
21 February 2016
After reading the pretty horrific user reviews for this, the wife and I almost went to see Deadpool again instead. At the last second we changed our minds and decided to see something we hadn't seen yet, so we gave it a chance.

It's not as funny or as charming as the first one, let's get that aside right away, but then again what sequel is?

From the reviews, I was expecting this to be like Anchorman II, which I found to be a lame derivative rehash of the first and an extreme disappointment full of falling flat jokes and desperate attempts to cash in on popular moments of the original.

Zoolander II certainly has it's fair share of jokes that fall flat and derivations from the first movie, but it also has a fresh storyline and at least a few chuckle out loud moments. You won't be quoting it for years the way you did with the first, but it's definitely not a total failure. To be honest it was a fairly entertaining and fun couple of hours and we enjoyed it.
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7/10
Really fun late 80's adventure horror - just three decades too late.
15 May 2015
As I look through the IMDb scores for Extraterrestrial, I have a theory that the lower ones are coming from children of the 90's and aughts - those who have grown up to expect a particular bleak atmosphere from alien abduction movies such as that set by efforts like 'Dark Skies' or 'The Fourth Kind'.

I suspect the reviews giving it the higher scores are from kids who grew up in (or are just fans of) the older school 'adventure' horrors that became popular in the late 80's. Movies like The Lost Boys, Waxwork, Evil Dead 2, Night of the Creeps, Return of the Living Dead 2, Creepozoids, The Blob remake etc. - you know the ilk, movies whose subject matters varied wildly yet they always had the same sort of vibe - a fast-paced, popcorn-entertainment 'adventure' feeling.

That, I feel, is what the Vicious Brothers were purposefully going for in Extraterrestrial. Although they mixed in a generous dollop of the 90's cabin in the woods type characters and the 2000's abduction movie clichés, it's the late 80's vibe that rings clear throughout. If Extraterrestrial had been made 25-30 years ago, it would likely have starred the Two Corey's, or perhaps Zach Galligan and Brinke Stephens. The cop would have been Tom Atkins or Lance Henriksen; and the crazy Michael Ironside character would have been Dick Miller... or perhaps Michael Ironside, come to think of it.

Bottom line is, Extraterrestrial clearly has a primary intent of being fun rather than scary. There's a few creepy moments - most memorably the skeletal body of a dead alien vanishing into the murky waters of a swimming pool - and a few more serious turns towards the end, but overall, it's more of an adventure/survival flick than a psychological/terror flick. If we still had drive-ins, it would be playing in them right now to crowds of frisky teens instead of on Netflix.

Check your expectations before you turn it on. You're not going to get scared, or grossed out, or made to think too hard, or put on the edge of your seat with tension... but if willing, you are going to have a lot of fun. 7/10.
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Animal (I) (2014)
6/10
Not too shabby old-school creature feature, far better than anything SyFy puts out.
11 May 2015
I found this on Netflix, saw it's low IMDb score (4.6 at time of this review) and thought I was going to be in for a SyFY channel phoned-in, cash-cow effort, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The plot is ramrod straight - five friends venture into the woods and find themselves terrorized by a man-(and woman) eating monster. They eventually hole up with three other survivors in an abandoned house and spend the rest of the movie there attempting various occasionally fatally ill-conceived survival and escape strategies.

The film has the expected tone of all woods survival horrors, throughout I was variously reminded of Evil Dead, Signs, The Descent, Demon Knight, and a lot of the old school animal attack features like Razorback, Alligator, The Edge, Rogue, Lake Placid and Grizzly.

The characters are more interesting than the usual stock group of victims. While they start out clichéd, the script allows them to develop and have a few unexpected moments of humanity and development. You don't care for them as much as you care for, say, the boat crew in Jaws, but you do care for them a little, which is much more than I can say for 99% of creature features out there. They make all the stupid mistakes of course (poor scripting), but the fact that I was saying "that was stupid, why wouldn't they just ..." at least shows I was engaged enough to not check out.

The most refreshing thing was the man-in-a-suit/animatronic monster. I love love love that the filmmakers went this route. They would have never had the budget for a convincing CGI creature and for most of the movie they keep their rubber monster suitably concealed in foliage and shadow that it's quite convincing and scary enough to be fun.

In conclusion, it's flawed, in some places greatly so, but you can see it was trying hard to be a decent horror film instead of a thoughtless straight-to-video flick. The monsters are alright, the cast is alright, the script could be better but at least characters die who you aren't expecting to die. It definitely deserves more than it's current low IMDb score. If you like monster movies at all, you won't be wasting your time with it. 6/10.
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Escape (2012)
6/10
Solid as a rock, but too simple and predictable to be great
23 October 2014
I'm not sure I've seen a film as satisfyingly simple as 'Flukt' in years.

The year is 1363. The place is Norway, recently decimated by the bubonic plague. A young girl's family is murdered by a group of roving bandits and the girls is taken hostage. With the help of another young girl within the group of bandits, she escapes and the two girls flee across breathtakingly beautiful Norwegian landscapes with the bandits in close pursuit. This, in a nutshell, is the entire movie.

I'm a fan of simple films. I think the present day trend to blend too many subplots leads to 3 hour, convoluted, bloated stinkers (The Dark Knight and Pirates of the Caribbean, I'm looking at you...) but in some ways 'Flukt' was too simple for its own good. I was invested in the wellbeing of the two girls but I never really felt a sense of danger or surprise because the plot played it so safe and trod such predictable ground. You know this is going to turn out okay and even the ways in which the antagonists are dispatched are unfortunately over-telegraphed.

I would have loved to have seen a bit more of an edgy approach to the plot, a few twists and turns that weren't so obvious. But still, it's beautifully shot, beautifully acted, and exciting enough to keep your attention. Also clocking in at only 78 minutes, it's so short that even if you dislike it, you won't feel like you wasted any time.
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6/10
Fairly accurate (and hence sometimes dull) true-life serial killer story
14 October 2014
The Frozen Ground exists somewhere between an accurate crime procedural documentary and a thrilling Hollywood serial killer flick. It's not quite accurate enough to be taken as a straight retelling of Robert Hansens' diabolical killing spree in 1970s/80s Anchorage; but it's also not quite exciting enough to satisfy viewers who are looking for a faster paced thrill ride. It's quite a brave line to tread really, and although the end-result is a little slow and occasionally dull, it's still intriguing and tense enough to be worth the time. It put me in mind of other slow-burn thrillers such as One Hour Photo and Insomnia. If you liked those, you'll probably like this.

Cage is surprisingly subdued in his role, and it's really nice to see that he can still play a character with softer edges. Cusack is exceptional as Hansen - channeling a subtle menace masked beneath a small-town nice-guy persona. This is far from the Hannibal Lecter or Ted Bundy style psychopath that mainstream thrillers typically portray. Cusack's psychopath is fragile, introverted, human and deeply damaged and although I've never met a psychopath in real life (to the best of my knowledge) this portrayal seems more like what I would expect a real killer to be like.

Rounding out the triad is Vanessa Hudgens as a troubled 18 year old prostitute. Again, this portrayal is very realistic. There's a subtle troubled humanity there and nary a heart of gold in sight.

Because of its concessions to the real events (Hansen was captured and imprisoned, not taken out in a heroic, time-sensitive chase/rescue scene), The Frozen Ground can seem dull and uninspired at times, but if you haven't yet heard the story of Hansen's crimes it's quite an engaging introduction to them.
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The Machine (I) (2013)
7/10
Beautiful acting and cinematography makes up for a weak plot
7 October 2014
You should see The Machine if only for Caity Lotz. I understand she's known for the TV series Arrow, but I've never seen that. I first saw her in 'The Pact' and was intrigued by how grounded and three dimensional a character she managed to create out of fairly average scripted one. In The Machine, she's an absolute revelation, so beautifully machinelike and tragically human at the same time. This is an actress to keep our eyes on, with acting chops like this she's gonna be huge someday.

I like to draw comparisons between movies whenever I can so that readers here have a better sense of what I might like and whether my opinion will be relevant to their tastes. The analogy I would draw here is that 'The Machine' is to 'Blade Runner' what 'Equilibrium' was to 'The Matrix'.

To elaborate - Equilibrium was a somewhat flawed, low-budget carbon-copy of The Matrix yet it was still enjoyable and valid in its own right because of some fine acting, beautiful cinematography, and a few pretty cool action moments. The Machine is in a similar position when compared to Blade Runner. It explores a very similar theme - the line between human and fabricant - and employs a very similar feel with it's bleak, placid tone, haunting synthesizer score, and impressive art direction. It's obviously not as good as Blade Runner - barely any film is - but it is thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.

The weakest part of the work is the final act, which devolves into a generic low-budget action scene. Caity Lotz is a complete badass to watch and I love my action scenes - but after such a gently paced and thoughtful first two acts, the third seems out of place and forced here. I kind of wish they'd gone for drama instead and maintained the slow-burn nature through to the end - just as Blade Runner did.

Regardless, the weak third act of The Machine isn't enough to topple the outstanding foundation of intriguing concepts and stunning visuals that came before it. This is a film that will find its way onto my sci-fi shelf for sure.
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The Colony (I) (2013)
6/10
1980s post-apocalyptic actioner masquerading as modern sci-fi
6 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
If an old 1980s post-apocalyptic B-movie such as Mad Max 2 or Cyborg were to be put in some sort of stasis (or what we 80s kids called 'Suspended Animation') and revived in the modern era, The Colony would be the result.

The premise is mind-numbingly simple - the world has entered a new ice age and the straggling survivors live in small groups huddled in underground facilities. When one group loses contact with their neighboring colony, a small group of men take off across the frozen wilderness to investigate. They find the other colony has been decimated by a pack of rabid, sharp teethed cannibals. Cue big chase back across the wilderness and then an assault by the cannibals on our protagonists' colony. Oh gosh, will they survive? That's about it.

As a child of the 80s enjoyed this movie. It was simple, unpretentious and fun in a nostalgic kind of way. Done a hundred times before, yes. Borrowing liberally from other movies, absolutely. Tight, intelligent script - hah you gotta be kidding. But a waste of time, no way. The last time I recall a director aiming for this kind of pre-2000s simplicity was Neil Marshall's 2008 Mad Max homage 'Doomsday', which I kind of liked, but I liked The Colony more.

I'm not gonna gush too much - there are plenty of negatives to sink ones teeth into. The director was clearly aiming for a Danny Boyle (Sunshine/28 Days Later) feel but lacks the chops to pull it off and the whole thing does come across a bit like a poor mans imitation. Fishburne is woefully underused and his character could have been played by any actor dragged off the street. Paxton is fine but typecast into his usual antagonist-in-the-midst-of-the-good-guys role. The lead vampire/zombie/cannibal guy is menacing enough but hugely derivative, looking like he fell straight out of Thirty Days of Night.

The simplicity and brain-off vibe satisfied me enough to give it a solid 6, I'd watch it again too, come a night when the wife is out and the beer is in my hand. But I fear that if you didn't grow up with this kind of movie - say you're a child of the early millennium who expects his action movies served up with a big old dollop of convolution, needless subplots and moral ambiguity - then you're not going to enjoy this at all.
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The Signal (2014)
5/10
Intriguingly creepy beginning. Silly middle. Disappointing end.
5 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Remember when you were watching "Lost" on TV ten years ago (yep it was ten years ago) and you adored the first, and maybe the second, seasons but then partway through the series you started to get the uncomfortable feeling that this wasn't going to be an intelligent, coherently thought-out story at all. That the writers were just making up new questions and cliffhangers as they went along with no intention of answering them in a satisfying or even intelligible way?

The Signal is very much like a condensed version of "Lost" in this respect. It begins slowly, showing great potential for developing intriguing and likable characters. It builds masterfully, layering increasingly creepy and atmospheric events one on top of the other. The average viewer swallows it down readily, reveling in the creepiness, delighted to be taken on an apparently intelligent and thoughtful excursion into sci-fi horror.

Then about 60 minutes in, you start having little conversations with yourself along the lines of "This better have a good explanation at the end". About 75 minutes in and you're starting to get that same sinking feeling you had during "Lost" where you realize it's not going to have a good explanation at all but you're now too invested to just turn it off. You have to continue to the end out just to see how badly you've been conned.

The answer is, pretty badly. By the time The Signal actually takes on its own plot shape (instead of just being a build of odd events) it turns out to be a derivative and nonsensical disappointment with the motivations of the antagonists never explained in any meaningful way. Worse still, there are scripted physics upsets that push far beyond the boundaries of belief and that would elicit a "come on, really!" even from a hardcore anime fan. An example is the alien fists that can pulverize the earth Incredible Hulk style, but with no thought to the fact that the very human shoulder above them would be destroyed long before the ground would, not to mention the fact that any such force comes from waist, shoulder and torso, not fist, for example...

Ultimately The Signal is a big dupe, a tease - pulling you in with a promise of original and intelligent sci-fi but proving to be little more than an exercise in stringing the viewer along sans payoff. If you are one of the rare individuals who can enjoy a movie purely for a journey with no destination, or for the aesthetics and cinematography alone, then you might enjoy it and certainly won't feel like your time was wasted. But if you're the type of person who likes setups paid off, questions answered, motivations explained, even to a tiny degree, then you'll likely be upset by the time the credits roll.
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Contracted (2013)
1/10
The film falls apart faster than its protagonist
15 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I don't even know where to start on this one except to tell you to take a look at writer/director Eric England's information before you think about watching it. He was born in 1988 which puts him somewhere around 24 or 25 when the movie was made.

That someone so young is writing and directing feature length films is somewhat admirable I suppose, or it would be if the end result wasn't so incredibly naive and so factually inaccurate as to almost be comedic.

If you can get past the idea that a doctor would see a patient who has black infection lines running across their abdomen and who tells him they just bled "a lot" from their vagina, yet not strongly suggest they go to the hospital then you might like this film.

If you can suspend that disbelief for a second visit in which her eyes have bled and her hair and teeth have fallen out and even then the doctor doesn't admit her let alone contact a hemorrhagic disease specialist but instead says "it seems to be sexually transmitted", then you might like this film.

Beyond the worst doctor in motion picture history, the patient herself makes the most bizarre and incomprehensible decisions about her deteriorating condition. If you were trying to hide a one-night stand from a partner because you had a slight rash, maybe... but if you woke in a pool of blood on your bathroom floor, would you not perhaps suck it up and oh, I don't know, GO TO THE ER MAYBE? If I was cutting some slack I would put the characters stupidity down to the disease affecting her mind, but it's way too clear what's going on here - a young, healthy person is trying to write a script about body horror and clearly has no clue what it feels like to make a bathroom discovery such as a lump in the groin. Write what you know, Eric England, golden rule bar none.

The juvenile world view doesn't only break through in the portrayal of the sick protagonist or the misunderstood medical industry, but also rings clear in every other aspect of the screenplay. The character's relationships and arguments are like those of high school teens, oh god the dialogue is excruciatingly awful, and the lesbian relationship portrayed is an embarrassment to the entire LGBT community.

All of this, ALL of it, I would forgive if the film had a modicum of plot advancement or even perhaps an intriguing concept as to what the sickness was or where it came from but absolutely none is offered and as the credit screen hits after the last scene, I can't imagine one person in the viewing audience wouldn't be sitting there saying "What the hell? That's it?"

Look through my reviews. I've been on IMDb a long, long time and I very rarely feel strongly enough about a movie to give it a score of 1. There are virtually no films in existence that make me feel like every moment was a wasted one, but 'Contracted' did. Inconceivably bad. Embarrassingly bad. 1 out of 10 only because the scores can't go lower.
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Crawlspace (2012)
8/10
Great old-school sci fi horror entertainment
8 August 2014
IMDb truly baffles me sometimes. The score for Crawlspace stands at 4.8 at the time of writing which is ridiculously low for such a competent, not to mention fun, piece of film making.

Premise - a military team is sent in to an underground complex ("Australia's version of Area 51" one character notes) with the mission of eliminating a group of escaped prisoners and saving the scientists. Of course it all goes wrong, and that's about all you need to know.

No, actually what you need to know is that this hangs together way better than 90% of the other Aliens derived plots out there. The similarities to Aliens are evident at every turn, from the way the military team interacts with one another (much like James Cameron's colonial marines), to the motion trackers and a lead protagonist who bears more than an uncanny resemblance to Michael Biehn. Sure it rips of Aliens, but it rips it off well and if like me you've been waiting for over 25 years for a film that had that Aliens vibe going for it then you will love this.

There's another layer to Crawlspace too though - a pretty intriguing psychological mystery plot woven through that hides just enough answers to keep your interest. But, like all good old school movies, it doesn't try to get too clever and the end is obvious but deeply entertaining including a couple of kiss-off lines that I said right along with the actors and then grinned my head off.

I dunno, I suppose kids these days want something different from movies than we did in my generation. When I go into a sci fi horror movie about soldiers vs underground monsters, all I really want is some gore, some action, and some entertainment and Crawlspace delivered on all accounts.

4.8 - no way. This is a solid 6. But I'm giving it an 8 just to counterbalance some of the insanity.
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Almost Human (2013)
4/10
Could have been okay if the director hadn't attempted to write it himself.
28 June 2014
I hate to rag on indies that are clearly made by genre fans with far more passion and good intentions than the soulless fare that the mainstream studios churn out, but Joe Begos needs to take a long hard look in a mirror and realize that he is not a good writer and whatever his next venture may be, he should stick to directing only. The direction here was adequate but the script was horrible.

I'm not being highbrow when I say that either, in a movie about a returned alien abductee going on a killing spree, I'm not looking for subtext or nuance or theme. If I want that stuff I'll hit the dramas. But, and this is important, I am looking for a script that doesn't feel like a cobbled together bunch of scenes from far better movies. You want to rip off ideas from The Hidden, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, Fire in The Sky etc.? That's cool, but for heaven's sake at least attempt to put your own fingerprints on it otherwise all you succeed in doing is making me wish I was watching any one of the other movies instead.

On top of the derivative nature of the whole thing, the writing fails in many other aspects too. The dialogue is often cringe worthy and I honestly believe that the reviews that say this movie had bad acting are actually mistaking bad acting for reasonable actors doing the best they can with atrocious lines.

The director may have been going for an 80s throwback vibe but he fails in that aspect too. Aside from the excellent retro poster, nothing about this felt old school. It lacks all the charm and cheese (and character development) of 80s horror and the direction style certainly isn't throwback either. If you want to see a contemporary movie that truly looks and feels like it came from a previous era, watch Ti West's 'House of the Devil' instead.

Still, I made it through to the end without turning it off, which is something since I have adhd pretty bad. The story was entertaining enough to just hold my attention through the mercifully short 80 minutes or so and I'd recommend it to non-demanding indie horror fans looking for something to fill up an evening but not expecting a gem.

Joe Begos, if you happen to read this review, focus on directing my friend - you've got some chops in that and they could blossom - but part of the job of any good director is to realize when he needs to put the pen aside and work with a talented writer instead.
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Jug Face (2013)
6/10
Flannery O'Connor meets Lovecraft in this southern Gothic horror fairytale
21 June 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Straight up I'll say that Jug Face is definitely one of the more worthwhile horrors available on Netflix instant right now. Although it's ultra low budget, it's impeccably acted (including a surprising turn up of Sean Young whom I haven't seen in years) and the story and directing maintain a delicious southern Gothic atmosphere throughout. It's short, clocking in at a nifty 81 minutes, but that's a good thing in this case because the story is a simple, character-driven morality tale that didn't need padding or embellishing with extra subplots.

The story centers on Ada (played brilliantly by Lauren Ashley Carter), who is a timid young woman living with a backwoods moonshine cult in some undisclosed region of Southern USA. The cult worship a small pit in the woods which apparently has the ability to heal them but which in return demands occasional sacrifices. Whatever old god or beast dwells in the pit briefly possesses one of the inhabitants of the group - the potter - and makes him shape a clay jug in the likeness of one of the group who is then unceremoniously bent over a tree stump beside the pit and has their throat slit. The blood apparently placates the pit... for a while...

When Ada finds a jug in her own likeness in the potters kiln, she understandably takes it and hides it in the woods to avoid her own sacrifice - mostly because she is with child. But this selfishness leads to a number of gruesome deaths as the beast in the pit punishes the followers for her act of selfishness.

It's pretty obvious where the story will go and how it will end, but surprises aren't the reason behind the southern Gothic style anyway. The strength in Jug Face lies in its simplicity, its creepiness, and the lingering question of whether it's right to save oneself even to the detriment of the larger populace. In spite of a few dodgy special effects and a story component involving a ghost boy whose presence seems purely to function as an info dump, I still very much enjoyed its backwoods flavor, sick characters and offbeat atmosphere. 6/10.
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6/10
Really fun little movie
15 June 2014
Warning: Spoilers
If you can stomach the usual weaknesses with independent horrors - directors, editors and actors that are still, shall we say, in the process of perfecting their art - then you should give this one a shot. It's a genuinely fun little ghost movie that I enjoyed far more than much of the mainstream ghost movies of recent years.

The movie begins a little rough, with a number of ghost movie clichés that led me to believe I was going to watch a yawn inducing tale of a guy who moves into a haunted house where the previous owner went crazy and killed his family, and I expected the protagonist would be possessed (a la Amityville Horror) and gradually get crazier until he killed his girlfriend and that would be that.

But after the first half hour, the girlfriend (quite wisely) leaves and doesn't come back. The movie continues as a man vs ghost tale that really has a lot of fun moments. The film makers ingeniously skirted their lack of budget by actually making the ghost be a guy in a sheet. As crazy as this sounds they actually manage to pull off some scary moments with the gimmick.

As independents go, this is definitely one of the better ones, perhaps more because of its fun and heart than its movie-making prowess, but fun and heart can make for a good couple hours. 6/10.
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6/10
Not great, but pleasant, light, and will leave you feeling a little inspired
9 June 2014
I must admit I was hoping for a bit more from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The trailers made it out to be one of those potentially life-changing drama/comedies that can leave you on a real high when they hit the mark (I'm thinking Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Good Will Hunting, Up in the Air etc.).

TSLOWM comes close, but doesn't quite make it. It's more like, let's say, The Truman Show or Miss Pettigrew lives for a day, in that it's a perfectly good way to kill two hours but it might also frustrate you because it could have been much better with just a little tweaking. Mitty's character arc, from daydreamer to life-liver isn't as clever or as subtle as it could have been. His moments of realization aren't quite as high on the emotional scale as they should be. Also the romance between Stiller and Wiig could have been a lot more exciting, it seemed as if they were always going to get together without question - there was very little anticipation or sexual tension involved.

Gripes aside, it's a beautiful looking movie, full of scenic landscapes and nice transitions. And it's got a good heart and a sensible core message, so unless you're a pessimist of the highest order it should at least leave you feeling a little happier and more inspired than before you watched it.
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Godzilla (2014)
3/10
A string of ridiculous coincidences derails all the fun.
18 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Godzilla had two things going for it, the special effects were nice, and Bryan Cranston. Unfortunately Cranston's character is killed off after about fifteen minutes and the pretty visuals just aren't enough to hold the rest of the movie together. The writing is the true villain here, the concept itself is somewhat flawed, with Godzilla basically being an jerk who seems hellbent on stopping the Mutos from having babies no matter what with little to no reason; but it's the string of ridiculous coincidences that really puts the nail in the coffin, not the least of which is that the protagonist hilariously finds himself wherever Godzilla is no matter where he goes on the globe almost to the point of it being like a spoof.

Additional bad writing sees our intrepid hero as being a trained paratrooper, nuclear weapons specialist and wearing a variety of other lifetime-career hats too - pretty impressive for a twenty-something. At its most laughable moments the military play hide and seek with a skyscraper sized monster which, although it shakes the ground with the slightest fart, seemingly also has the capability to tiptoe around like a ballet dancer.

The finale, a fight between GZ and the two Mutos is a little bit of fun. But putting a cherry on top of a turd still doesn't make it pleasant eating. All in all, it was an improvement over Emmerich's terrible attempt at Godzilla, but it still sucked.
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Stitches (I) (2012)
6/10
Reminiscent of old school Peter Jackson
1 March 2014
If Peter Jackson had been from Ireland instead of New Zealand, Stitches is the movie he might have made first in place of Bad Taste. It's got the same dark humor, most of which falls flat but some of which hits the spot. There's the same gleeful gore, okay perhaps not quite as much as Bad Taste but close. The deaths are inventive and entertaining and the whole movie would have been improved by better editing, a better score and a bigger budget, just like Bad Taste.

The plot is basic slasher fare. Two parts Friday 13th part VI, One Part Nightmare on Elm Street, One part Stephen King's IT, but a dash of it's own originality thrown in as well. It's let down a little by some really odd pacing and editing choices that slow down the action where it should be building up. If you've seen enough low budget indies you'll probably know what I'm talking about, it's a fairly common amateur film problem.

Still, it's a damn good try and it's heart is in the right place. Regular folks will sit through this very bemused, or more likely turn it off after the first half hour, but horror aficionados will be at least entertained if not downright elated.
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Oblivion (I) (2013)
7/10
An entertaining and thought-provoking sci-fi drama, mis-marketed as an action movie.
6 September 2013
I truly enjoyed Oblivion. It's one of those increasingly rare sci-fi movies that takes the more courageous visual route of being "clean and polished" instead of the boring trend of gritty, blue-filtered futurescapes. It's post apocalyptic but it's gorgeous, the downed landmarks of the western world look like tourist attractions in the morning sunlight, the technologies and habitats look sparkling and well maintained. It's a very bright and airy movie visually and the cinematography is stunning throughout.

It's not only courageous in it's visual style either. The story is balls to the wall sci-fi, unhampered by human antagonists. We're talking alien minds, memory wipes, laser guns and combat drones. I won't go so far as to call the story original - in fact it seems quite derivative of several popular sci-fi films. There are shades of The Matrix Revolutions, Moon, Total Recall, The Island, Logans Run and others. But instead of throwing these homages together into a mashup that just makes you want to watch the original films instead, it blends them seamlessly and emerges as a solid and entertaining movie in its own right.

It's not perfect though. I have three gripes with it. First and foremost is that it was horribly mismarketed as a sci-fi actioner and it isn't. There are a couple of decent (but not outstanding) action set pieces but the majority of Oblivion is a moment-of-awakening drama and a love story, with thematic elements of what it means to be mortal and to die well running through it. Its going to disappoint the hell out of kids who go in looking for big bangs. This is much closer to 'Moon' in pace than something like 'Star Trek Into Darkness'.

My second gripe is that, as thought-provoking as it was, I can't help but think there are some hefty plot holes in there. I would have to watch it a few times over to pull them out clearly but my gut instinct tells me they are there. Most of them are explicable if you extrapolate far enough with your own imagination, but it would have been a stronger film if the concepts, plot elements and character motivations were more watertight.

Third gripe is a minor one, but significant enough for me - Morgan Freeman was massively underused. His character is a cardboard cutout cliché of a rebel leader and could have been so much more interesting and complex.

The gripes aren't enough to bring a good movie down though, and Oblivion is a really good movie. A grown up, engaging, speculative tale that's stunning to look at. It will take a place on my sci-fi DVD shelf.
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Barracuda (1978)
4/10
Hilariously bad conspiracy theory flick with not much Barracuda but plenty of 70s cheese
31 August 2013
I would love to hear the story behind how Barracuda got made. My guess is this: someone penned a land-based thriller entitled "The Lucifer Project" (which is the movies' subtitle) that was about a government conspiracy to control the populace through blood sugar manipulation. The film started pre-production, but someone said "hey, this movie called 'Jaws' was really successful three years ago and now I hear this new one called 'Piranha' is also going to do well. How about we change the title to 'Barracuda' and throw in a few scenes of hypoglycemic fish attacking divers to see if we can make more money".

The fish stuff really is that obvious of an afterthought.

If you attempt to watch Barracuda seriously, it's incredibly bad on many levels: cheesy acting, bizarre plot twists, a hilariously inept police force (complete with the fat comedy relief character) and an ending scene that strives hard for the bleakness that was so fashionable in the late 70s but only ends up being kind of funny instead.

But I will say this, if you're looking for a movie to put on with friends, maybe with a little drink, and run your own MST3K style commentary over the top, Barracuda is an absolute gem. My wife and I had a riot watching it. Unlike a lot of the intentionally bad SyFy channel movies (like Sharknado) that come across as manipulative attempts to draw crowds through corniness, Barracuda is an *actual* bad movie, not a manufactured one, and thus is much more charming and fun to experience.
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7/10
Supernatural love story, beautifully shot but a bit of a messy script
31 August 2013
A glance at the DVD cover and blurb of "Last Kind Words" would have anyone believing they were about to watch a sort of generic teen horror movie full of gore and jump scares but that's a long way from the truth. This is a slow-burn coming of age drama and a supernatural love story. It has a haunting, almost hypnotizing southern-Gothic sensibility that's really quite beautiful.

Eli, a 17 year old boy, finds himself moving with his abusive father and meek mother to the remote farmstead of family friend Waylon - played by the ever entertaining Brad Dourif - when the father loses his job. Eli ventures into the woods that surround the farm and meets a strange, alluring young girl called Amanda. As he begins to fall for Amanda he gradually uncovers a story of past tragic events on the farmstead and a rather sad haunting in the woods that goes all the way back to the days of the Underground Railroad.

The only real downfall of this otherwise beautiful movie is a script that's a little unsure of itself and ends up feeling a tad messy and confusing in parts. The pace might bore some - it really is a slow one - but personally I think it just added to the feels. I enjoyed it a lot and for an indie, it's a very strong piece of work.
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Centurion (2010)
6/10
Reasonably entertaining pseudo-historical actioner but don't expect big battles
31 August 2013
I still haven't figured out if I'm a fan of Neil Marshall. I love 'The Descent' and 'Dog Soldiers' to bits, but neither 'Doomsday' or 'Centurion' really hit the mark for me. Neither of them were *bad* but neither really got far above average either.

The first thing mention is that if you're looking for big battles involving hundreds of extras or thousands of CGI characters, look elsewhere. One might expect that a film specifically about the loss of the mythical Roman ninth legion to the warrior tribes of Scotland would involve some kind of grand scale clash, but there's no such thing offered here. Centurion is about a handful of survivors from the legion fleeing across the bleak highland mountains while group of vengeful Picts pursues them and picks them off one by one. At it's core it's very similar to a backwoods slasher type flick such as Wrong Turn or Deliverance.

It's an entertaining enough scenario though, and Michael Fassbender and Olga Kurylenko put in fine performances as the principle adversaries. The films moves along at a good old click and there's not much time to get bored.

There are two things that Centurion does in droves, though, that I personally don't enjoy. The first is the use of a 45 degree shutter angle during every action scene to give it that 'hyper kinetic' look that Spielberg introduced us to in Saving Private Ryan (where it worked) and Ridley Scott followed up with in Gladiator (where it barely worked). But Marshall, as talented as he is, is no Spielberg or Scott, and the hyper kinetics in Centurion yanked me out of the movie every time an action scene began. It's a big shame because otherwise the action was pretty well choreographed and satisfyingly violent.

The second thing I don't like (and there is NO movie where this technique works) is CGI bloodletting. Centurion strives to go one step further than, say, Braveheart in the brutality of its combat. Limbs and heads go flying left right and center. It's perhaps not quite as over the top as "Ironclad" but it's close. The dude in me likes this of course, but give me blood bags and prosthetics any day. The CGI blood and dismemberment of Centurion seemed simply unrealistic and distracting.

Despite these two pet peeves of mine, Centurion is still a silly, fun flick that unashamedly eschews historical accuracy in favor of good old action entertainment. It could have been much, much better though - with a bit of a screenplay polish and more careful directing choices - so I can't in good conscience give it much more than a 6/10.
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Stevie (2008 TV Movie)
3/10
Catherine McCormack does her best with an average script and terrible directing
31 August 2013
Catherine McCormack is a wonderful actress (I've been a fan of her ever since Braveheart) but even she couldn't pull this one up to par. She gives it the old college try though, and frankly her performance is about the only redeeming feature I can find in the movie.

McCormack and Molla play the adoptive parents of an eight year old girl called Isabel who quickly finds an 'imaginary' friend in her new home. The invisible presence goes by the name of Stevie and, as you guessed, isn't entirely imaginary. The screenplay is average at best, mostly circling around the tired old cliché of the mother trying to convince the husband that the house is haunted. There are very few effective scares and you can see the end coming a mile off.

Clichés in a ghost movie can be passable though and the script is really not the problem here. The movie has two much bigger weaknesses - the child actress and the directing.

I'm not going to dwell to much on the child's performance. A cursory glance at her IMDb page shows that this was her first (and only) movie so I'm guessing she was perhaps cast as a favor to a friend of the crew or something similar and doesn't deserve a battering from an armchair critic like me. Suffice it to say she's out of her depth here... by a long, long way.

What I will rip on, though, is the directing. Bryan Goeres - the guy at the helm - seems to be one of those people who just somehow ended up in the wrong job. The directing in Stevie isn't just boring and uninspired, it's also just... bad. There are tracking and framing errors here that I wouldn't even expect from one of my parent's flip phone vacation videos. It seems that Goeres isn't even aware of things like the rule of thirds. The camera sticks on uncomfortably amateurish perspectives that pulled me right out of the movie. To say it looks like a TV movie would be doing TV an injustice. Frankly, it kind of looked like rejected Mexican soap opera.

In conclusion, despite a brave effort from McCormack, Stevie was just too amateurish in many other important aspects to earn more than a 3/10 from me.
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