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Film with great promise switches too many gears
'At the Devil's Door' opens with an intriguing series of events reminiscent for this viewer of Clive Barker's 'Lord of Illusion'. In fact, as act one got underway, I was in the process of making a case for a potentially new favorite horror movie. The film begins with a girl of perhaps seventeen years of age (credited only as 'the girl') led to a small mobile home in the desert by her shifty looking boyfriend, to play some kind of occult game for a few hundred dollars cash. I found both the premise and execution to be effective from a horror movie creep factor perspective, and was anxious to see more.
The film continued to interest with the young female protagonist jamming out to decidedly eighties flavored music, which mistakenly led me to anticipate some sort of retro theme similar to that found in some of Ty West's work.
Unfortunately, act 2 quickly shifts the focus off the young girl and her deepening involvement with the occult to a pair of female characters whose lives are far removed from the original heroine's atmospheric descent into the unknown.
For a time after this shift in viewpoint the story follows Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno), who is a lonely immigrant real estate agent destined to stumble upon the events of early act 1 by easily inferred means.
Frankly, I was deeply into following the story of the teen girl(Ashley Rickards) and her terrifying journey, so much so that when the perspective shifts and we are introduce to the people in Leigh's life, I thought I was suddenly watching a different movie.
Throughout Leigh's section of the film the story does at times flashback to the teen girl's plot line, but by then most all the original atmosphere is dispersed.
I did not find Leigh's segment to be entertaining really, nor could I identify with her or her character's plight. What compounded this further for me was a third perspective shift in late act 2 to Leigh's sister, Vera (Naya Rivera) who actually becomes the film's main character from that point on. If Leigh was a difficult character for me to get into, Vera's is even more so and I cannot imagine why the writer/director chose to squander what atmosphere he had crafted early on in exchange for the confusing and disappointing perspective shifts of later acts.
Essentially, the story boils down to a supernatural birth and leads the viewer onto the much worn path of evil children and the parent who sets out to stop them at all costs, only to throw in a last minute, unsatisfying twist at the end.
For my tastes the plot of 'At the Devil's Door' wandered too much, became too many different stories too suddenly, and never really committed to one identity. And that's a shame as the film opened with some really great horror potential that demanded focus on one character's perspective and continual thickening of atmosphere. Even the tension the film does build just happens in too many places to ever rise to the level of terror.
A recommendation to horror fans, in my opinion, would lead only to their disappointment.
Beware, it will make you dizzy ... even nauseous.
It's a found footage slasher movie with an ending twist toward the most unlikely possibility, which, these days is actually expected. Thus the plot outsmarts itself. It's also a another "girl power" power trip film. Haven't we just about worn out that plot device?
This film will cause viewers to literally become ill. In many scenes the camera spins around the police video analysis room so quickly most viewers will either have to look away or get sick. But that's not all! Strange camera effects kick the film off with several minutes of paused video not unlike a video game where the player can stop world time and all movement. I nearly stopped watching 'Evidence' about five minutes in; it's a shame I failed to do that.
Character wise we've got an annoying British accented female with a camera (what found footage film doesn't have an annoying individual on a camera?), an annoying up-and-coming actress who from her first appearance is very obviously in love with herself, her whiny, annoying boyfriend, an annoying Russian dancer with thankfully just a few heavily accented lines, a grungy looking army wife who does little more than scowl (annoyingly), and a grumpy bus driver who ought to be able to kick some serial killer butt, but never does, of course. Oh yeah, there's an oriental teen who seemed like he could be comic relief but he dies right away.
Yes, I did attempt to make the above paragraph as annoying as possible to read in order to convey the spirit of the effect 'Evidence' will have on you.
What happens? Cops analyze found footage in hopes of solving a string of brutal murders in the Nevada desert. Most of the film involves the viewer watching this found footage from various victims' video recording devices which amounts to--when pieced together--a low budget slasher movie.
This is yet another movie where a group of stranded (fill in the blank) take shelter in a run down structure middle of nowhere and rather than even consider fighting back, cower together after the first murder. The way these "characters" were written to behave suggests some kind of horrifying supernatural thing on the loose. Instead of something cool like that, we end the film with ... frankly ... the stupidest possible solution to the watered down mystery posed by its so called plot.
Please, do yourself a favor and avoid this one. Otherwise, the only entertainment to be had (the camera spin will still make you sick), is to make fun of 'Evidence' by staging your own episode of Mystery Science Theater.
The Frankenstein Theory (2013)
Capable but predictable and run-of-the-mill found footage horror
The found footage horror genre continues to grow more and more titles, few of which stand out on their own merits or regenerate the fear and intensity of the first entries such as 'The Blair Witch'. Recent examples of more potent, original films in the same vein include the 'REC' series, 'The Bay', 'The Tunnel', 'Bigfoot the Lost Coast', etc.
While 'The Frankenstein Theory' never rises to or exceeds the horror coolness factor of the aforementioned titles, it does intrigue and make one think with its 'theory', and succeeds in that for a few moments it makes one wonder "what if?"
The small cast and their performances, for the most part, do not stand out but neither do their bleats of terror nor obnoxious stereotypes ever annoy as much as in some similar films. Standouts among them are Timothy V. Murphy who is imposing as always as the expedition's wilderness guide, and Heather Stephens who is quite easy on the eyes. In addition there's a brief performance by Leland White as a paranoid meth peddler, which I thought was quite convincing and hilarious.
As mentioned the premise is rather imaginative despite its presentation in found footage formula. Frankenstein is real expedition leader (Kris Lemche) tells us. A savage yet intelligent creature created by his ancestor, which he believes to be still running amok in the Canadian wilderness. Thus the purpose of the plot's expedition is to prove the monster's existence.
Based on what the expedition leader already suspects, a well armed team of private soldiers was called for to deal with the creature, but of course logic never prevails in these kinds of tales.
Once the expedition gets rolling, the film treats the viewer to some beautiful far northern scenery, mediocre acting, dialog and writing, and a precious few jump scares. The only character I really cared about was Karl. When his time was up, the order which the others' tickets were punched really didn't matter.
All in all, 'The Frankenstein Theory' is a decent waste of an hour and a half. One could easily do worse in seeking a movie to watch. The problem then really becomes that one could do much better. Had the ending not been plainly given away by a character three quarters of the way in, I perhaps could have rated the film higher.
This film isn't horrible, nor is it incapable or sub-par or spectacular in any form.
Knights of Badassdom (2013)
Lot's of fun for the right audience
Let's get something out of the way straight off. 'Knights of Badassdom' is a low budget film rife with culture references, music and humor targeted at a specific cross section of movie viewers. If you're one of 'them' or one of 'us' perhaps, you'll get this movie, appreciate it, and likely recommend it to certain friends.
Did you play Dungeons and Dragons way back in middle school in the eighties? Maybe you were a teen when you purchased the debut albums of several late 70's early 80's heavy metal bands? If so, this flick is for you.
Buyer bewares aside, for what it is, what it intends to be and what transpires from start to finish 'Knights of Badassdom' does not disappoint. It's likely true that given the premise, much more could have been accomplished with the script, the cast, the "message", etc. That's all well and good criteria for evaluating many films. This one however, is about simple fun.
Suffice it to say, there's grown men prancing around in armor, wearing fairy wings and discussing plus 3 maces. There's an ancient book of spells, summoned demons, and Summer Glau doing combat with them in a short skirt of tasses. To top it all off, the hero fights a demonic monstrosity with lyrics from a death metal song he composed. Sound cool? if so, watch it!
Excellent first two acts hint at potential for limitless horror coolness
... And then, act 3 sinks the ship. 'Dark House' is one of "those" horror films. If you're a die hard horror movie fan you know what I'm going on about. 'Dark House' is the kind of flick that gets all your horror juices flowing with sinister, intriguing plot, dark foreshadowing and characters you want to see solve the mystery and survive at the end. It's got a young male protagonist us guys can relate to whose shadowy past seems like it'd be cool to experience and get to the bottom of along with his "dark gift". There's a young female lead who meets the guy of her dreams only to realize there's much more to his past than she expected. And there's a well crafted mystery involving an inherited house that has somehow moved from its original location.
Tobin Bell comes in as a well acted, intimidating individual who issues a warning one cannot ignore. Essentially, by the end of the second act an amazing set up has been put into place and most horror fans will be popping popcorn in anticipation of the last thirty or so minutes till the credits roll.
Unfortunately, act three is where 'Dark House' makes its reveal. And, like so many other pieces of horror fiction with great potential for originality, the reveal foists upon the viewer such a worn plot device that at first one can hardly believe the film is actually going "there".
I personally wanted to praise this film, heck I did for the first two thirds. But, in the end 'Dark House' disappoints. All "logic" (as logical as horror films can be) is disposed of in exchange for a demand that we horror viewers put our mostly deep imaginations on screen saver mode and swallow the absolutely absurd conclusion.
Was the ruination of this film's ending a result of writer's block? Was it due to funding issues or a tight shooting schedule? We may never know. Overall, what a shame because 'Dark House' had amazing potential.
Watch at your risk. If you're a fan horror from the seventies on, the ending will disappoint you even though you'll enjoy most of the journey to reach it.
Not the Arnie flick you've come to expect ...
Despite Schwarzenegger's presence throughout, 'Sabotage' is among the worse films this viewer has seen. A veteran of Arnold's movies since 'Conan', I advise all of his fans--and fans of action movies in general- -to run from the movie poster. Escape it! Avoid this one, avoid 109 minutes of foul crud and days of lament after the credits roll.
"But" you say, "the governator stars in it! Can it really be that awful?" Yes, my fellow movie buffs, 'Sabotage' is that bad. Why? Well I'll elaborate. A thirteen year old seems to have written the script. Every other line (being generous here) contains a jest of bodily functions, human reproductive practices, or gory gallows humor. The dominating themes of the movie are cruelty, extreme violence, and glorification of police brutality.
Arnold stars as the commander of a DEA "special operations" strike team (whatever that is), the single positive note here being Schwarzenegger does wear his age well. Other than that, his delivery of terribly written lines lack any timing, synchronicity or emotion. We see the old Arnie trying to shine through in some of his expressions, but his usual animation and vitality never come through.
As for the DEA team Arnie leads, well, the movie asks you to care for them or at least find them interesting as the opening gives each team member a spiffy nickname that's really not. Although the team is composed of some fairly large name actors (Sam Worthington, Terence Howard, Mirelle Enos), each of them is foul mouthed, hyper violent, a drug addict, or all three. That the moviegoer is expected to view them as elite law enforcement officers is both a joke and an insult. These thugs with badges do nothing throughout the movie but kill, steal, double cross and party.
The plot, if such a convoluted mess can be so classified, is as disgusting as the senseless gore which permeates it. Schwarzenegger's family was slain (gorily) by drug cartel members and although this tidbit is central to the rest, it is simply mentioned and then brushed aside at the outset. Silence of the Lambs level gore is flung at the viewer raising the final theme that human life and friendship and integrity mean very, very little indeed.
Alright. So many of Arnold Schwarzenegger's movies have been about little more than killing lots of bad guys to a sci-fi or cop drama backdrop. However, in 'Sabotage' not only is Arnie the badguy but he is a willing leader of even badder guys. At one during the viewing point I was trying to tally up the deaths of innocent bystanders--there are lots of them--and the film seems to rejoice in stray bullets knocking off pedestrians.
Yes, there's a train wreck of sorts in 'Sabotage' which is about the only aspect of it that makes sense because the film is one giant derailment start to finish.
Dan O'Bannon we miss you ...
** I saw 'Prometheus' first June 2012 at a local 'Frank Theaters'. This review is based off my second viewing - of the Blue Ray release.
Ridley Scott's long anticipated return to the "Alien" universe, created by legendary (and then some) screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, is likely the most disjointed, illogical and poorly executed science fiction film ever created; it's a sloppy mess of dead-end plots and absurdly written characters sewn into a backdrop of unrivaled visual epiphany and flawlessly rendered spaceships.
Moments after act one begins on the heels of a visually immersive, intriguing prologue, the nonsensical slag that is all that will follow, hits pavement giddy feet running. Our heroes - scientists investigating a 35,000 year old cave painting of a distant star cluster - mention something about traveling "There, to find out." When the next scene fades in we're (sans explanation) aboard a spaceship watching an android, a higher functioning predecessor model of Ian Holm's 'Ash (from 'Alien'), fight the tedium of deep space solitude by learning dead languages, playing basketball while riding a bicycle and trimming his hair to resemble Peter O'Toole in 'Lawrence of Arabia'.
We learn android 'David' can read the dreams of crew members in hyper-sleep and experience human emotions. While I enjoyed the Asimovian flavor of David's introductory scenes, their illustration of his physical, emotional and adaptive capabilities as clearly superior to the advanced 'Ash' and 'Bishop' models of films set in the future of the universe, made no sense.
Get used to it! (things that make no sense) David wakes up the crew - largely staffed by characters we never really meet or even get to count present - and literally minutes after they shake off the hyper sleep lag with green slime meals aboard a clean, brightly lit, prettily rendered spaceship right out of Star Trek TNG, attend a corny briefing initiated by Guy Pearce (the hologram) and then descend into their target planet's atmosphere and find the spooky alien temple on the first pass.
Unlike the thickly atmospheric introductions to the instantly deep and likable crew of the 'Nostromo' and their sudden twist of fate, 'Prometheus' lighting quick brushes over a few of the crew members of its titular named spaceship with no more than a minimal smear of characterization. Who are these noisy, one dimensional stick figures, and why should we care? Not a one of them is endeared to us in the least, and the film does not care that we need (to care) in order for the whole sexy mess to mean something.
Without analysis of any kind - of the planet's surface or atmosphere, beyond a few one-liners shouted out on the way down - the anxious scientist romantic duo charge out into the alien environment after ruthless, robotic, severe and Barbie doll like 'Meredith Weyland-Vickers' (Charlize Theron) squashes the hopes they've traveled light years to realize - with a comical verbal beat down that we were supposed to take seriously.
Captain Idris Elba parked the ship a mile from the ruin so our heroes must speed to its entrance in tracked vehicles and roll cage enclosed ATVs - and later outrun a super sand storm in another scene. Oh, the drama. Once inside, the dank, eerie alien temple is easily mapped by the team's grumpy geologist and everyone finally takes off the egg shaped spacesuit helmets the prop department built after shopping at Radio Shack because (drum roll) the air is breathable. No worries about xeno bacteria or viruses or whatever. They find some dead aliens (no, not xenomorphs) but the team biologist would rather head back to the ship because they freak him out (yes, you read that correctly).
Black Goo (yes, really) ends up for no apparent motivation in the bubbly of boy wonder scientist who then - via his contaminated semen - impregnates 'Elizabeth Shaw' (Noomi) with a dolphin-octopus fetus but only after she explodes an alien head with too much voltage and reveals she's sterile. She cuts it out in a surgical pod which staples up her gut (no one notices the scar) and minutes later, she's running around the set again.
One dimensional crew and expedition members taunt one another into sex with an accordion, fry one of our heroes with a chrome plated flame thrower, battle a zombie caveman thing, die before we meet them, fall prey to an albino snake thing, get sprayed by acid blood across the kisser, and with smiles and jokes, commit suicide at the end.
The visuals are mostly unmatched. The spaceship interiors ridiculous; the crews sleep in tubes, why give them neo art deco quarters decorated with strange personal effects? Charlize Theron plays the villain like a junkyard dog grinding its teeth and there is no depth. There is no continuity. The script abruptly severs one plot line, throws us another, cuts off that one and jumps its tracks to go somewhere else. We see an Alien (ala 'Alien') on the wall of the spooky temple, but no one ever tells us why it is there. Our heroine's aborted dolphin-octopus thing evolves into a two ton face hugger, but why? Our eight foot tall blue complexioned gods crush our bones on sight, why? David the android O'Toole poisons our hero. Again, why? Where Dan O'Bannon's 1979 screenplay 'Alien' immersed us in a suffocating claustrophobic environment populated by interesting, endearing and memorable characters and then blew our minds with mist shrouded eggs, face hugging arachnids, a chest bursting alien birth and a truly demonic new monster (with loving respect to H.R.Geiger), Prometheus does none of these things yet so poorly imitates all of them that its effort comes across as blatantly shameful and feels (to die-hard fans of O'Bannon's fictional universe), like a speeding bullet of heresy.
You're Next (2011)
Croc Dundee's daughter repels home invasion ...
I have gone into many slasher films over three decades and more dumbfounded repeatedly by victim(s) written without even a basic ability to fight back against the masked men running amok with machete and hunting knife. A hard coded rule of the slasher film adhered to by numerous outings: the more a protagonist fights back, the worse he or she suffers until their eventual death. Thus my interest in a slasher feature billed as one where the least likely victim not only fights back, but wins.
Another recent film in the genre failed its promise to deliver the same ('No One Lives').
Speaking to character, a writer must walk a fine line to deliver a protagonist from victimized to bloodied victory without painting her as more vicious than the killer(s). Normally this is done in sequences best described as trials by or under fire through the survival of which the heroine grows her courage and combat skills. It is a primal story theme powerful as it is poignant in its ability to connect an audience with the character, and develop her in a maelstrom before their very eyes.
In 'You're Next' the heroine Erin (Sharni Vinson) comes prepackaged a bad-ass, despite her portrayal as a meek tag along until her instant transformation when the killing starts. Erin is the sole strong character among ten others, so mentally and physically more competent than everyone else, she alone knows how to drive a nail through wood or kick a man in that place.
There is no gradual turnover in Erin, nor does she begin weak and grow stronger through negotiation of the increasingly difficult problems she faces as a small band of masked killers slaughter their way through her boyfriend's sizable family. She instantly becomes a ninety pound engine of destruction which only revs higher the longer she is threatened. I much prefer a character who must dig deep into inner strength she was unaware she had in the first place.
Regarding the rest, the premise of the film has potential for high entertainment value but its makers squandered it in their painfully obvious by the numbers execution likely a consequence of bad writing and directing.
The screenplay fails to flesh out the other nine characters who are not Erin which is a shame as it does briefly ignite friction between two of three brothers in an argument at family dinner. Here must be drawn a comparison between slasher films of the seventies and eighties and the lot currently trending.
The ensemble slasher movie is three decades old and more, surely then a concept rife with examples from which to draw buckets of fresh blood. Where genre films of that bygone era often painted skillfully interesting depth even into characters killed within minutes of their opening acts, pictures such as 'You're Next' shape most of their supporting cast as cardboard cutouts lacking the ability to think or act at the slightest sign of trouble. In the case of the film in question: "Who are the members of this zany wooden family, and why should we care if they die?"
This film comes packing a couple of twists although they are divergent from the light in which its masked killers are first painted and the wooden, lifeless responses of family members to the deaths of their loved ones telegraph plainly what the reveals will be, that or forces you to believe the acting and writing are worse than you imagined believable.
The masked killers themselves are uninteresting and of the variety you've seen many times before, slasher fan or not. They wear bright white animal faces and black tactical gear. Do they want to blend into the night, or not? They carry the most unwieldy of mêlée weapons and use crossbows despite the remote location of their targets. And they paint blood graffiti on the walls of their victims' homes hinting at their sadistic nature, yet the death of one of their own proves them just as emotionally human as anyone else.
The rest is beat after beat of nonsensical supporting character behavior and senseless repetition. The bad guys kill the neighbors two minutes into act one yet the script returns us two more times to their house where a highly annoying song is playing on repeat, you've been warned. A killer peers over a window sill, sees a trap laid there by our heroine, and then steps on it anyway. A victim runs slow motion into a metal wire hung at Adam's apple height. What if her much taller brother had come out first? The heroine rigs a lethal trap at the front door, but the bad guys keep using the window beside it to get in. Long after a killer slays someone inside an upstairs bedroom, another character says "I think it's safe to assume one of them is inside." Much in the same vein follows.
Viewer response thus far to 'You're Next' has astonished me. That or there's hidden quality I am missing in films such as this.
This is an ensemble home invasion slasher film. It's often funny - at the writer's expense - and although it promises to break genre standards, offers up implausibility on high in its heroine's back story as the child of survivalists. Its greatest mistake: she is more psychopathic than the killers themselves who look like they've escaped from the sets of other movies from a few years back. I suppose they grew tired of 'The Strangers' and then were 'Purge'(ed}.
Fans of supernatural horror need not enter - nor most horror movie buffs past their thirty-fifth year.
Minus nine for killers wearing animals masks, plus one for Ti West, minus one for his death, and plus none for the sequel to Crocodile Dundee starring his daughter ... the damsel who kicks ass.
Avoid this disjointed mess
This one was a free rental from Redbox, and that's the good news. The bad news? I endured somehow - cup of coffee cooling in hand - the entire running time.
Wesley Snipes stars in 'GalloW Walkers' and it is a movie brought to us by Lions Gate. Here end the positives.
To be ... benevolently objective, which is more than this thing deserves, my guess is the writer was aiming for some kind of old west anime in the vein of 'Vampire Hunter D' hybridized with any other you name it Japanese undead monster hunter story you could choose from the long list available.
What it all turned out to be - if it can be identified logically at all - was a blend of Clive Barker style fantasy flesh ripping violence pulled right out of Hellraiser, a new lousy take on the Blade character, and a plot so disjointed you need a fortune teller to hit you over the head for trying to connect dots that look like squares.
The plot continuity is so bad that at one point two characters who've already met act like they are meeting for the first time. Out of place imagery, scene jumps to characters we've no idea about shown to us in the context that we should already know them and understand their roles, and a character recounting his entire life story in one block of dialog are but a few of the gems that await you in 'Gallow Walkers'.
Bad guys the hero has already killed but who now look different appear on screen but wait, the movie forgot to first show them getting taken out. Ugh! Enough. This film is just not worth picking apart.
If you enjoy watching your films with your face frozen in a sneer of confusion, boredom, aggravation and tragic hilarity, then go ahead and view Snipes' entry into the whatever genre this movie is calling itself.
Sergio Leone showed us all we needed to know about the "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". Unfortunately for 'Gallow Walkers' it only gets uglier the longer you watch it.
Even if you really enjoy making fun of abominable examples of cinematic slag, even if that's how you make your living, save your eyeballs the agony and forget you've ever heard of this one.
One out of ten because that's the bottom line here, minus five for the rest of the entire experience.
Thrilling days in the life of Richard Riddick, made for fans
While the scope of Richard Riddick's first silver screen appearance in 'Pitch Black' was limited to playing darkly well the false villain to an effective ensemble cast, and 'Chronicles of Riddick' raised him to malevolent demiurge status and added some mythological flesh to his bones, 'Riddick' narrows down the focus on the titular character and brutally demonstrates how titanic is his will to survive.
This third installment of the epic of our heroic spacefaring Furyan is a much tighter character study which fulfills the aim of further developing Riddick by driving him to his limit and then much further. Where in the previous two films the screen was busy at times with other characters, races, even the interstellar campaign of an undead army, here Diesel's Riddick remains center stage for most of the running time. This film is a story about our hero ... that's it and it is absolutely the movie Riddick fans needed to see.
Act one gives Riddick fans an extended, intimate, and savage what if scenario played out by their hero in several jaw droppingly rendered sequences set up to test every bit of his will and volcanic might. Interspersed with flashbacks used effectively to connect the second film to this third outing, the first act is paced slowly providing fans an opportunity to spend extended screen time with the interstellar barbarian many have compared to 'Conan' in space.
The second act follows in the wake of Riddick's triumph over one of his toughest enemies yet and foreshadows an impeding doom even he does not want to stick around and face. The story finds him discovering a possible means of escape from his current predicament - as always at the expense of one or more mercs. Here the supporting cast appear and all perform suitably well considering who their characters are up against. Eye-shined doom anyone? To reveal even the name of a certain character introduced here would spoil a major sub-plot (do not read the dramatis personae!) but suffice it to say old demons come calling on Riddick but pale in comparison to what draws nearer on the horizon.
Act three proves once again that while many, many mercs and other assorted would be do-gooders are just dying to meet Riddick, mostly they just die - and in some real eye catching spatters. As before Riddick must carry out his best laid plans carefully choosing who to trust, who to manipulate and who to remove from the scene. The climax and resolution are somewhat different from the other two films however, in retrospect although I did not at first care for the ending, I must admit it does show another side of the once Necromonger King and develops further his character in an important manner.
Convict. King. Savage. Survivor. Riddick is the kind of hero in the shadows lacking for too long from contemporary cinema and print. He is someone most any of us can root for, sympathize with and outright raise up as he takes us out of our mundane cocoons and takes on lurkers in darkness none of us ourselves could stand up too. He is possessed of protean anger, monolithic strength and yet one of his greatest fears is that someone will feel enough for him to not betray his trust. Riddick is no merciless killer but he easily urges that mythology to precede him in most situations, allowing his legend to deal with the innocent who would impede him so he does not have too.
In conclusion, the quality of the film is top notch. Science fiction elements are sufficiently, awesomely cool and neither the effects, the plot, nor the execution fall short of excellence for what they are - a few days in the life of one of the most interesting, resourceful and totally badass moster slayer characters in fiction today.
So, was 'Riddick' worth the wait? Heck yes and then some - for fans; Absolutely, for everyone else who has seen the other two films or enjoys Dark Fantasy laden Science Fiction.
Ten out of ten stars and two phantom ones for Riddick's construction and bloody awesome use of a bone and obsidian sword.
The East (2013)
Familiarly plotted suspense drama
The theme helming 'The East' is one certain to seize most viewers, force them to think deeply even if momentarily about their role as consumers in their world of corporate sponsored existence, and to unite them in outrage over the consequences of the free market universe their planet has become. Despite such potential to enkindle emotion and in doing so entertain, the core of the film is woven around a scenario as over worn as the tried and true story intro: "It was a dark and stormy night".
Despite all the emotion, outrage and awareness of corporate evil its plot raises, 'The East' approaches its thematic tale of exposé through the eyes of a protagonist firmly entrenched in and indoctrinated by the free market cult. From this vantage point those who take action to stem the tide of law breaking corporate titans must be judged by one least likely to sympathize with their cause. The thrust of the film then aligns with the judgement of the corporate champion and forces the viewer to accept her verdict of the "outlaw fringe" as the morally correct assessment.
The viewpoint of the story witnessed through main character Sarah's (Brit Marling)perspective feels like the less effective choice throughout as she conveys the countenance of an Ivy League politically correct law abider who comes off like a fish completely out of water in her effort to blend into a lifestyle she has never experienced let alone envisioned.
She is an operative for a private intelligence firm driven by a ruthless business model built around infiltrating and destroying fringe activist groups who threaten the security of major corporations and the persons of the executives who run them. Portrayed as if she is a deep cover CIA agent, her character's story arc paints her actions into an implausible grey area one would assume illegal as she operates much like an agent of federal law enforcement minus any official authority.
Nevertheless Sarah is a well trained spy down to her martial arts moves, ruthless willingness to lie and betray, and the mobile phone she keeps hidden in the secret compartment of her sneaker.
Questionable plausibleness aside, Sarah's story is suspense film cliché. It's the standard cop/soldier/elite agent infiltrates enemy unit/criminal gang/native tribe and then after spending extensive time among said outlaw/enemy group develops sympathy for their cause which in turn forces them to examine their own beliefs, question their loyalties and often join the opposing side. A plot we moviegoers have experienced many times.
Despite its tired plot 'The East' does draw in the viewer and entertain although the members of the eco terrorist cell come off as much more engaging than Marling's Sarah and we know how the story will end long before the credits roll.
Broadly the film's theme is very interesting and effective in its potency to raise viewer ire against corporate evil. The method of execution however is questionable and the main character's steely condescension throughout most of its running time subtracts from the central message which seems to be aimed at exposing and judging the many, often harmful wrongs the biggest corporate entities get away with everyday. However, at the same time the story treats the would be champions who take action against the evil with the same moral ambiguity.
The film will draw you in even your interest goes no further than experiencing a day in the life of a corporate spy. The portrayal of the activists - call them anarchists or not - may seem entirely Hollywood in its communal living grunginess, and in retrospect, the film may not seem so powerful as you had expected.
Six out of ten for a powerful message and interesting hippie activists.
World War Z (2013)
A review for fellow zombie movie fanatics ...
World War Z is a highly flashy sometimes entertaining film if critiqued exclusively in the vein of the mega budget summer blockbuster, however, World War Z is also perhaps the lousiest zombie movie ever made.
Few fellow rabid fans of the flesh chewing genre 'Z' would argue against George Romero's 1968 'Night of the Living Dead' as the celebrated nascence of the zombie film. Forty-five years ago the dead stood up, up on the silver screen and took their first bite out of the living. Horror cinema has never been the same.
George Romero had an idea about how to scare us, and much to our benefit and that of future horror film making, chose to tell us his terrifying tale in visual form. The zombie movie genre was born. What Romero did not have was a bottomless bank account from which to draw financing for his vision.
With very limited funding, a small cast of talented actors, the cooperation of a local bureaucracy and a few dozen eager extras Romero crafted a horror movie, a zombie movie of intensity arguably yet to be bested in its situational creepiness.
His original script trapped five characters together in a remote farmhouse as increasing numbers of the recently reanimated human dead closed in on the property cutting off their means of escape. In spine chilling imagery as unforgettable as the first time we viewed it, Romero explicitly, graphically showed us what the returned dead were after; what those shambling rigor mortis bound fiends craved. His story telling skill left no doubt in the moviegoer's mind what was at stake for the heroes if the living corpses brought them down.
In the decades since Romero's original zombie vision nearly countless takes on zombie fiction in print and film have payed homage to his late 60's effort. We fans of the zombie movie have seen numerous shameless rip-offs of Romero's flesh hungry walking dead, and rarely, we have seen his original horror lore broadened or suitably developed with outstanding new imaginings of the ravenous risen dead. World War Z falls into neither classification as it is neither a new take on Romero's original concept, nor is it a blatant copycat.
The template upon which World War Z the movie is fleshed out around is of the variety identical to that used for any massive budget monster, robot, virus or natural disaster blockbuster. The script introduces a small group of main characters, takes a very brief glimpse at their normal lives, and then unleashes upon their beautified world a wave of death and destruction that worsens minute by minute. Substituted for the aforementioned engines of global catastrophe in this case is zombies.
Where Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead' shoved the viewer into a claustrophobic, dark, desperate situation populated by edgy characters driven by fear, animal survival and deep seated prejudice, and then frame by frame used the walls of their very refuge, their last refuge, as vise grips cranked constantly inward on them by plot pacing, World War Z, in the vein of the generic summer blockbuster engine which drives it, trades world view, death statistic counters and impossible action sequences for the tense squirm-in-your-seat situational gloom, chills and suspense around which the concept of the zombie film genre has most always been tightly wrapped.
Danger for, threat to the only protagonist classifiable as such (Brad Pitt's Gerry) in World War Z is only suspenseful before the film shows us who and what he really is. Pitt's Gerry Lane is a weakly imagined amalgamation of all five of the characters in Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Outside of a few brief and poorly written scenes that directly put his family in danger, he is the audience's sole connection to a story largely viewed from a global perspective almost as if the director had filmed the movie with an orbiting spy satellite.
The audience is never right there in the thick of dreadful terror with Gerry Lane, rather the viewer is thrown into the action and "the action" is the major flaw here. Gerry Lane is a composite of a mercenary, a surgeon, a virologist and some kind of globe hopping diplomat. Building on that skill set the film uses him as a tactical genius, a crack shot - in short as whatever kind of caricature is required to survive whatever situation the script next writes him into.
Unlike the many, many much better zombie movies that have come before it, World War Z gives us no sense of being trapped, stalked by the walking dead; no urgency of having to barricade ourselves into a fragile remote structure, no internal character conflict. In short, nothing much to indicate we are watching a zombie movie.
We zombie movie fanatics have all seen the micro budget zombie film effort that tries so desperately (and often fails) to convey as much terror or originality as its funding will allow. But even in failure, the absolute most rotten of those made for a penny attempts at zombie cinema rise far above what World War Z has failed to achieve with a budget thousands of times higher.
The Zombies. World War Z sells itself as a zombie movie. The reanimated dead have been visualized in many forms since Romero's 1968 masterpiece gave us pale, stumbling fiends whose real terror potential lied in small groups and the mind ripping fear you might recognize the one trying to eat you next as a friend or family member. In World War Z the zombies are superhuman sort of corpses who leap like cyborg frogs, make generic monster, monster movie sounds and use their heads for battering rams. Somehow these sprinting dead also swarm and climb like colonies of ants, and they do not eat the living.
World War Z is zombie treason and heresy on high of Romero's vision.
Highly entertaining found footage horror
I normally avoid appraisal of a film solely on entertainment value as the vast majority of movies I have recently consumed entertained me on some level regardless of how base or brief the excitement generated. However, every now and again a film comes along armed nicely with the oomph to thrill despite either the subject matter, expected premise or both.
New horror releases these days may be abundant but not their quality - heck, even their classification as horror often takes a stretch of the imagination. Thus finding an actually spooky movie also with the ability to entertain is a treasure less and less likely to be discovered.
With more than a small amount of gratitude then I must positively recommend 'Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes' to horror fans adrift like myself in the doldrums of decent spine-tingling flicks worth watching. This film comes loaded for Sasquatch with a cast of fun and convincing characters played by pleasingly capable actors, a premise that while not wholly original successfully sets the stage and builds suspense, and a twist that alleviates the disappointment of thinking you know how it will all turn out. The plot overall and twist in the third act very nicely distinguish this film from a sea of sameness and stale ideas plaguing so many other horror efforts these days.
Against the norm then based on entertainment value alone,'Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes' hits for a very solid seven out of ten. The build up, throughout which is sprinkled a few hilarious scenes, will please most horror fanatics and the personalities of the four main characters and their host especially, will connect many viewers to the story through their well paced descent into the unknown.
While we have a standard shaky shoulder cam setup here, the four investigators headed out into the spooky place this time around are on a mission to debunk rather than prove real the subject of their expedition. I found this take fresh and entertaining compared to so many other very similar found footage films that absolutely take themselves seriously and aim to force the viewer to believe whatever proof of the supernatural they are out to catch on camera.
Also refreshing is the not too stereotypical individuality of each of the four main characters. Yes, there's an over zealous director who insists every moment of the expedition must be filmed, and yes he is out to secure a network deal for a weekly show with the whole reality television pilot documentary he is filming.
There's a cameraman too who comes off as slightly fearless, a sound man who fulfills the scaredy-cat (a role made famous by Bill Paxton in 'Aliens'), and there's also a pseudo psychic female who performs rituals to sense and ward off dark energies. However something original has been written into each of these well tread roles, interesting enough to make them fun to sit with through the film.
The highlight of them all is addled Bigfoot expert 'Carl Drybeck' played extremely entertainingly by Frank Ashmore whom I had never come across before but hope to see in future films. He's a bit of a wild man recluse who for decades has been pursuing Sasquatch and within the scope of the film has finally secured the holy grail: an intact Bigfoot corpse.
As the set up unfolds and build up ramps up 'Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes' effectively conditions the viewer to expect a tense but fairly generic outcome and then slams a home run with a very fresh twist and finale. My thinking is viewers who thought the entire film would be all Bigfoot all the time until the end were likely feeling somewhat let down. While I was expecting a Sasquatch showdown in the big dark woods, the reveal did not fail to please, and if you're willing to proceed to its climax with an open mind, this film will not let you down.
Seven out of ten for an entertaining experience throughout, plus one for a pants on fire type of scene and references to Scooby-Doo the original and a great performance by Frank Ashmore; Ashley Wood is also quite easy on the eyes and her countenance nicely compliments the whole effort.
Forbidden Ground (2013)
A touching glimpse at tragically interwoven fates
Few films in comparison to the number of those examining other armed human conflicts have provided a look at the hopeless blood soaked, mud clogged trenches of the First World War and fewer still have lent voice to the courage, will and love for their fellow soldiers of the men who followed without question orders which amounted to voluntary mass suicide in a hell scorched land far from the blessed sight of their most beloved.
Johan Earl and Adrian Powers have in 'Forbidden Ground' crafted the viewer such a window into one of the darkest periods of the 20th century. Their film movingly throws us into the trenches of the British Army and its portrayal of the raging machine of war as it grounds young terrified men into its only product - something much different than they were before, alive or dead. The film seizes the senses and raises tension from scene to scene.
The plot forwards the stories of two British married couples; the men at war while the women walk trancelike, waiting through the motions of a special hell of their own for word that their spouses still live. The two story lines unfold against the backdrop of their individual struggles for survival and preservation of sanity which tragically become more difficult when their lives intersect. Surrounding them all is the War and distance, time and pain of absence.
Sergeant Major Arthur Wilkins played by Johan Earl and Corporal Richard Jennings played by Martin Copping are men hardened and desensitized as they are ruined and broken by their years in the maw of combat. Both are fair, natural leaders who care for the men they command, but they've lost their identities, they've forgotten what their lives were like before the War began. Indeed, the surreal daily ballet of carnage their lives have become leaves them with weakening connection to the women they married and eventually sees them becoming brothers in arms trapped in a situation neither will ever completely escape.
Grace Wilkins, wife of Arthur played by Denai Gracie and Eve Rose, fiancé or wife of Corporal Jennings are the ones their men left behind. Nightmares of Arthur's rejection of her upon his return plague Grace, and for aid with the condition she faces which could hurt her husband more even than the terrors of war, she feverishly seeks aid and finds its only source in Eve. Eve has suffered her man's absence as much as Grace, and in so genuinely needing to aid her causes irrevocable harm.
The film is a war movie, and it is also a tragic drama which explores the consequences of meetings between average people who find themselves already connected in ways they never could have imagined. The historical accuracy of the period is spot on as are the booming, ground churning scenes of battle of which there are several. For the budget available, the film makers did a great job although the continuity and viewer perception of the size of outdoor spaces sometimes feel askew and not to scale.
'Forbidden Ground' is a gritty, visceral war film wrapped around a touching story driven by characters with many shades of depth. Their reactions and solutions to the horrible situations they find themselves in is compelling and this viewer found himself only wishing they could get through it all and have the opportunity to heal, together - reunited at last.
I highly recommend 'Forbidden Ground' to the fan of war films as World War I remains a blemish on history mostly glossed over by popular fiction. The period equipment, weapons and dress on the battlefield and off are well reproduced, and the actors who portray the interesting characters inhabiting this study of the chilling effects of war on its victims - war makes all of us its victims - are worthy of the viewers time and praise. For most every other mature moviegoer the film is also a worthwhile watch: the tragically intersecting fates of these characters will reach you on some level.
Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
Teenaged gallows humor rated for adults, soaked up by kids
Fiction is a vehicle capable of transporting the reader, the viewer across spaces fantastic, gulfs of the never before expected - indeed on a journey limited only by the fuel of storyteller's imagination. As readers of novel's, watchers of movies we fiction addicts have crossed some strange territory, toured places dark as they were fascinating. Thanks to the minds of writers and film makers, we've transcended death and lived scores of made-up lives alongside countless characters of every stripe and in doing so, often found some small unpolished gleam we'd overlooked in our own realities waiting for us after we've put down that page turner or exited the theater.
Despite the wild turn of the writer's imagination which so often effectively convinces us to abandon the laws of our mundane world for a temporary belief of the one he's created for us, the best fiction anchors itself to, firmly grounds itself in the real and in doing so makes those crazy daydream flights of the impossible we take with the storyteller, all the more impactful because before dropping us off in Metropolis or Gotham City, the best fiction makes us first journey through the world we live in everyday to get there.
'Kick Ass 2' barrages the viewer for one hundred and three minutes with scenarios so implausible, the world it is set in - an actual city - serves only to mock its take after take on the ridiculously imagined capabilities of its characters and both theirs and its minor players' reactions to just about every hysterically nonsensical act of violence committed.
The writer without realization gives his work a life of its own, an ability to transport those who consume his story again and again to places glazed with reality or wholly fictional, to meet people who only exist within the confines of those realms and thereafter within us, his audience. Unfortunately, these days and perhaps since storytelling has been around to some extent, the story strives hardest to justify itself, to celebrate its own existence and to quickly hammer down its justification for mass distribution.
What a given lover of fiction finds amazing will indeed often vary from viewer and reader to viewer and reader - such goes without much thought. However, certain themes and depictions stories intimate to us, show us can be universally judged as good or terrible. Perhaps not so in a generational context as what one age group celebrates, another will find disgusting.
In 'Kick Ass 2' most every theme and visual intimation is arguably a turn-off - unless you've while viewing it - turned of your wits, intellect and moral compass. The violence in and of itself is not the issue ... this reviewer is a horror, science fiction, action film fanatic which requires a hardy appetite for tragedy and violence. The problem with 'Kick Ass 2' is its exploitation of the innocent as vehicles for its smut, and depiction of kids as engines of homicidal or bone breaking destruction.
The message 'Kick Ass 2' tells its viewers (millions of kids out there) that slaughtering other human beings - if they're the bad guys - is morally acceptable and cool. The film has its main characters break oaths, take new ones and break them as well and then its narrative attempts to justify the lies, deceit and misdirection as a setup for bloodshed by adolescents.
That's all pretty heavy, right? Most would defend the message or the plot of the film as being just for fun. Unfortunately the movie takes itself very seriously despite the ceaseless gallows humor, and it really adores itself for what it is - a knock-off of a gory action film targeted at teens and even younger kids.
Sure, I watched all the R rated horror and action movies I could rent and sneak into the VCR when I was a kid. Did all the gore and violence really scar my young mind? Probably not. However the vast majority of the gory, nasty Hollywood output of the eighties was not targeted at kids, nor did it depict kids carrying it out. It's a new thing, and I don't much care for it.
Yes, 'Kick Ass 2' will entertain you to a varying degree and based on your age, will either feel like a guilty glimpse into the tactless future of the action genre and film making in general, or will look really awesome, dude.
Give this one a pass, unless you want gawk guiltily at a movie equivalent of a grisly car accident.
An assay of class warfare of our own era disguised as eye candy science fiction
Many science fiction films have been based on quintessential novels of the genre fueled by plotting intended as in depth treatments on the most impactful social problems of the era in which they were written. Often, by the time the translation to film has occurred the urgency or relevancy of their messages to the current generation gone to see them on the sliver screen have been lost.
While 'Elysium' is not based on a classic novel of the genre, writer/director Neill Blomkamp presents his sophomoric science fiction feature as if its visual representation of a dystopian society where the rich live in a Mount Olympus like garden of eden and the rest of everyone else occupies hell on earth, as if it is towing a weighty line for the nonexistent literary classic it is not based on after all.
The overall tone of the film, while deadly serious throughout, trades moments of expected high drama for a sometimes buoyant humor that feels placed only to reap laughs at less than stellar one liners spouted in the form of most action films you're familiar with. Indeed, the humor present does not at all suit the violence committed alongside it or in step with it - in a few scenes. In one such scene as a robot policemen seriously injures the protagonist, he cracks jokes even as his bones break.
From the opening act onward the narrative instills in the viewer a sense that a lowly impoverished ex-con in the protagonist, is going to seize some momentous epiphany so colossal it will enable him to shake the halls of the gods themselves. The foreshadowing is plainly laid down for the viewer, and because he has seen this setup in other heroic movie plots, his mind races to get slightly ahead of the protagonist's ascension to mystic warrior, yet such never comes in the expected form. The manner in which it does finally arrive feels wholly underwhelming, undeserved, and accidental. Any of hundreds of men or women shown us by the film could have achieved the same end.
Visually 'Elysium'stuns with first rate computer generated spacecraft and robotic bipeds perhaps the most well rendered in any science fiction film in recent memory. Particles dance from the nozzles of hovering ships and shards of metal fly from damaged androids. The effects certainly impress.
However design of the titular orbiting Garden of Eden was very obviously drawn from the ring world in the HALO series of video games and appeared neither realistic nor functional with its lush estates and forested parks somehow open to the void of space.
As for the premise itself ... supposedly in the future world of 'Elysium' the earth is a wasteland abandoned by the wealthy for the paradise of the aforementioned orbiting space station. What left me puzzled most were shots of the "ruined" planet earth which seemed plenty habitable enough. The masses of poor denied nirvana on elysium station wore no breathing apparatus against polluted air, moved healthily enough around their shanty neighborhoods, and no mention was ever made of irradiated wastes or a failed ozone layer. What made this future earth so harsh and inhospitable? The movie never shows or tells us.
Main character 'Max' played as Matt Damon - by Matt Damon - is an ex-con machine shop worker who is the sole remaining Caucasian inhabitant of future Los Angeles (or so it seems). Flashbacks show him growing up with a Spanish speaking guardian and beautiful Hispanic girl now nurse, 'Frey' played by Alice Braga, who reminds me very wonderfully of Maria Conchita Alonso.
Max's criminal past as a serial car thief refuses to let him go, and one day a ghastly workplace accident leaves him with no choice but to try and get up to elysium for medical care not available on earth. Though rendered almost completely unable to move under his own power, a way is given him to perform one last heist with the payoff he seeks as reward.
A mention of suspension of disbelief is due here. A number of dare I say wacky events occur which defy the laws of reasonable belief. Now, because 'Elysium' is a science fiction epic, you'd expect far fetched goings on. Not an issue so long as some even brief explanation of the technology involved is presented. Rather than provide the viewer with some "this is why that can do this crazy thing" 'Elysium' tells us to believe in it because it is set in the future. Well, in the future shoulder fired rockets can take down spacecraft well out of the earth's atmosphere.
Most of the rest of the cast is watchable if not necessary to the plot or likable. Psychotic assassion 'Kruger' played by Sharlto Copley may be a merciless mass murderer, yet his high pitched thickly accented voice draws humor instead of horror. Secretary of Defense on-board Elysium 'Delacourt' played woodenly by Jodie Foster was highly unnecessary to the plot. She's a real bad girl who delights in smashing the hopes and bodies of the poor; why Foster attached herself to the film is a relevant question.
Like most avid science fiction fans I can't get enough future thrills, kills and tech from print or silver screen. Unfortunately 'Elysium' is neither a filling nor pleasant genre fix. At its heart it is a cruel story which conducts its study of the disparity between rich and poor, entitled and impoverished with sledgehammer instead of subtle brush strokes to convey its message. Much like Blomkamp's 'District 9' 'Elysium' portrays the South African as a genocidal, jackboot wearing specimen of the human race.
Five out of ten stars for amazing special effects and Alice Braga's channeling of Maria Conchita Alonso.
Recommendations suspended, as unless you watch this film for the effects alone, it will disappoint you.
Only God Forgives (2013)
Imagery replaces cohesive story in Gosling's latest Michael Mann imitation
Nicolas Winding Refn's 'Only God Forgives' is a film driven by smoky, hypnotic images and use of language and gore to shock the viewer. Paced slowly enough to generate distraction in the viewer who expects a coherent sequence of events to occur within an interval capable of building suspense or maintaining interest, this film turns away from the telling of an urgent narrative and trades story for effusive metaphors perhaps less obvious than even the writer intended. While enjoyment of 'Only God Forgives' possibly hinges on how deeply the viewer is willing to read into its sequence of red and violet tinged images, reasoning too deeply into what transpires might well be a waste of time.
If you've regularly watched movies for a decade or more, you've almost certainly encountered before this style of film making. The vast depiction of character time on screen is devoted to the making of various expressions and the performing of mostly subtle body language synchronized to the visual rhythms of settings and situations. The images here drop hints and both the hints and the characters themselves apparently serve as metaphors for some grand tale which for whatever reason, the writer chose to hide behind suggestion, foul language and extreme violence. Some call it art. Most moviegoers seeking a captivating story populated by characters who develop within the arc of the plot will find this "style" lacking.
To test whether or not 'Only God Fogives' is a film for you, watch several episodes of the original 'Miami Vice' television show and while doing so imagine each scene with far less dialog, louder music, disjointed events and every character as unlikeable, and set to the backdrop of a culture you know nothing about.
'Only God Fogives' offers up a minimalist cinematic art style, mixes it with monotonous color, uses its actors almost like mimes and then seeks to punctuate its purely visual substance with cohesive violence that serves only to shock rather than suit a specific relevance within the story arc.
I am certain most have read the synopsis however, one ought to discard that block of text as it really does not accurately convey what the viewer is in for. Rather, a better synopsis would be as follows. A grandmaster of a Thai martial art aids the police by lopping off limbs, gutting the bad guys and running through defenseless women - all with a sword he somehow carries out of sight along his spine. The real suspense in this film is wondering when and who the mysterious martial arts grandmaster is going to chop up next.
As a fan of the style of film making used by Nicolas Winding Refn in 'Drive', I must caution that while I wondered how said film would have played with an even less cohesive a narrative, the demonstration of such that is 'Only God Forgives' is not much to my liking.
Stories told or rather hinted at, in films like 'Only God Forgives' cheapen the value of human life and demand that the viewer readjust his or her own morals for the duration, or squirm in their seat as consequence.
Vapid characterization, barrages of hinting, hypnotic, smoky images and characters that amount to uniformly bland and mute save for one or two whose participation amounts to the spouting of foul language or use of bladed objects as performance aids, seek to convey the value of high art, yet ultimately reduce the sum they achieve when it all boils down to blood, guts and laughably shocking language.
Read as deeply as you choose into 'Only God Forgives' - if you are up for a lesson in antiquated Freudian psychoanalysis. Me, I'd rather get my cinematic fix elsewhere.
I cannot recommend 'Only God Forgives' to any particular fan-base. Two out of ten for bringing to the screen a martial arts style I was not familiar with, and making it look cool up on the silver screen.
The Collector (2009)
Well crafted disbelief
What is horror? Is horror a sensation, a feeling, a reaction or a post episodic description recounted with nerve jangling gratefulness to have summoned the courage to travel along with a fictional character down a dark corridor breathing in stale air and brushing tangles of cobweb off your perspiring flesh? While descriptions vary good horror in this reviewer's mind raises dread within the viewer and growing concern for the characters on the silver screen, and one's own senses as suspense builds with an urge to look away from impending shock and the end of a liked player's role in a given plot. Chills ride down the spine as our minds spin to wrap around the grisly concepts presented by the writer and brought to life in moving pictures. The best horror makes us think as high as its shock makes us jump in our seats.
Great horror confronts the consumer with a terror incarnate he or she had never imagined and in doing so opens within our minds a new busy train of thought forcing hesitation while we considerate it, interrupting the mundane tasks of our lives; one look over your shoulder before climbing into bed and truly great horror fiction has hit its mark.
Enter Marcus Dunstan's 2009 slasher hybrid 'The Collector'. Again I feel compelled to flesh out my horror movie going experience. A single sentence long summary will suffice in this case with much to say and less than 1000 words left to finish. This reviewer has been stalking his latest horror flick fix for over three decades. That squarely lands my horror watching nascence around the release of the original 'Friday the 13th'.
Accordingly, I must judge new horror film experiences against the old; the many, the memorable and the legion of those just plain horrible.
'The Collector' shares similarities with a trove of horror movie predecessors involving masked killers who commit many sequential murders of innocent movie characters - most often young adults who have taken to a remote location to fornicate and inebriate themselves while waxing lunatic.
I have never been a fan of the Slasher sub genre especially when the source of horror reveals itself as a mortal man with an insatiable penchant for inflicting rampant bloody desecration on the human form. There's just too much of that in the daily headlines for this reviewer to want to experience it further in his escape from reality at the movie theater.
'The Collector' serves us yet another of the human killer variety, who like many on screen butchers before him, wears a mask and practices his gory trade without so much as a single shred of compassion for even the women or children he seeks to slaughter.
Our killer in 'The Collector' is yet another of the sort whom despite never giving his victims a fighting chance, has become an expert with any bladed weapon imaginable. Why master an art of combat if one intends to only harm already maimed, restrained or far weaker prey? As in so many other similar films this film's killer is somehow stronger, faster on his bum leg, smarter and more durable than everyone else involved. He can receive maiming injury in one scene and in the next chase the protagonist down across a field. At least Jason Voorhees was an undead psycho in the films he demonstrated such similar ability. I mean, Jason was resurrected by lightning for goodness sake! The traps set by our killer? I discounted them as tacked on nonsense, a consequence of the zillion 'Saw' movies and their clones and their inevitable influence on future horror pictures.
At length, 'The Collector' is a well made movie starring a quite capable lead in Josh Stewart yet despite its score and high production values brings nothing new to a sub genre flooded with doldrums of sameness.
As an aside, its tough to feel suspense borne out of concern for a grown man who has entered the spider's web to rob from the family who paid him extra for his handyman work. This particular spider had already caught most of the flies and despite the fact that he was as human as you or I, was portrayed as something more by the film. Disbelief reigns.
Unlike so many other reviewers present, I cannot recommend 'The Collector' to any horror movie buff I know. It is a rehash of many, many films and even judged on its own merit, hits far below the true horror mark.
The Entity (1982)
With fangs as sharp today as three decades ago
Most cinema genre fans remember fondly the few searingly ablaze films that irreversibly branded into their minds a fanaticism for a specific style of silver screen entertainment. Those cherished films were unforgettable for a variety of reasons all very personal to the individual. Sidney J. Furey's 1982 'The Entity' became such a movie for this reviewer. The phantoms that haunt Carla Moran helped to scare into me what would become a lifelong indelible desire to be terrified again and again of turning off the night light or peeking under the bed.
I first viewed 'The Entity' in 1984 at the malleable age of eleven. I had spent the night at my grandparents' home - they alone of all the people we knew back then possessed a marvelous invention known as cable television - and with my grandmother's blessing I tuned into a late night horror double feature that included 'Five Million Years to Earth' followed by the 'The Entity'. The film terrified me then on a primal level and remains a frightening title today, though the fear it inspires now is more the intellectual variety than the afraid to leave the brightly lit room kind it evoked all those years ago.
In a sense 'The Entity' represents the ultimate clash between science and religion. The plot uses the sciences of both study of the mind and physical disturbances on a molecular level to combat the great unknown manifested as violent entities that wreak torture and havoc on a seemingly stable enough young woman. These sciences - fields still in their frontier phases when the book and film were respectively crafted - equate to no more than the building of a campfire against the encroaching night and the beasts which stalk within flickering shadows.
The film lays out for us a ghastly haunting, explores its many deeply psychological effects on its victim, and then finds for both the viewer and the protagonist a highly entertaining way to fight back, to push back the encroaching fangs of night. Where similar films of the era turned to religion for resolution, 'The Entity' introduces the concept and viability of the purely based in science paranormal investigator who rather than holy book, uses custom wired gizmos to lure in and detain bad spirits.
Performances are solid throughout. Barbara Hershey's 'Carla Moran' is amazingly well played. We have no choice but to believe in her animal fear. Whether we identify with her, fear her or classify her as out of her mind is another matter although as events progress, little doubt is left as to what is really causing her world to shatter.
Ron Silver brings us the quintessential skeptic in his 'Dr. Sneiderman'. He is a man with feet firmly planted in the science of his field, yet almost from their first meeting, he senses something different in Carla Moran's presence.
What follows is one woman's life or death struggle with the ultimate unknown in perhaps its most terrifying manifestation. When our protagonist seeks desperate aid outside normal scientific channels her psychologist attempts to rein her in, thinking her delusional. As a team of paranormal investigators delve more deeply into Carla's situation, her doctor begins to recognize a real threat independent of her own psyche. Science and primal otherworldly evil clash in a spectacular finale unrivaled by any film in the intervening three decades.
'The Entity' is a rare horror film that will get to you on some level, and it will leave you wondering for some time about the safety of your home, the validity of the reality in which we exist and the argument for the presence of unseen forces.
Many modern films claim to be the most frightening cinematic experience you will ever have. 'The Entity' makes no such claim, however it a must see for true horror movie devotees and it is a film that might just make you a lifelong fan of the genre.
An episode of your favorite paranormal reality show marred by convoluted wrap up
Writer/Director Steve Stone wades into the horror genre with a combination found footage/ghost hunting adventure in the vein of 'Grave Ecounters' and 'Death of a Ghost Hunter'. Much like previous ghost hunter films, the premise of 'Entity' takes a crew of television show paranormal investigators and sets them to the task of getting to the bottom of a grisly unsolved crime with occult undertones.
Here the ghost hunting team is led by actress Dervla Kirwan as 'Ruth Peacock' a psychic sensitive capable of seeing and speaking with the dead. Along with a cameraman, the TV show's host, a generic technician and a local guide, Ruth spearheads an investigation into the discovery of more than thirty human corpses somewhere in the remote reaches of the Siberian forest.
Dervla's 'Ruth Peacock' reveals through her interactions with the deceased flashes of their unjust deaths at the hands of ruthless killers, and the revelation the victims were together in the remote Russian wilderness for a more sinister purpose.
Special effects throughout act one failed to impress or promote scares. The ghosts, rendered here by computer effects seemed too clean, and the psychic character's reaction to their presence and communication attempts was too generic within the genre standard for my tastes.
The initial setting - the Siberian Forest - evinces within the viewer an isolated enough feel as we never see the vehicles our ghost hunters rode in on and thus are left to assume they had been already hiking for miles when the film began. Characterization up to this point is lacking, save for Dervla's 'Ruth' who is from the outset portrayed as extremely sensitive to the slightest paranormal disturbance and I suppose her expressions of uncertainty well enough convey a serious stirring of internal fear as she discovers the site of the mass grave.
In the remaining four characters the film gives the standard overzealous for ratings and somewhat egotistical reality show host, her faithful, fearless cameraman, a filler character in the form of their jumpy tech support guy, and the standard unknown in the form of the Russian guide. None of the aforementioned really stand out nor is much development lent to their characters beyond expected dialog and behavior within the context of most similar films.
Act two finds our ghost hunters on arrival at a truly creepy military industrial facility emanating nasty supernatural vibes psychic Ruth Peacock has followed from the forest like doom laden bread crumbs. She warns the others that the ominous abandoned place is related to the mass grave back in the forest clearing, that the group ought to turn back, but of course zealous reality TV show host presses everyone forward into darkness - she must be calling the shots and signing everyone's paychecks.
As the group enters and explores the cavernous, long disused complex our psychic Ruth repeatedly cautions the others danger is growing yet just as obdurately, TV show host 'Kate Hansen' played by pretty Charlotte Riley, pushes her onward.
I applaud the filmmaker for the indoor setting. The long dark corridors, empty holding cells and confusing staircases of the facility build nice tension and lend us a feeling of being on the verge of something terribly sinister just out frame or over the shoulder. The decaying labyrinthine structure is without doubt one of the more frightening interior locations in recent horror films.
Eventually while exploring the facility a hostile paranormal force reveals itself, and the crew retreat to a control room type area despite the disappearance of one their number. TV host Kate just wants to review the footage they've captured so far, while psychic point girl Ruth has been "overcharged" by her run in with the violent entity and must rest.
Meanwhile ... of course there must be a meanwhile, plot thread number two unfolds with Russian guide and psychic Ruth. While the rest of the plot was competent enough if not terribly original, writer Stone would have better served the overall effort by eliding this development. Of course foreshadowing of a sort revealed more was going on with Russian guide than met the eye, however his purpose in the plot turns out to be less than believable and ultimately serves only to keep everyone left alive from fleeing the bad place.
Overall, 'Entity' is worth five stars out of ten simply for adding to and keeping the genre alive. It is not one of those annoying films filmed alone by one of the actors, although some of this type of film making is worked into a few scenes.
What prevents this reviewer from freely praising 'Entity' however, is the overly complicated last minute grab for high drama made by the plot at the end of the film. Had the script focused on what it set out to be - an expedition into a darkly atmospheric haunted facility - without all the needless side plot and trapped in time trickery, the film it drives may have stood out among its like.
As it stands for consideration, 'Entity' is a solid five out of ten star ghost hunting adventure led by a capable actress in Dervla Kerwin whose character's time on screen is the sole performance out of five with much of a heartbeat. One point subtracted for mostly wooden performances, some lackluster CGI haunts, and a needless side plot tacked on as an excuse for our heroes to be stuck in the bad place. A sudden blizzard would have better served the purpose considering the geographical setting.
'Entity' is worth a watch if you're into one or more of the real life reality ghost hunting shows, or you're fresh out of horror movies on your big list of fright flicks. It won't spellbind you with its horror movie awesomeness, but some horror is better than watching a chick flick with your significant other.
A familiar premise without logical beginning or end
'Triangle' is another film I discovered searching horror movie releases by year. I had happened upon it previously, read the near uniform rave reviews, then lost track of it until my recent search. It is not a horror film in any form, however thanks to some research before going in, I was well aware of its genre which is more 'tales of the weird' than science fiction.
The quality of the film itself is divided between just passable acting on the part of most of the cast, a mostly solid performance by Melissa George, and sci-fi channel caliber computer animation effects. In fact, the computer animated objects overall look incredibly fake, which does not always spoil a film of this type but in this case does subtract from our suspension of disbelief.
Fans of this flick insist the viewer must pay extremely close attention to events as they unfold and so I did - in an effort to ensure I would not miss a single plot twist or sleight or hand. However, by the time the premise was revealed, I was well aware of it's intention. A number of films have taken very similar routes in efforts to beguile, bait and finally confuse the viewer into believing their stories.
The story in 'Triangle' is not as complicated as it bills itself to be. Unfortunately, the plot reveals early on that it can neither follow a logical progression nor encompass a beginning or ending that makes sense. The writers ask us to accept this in place of focusing on Melissa George's short shorts and penchant for bringing on the tears in a convincing torrent. She is definitely not hard on the eyes.
Thus in my opinion the premise does not work because logically it makes no sense, can never rationally begin nor end. It is of the variety where a time loop plot interchanges the lives, deaths, arrivals, time travels and rebirths of its characters. This kind of setup has worked in other films, yet at its best confuses the viewer needlessly with the cliché question "Which came first ... the chicken or the egg?" It is not original and in the context of this movie, does not compel suspense.
Five of the six characters are very flatly written coming in just short of stereotypical sketches of individuals who commonly populate lower effort science fiction. I felt no desire to relate them, root for them or see them suffer for their grand folly, cruelty or tragic flaws - they seemed to exist simply to fill roles somewhat necessary to advance the plot which largely amounts to getting killed more than once.
Melissa George's 'Jess' is revealed to us in two halves. In act one she seems to be a dedicated, even tempered mother of a special needs child who for whatever implausible reason jaunts off early one weekend morning with a wealthy patron of her place of employment, on his yacht and out to sea. We wonder where her child is, and so does another character, but the explanation assumed by another is the first of many difficult to compute without a smile rationalizations the plot will forward.
She seems shell shocked upon boarding the boat and during the early part of the voyage, but bounces back quickly enough until the impending tragedy strikes. Act two shows us another potential side of George's character, one that makes little sense even after weak justification for it is provided. See, there are several of her in motion on screen at once, and although some versions of herself are more "in the know" than others, believing them all the same character capable of certain actions becomes very difficult - without knowledge of her that will come much later.
Act three finally introduces us to the "real" Jess, and she is not a very pleasant individual. One could argue that the necessary change in her character happens in reverse - if you found said character interesting enough to really identify with in the first place, which I did not. Overall George's performance was by far the best, within the constraints of the film's shoddy plot. She performed well.
Other reviews in general for this one have me perplexed. Judging by the numerous praise filled reviews, I expected a much better experience than what I actually had viewing 'Triangle'. The only sensible conclusion is people who really enjoyed this film had never before seen a cinematic iteration of its premise. That, or it was all about the cutoff jean shorts.
While I appreciate lower budget science fiction efforts, the 'Triangle' is a film I cannot recommend to genre fans or really anyone else in particular.
If 'Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner' in any form appeals to you, this movie's take on that haunting narrative likely with not.
The Innkeepers (2011)
A brief, enjoyable journey into darkness with a pair of memorable characters
Since viewing 'The House of The Devil' I have anticipated each of Ti West's subsequent efforts. 'The Inkeepers' substantially vindicates that anticipation and follows up his 2009 entry into the Horror genre with another precious, strong and interesting female lead.
West's 'Innkeepers' slowly but inexorably draws us and submerses us into the dimly lit world of two very lonely individuals who so painfully, cautiously avoid outward expression of their dependence on each other's company for all the human contact and enjoyment of a few daily moments that there is for them in their whole dreary world.
Claire and Luke are clerks at a multistory antebellum hotel once an attraction for tourists with its grim historical significance now fallen out of the interest of travelers and so is scheduled to be closed permanently the day after the film begins. Together the odd but inseparable couple who never were come up with a plan to prove the old inn haunted perhaps in hopes of reigniting tourist interest and keeping their jobs, their sole reason for being together day in and out.
Luke is a late thirties introvert easily stereotyped as the type who never left home, who has maintained the lie he still lives with his mother because she needs him, when possibly he is the one who is incapable of letting go. Luke does not socialize much. It is only in Claire's bouncy, magnetically cute presence that he dares to be himself, to let go as both her big brother and daydreamer of what could maybe, possibly be between she and himself ... someday. He's a computer nerd, a constant consumer of online porn - all of the female form he's ever seen or interacted with - and conveys himself as an idiot savant of paranormal knowledge, which seems to light Claire's fire. He is not wholly wrong in thinking she may be attracted to more than his web page design skills. However, Luke's inner ball and chain of self imposed social isolation will likely never permit him to address Claire with the affection he suppresses for her daily.
Claire is just as socially repressed as her co-worker, yet outwardly she is much more approachable. She's smart, courageous, pretty and kind but is forced to take a life halting look at herself when someone wonders aloud how she became stuck in a lowly hotel clerk job. She knows something much greater lies beyond the doors of the hotel lobby, and yet the world outside looks even gloomier to her than the ancient cellar beneath the check in desk. She also seeks interaction with others beyond her pal Luke yet when that interaction comes in a coffee house down the street, the sordid details of another woman's life make her physically ill. Poor lost and lonely Claire; at least you still have Luke even if he does strut around with puffed out chest in your presence. He just wants to protect you from everything that no one can be protected against.
Bumps in the night and other alarming incidents follow our brave, lost together heroes as they stand vigil one last night over the mostly empty scores of rooms in the old hotel. One scene finds Claire running breathlessly to Luke's room upstairs for comfort, but when he opens the door and she sees him perhaps for the first time as a scantily dressed member of the opposite sex, she gets freaked out rather than finding that familiar reassurance in his presence.
Luke dismisses Claire's fears about real haunts inhabiting the inn until he also sees something that cuts cleanly through his fog of false bravado for her sake. The remainder of the story introduces an aging Kelly McGillis as a spiritual living guru whom the clerks enlist for aid in what at first charmingly seems to be a haunting situation of an episode of 'Scooby-Doo' in its lightheartedness. And so in that way 'Innkeepers' reassures us that our amazing characters in Luke and Claire will be protected from any fate too dark ...
Foreshadowing which happens halfway through the film - so naturally it is easily missed - seals a fate much later on, though even if the viewer does take note of the event for what it is, will likely be crossing fingers hoping it does not mean what he or she thinks it does.
A truly heart breaking moment comes later still, when one of our heroes realizes the other has never been fully what was imagined. Once again the interaction between the leads is amazingly written. I think that few will be able to watch this film without seeing its gloomy, distant world through the eyes of either Luke or Claire. Rather, most will want to be right there as one or the other exploring the cavernous inn, living on the narrow edge of complete personal emptiness.
'Inkeepers' brings amazing atmosphere, thoroughly fleshed out characters with wonderful depth and interaction and some truly spooky moments to a horror genre that has seemed stalled in one gear for too long. It is a film that is worth viewing more than once in order to spend more time with its players, and it is a rare example of a character driven horror story that comes complete with all the bells, whistles and more.
The Conjuring (2013)
Potential for memorable horror achievement without the ghost busting duo ...
'The Conjuring' is not a bad film throughout, however it fails to stand shoulder to shoulder as it tries to do with similar, superior predecessors of the haunted house sub genre. Director James Wan and writers Chad and Carey Hayes have conjured us up a fright flick in the vein of such cult classics as 'The Legend of Hell House', 'The Amityville Horror', 'Poltertgeist' and others.
Had the script not attempted to so obdurately, obviously imitate the aforementioned much more groundbreaking examples of haunted house cinema, the objective horror fan might readily have judged the result on its own merits. Such is not the case however, due to its overall composition leaving no choice but to compare away 'The Conjuring' to much better similar films which preceded it's release.
The film is set in the early seventies which serves to lend it somehow a more gritty, darker tone overall almost as if the beginning of that decade - from where this reviewer also hails - was some bygone dark age where shadows licked hungrily at the mind, and the creak of a floor board in the middle of the night conjured night terrors of the dead fresh up from their open graves. The period setting sets up a powerfully dim feel to the movie a modern setting simply cannot achieve. Period dress, music and clothing also inspired nostalgia which will draw in many viewers who remember that era.
However, the period setting also brings to mind several of the similar haunted house films I've listed above also set around the same decade, and that definitely detracts from the potency of 'The Conjuring' as once again the viewer cannot avoid comparison - provided he or she has seen those other movies.
The film follows two separate groups of characters who lead very different lifestyles. The Perrons are a rather normal middle class couple working hard to support a large family when they move into a spacious turn of the century American Gothic farmhouse to start a new life in the Rhode Island countryside. Their story is very easy to identify with. Carolyn is a housewife and mother of five daughters, Roger is a long haul truck driver whose work keeps him on the road several days each week. Together the actors who portray them do so convincingly and the window the film provides us into their lives is comforting and enjoyable to watch them through.
The Warrens, who represent the other group followed by the script, Ed and Lorraine, are much more difficult to identify with and their profession in the context of the film requires some serious suspension of disbelief to avoid viewing as humorous, or worse - as a clumsy Hollywood creation. The Warrens are special paranormal investigators who at first seem to be in the business of debunking the hauntings they are hired to solve. We learn that Lorraine is "sensitive" to the supernatural, while Ed is the only non-clergyman outside the Church sanctioned to be titled demonologist. The introduction to their dynamic duo is borderline cheesy, and their "work" very quickly becomes cringe worthy for the serious horror fan.
As haunted house movies go, 'The Conjuring' weaves a capable visual and contextual story with the potential to frighten the audience more readily than any other recent, similar genre example. Ed Perron must leave his family to go out on the road just as the newly kindled darkness with the old new house sharpens its claws. We experience genuine building tension and terror with Carolyn and her daughters as their joy of settling into a new home unhinges into the realm of dread and animal fear.
Had 'The Conjuring' solely followed an account of the Perron family's terrifying experience in that big ancient house, this reviewer would have rated it a grateful eight stars out of ten. Regrettably, the writers chose instead to duct tape on a pair of ghost hunters, the extremely difficult to believe aspects of their ghost hunter lives including a room full of "haunted" items very similar to that found in 'Friday the 13th' the series, and a very unnecessary and contrived demonic possession and exorcism.
The behavior, backstories, dialog lines and general presence on screen of Ed and Lorraine serve to diminish the impact of the Perron's struggle and late in the plot even redirect our attention from that family's plight in order to serve up and wrap up the Warren's own needless side plot involving their child daughter. A glaring mistake the way I see it, and also a symptom of modern films trying to do far too much in the allotted running time let alone within the scope of a given plot.
'The Conjuring' is one of the more atmospheric horror films of the last decade in which bad dialog, unbelievable characterizations, unnecessary side plots and removal of viewer attention and suspense from the main story more than once mar what could have been an example of the haunted house horror sub genre capable of standing abreast of its more potent cinematic peers.
If you've been watching horror movies for several decades, you will quickly classify 'The Conjuring' as a composite of many other similar films you likely dust off and watch every so often. Likely as well you will agree that those "borrowed" concepts recycled here were much more satisfying when you viewed them in their original, respective places.
Under the Bed (2012)
This well crafted creature feature lulls you, lures you in then hits you hard
'Under the Bed' opens with dark, moody undertones that establish a sense of foreboding which fade almost unnoticeably into the slightly upbeat homecoming of the teen lead and his reunion with his kid brother under very tense circumstances. With the young ages of the two protagonists the plot leads you into a false sense of security believing that the film is perhaps targeted at a younger audience and will thus treat the viewer with kid gloves. However, such is not the case, and for serious horror fans, the third act will not disappoint.
The film is well made. Settings are clean and all of the actors give believable life to their respective characters. In particular Peter Holden is convincing as the father of the two boys who plays well a man who seems to want to be a good parent, but who has much road left to travel along the process of healing from a tragic event that took the life of someone very close to him and ripped apart his small family.
Jonny Weston's performance as 'Neal' brought to mind Jason Patrick's struggling teen role in 'The Lost Boys'. Weston really projects the fear and turmoil and disgust of a young man forced to live for years on the edge an abyss. He's jumpy, outwardly disturbed and exhausted from lack of sleep.
The film is essentially divided into two acts - the first which runs for around two thirds of its length and the second which makes 'the reveal' and brings resolution. I enjoyed this structure as it provided plenty of time to introduce and develop the characters, and tension was slowly increased along the away, although I was expecting a shock in some form to happen sooner than it did.
Additionally, while the premise has been used before, normally such stories involve parents who prance around as if completely unaware that something horrible is happening to their children. Here we have a father who cannot ignore the psychological and physical turmoil his sons are experiencing and so he must react and does so in what seem like extreme or last resort parenting efforts. I found this to be refreshing in light of the usually clueless parent characters in similar films.
I also agree with one other reviewer of this film in that the negative reviews seem misplaced. In 'Under the Bed' we have a film with dark, tense atmosphere populated by characters on the edge of breakdown, harried by a presence which cannot be explained by the laws of what we understand to be the natural order. In other words - a really good journey into horror, which takes us far away from the overpopulated genre of slasher films and into the living nightmares of two children who just want to lead the normal lives they haven't had for years.
I highly recommend 'Under the Bed' to horror movie buffs searching for their next fright fix. Make some popcorn, turn off the lights and let yourself be drawn in. You'll never see "it" coming.
Five out of ten stars for overall quality, plus one for character development and capable acting, and one more for no use of CGI to convey horror.
Assassins Tale (2013)
A coarse-grained, micro-budget treatment of the world's oldest profession
The only caveat necessary for the viewer going into 'Assassins' Tale'is that it is an extremely low budget production filmed in the style of short scenes divided by filler footage that amounts to clips of random scrolling scenery which may or may not represent the geographical setting of the story. Provided one can get past the visual quality, the film offers an interesting ride into human darkness at street level.
'Assassins' Tale' is a purely character driven story told as the recollections of a supporting character's extensive interactions with the three protagonists. These recollections are reinforced by scenes involving the heroes themselves as they ply their titular trade and an in depth study is made of the deeply personal negative effects their chosen profession has taken on their minds, souls and bodies.
Admittedly, after taking in the first few moments of the film, I was ready to turn it off and watch something else. The visual presentation is less than mediocre, especially so soon after viewing 'Pacific Rim'.
However, by the time I was ready to hit 'Stop', the character's stories had hooked me and I wanted to find out how it all ended. I really cannot praise enough the characterization skills evinced throughout by the three lead actors.
Michael Beach plays a thoughtful, introspective killer who on the surface comes off as a hardcore gunslinger, but who is really a sensitive philosopher wobbling on his last emotional leg. He's a big, tough guy, yet recent events in his life have left him questioning his place in the grand scheme of it all. His assassin is played in the tradition of Samuel Jackson's Jules Winnfield from 'Pulp Fiction' although Beach adds to that character's mythology - if such a classification exists.
Guy Garner plays perhaps the most pure or committed hit man. His character is a hungry student of the profession and the acts it requires to fulfill various assignments. He's a cold blooded surfer savant who seems to take the filth of the world in stride, yet has buckled badly on the inside and relies on narcotics to get through. He's a stone faced gargoyle of a man who appears to enjoy his work, yet would likely find other employment if not for the other two people who share his life and method of making a living, who seem to also tow him along and propel him to lead them from murder to murder.
Anna Silk is Grace, a living bridge between the other two hit men, and a force to be reckoned with herself. Her haunted, street weary portrayal of life in one of the oldest trades is quite understated in its bare bone power and arguably less than ethical connection to both her colleagues. She is their savior, their crutch and yet imperfect in her crusade to save them. As she lends them intimate support at various times so does she also seem to view them as father figure and brother in some light. She draws just as much strength from them as they from her.
The three killers who bring 'Assassins' Tale' to life are of the lower rent variety in that they are often hired to knock off street scum as opposed to high profile targets. This "street gutter" vibe is very well conveyed and explored throughout the film, and achieves an absorbing change of pace from the clean lines of huge budget flicks.
The script wraps its character studies in an interesting enough plot which ultimately leads to a life or death test of its killers' loyalty, friendship and love and forces each of them to examine the most personal and professional sides of their lives. No amazingly new story is generated here, yet what there is entertains in a strangely addictive manner. If you give the film ten minutes, you will likely be hooked.
Overall 'Assassins' Tale' is a thoughtful, low budget study of those at street level who accept payment to take the lives of thugs, low lives and other assorted bad people. It's a serious film that realizes and expresses its flaws; a film that does not project itself as more than what it is.
Get past the filming quality, and you'll find a decent story populated by interesting characters who just might grow on you. Five stars out of ten for effort and achievement with such low funding plus two for performances that get better as the story progresses.