Friday, 2 October 2015

Movie Review: The Visit (2015)


Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Writer: M. Night Shyamalan 

Stars: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan 

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 94 min


SYNOPSIS

Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are sent to live with their grandparents so their mother can enjoy a vacation with her new boyfriend. Becca is a budding filmmaker and decides to film a documentary about her grandparents, which soon leads to a dark secret being discovered about the loveable old fogies.

THOUGHTS/REVIEW

M. Night Shyamalan's career has been on the downward spiral since 2006, with a series of critically panned and commercially disastrous duds that most people wondering if he'd lost his touch. There was a time at the turn of the century where he was the hottest thing in genre cinema and you couldn't even bury yourself in an underground bunker without hearing mention of his name.  Now it's impossible for anybody to review one of his movies without discussing his career trajectory given how much it slumped.  However, there's always a sense of intrigue surrounding his movies whenever one is released.  The Visit - which M. Night financed himself - sees him at his most unrestrained to-date.  However, an unrestrained Shyamalan is just as mediocre as he's always been.

The Visit has an excellent premise, but like all of Shyamalan's work, it just didn't live up to it.  Not a lot happens at all, and when it does it's all so underwhelming.  Tonally, it's all over the place: a cross between a slow-brooding chiller and off-kilter comedy; which would be fine if it was atmospheric or funny.  Let's start with the main characters, the kids.  Both are spectacular in their roles - as is the whole cast, to be fair - but Tyler is one of the most annoying children you're ever likely to encounter. Inspired by rapper Tyler The Creator, he emulates his hero with equal amounts of obnoxiousness. His sister, Becca, is fine.  Not memorable in anyway, although you can't help but resent her knowing if her character wasn't written, this movie wouldn't exist and that would be a good thing.  Sorry, that was harsh.


The cast all perform their roles well and the grandparents are effectively creepy.  There's a couple of scenes with the grandma - including a chase under the house and a hilarious scene with an oven that offer a much welcome diversion from the tediousness that is the rest of the movie.  Unfortunately, it's just not enough to save this from being a mostly uneventful, uninteresting turd of a movie.  It lacks the tension needed for an effective slow burn horror film and it doesn't have enough laughs or gallows humour to work as a comedy.  It sits somewhere on the fence as a flat attempt at both and quite frankly, it's all my fault for expecting something more given that I haven't enjoyed a single M. Night Shyamalan film in my life.  If you're on my boat, I doubt this will win you over.  However, if you are a fan of his earlier efforts, you might find The Visit to be a return to form.

Great performances from the cast and a couple of scenes stop this from being a complete turkey; but that's all it has going for it.  Avoid unless you're already a fan.  This movie has saved M. Night's career, so let's hope he can make something spectacular in the future.  I think if he worked with good writers he could be a great filmmaker.  For now he's nothing more than a Sandman, and his films are the dust that help me get to sleep.  4/10


Thursday, 1 October 2015

Movie Review: Combat Shock (1986)


Director: Buddy Giovinazzo

Writer: Buddy Giovinazzo 

Stars: Rick Giovinazzo, Veronica Stork, Mitch Maglio

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 90 min


SYNOPSIS:

A day in the life of Frankie - a mentally ill Vietnam veteran living in poverty with a nagging wife and a starving deformed baby - as he tries to find work and meet ends meet in the New York slums while evading gangsters he owes money to, all the while his mental health deteriorates beyond repair.

REVIEW

Before I get started, I just want to get this awful pun out of the way: Combat Shock gives new meaning to the term ''a bun in the oven.''  If you've seen the ending you'll know exactly what I mean; if you haven't I suggest you do so immediately, then laugh inappropriately as you think about that old phrase, which was coined in the 20th Century by Nicholas Monsarrat. However, Combat Shock is no laughing matter: it's actually pretty grim.

Buddy Giovinazzo's bleak drama explores the effects of war on mental health, and the effects it has on a soldier trying to re-integrate himself back into a society that has no place for him. Post-Nam movies  ]often dealt with veterans who have been left behind by the country they fought to protect, but Combat Shock takes it to another level of depressing.  Frankie (Rick Giovinazzo) can't catch a break; he can't find work anywhere, his sanity is gradually slipping away and he can't support his family, who are facing eviction due to missing rent payments for their rotten apartment.  And as I mentioned earlier, his baby is a mutant.  I'm talking Eraserhead levels of mutated here, not just the standard ugly babies you see coming out of Kardashian's.  There's no way this kid's pram would get stopped in the street and petted by the elderly.  This little freak is so ugly even its own nightmares would be scared of it.  So, Frank's life sucks; his job and family situation is at rock bottom and - to make matters worse - he owes a lot of money to some gangsters.  His best friend is a junkie who dies of an overdose and he can't get welfare because they're "cutting back''. Add all of these factors to his imminent self-destruction - where he goes on a Travis Bickle - and you get a good idea of how bad this guys situation is.


Did that put you off your food yet?  Well just be thankful that you have food, because this baby didn't have any.  By today's standards, that image above might look silly, but bare in mind this was 1986 and people weren't ready for that yet.  Furthermore, it's a Troma film, so if you're expecting anything other than cheap you're being optimistic, although for Troma standards, this was Alien.  Well it was only distributed by Troma, hence why it's genuinely quite good.  This was DIY, guerilla filmmaking, but it's visual elements aren't what make it effective; it's the tone.  Much like Jim Van Bebber's Deadbeat At Dawn, it's a cheap, nasty, nihilistic film that should come with a batch of Prozac in the DVD extras, because the sense of desolation and hopelessness is so overwhelming.  This isn't supposed to be entertaining; it's a slow paced and rough around the edges, with the sole purpose of shocking, disturbing and making you think about some of the social issues faced by the impoverished during the time period.


Combat Shock isn't without it's faults, however.  For a start, it's about 15 minutes too long.  A lot of shots unnecessarily linger, and while they do have a purpose, they could have been trimmed slightly. Furthermore, the music is far too upbeat and not in sync with the bleak tone of them film. It's an enjoyable electro-jaunt in its own right, but an ominous, menacing, underlying synth drone would have been more appropriate.  Apart from that, the film is vanilla.  You might want to kill yourself after watching it, but if you can handle films which aim to challenge, punish and depress the audience then look no further than this little gem.  The director would go on to make the more refined and mightily impressive Life Is Hot In Cracktown some years later; that's a good gateway to his work if you don't want to dive straight into the deep end, even though it's harrowing stuff in its own right.

Depressing, but compelling exploitation cinema at its bleakest.  7.10

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Comic Book Review: Schismatic: Issue #1


Created By: Andrew Adams & Rachel Briner

Writer: Andrew Adams

Art: Rachel Briner


Schismatic #1 is the first of a planned 6 issue mini-series by co-creators Andrew Adams and Rachel Briner, and I am happy to report that the future of the series is safe as they've secured enough funds to press ahead and continue with what's shaping up to be a truly special story if this issue is anything to go by.  My advice: go find a copy right now and read it if you're a comic book fan - or just a fan of original storytelling through any artistic medium.

Issue 1 is the mouth watering issue.  It gives us a taste of what's to come before we get into the meat of the story - but my advice is not to read it on an empty stomach like I did, because the cannibalism had me really craving a hot meal, much like the issue itself had me craving even more issues.  In case you haven't figured it out yet, I really enjoyed this comic as much as I enjoy food.

It tells the story of Amalia and Idris - two parents living in a totalitarian society ruled by The Deep Order of Illuminate Souls, a group of survivors from a series of natural disasters which nearly wiped out their world.  Amalia and Idris are pacifists who just want to live in peace and run their restaurant; they try not to speak ill of the deity Argoroth whom the Order worship and they tell off their kids when they do so, for fear of being overheard and punished accordingly.  However, this is not their day: Feeling hungry after a busy day of proud beheading, the Order enter the restaurant led by an unpleasant carnivore called Grave Arbiter and orders Amalia to cook the flesh from the head he just claimed.

The families peaceful life soon takes a turn for the worse however, as Grave Arbiter begins to quiz Idris, which leads to one of the children attacking the quizzical, cannibalistic intruder.  Naturally, he's not very forgiving - but instead of slaughtering the family, he takes the kids away and sends the parents to Ironstrike - a work camp prison where inmates have to dig their own cells because it's so overcrowded.  Faced with a decade of imprisonment, slavery and the worry of the cruelties being administered on their children, Amalia and Idris plan to escape; although the path to freedom is one of darkness, monsters and death traps that will force them to compromise their pacifist beliefs.


In this issue we're introduced to our protagonists - both of whom are very likeable and easy to sympathise with.  They're the type of heroes I can see myself rooting for, even though I absolutely loved Grave Arbiter because of how much of a cruel, sadistic villain he is.  However, what's most impressive about Schismatic so far is the world building they've created.  This is a story rich with imagination and to think we've only seen a glimpse of it just makes me excited.  I want to see more of this universe; I want to learn more about the evil Order who rule it; and, most importantly, I want to pick up the next issue to and be a part of the adventure.

This is an outstanding foundation to build a series on.  The story is violent, intense and riveting; the characters are well-drawn and memorable; and the world building is truly exceptional.  MORE!!!! I WANT MORE!!!  This is the beginning of an adventure I want to be a part of.  And if you read it I bet you'll feel the same.  8/10

Saturday, 26 September 2015

My Thoughts On The Ghostbusters Outrage


As you all know by now, they're remaking Ghostbusters and the internet is pissssed.  Not for a long time has there been such a fanboy backlash against a remake - at least not in my recent memory anyway, which is albeit hazy right now after a night on the beer and bourbon.  Anyway, even if this is the best movie ever it's not going to get a fair viewing from many people; morons have already decided it's shit having not even seen a clip and they're going to do everything in their power to force themselves to hate it when they do see it (because chances are it'll be pretty good).  Of course, that's like my opinion, man.  But Paul Feig has a good track record for producing entertaining comedies and the cast he's assembled are very talented in their own right.  Remakes happen.  Ghostbusters was inevitable.  It might actually be good, like many remakes have been and like all movies have the potential to be.  

Women can't catch ghosts.  If you're going to be in the business of paranormal pest control then you better have a penis.  That way if your Proton Pack stops working, you can catch the ghosts with your junk.  Women don't have junk, therefore would be up Poop Creek without a paddle if their Proton Packs stop working.  I'm assuming this is the only reason people are complaining about the new team being ladies, because surely nobody can be that pissed over something so trivial.  Sure, I can see wjy people wouldn't want to see Spiderman cast as a woman because it's built on a legacy of gender specification, but Ghostbusters?  I don't recall that ever being a No Girls Allowed club.  But let's face it; chances are if you're so annoyed about vaginas replacing your perfect phallic childhood memories then you're probably not a very open minded person anyway.  I mean, they ruined Mad Max: Fury Road - the most reviled movie of all time. *Eye roll*

"This remake will rape my childhood.''  Because as well know, remakes ruin their originals.  As adults, it's impossible for us to be able to separate both, therefore the newer versions completely taint the classics we've loved our entire lives.  No longer will the nostalgia of our diaper years be rainbows and cookies; instead it'll be a dark place, with giant metaphorical boners assaulting our memories with painful force.  Remakes rape memories.  Those dirty dirty remakes have stolen our innocence and left us broken shells of our former selves.  Leave our childhoods alone and don't bother trying to update our stories for a new generation, you cruel bastards.
In an ideal world, remakes wouldn't exist and the world of cinema would be booming with originality.  But that's not the nature of the beast and, in my opinion, there have been a number of remakes that have been enjoyable - and some that have surpassed their predecessor.  However, with Ghostbusters a reboot for the 21st century is a great idea; it's a universe with a lot of potential for more great supernatural shenanigans.  It seems a shame to leave it as 2 films. a cartoon series, a video game and some comics when there are countless more stories you can tell.  When a universe like the one in Ghostbusters is available, why not milk it for all it's worth?  The term ''remake'' is such a negative label, but in this case I like to view it as an expansion.  

I can sympathise with your scepticism though and I do understand it.  There are people out there who hate remakes for various reasons, but I personally don't understand those who have the claws out already before they've even seen a clip.  Maybe you don't like remakes in general; maybe you don't like the cast or the director.  Those are valid reasons to not be looking forward to it; my main issue is with the nasty, butt hurt crybabies who have their knives out already and will stick it in the film regardless of how it turns out.  The internet movie geek community is a wonderful place in many ways, but there are those who will scream bloody murder at every single announcement.  What's worse is that some studios might actually listen to the shrieking man babies and give in to their outrage, thus compromising their original vision.  For the sake of a bunch of whiners who won't give the film a fair chance anyway.

When Ghostbusters opens next year, theatres will fill with people out for a good time.  However, there will also be the small group with the loudest voices (or active type fingers) who will lambaste into the ground; some will even do so without even going to see it to make a fair judgement.  But it'll make millions of dollars and hopefully churn out many sequels that'll keep the magical universe alive for many years to come.  I have high hopes for the new Ghostbusters and I'm excited to see where they go with it.  I don't have any reason to be pessimistic yet and I'll be going in prepared to love it.  What do you guys think?


Sunday, 30 August 2015

My Top 5 Favorite Wes Craven Movies


The horror community is at a loss for words tonight as we mourn the loss of one of its most beloved icons. On August 30th, 2015, Wes Craven was taken from us and I for one am genuinely heartbroken by this news.  My introduction to horror came through Wes Craven films: As a kid I had a VHS copy of ''Scream'' and ''Scream 2'' recorded on the same blank video tape, and I used to watch it behind my mothers back every night after I'd finished my homework.  My fascination with these films led me to going out as Ghostface most Halloweens until my teens, which would see me discovering and dressing up as Freddy.  These movies were not only my gateway to Craven, they were my gateway to horror and instrumental in my formative years of discovering cinema for myself.

This is a dark night for fans of Wes Craven.  For many of us, he's been a fixture in our lives as long as we can remember and it feels like losing a friend.  But he left behind a legacy of amazing work that will outlive us all; even at his worst, his movies were always at least entertaining for me.  He had a great run and gave us some classics and underrated gems which will be rediscovered by a lot of people looking back on his career over the coming days.  Here are 5 of my personal favorites.  What are yours?

5. Shocker


''Shocker'' will never be remembered as one of Craven's finest hours, but it's a movie I've always thoroughly enjoyed.  It was a clear attempt to recreate a franchise that would replicate the success of ''A Nightmare On Elm Street'', but instead it ended up a critical and commercial failure, marking a low point in Craven's career. I've never understood why people dislike it; this is a fun film with a terrific villain who's vicious and entertaining.  Watch it with an open mind and you might fall in love.

4. The People Under The Stairs


The 90's will always be looked at as a bad decade for horror, but it did produce a few gems and this was one of them.  In fact, I'd go as far to call this a masterpiece of the genre; I've always been a fan of incest and creepy parents in movies and this is one of the best to portray both.  It's a little campy and it's often hilarious, but the laughs never come at the expense of the chills.  This is one weird, demented little classic that has been overshadowed by his other films.

3. Red Eye


Although his career will always be remembered for horror, Craven dipped his toes in other genres a couple of times.  ''Red Eye'' is a terrific suspense thriller starring the amazing Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams which was a moderate box office success that's went on to become somewhat forgotten as the years have passed.  ''Red Eye'' doesn't tread new ground, but some fine performances and a well-structured, highly engaging story makes for an engaging viewing experience.

2. The Serpent Than The Rainbow


''The Serpent and the Rainbow'' is a fascinating movie.  Not only is it effectively creepy, but it goes into depth exploring an interesting subject matter - voodoo.  I don't believe in magic, but voodoo is a real practice by some cultures and - despite my skepticism of it actually working - this movie gets in my head. Furthermore, it's based on a ''true story'' apparently: let that thought seep in next time you watch it.  This film is considered a favorite among Craven fans - and deservedly so as it's a masterpiece.

1. A Nightmare On Elm Street


''A Nightmare On Elm Street'' is a seminal classic which turned the character of a child murderer into a pop culture phenomenon.  Freddy Krueger was a new type of villain; he could get us where no other could - in our dreams.  A really good horror movie will make the audience sleep with the lights on, but a great one will make you never want to sleep again.  To this day, ''A Nightmare On Elm Street'' is lightning in a bottle.

Those are my personal favorite Craven films; I realize I've left out ''The Last House On The Left'', ''Scream'', ''The Hills Have Eyes'' and ''New Nightmare'', but I was spoiled for choice.  He never let me down once; I even enjoyed ''My Soul To Take'' and ''Music of the Heart.''  What are your favorites?

R.I.P. Wes.  You will be missed.





Monday, 24 August 2015

Movie Review: Lost River (2015)


Director: Ryan Gosling

Writer: Ryan Gosling

Stars: Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker, Matt Smith

Genre: Mystery, Fantasy

Running Time: 95 min

SYNOPSIS

"Lost River" is a dark fairy tale about love, family and the fight for survival in the face of danger. In the virtually abandoned city of Lost River, Billy (Christina Hendricks), a single mother of two, is led into a macabre underworld in her quest to save her childhood home and hold her family together. Her teenage son Bones (Iain De Casestecker) discovers a mystery about the origins of Lost River that triggers his curiosity and sets into motion an unexpected journey that will test his limits and the limits of those he loves.

THOUGHTS/REVIEW

Ryan Gosling has forged quite the career from marching to the beat of his own drum; his acting roles are picked based on what interests him as opposed to coasting on his looks and charms all the way to the bank, and now, with his first directorial feature, he's created a bamboozling piece of arthouse cinema in the vein of his mentor Nicolas Refn, and idols like David Lynch, Dario Argento and Gaspar Noe.  Film buffs are sure to have a ball playing spot the influence; Gosling proudly wears ''Blue Velvet'' and ''Mulholland Drive'' on his sleeve, through the lens of ''Only God Forgives'', but it's not more than the product of a first time director homaging his idols.  Like his acting roles, this isn't concerned about pleasing the mainstream; in fact, judging by its Cannes reaction and Rotten Tomatoes score it isn't pleasing anybody. Critics are writing it off as a collage of influences on a canvas with no originality of its own; there are nods and influences of other directors on display as clear as day, but to dismiss this as a collage of others work which has nothing to offer on its own merit is false.


Gosling tackles issues like small town life, poverty, bullying, family, coming of age, and the environment in his first outing; Christina Hendricks plays the mother who goes to desperate lengths to support her family, leading her into a dark underworld overseen by Ben Mendelsohn's Dave, a sleazy Luciferian-like scumbag with a fondness for karaoke.  Saoirse Ronan plays Rat, the young love interest of Bones (Iain De Caestecker), who spend their time ducking bullies led by the appropriately named Bully, played by Doctor Who himself, Matt Smith, in  career best performance thus far.  Their town is decaying as a result of the economic crisis, and the setting makes for a desolate urban fairytale.

Water plays an important part in Lost River; in a town where water is hard to come by, all the characters still seem to be drowning in one way or another.  Social commentary is playfully used to suggest that industrial and commercial growth has replaced reservoirs to the point nobody knows what they are any more, despite being necessary in order to survive.


''Lost River'' is an unabashed love letter to the avant-garde cinema Gosling is inspired by, but to dismiss it as only that is unfair; although viewed through the lens of Refn, with the imagery of Lynch, Mallick, Noe and Argento splashed across the screen throughout, this urban fairytale has strong characters and enough moral, societal and self-empowering messages to stand on its own 2 legs.  Overall, it's a visually striking treat that could suck you in based on that alone, but Gosling is a director with a voice who shows great promise, even if he does need a little confidence to speak louder without his influences whispering in his ear.  8/10


Friday, 14 August 2015

Trailer: American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock


The trailer for the follow-up to underground hit American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts & Gore (my review) is upon us and by the looks of it, it promises to be messed up.

"A man finds himself trapped and used for medical experiments in an abandoned mental facility. He doesn’t understand why or how he got there, but the surgical tortures allow him to experience a new level of pain, sadness and reality he has never felt before. As the levels of maniacal mutilation enfolds, he finds himself down the rabbit hole. Grasping onto anything, the tormented finds a way out. Clutching onto what every human being is desperate for…little does he understand, his ending is all of our endings.''

 Written by Stephen Biro (founder of Unearthed Films and director of ''Bouquet of Guts & Gore) and directed by Marcus Koch (FX wizard behind ''We Are Still Here & director of ''100 Tears''), ''Bloodshock'' promises to be gruesome, but unlike the previous installment, it's not all about the gore this time around.  I'm excited to see where they go with it.