Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review: Nine Miles Down (2009)

“Not for me, science only adds to the wonder of a sunset and everything else in the world. I don't see how it can take away.”

Director: Anthony Waller
Starring: Adrian Paul, Amanda Douge and Anthony Waller
Writers: Everett De Roche, Anthony Waller

Humanity accidently tapping into hell is always a movie idea great for exploration. Event Horizon, Hellraiser, even the cheesiness of 976-Evil where a phone is a direct line to Satan has some charm. So we come now to Nine Miles Down where a drilling station in the Sahara Desert may have tapped directly into hell. Queue evil laughter.

Security Expert Thomas Jackman goes to investigate what seems to be an abandoned drilling station. He finds weird writing on the walls, religious symbolism strewn throughout the complex and a few corpses. While investigating this disturbing scene he runs across lone survivor Jennie Christianson. Taking refuge till help arrives, reality starts to come crashing down as Thomas is assaulted with hellish visions.

What could have been an interesting story is Waller’s lack of subtlety. That’s not to say he gives away the ending but both cases for Thomas being insane and him being in hell are so over the top that the movie comes of as a confusing mess rather than thought provoking. Also the back story of Thomas is laughable in it’s over the top intensity. In the right hands this story could have been something; instead its try’s to make lofty statements without any of the work associated with the endeavour.

To make things worse the acting is incredibly bad. Adrian Paul plays Thomas, and while he’s never been the best actor, he’s certainly done a better job in other B Grade movie fare. Where as the character needed to be played low key, Mr Paul just hams it up and I was laughing at his more serious scenes because of it. Amanda Douge as Jennie does a better job, but there isn’t much for her to do. Seeming she is the focus for Thomas’s insanity or journey into hell, she has to play innocent victim and devil. So while she isn’t awful she’s never really convincing in both aspects.

Visually the movie does a lot better. The setting is an interesting one as it’s so isolated, and yet is a place that is real. Some of the hellish visions are effective, and there are some jump scares which work, but sometimes the ideas are bigger than the budget and come off very very cheap. Also as I stated Waller just goes way over the top so a lot of the visuals enter into cheesy territory that is more suited for a movie that is blatantly set in hell, rather than a movie that is trying to straddle the line between supernatural and insanity.

This isn’t a movie I would recommend, no real positives that would make it worth your while. I can’t even recommend it for people who like watching really bad movies. It’s badly acted and badly put together. It tries to walk a delicate balance but there isn’t the right skill level to accomplish it. Just avoid.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review: Hard Rock Zombies (1985)

“You're weird ya know?”

Director: Krishna Shah
Starring: E.J. Curse, Geno Andrews and Sam Mann
Writers: Krishna Shah, David Allen Ball

Every now and then I watch a movie that I can’t say is good, and yet I need to recommend it to people because the sheer levels of insanity are a thing to behold. It’s not a so bad its good movie, as a bad movie is still bad, but just sometimes you can’t really describe the madness, people need to experience it for themselves. Having said that watch me now as I try and describe the movie for your reviewing pleasure.

So much is packed into the story that I wonder what the writers were smoking, taking or thinking. Around the half way point the movie does make a turn for the bad taste, and what’s worse it doesn’t seem necessary as there is already enough to mull over without it. I’m not going to go into details about his bad taste turn, but it does have to do with Nazi’s. But besides Nazi’s, we have evil midgets, one which is deformed, a grandma werewolf, a pervert with a camera and a psycho killer girl all in the one family. And we aren’t even at the rock and roll zombies. Yep it’s pretty crazy.

Acting wise we’ve got two brands, bad or over the top. The band members are at least likable enough, but the movie does centre on them becoming zombies so after a certain point they are nothing more than walking corpses, so no acting needed. But they do have a unique zombie walk. The family of crazies is very unique, Jack Bliesener in particular seems to be having fun as the head of the family but even his joy can’t really overcome the bad taste turn.

Now the story is about this rock band that comes to town, is killed by the crazy family, then comes back to life thanks to a fan and then they seek revenge. There is actually more to this but it’s a big mess. While the jumping from story point to story point means there is next to no boredom, it’s hard to get invested in the movie. Especially seeming that half the time the style resorts to an almost music video with random things thrown into the movie for the hell of it. Stepping back there is a sense of lampooning the horror genre and the extremes of music videos. It never really works as Krishna Shah just has an idea, but no real talent when it comes to putting together a cohesive movie.

For those who love horror movies and those that are far from the main stream there is a core of insanity in this movie that needs to be watched. But it’s far from a good movie. There are several ideas working in this movie and they all appear to be undoing each other. I will also stress there is a plot point that while didn’t cause me much grief, but I can see some audience members finding it offensive. If there are friends about put it on, but otherwise maybe avoid it if you can.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Review: The Woman in Black (2012)

“I believe the most rational mind can play tricks in the dark.”

Director: James Watkins
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer and Ciarán Hinds
Writer: Jane Goldman

Mr Radcliffe has a huge task in front of him; he needs to break free from his image of Harry Potter and quick. Despite his theatrical work and some movies in-between Harry Potter, most audiences will associate him with the boy wizard and the type cast curse is just around the corner. Thankfully Hammer studios, the purveyors of British horror have given him a chance to break free with something a lot more adult.

The Woman in Black is a simple story about a young lawyer travelling to a remote village, where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman who is terrorizing the locals. Thanks to the simplicity of the story, the movie can concentrate on creating an eerie atmosphere. Also unlike last years Insidious there is no complicated third act to wreck what was built up. The movie creates a wonderful blend of jump scares, and genuine creepy moments.

Daniel Radcliffe is the centre of this entire movie, and other than one character he is the biggest presence in the movie. It’s his personal journey as well as his horror story. Daniel is fantastic and with this movie proves that his future is bright and one that won’t succumb to the horrors of type casting. If there is one problem, it’s that Daniel Radcliffe still looks very young and I did have some trouble believing him, however it’s not really his problem and as I said his acting is fantastic so the troubles didn’t last long. Also one actor of note is Ciaran Hinds as Daily, one of the locals who actually tries to be a friend to Arthur (Radcliffe). He’s a calming presence in a movie high on the tension. He and Daniel also share a great friend like chemistry.

Visually the movie is very clever and Watkins has a great eye for particular shots. Not only are there the jump scares, but there are visual tricks in the background. What makes these tricks work is there are some shots which look like there is somebody in the background but it turns out to be a statue, or a painting, it’s just the angle which throws us off. Keeping the audience off balance is great for extending the tension as we are never sure what’s real until it’s staring us in the face and making us need a change of pants.

Last year Insidious had a similar effect on me but really blew it with the ending. While I didn’t exactly hate the end’s idea, it did seem to be under developed, and derailed an otherwise scary movie. Woman in Black doesn’t have a huge change in its story, and therefore never derails and in my mind is more successful as a story than Insidious. I did have problems with maybe the last minute of the movie at first, but then thinking about it, it proved a little cleverer than I gave it credit for. However I can see some audience members baulking at it and it could ruin an otherwise great horror movie experience.

I think fans of ghost stories will love this movie. It’s tense, scary and a great return for Hammer movies. Radcliffe proves he’s more than a boy wizard, and I hope he really starts getting into a diverse range of movies. Upon leaving I got the feeling that this movie might be making my top ten. I was jumping a lot and loving every minute of it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: ChromeSkull - Laid to Rest 2 (2011)

“Evil is only skin deep.”

Director: Robert Hall
Starring: Brian Austin Green, Thomas Dekker and Mimi Michaels
Writers: Kevin Bocarde, Robert Hall

Like any good horror franchise there will always be a sequel or remake. Laid to Rest won my heart and when I heard there was a sequel I was looking forward to it. However Laid to Rest 2 falls into the big mistake of most sequels, it tries to expand the world and in doing so destroys the simple pleasures of the original. So let’s delve in and see where it went wrong.

Well, not to make this review short, but the biggest problem is that there is not enough Chrome Skull in a movie that is attempting to focus on Chrome Skull. Instead we get a substitute villain played by Brain Austin Green. While there is potential in the actual story, it just doesn’t feel right when compared to the original movie. A simple story is replaced by a very layered exposition of who Chrome Skull is, but in one of the bigger insults it’s not all fully explained. So the movie drags without it any real pay off. Also with the focus so much on the killer, the victims aren’t as interesting, and therefore I don’t care.

While the character of Preston (Brian Austin Green) is interesting and played rather well by Green, I just wanted him off the screen as he was taking up valuable Chrome Skull time. Nick Principe is back as Chrome Skull but this time there is something lacking in his performance. I loved all the subtle moments in the original that made Chrome Skull more human. In this movie he’s more a presence than a person and it takes away one of the best things from the original. None of the other actors are really worth mentioning as they are either body count or exposition machines.

Thankfully the special effects that were great in the first movie are still great in the second. In this respect Robert Hall knows what he’s doing and the practical effects are always appreciated as they do lend a lot of impact to the kills. Unfortunately while the kills were impressive they were more entertaining than emotionally impactful as I didn’t care about the victims. Yes I’m harping on this a little, but it’s important as it’s a flaw many horror movies have. Directorial Hall is still very competent and knows how to make the most of what he has; maybe the main killing area is a little plain, especially considering the amount of time spent there.

Overall there is some enjoyment to be had with this movie but it’s definitely lesser than the original. There is a vibe of the movie trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. We don’t need to know everything about the killer; little hints are all we really need. Still if you liked the first then give this a watch. Enjoy the gore then watch the original again.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review: Dark Shadows (2012)

“You may strategically place your wonderful lips upon my posterior and kiss it repeatedly!”

Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Eva Green
Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith

There was a time when Tim Burton was one of my favourite directors. But things took a turn around about his remake of Planet of the Apes. Personally I don’t think he’s lost his talent, as at the very least he has one or two moments that shine, but I think he’s become very comfortable in what he does and doesn’t want to push himself. However in Dark Shadows I saw the potential to push him self once more; sure the first trailer didn’t fill me with hope but I was still hopeful.

First off the acting in this movie is pretty damn decent. Johnny Depp yet again plays a quirky character, but there is a hint of seriousness in this performance that is a little more refreshing than say the Mad Hatter or Jack Sparrow. Michelle Pfeiffer is excellent as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, she plays straight woman to all the other characters, but is strong enough to not be lost in the background. Eva Green is the villain of the piece, and brings forth a tonne of sexuality for the role, not to mention a creepy bloody voice when she get’s extremely witchy. All the other actors are fine in their roles but I think they suffer thanks to a movie that doesn’t spend the necessary time with them. For Bella Heathcote who plays Victoria Winters this is a massive problem as she is the main love interest for Barnabas Collins (Depp) and the movie does put this relationship at the centre, but never gives it enough time.

Visually the movie actually takes a step back from Burton’s usual style. While there are flourishes we’ve come to expect from him, most of the movie is guided by the era and a natural feel to it all. For the most part it works and allows the weirder colour schemes to stand out. It’s nice to see Burton break free from his standard look. The camerawork though is nothing to really write home about and for the life of me I can’t really remember anything that stood out.

Where the movie really falls apart is in the story. I’m not sure who can be blamed for this, but Seth Grahame-Smith has to shoulder most of the responsibility. The movie is overly long and yet crammed with too many story threads to really do service to all the characters. There are some plot points that just pop up out of nowhere, and you wonder why there was a need to put them in. This movie all most begs to be a series of movies as there is a wealth of stories to use, but in one fell swoop it’s blown it’s load so to speak. I’m not sure if it was a want to reference as many story lines from the original series as possible but it just didn’t work.

Another thing that doesn’t work is the clash of tones. The trailer made the movie look like a comedy that the family could all enjoy, but with very dark moments and lots of sex it just doesn’t really mesh. Barnabas as a vampire who has trouble adjusting to the new era is funny, but how can you laugh at a character who murders people in cold blood. I think this does come down to Burton trying to put his sensibilities into subject matter that really doesn’t gel with it. This is where I wish Burton would get brave and maybe try to make a movie with a more serious tone and leave the comedy alone.

My main problem with Burton is his seeming want to change things to his vision without giving any thought if it works or not. He is a talented director but he needs to make some brave moves. Overall I can’t say this movie is that bad, in fact other than maybe Big Fish it’s my favourite of his sense the Planet of the Apes, but if you are tired of Burton then this movie will not change your mind. Also parents should keep in mind that this is not a movie for kids and disregard the trailer.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: Laid to Rest (2009)

“He wants to make me dead.”

Director: Robert Hall
Starring: Bobbi Sue Luther, Kevin Gage and Lena Headey
Writer: Robert Hall

Slasher movies are a dime a dozen and normally they suck. But it’s because Slasher movies are easy to make and a good genre for first time directors to get into. Every month I read Fangoria and see another dozen or so slasher movies being released into the wilderness. So does Laid to Rest have what it takes to be memorable? Or will it lie in a ditch with most of the rest.

The movie starts off on a wonderful note with the main heroine (Bobbi Sue Luther) simply known as The Girl, wakes up in a coffin. Trying to escape she comes across her would be killer Chromeskull and from there she brings other innocent people into his reach. Pretty straight forward but the story isn’t where the movie is trying to separate itself.

Robert Hall takes his make up special effects skills and puts them to use in this movie. He wants us to see the impact of Chromeskull’s kills and the aftermath. Sometimes special effects people turned director have a problem of being over ambitious, however Robert Hall keeps the story simple and concentrates on giving the audience its visceral fun. And in case you haven’t figured it out yet, the special effects on this movie are pretty damn good.

Acting wise we have three main characters and they all come off damn fine. First we have Bobbi Sue Luther who has a very difficult choir. She has lost some of her memories, might be suffering from brain damage, frightened, and confuse as all hell. It’s tough to get all this across in the small amount of time we have for introductions, but she manages to do it. There is also a certain strength she brings forth that creates a well rounded character. Kevin Gage plays Tucker, one of the people who comes to the aid of the girl. Tucker is a kind and decent man with some rough edges, and the further into the movie he’s able to display a deepness of character that is often lacking in horror fare. The two make for very likeable leads and I was cheering them on.

Now we get to the villain of the piece. Chromeskull as played by Nick Principe brings a certain quality to the slasher that I haven’t seen much of. On the surface he’s a killer that records his killings, and even after the killing continues to get his kicks through mutilation. He also wears a nifty Chromeskull mask and appears to be a very rich man. But all this matters not, if it wasn’t for all the small touches Principe puts into the killer. From the casual wave goodbye to a fleeing victim, or the sigh as things don’t go his way, Chromeskull comes across more human than most and this makes it all the more scarier.

I think the biggest round of applause has to go to Robert Hall who has made a movie that is very simple on the surface, and a visual gore feast for horror hounds, yet has characters that have many layers which makes us care. Being somewhat sick of arsehole characters in horror films, it’s always nice to see a horror movie that takes the time to make us care about the proceedings, rather than worry about body count. Honestly this is the best of both worlds for horror fans, great gore, great horror, great characters. If you are into horror then you need to see this.

Review: Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

“I don't know if the house is haunted, but I hope it is.”

Director: Tod Williams
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat and Molly Ephraim
Writers: Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon, and Tom Pabst

So it’s time for another round of Paranormal Activity, and this time it’s personal. Well not really that personal but hell you try and come up with ways to hook people into your reviews, time and time again. Last time we focused on the couple of Katie and Micah, this time we are in the way back machine and looking at Katie’s sister Kristi and her family.

Before I watched this movie, I had heard good things that the Paranormal Activity got better with each passing movie. Thankfully everyone seems to be right. I think one of the strongest factors in this movie is the emphasis on the family dynamic. A bit more time is given to how people interact and you start to care more for the Kristi, Ali and Daniel when they are being threatened by this evil entity. Sure you won’t find the deepest of storylines here, but it’s a lot more competently done than the first movie. There is also a concerted effort to start to weave a mythology not just throughout this movie but tie it into the first movie. The mythology is very interesting and has a very dark feel to it, especially with how the entities are tied to the sisters.

Acting wise is that mixed bag with found footage films, going with unknowns can create a greater level of believability but the acting can be somewhat dodgy. I had no real problem with the acting in this movie, but no one really stood out. Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat reprise their roles, and it was nice to see their past connections. It fleshed out their background a little bit. Sprague Grayden as Kristi Rey played paranoid mother well enough, and did have good sisterly chemistry with Katie. However the best performance goes to Molly Ephraim who plays Ali Rey, daughter of Daniel and step daughter of Kristi. There was just something about her that made me get behind the character more than the rest. I kind of wish the movie focused more on her, but seeming this is the tale of two sisters, it wasn’t meant to be.

Most of the scares are just jump scares, but there is more attention to creating tension. Unlike the first movie where a lot of times nothing happened, this movie makes sure to keep things, even if they are small things, moving along. A lot of the special effects are also done by optical illusion meaning that there is a greater realism to what we are seeing, and therefore it’s a lot scarier.

If you liked the first movie, then you will enjoy this. You should also appreciate the lengths of creating a more fully fleshed out world that the characters live in. For those who aren’t fans of the first, or haven’t watched the first then it’s hard to recommend. Though if you are new then the sequel actually being a prequel means it is easier to get in to than you would realise. Can’t wait to see the third movie and see if the trend of getting better continues.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review – Torque (2004)

“I just jumped my bike onto the roof of a moving train. It's amazing what you can do when you have no choice.”

Director: Joseph Kahn
Starring: Martin Henderson, Ice Cube and Monet Mazur
Writer: Matt Johnson

Legends say there is a movie so over the top it has two women using martial arts on each other while riding a motorcycle. Finally finding the legendary Torque I managed to sit down and see if it was gloriously true. Well it was certainly over the top but that does not make it a good movie? Let’s rev the engine and see.

 I can understand what Joseph Kahn is attempting to do with this movie, by taking this movie to ridiculous lengths with its action beats; it’s trying to parody the ridiculous nature of some action movies. Obviously there are parallels to this movie and the Fast and the Furious series. However there is a line of pretending to be bad, and just being plain bad that is too easy to cross with this type of parody movie, and in Torque’s case it crosses the line at 100 miles and hour (or kilo meters for the metric countries).

To be fair I think a lot of the problems might be in the hands of the writer Matt Johnson. This movie brims with cheesiness that might not be as self parodying as the director wanted. While the dialogue is said with tongue in cheek, the action scenes are written as if by a five year old wanting to put it up on screen because it will look cool. We have kung fu on bikes, a chase scene on top of a train, and a motor cycle that breaks the laws of physics. Thanks to the use of bad CGI as well, none of the action scenes have any bite.

So on top of all this we have some seriously bad acting. Martin Henderson comes off not macho enough for a role like this and seemed seriously miscast. Monet Mazur as the love interest Shane, could have been a good role but instead just seems bored. The two main villains played by Matt Schulze and Jaime Pressly try and ham things up a bit, but the movie kind of leaves them lacking. The only good actor in this movie has to be Ice Cube who kind of gets what Kahn wants this movie to be. He is that cliché tough guy character who walks the line between smiling to the audience and playing the role for real. Say Ice Cube is the best actor in this movie is a testament to how bad everything is.

Honestly I don’t have a lot of time for this movie, after I had watched it I felt like I had wasted a lot of my time. I can only extrapolate from this that others who watch it will also find it a waste of their time. Okay that’s not fair, maybe on a bad movie night, this might just be the thing. I can understand what Joseph Kahn was going for, but seriously I can’t recommend this movie to anyone unless they are going for the bad movie night.