Monday, October 29, 2012

Scarefest 2012 - The Tall Man

Today's Movie:  The Tall Man (2012)

Starring:  Jessica Biel, the Cigarette Smoking Man from 'The X-Files', one of those actors that you see all the time but never know the name of.

Plot:  An old mining town trapped in a downward spiral is terrorized by a child abductor known as The Tall Man.  That's pretty much it only it doesn't even begin to describe the plot in even the slightest way, shape or form.  I will explain below.

Gore Factor:  Mild. Biel does have the living shit beat out of her throughout the film, but there aren't any graphic murders or gory scenes.

Nude Factor:  Sadly, since Biel is one of my hottie crushes, none.

Scare Factor:  Not much.  The lone creepy scene happens early on.  This is less a horror movie than an action thriller. 

Review:  This is a difficult movie to review mainly because I went in expecting a certain type of movie, watching the first half as if it's setting up that EXACT type of movie, only to have it turn the tables not once, but three times along the way (may actually be four now that I think of it, but you get the idea).

Phase one:  Biel is a county doctor (really a nurse who took over for her deceased husband) who becomes a victim of The Tall Man when her son is abducted.  Not taking such things lying down, she proceeds to chase the kidnapper down, manages to crash his truck, and track him into the woods only to lose him.  Not a bad way to start things off.  She is found by a Federal agent who has been coming in to work the missing children cases for a few months.

Phase Two:  The Fed strangely takes her to a local diner instead of a  hospital because....well...mainly to further the plot along.  While there the towns folks act weird towards her and it seems as if this entire town is in on the child abductions.  Biel becomes wise to their conspiracy when she sees the picture of her son on an altar surrounded by candles.  Is the entire town involved in some sort of cult that sacrifices their own children???  Biel escapes out the back door and the entire diner goes after her. 

SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!!!!!

Phase Three:  Biel hides in the back of the sheriff's car (who is the weakest link and showing doubt about this entire thing) and manages to find her son.  Only she's knocked out by the kidnapper (Biel's character takes so much trauma to her head in this film she would have been brain dead in real life)  She awakens to find herself strapped to a chair while the resident crazy lady explains that the boy is actually her son and that Biel is the one who kidnapped him.  Wha, wha????  Is this lady telling the truth or is she nuts?

Phase Four:  She's not nuts.  Biel's character is the one behind all the kidnappings and it now appears she is working for The Tall Man and killing children left and right.  She manages to get loose and 'gets rid' of the boy (she ominously brings him into the basement) before the cops come to arrest her.

Conclusion:  But WAIT, she's not killing the kids (even though she admits she did), turns out she's 'saving' them from a social service standpoint and getting the kids to wealthy families and providing them with a better life.  Um.....what?

The premise is really confusing and stupid, but there is talent behind this film.  The director (no idea who it was and too lazy to look it up) sets up scenes to provide maximum impact (the opening CPR scene with a newborn, the arrest scene where Biel is taken out through an enraged town, the chase when her son is kidnapped, the diner scene that turns menacing).  The script also plays on our expectations by opening the movie with her bloody and battered and the Fed saying something that leads us to think one thing when it really means something else entirely when that scene comes around again.  

All that said, this movie was all over the place in tone and logic.  How is this convoluted plot to better kid's lives any more effective that a standard social service program.  Biel's character at one point says 'The system is broken', but how is this stupid, convoluted plan any better?  Not only that, but her partner in crime is her husband (not dead, btw) who lets his wife go to jail and possibly face the death penalty.  How is this effective?  And who are they to decide what life is better for which kids?  These parents obviously love their kids and are devastated when they're are taken.  Just because they are poor doesn't mean they aren't good parents. 

And that's not even getting into how some characters react.  Biel could have easily just walked away with her husband at one point but chose to stay to get arrested.  Her partner in crime fucking hangs herself instead of just getting out.  All of this makes even less sense when it's revealed that there is some secret organization behind all of it and Biel was just one of their agents.

Bottom Line:  While there are some very effective moments throughout the movie, the script lacks the logic and Biel nudity to make this worthwhile.  I applaud the filmmakers attempts at creating something surprising and unpredictable, but the entire plan behind bettering kid's lives is flawed. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Scarefest 2012 - Shiver

Today's Movie:  Shiver (Eskalofrío) - 2008.  Watched on Netflix streaming (Spanish with subtitles although horror has no language barrier)

Starring:  Nobody I've ever heard of or will ever see again.  Although there is a hot chick girlfriend.

Plot:  A teen allergic to the sun (there is a technical term for it, but I don't remember what it is) and his mother move to a small village in order to keep him out of the sun for longer periods of time.  Coincidentally (and conveniently) people start seeing a creature in the woods who steals soccer balls, throwing rocks at kids and...something else...oh yeah...murdering people and drinking their freshly spilled blood.  Everyone, including the lead detective, suspects the new kid who can't be in the sun and has extra large canine teeth. 

Gore Factor:  Medium to high depending on your sensibilities.  One squeamish part with an Achilles being severed (ala Pet Sematary) and some bloody victims.

Nude Factor:  None which was odd as I thought all foreign women enjoyed showing themselves off.

Scare Factor:  Not bad.  There are a few truly terrifying moments, the most notable being when the son is home alone and wakes to find the creature in the same room with him.  Great directing here as we are shown only glimpses of a shadow or from the reflection of a knife.  That the kid does a great job acting scared adds to the tension.  Also, the scene near the end of the movie that takes place in the woods was intense.

Review:  Warning a major spoiler here.  I'm giving away the main plot point so don't read any further if you want to watch this yourself.

Still here?  Alrighty then.

What starts as a decent horror/monster movie turns inexplicable when it's revealed the 'creature' is really a nine year old girl that was raised by wild animals when she got lost in the jungles of Africa.  No, sadly, I'm not even kidding.

This revelation makes her abilities somewhat mysterious as the creature (before the reveal) in the woods has super human reflexes, can kill a grown man with a swift movement, and moves through the trees like a nuclear monkey.  Why she is killing people and drinking their blood is equally confusing as it would sure be easier to simply rummage through a kitchen to get fresh food.  She's constantly breaking into certain homes for reasons that go unexplained and only seem to exist to provide some scenes of terror (well done scenes, but in hindsight they aren't that frightening and makes the hero seem a bit of a pussy).

Stranger still is the explanation for how she arrived in these particular set of woods which involves the murder of her parents and subsequent cover up by the man, the man's gentle father AND his mother.  Really?  They all kept quiet about this?  Even when they begged him not to kill the little girl?

Even more frustrating is how the teen boy and his friends figure out what's going on in order to prove to the detective that he really is innocent only to find out that everyone in the entire town knows all about the little girl.  But she left for Germany years ago so it couldn't possibly be her.  Right, there are two crazed little girls roaming around.  Good reasoning there.

Bottom Line:  Extremely competent directing, acting and legitimate scares, but the steam goes out of this movie as soon at the explanations start coming.  If they had just kept this a standard monster movie, it would have been so much better.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tragedy

Something horrible happened this past Saturday morning.  It was a weekend that will live in infamy with my family for generations. 

Our Dish Network receiver died and we've had no television for the past three days. 

Sorry, I should have prepared you for such devastating news but part of me thought it best to just blurt it out so you could recover from the shock. 

If your first thought was my inability to watch any Red Zone yesterday you weren't the only one.  I kept attempting to repair the receiver on my own in hopes I could get a few last, desperate hours out of it.  Alas, it was not to be. 

Instead I was forced into the following activities:

-  Playing cribbage with my wife (beat her two out of three....sorry...is 'beat' and 'wife' not supposed to go together?)

-  Assisting my eldest son in creating a model of an animal cell for his school project and reaffirming my long held belief that school sucks. 

-  Watching in disbelief while my seven year old taught himself how to ride a bike with no training wheels.  Didn't even know he was going to try until I looked out the window and saw him riding around the circle at the end of our street. 

-  Getting work done.  No shit.  I was productive over a weekend. 

-  Went to the gym.  Again, I should have prepared you for that, as well.  My sincere apologies.

-  Read (gasp) a BOOK!!!!

-  Watched '21 Jump Street' on DVD.

-  Watched two horror movies and 'The Walking Dead' season premiere on my laptop.

-  Went to bed at 9:30 pm on a Saturday night and slept for 9 hours.

-  Listened to the Patriots under achieve on the radio like it was 1935. 

The good news is the replacement receiver should be here tomorrow and my life will go back to being normal.  I won't have to help my kids with homework, I can pretend to listen to my wife bitch about work while half watching PTI out of the corner of my eye, I'll get to watch and fantasize about JC Monyhan and Dorothy Krysiuk every morning, and most importantly, the NFL will be making a full time comeback next Sunday.

Everyone keep me in your thoughts over these trying times.  I will try to get along as best I can, but it will not be easy. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Scarefest 2012 - The Haunting

Today's Movie:  The Haunting (1999)

Starring:  Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta Jones, Owen Wilson, Lili Taylor

Plot:  A psychologist (Neeson) decides to run an experiment with three paid volunteers to see how group dynamics responds under intense fear conditions.  His brillliant idea is to make them all stay overnight in a haunted mansion/castle/possessed house not realizing it really is haunted and possessed.  Nell (Taylor) starts seeing ghosts and a convoluted, semi incoherent story unfolds.

Gore Factor:  Movie is PG-13 so other than Wilson losing his head in a surprisingly bloodless fashion, not much to report. 

Nude Factor:  Non existant which was disappointing as I forgot how stunning young Zeta Jones was. 

Scare Factor:  Barley any.  The ghosts we do see are non threatening (until the end at which point it's far too late) and Taylor's acting ruins any chance of actual suspense.  Her reaction to Wilson's beheading is to simply say 'Oh no' and walk away.  There is one cool scene where a bedroom becomes the ghost haunting the house, but other than that this is a waste of time.

Review:  Is it odd that the movie with the most star power and budget (it was directed by Jan de Bont who, between 'Speed 2: Cruise Control' and this movie, seems intent on proving the first 'Speed' was a fluke) is also the worst horror movie reviewed so far.  Even John Carpenter's 'Prince of Darkness' had more scares than this stupid entry. 

I suppose it could have been better if someone other than Lili Taylor were playing the lead.  Neeson, Wilson and Zeta-Jones all exude the ease on camera quality that made them stars.  Taylor spends her time over reacting when she shouldn't and under reacting when she should.  I laughed out loud at her lack of reaction to Wilson's death (whoops, spoiler alert many times over).  At times she comes off as mentally challenged.

What doesn't help her is a story so confusing and convoluted you have to work your way through it in order to figure out what exactly is going on.  Take it from me, it's not worth your time.  Here it is in a nutshell:  Nell is actually the grand daughter of the menacing dude possessing the house and she winds up sending him to hell and freeing all the trapped children's souls...ah whatever. 

Bottom Line:  Don't waste your time.  Sit in a dark room and watch any nightly news program.  More creepy stories there.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Scarefest 2012 - The Prince Of Darkness

Today's Movie:  The Prince of Darkness (1987) directed by John Carpenter in a blatant attempt to cash in on his Halloween success. 

Starring:  The dude from 'Simon and Simon' (the blond one with the stache), Donald Pleasance reprising his role from 'Halloween' only as a priest and even more poorly acted, and a homeless guy who I could swear was Alice Cooper but he was uncredited and never said a word. 

Plot:  A priest dies with a box on his chest (this wasn't the cause of his death, but strange nonetheless).  Inside is a key that Pleasance's character somehow knows exactly which door it will fit.  Inside he finds a mysterious green goo that is either an ancient cotton candy maker or the 'PURE ESSENCE OF EVIL!'.  A team of student physicists are brought in for reasons that are entirely unclear and bloodshed ensues. 

Gore Factor:  Not terribly high.  The gore that is here is ridiculous and laughable.  This includes an elderly bag lady stabbing a guy to death who doesn't bother even raising his hands in protest, Alice Cooper shoving a bike through a guy (I wish I were kidding) and the single lamest broken neck scene ever filmed.  Oh, some dude loses his paper mache head, as well. 

Nude Factor:  None and let us all be thankful for that.  Not terribly attractive women in this movie.

Scare Factor:  Despite all of the above, Carpenter does provide some spooky images: People surrounding a building unmoving and silent, hands attempting to grab at feet, bugs crawling all over the place.  Also, the last image of a woman trying to reach for help before the exit is cut off will stick with you.  Hard to explain without giving things away. 

Review:  This movie was all over the place.  Trying to be part rational debate over the existance of God, the clash between science and religion, while keeping violence and fright at the forefront.  It doesn't work.  The acting is terrible, the budget is so low I'm betting they shot this is a week, and the story makes very little sense.  It doesn't help that what is supposed to be scary is simply hilarious most of the time.  The green liquid takes over people by peeing in their mouths, the gateway from hell is any mirror apparently (a commentary on narcissism?  Who fucking cares!), and the girl that everyone is supposed to be head over heels for is plain looking at best and an emotionless bitch. 

On top of everything is a dream shared by everyone in the house that they decide is a video sent back in time from the future to warn everyone what is going to happen.  Somehow this is taken with a nod of the head and a decision that it can be stopped.  Well done, brainiacs.

I'll give this movie a break since it was made in the 80s (the music, the clothes, the hair, the attitudes, the mustaches), but if this ever was scary it certainly hasn't aged well. 

Bottom Line:  Hey Hollywood.  Why not remake this movie with better special effects, better actors and more scares?  The idea behind it isn't bad, just poorly (both quality and money wise) executed. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Scarefest 2012 - Paranormal Activity 3

Today's Movie:  Paranormal Activity 3 (2011).  Viewed during EPIX free preview. 

Starring:  Nobody I have ever seen.  The two sisters from the first two movies make a cameo mainly to lay the ground work for what we're about to watch.

Plot:  Same as the first two movies:  Found video footage shows us increasingly agitated and annoyed ghosts wreaking havoc on a family.  In this case we witness the origins of the two sister's paranormal involvement. 

Gore Factor:  Barely any.

Nude Factor:  None, although there was promise when husband and wife get high and begin shooting a home made porn.  Alas, things get interrupted by a party pooper ghost. 

Scare Factor:  Not bad, although we should jump to the review for further explanation.

Review:  I am fully on board with the first two Paranormals.  Thought they were well done, super scary in parts and actually had a story thread connecting the sisters and the first and second movies (which happen in parallel, it seems).  I don't hate the third one but about halfway through this one (right when the babysitter arrived) I realized I was just seeing the same movie all over again.  Yes, there are creepy moments, genuine jump in your seat scenes (one of which had me laughing) and the actors come off as a genuine family and likable people you would want to hang around with.  What makes these movies effective aren't the camera tricks (although they pull off a great one here with the oscillating fan rig) but making us care about the characters.

The problem here is that staleness begins infringing on the latter parts of the movie.

Bottom Line:  If you enjoyed the first two, you'll like this one.  It also does a good job tying the stories together but I had moments of boredom once deja vu took over in the last half of this.  Not terrible by any means, but the originality of the series is starting to wear thin.  I should confess that the knowing PA4 is on the way didn't help my frame of mind while watching this one. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Scarefest 2012 - Absentia

Since we're quickly approaching Halloween let's start a new series so I have something to write about rather than my current lack of lifestyle.

Every now and then I'll review some scary movies I've seen recently.  

Today's movie:  Absentia (2011) watched on Netflix streaming.

Starring:  Nobody you've ever heard of

Plot:  A woman coming to terms with her husband's seven year disappearance begins experiencing guilt hallucinations after having him declared dead.  Her (poorly) recovering drug addict of a sister arrives for moral support and they both "stumble on the truth" (say in scary narrator voice). 

Gore Factor:  Minimal.  There is a shot of a crumbled body, but it's not terrible.

Nude Factor:  Non existent although I kept hoping the sister would have a shower scene.

Scare Factor:  Pretty high.  The first two thirds of this movie amp up the suspense very effectively.  It takes talent to create tension out of a scene of a woman brushing her teeth. 

Review:  Considering how low budget this is, the movie was quite effective and super scary in parts.  The initial setup for a mind boggling plot turn (seriously, this moment in the movie floored me due to the entire counselling conversations I mistook to be filler) displays some serious film making chops for the people behind this film.

The performances were better than expected and the creep factor leading up to the climactic explanation was highly effective.

However (could you sense the 'However' coming?) there are times when scary, supernatural happenings in movies like this don't need explanation.  The minute you start explaining what is going on, the more ridiculous it sounds.  I won't give anything away, but if the sister's theory was correct (and of course it is) the simple resolution was to simply move away from that neighborhood.  Do they do that?  Of course not.  That would be smart and rational.

Bottom Line:  Recommended with the caveat that when it's revealed what's going on you'll be less scared and more angry at the film makers for trying to make sense of things.  It would have been much freakier if there was no explanation. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Broken Valentine

Setting: 

Fenway Park and other Major League Ballparks

Cast of Characters: 

Red Sox Manager played by Bobby Valentine

Red Sox General Manager played by Ben Cherington

Red Sox Ownership played by Tom Werner, John Henry and Larry Lucchino (Curly, Larry and Moe respectively)

Red Sox Roster played in the first act by well known, highly payed, All Star names.  Played in the second act by new faces and aspiring stars trying to make a name for themselves.

Special Guest Star: Dustin Pedroia as himself. 

Cameo by David Ortiz.

Theme:  Comedy that turns tragic set in the year 2012.

Story:  After an historic 2011 collapse the Red Sox front office decides to clean house.  Leaving the team are home grown hero Theo Epstein and the most beloved manager in Red Sox history, Terry Francona, who led a bunch of misfits to two titles and numerous playoff appearances during his stint. 

After his firing, stories 'leak' that Francona had lost control of the team due to personal issues and a dependency on pain killers.  A story that is called 'bullshit' on by any and all that know Francona personally.  The backlash against the ownership (who everyone knows is responsible for the story) is swift and fierce. 

Also revealed is that Red Sox starting pitchers Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester had been spending time during their off days drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games. This does much to explain the poor performance and bloated appearance of each towards the end of the season. 

In an effort to clear the stink from 2011, Red Sox management decide to hire the brash and opinionated Bobby Valentine to whip the club back into a disciplined, honed, baseball mashing machine....forgetting, somehow, that even the World Series teams were never labeled as such. 

Hiring an alpha male manager in a club house full of over paid, pampered athletes works about as well as expected. 

Before he's on the job a month, Valentine refers to one of the hardest working, most dedicated and caring players on the team as not being 'physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past' which leads to an understandably angry reaction from every player in the Red Sox clubhouse and 90% of the fans.  Way to get off on the right foot, Bobby.

The rift never heals which Valentine blames on Youkilils never getting over his initial comments.  While I'm no psychologist I'm pretty sure this frame of mind indicates an alarming and severe personality disorder.  Youkilis is eventually traded to allow young phenom Will Middlebrooks more playing time, although everyone knows it's because he can't stand being near Valentine for any length of time.  A sentiment shared by a majority of others, it seems, because Valentine is often sitting by himself. 

Time for montage:  Poor play; arguing; morale on the field and in the stands plummeting; sniping in the press back and forth; pictures leak of Valentine taking a nap; Fenway is half empty for the first time in over a decade; owners still cling to a 'sell out streak' as if that's all that matters; injuries mount (including Middlebrooks who was supposed to make fans forget Youkilis).

Climatically, management guts the team by trading Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for a carton of milk, some crackers and the psychological relief of not having to pay 220 million dollars still owed to three of them. 

Let the free fall begin.  After the trade nobody pays much attention to the team.  Random stories pop up about players still hating Valentine, but the young players nobody has ever heard of play hard and are appreciated by the fans. 

Ending:  On the last day of the season Valentine is shown roaming around the players, offering encouragement and joking around before the game.  The players fake smiles, look awkward and reward Valentine's last minute insincerity by losing the final game of the season 14 - 2.

Closing credits:  Record 69 - 93

Players who helped win World Series no longer with the team:  2

Other All Stars Traded:  2

Number of players who put on Red Sox uniform:  54 (league record)

First Sox manager to only last one season since 1934

Number of foot in mouth moments:  lost count

Largest drop in win total (non strike season) since 1946

Number of boos rained down from stands directed at one person:  millions

Sell out streak over even if owners won't admit it.

Most entertaining moment: Valentine wiping out on a bike in New York while trying to read a text from Dustin Pedroia that I can only hope read 'Just heard you were toast'.

Punchline:  This entire season was a celebration of Fenway Park's 100th anniversary.  It's oddly appropriate if you grew up with this team - a century worth of dysfunction packed into 162 games.