Sunday, September 30, 2012

Serial Rabbit 3: Splitting Hares (2009) Review

Serial Rabbit 3: Splitting Hares poster
Director: Brett Mauser
Stars: Bradley Bates, Sergio Cantu, Amanda Nutting
Genre: Horror, Comedy, B-Movie

The conclusion to the Rabbit trilogy. From Ponderous Productions, the guys who brought us such classics as Tag or the Innocence Saga. What's that? You never heard of those films? Yeah, I didn't expect you to.

Ponderous Productions is a very independent and well...generally unrecognized group of people. I watched a short 35 minute documentary about their history on YouTube.

Anyway, Serial Rabbit 3 is the first I've watched of their work. Apparently the first Serial Rabbit came out in 2005, but I couldn't find a copy of it. I can't find any traces of a second one though, and I'm unsure if a second one even exists. Did they just skip to the third one? Well, the third one is available on Netflix so I gave it a watch.

Serial Rabbits 3: Splitting Hares is a film that doesn't take itself seriously, and doesn't expect you to either. It's a b-movie slasher with a heavy emphasis on comedy. And it's quite enjoyable if you know what you're getting in to. 

I usually prefer my b-movies to unintentionally funny, but even though Serial Rabbit 3 is very intentionally funny and silly, it actually works. Some of the jokes were quite funny and well done. Like the guy who talks to himself and is eventually killed by himself, or the constant breaking of the fourth wall. The whole film is one big joke.

There's no artistic merit in this, besides some of the jokes perhaps. It's obviously shooting for the so-bad-it's-good appeal. The film knows it, the cast and crew knows it, and the viewer knows it. So just sit back and enjoy it.

If you couldn't of already guessed the plot is mostly about a man dressed up as a Rabbit who kills people. For some reason in this one he breaks his tradition of killing on Easter and instead kills on Christmas. I have no idea why, he just does. It takes place in Texas though so don't expect a snowy setting.

Serial Rabbit 3: Splitting Hares review

So besides the porno plot, we get to see plenty of tits by the way, there's really not much to this film. I don't know whether or not the soundtrack is original, but the music that plays every time the rabbit appears is pretty memorable. So kudos in that respect. The acting is what you'd expect from a b-movie, so are the effects. So is everything actually. But I'd say this is one of the better newer b-movies I've seen, simply because the humor is actually funny.

If you're looking for a serious and artistic film, you will hate this. If you know what you're getting in to, and are a fan of cheesy b-movies, you will love it and have a great time and even a few good laughs. 

3/5 stars

Purchase Serial Rabbit 3 on Amazon: DVD - Stream

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Terminator (1984) Review

The Terminator poster
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton
Genre: Action, Science fiction

Ah, the one and only. One of the most popular and recognized action films of all time. The Terminator.

I'm not much of a James Cameron fan. I'm also not much of an Arnold Schwarzenegger fan, but I actually think Arnie fits the role perfectly here. The emotionless, silent powerhouse. Can you imagine anyone else playing the Terminator? Actually there were originally plans to cast O.J. Simpson for the part but James Cameron said, and I quote, "I do not feel that Simpson would be believable as a killer." Funny, I know.

So besides this being one of Arnie's best roles, how do the other actors fare? Well, Micheal Biehn was good. So was Linda Hamilton. Nothing exceptional but good.

The plot, if you don't know it already, involves time travel and cyborgs. I don't really need to say more. This isn't exactly a thinking man's science fiction. It's pretty mindless, as many Cameron films tend to be. It essentially plays out like a slasher film. The Terminator really is just another Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers.

I liked the character development though. The beginning was very well done where we were thrown in and slowly learned each character. We see the terminator start a car by forcing the ignition with his bare hands. Then we see Kyle Reese start a car by hot-wiring it. Showing us right off the bat that Arnie is sheer strength and Reese is a bit more strategical. Very cool.

Then we get to know Sarah Connor pretty well but at first we don't really know how these three characters fit together. Why is a giant brute hunting down some average girl? So it's nice to see that there is a good pacing to the film. Even though you can guess where the plot is going early on and probably be right. It is pretty damn predictable. And I even noticed a few plot-holes, but hey, it's an action flick.

The romance between Sarah and Reese seems a bit forced, and was actually only added at the request of the studio. So, you know, whatever.

Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese in The Terminator

The best aspect of the film is the theme and setting. It's just so cyberpunk and tech-noir, it really is an awesome atmosphere. It's also so 80s. But the two kind of go together, don't they? Any fans of cyberpunk, this is a must watch.

The soundtrack compliments the theme well, with awesome 80s synth music playing the entire time. Really helps set the mood. A very awesome soundtrack.

The special effects I found to be pretty damn bad. Like really bad. Don't get me wrong, the lasers were awesome and fit the film perfectly, but the makeup and stop-motion were pretty bad, even by 80s standards. The ships from the future look so obviously fake, like toys. The stop-motion effects for the terminator towards the end looked like they were straight out of a 30s film. Seriously, King Kong had just as good stop-motion effects. The design of the robot is pretty damn badass though. The makeup for the terminator when he has his robotic eye showing looked ugly, particularly in the mirror scene. Towards the end there's a pretty obvious green screen scene. The list continues.

The Terminator at his barest

The film was obviously more ambitious than effects could allow at the time. In fact James Cameron had to save a lot of things he wanted to do until the sequel in 1991. Though I recognize the art and talent behind great effects, I don't really mind bad effects if the film is good. However the effects here do subtract from the overall experience which is unfortunate.

We never get to see much of the future in here, probably due to budget limitations. But I guess it made it a bit more mysterious, so it works out.

It's a very enjoyable film and worth the watch. Fans of cyberpunk will be pleased. Science fiction fans be warned: this isn't sci-fi with big ideas, it's just mindless action. It is one of the better action films out there though.

3.5/5 stars
Pros:
+Cool theme and atmosphere
+Fitting soundtrack
+Character development
Cons:
-Bad effects
-Predictable
-Simple, mindless

Purchase The Terminator on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream

Friday, September 28, 2012

ParaNorman (2012) Review

ParaNorman poster
Director: Sam Fell, Chris Butler
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee (Owen from Let Me In), Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Genre: Children's, Horror

The first thing you'll notice about ParaNorman is how visually pleasing it is. It's stop-motion animation done superbly, some of the best there is as a matter of fact, which shouldn't be of much surprise being that it was produced by Laika, the same guys behind Coraline.

Not only is the animation great but so are the sets and props. The cemetery is wonderfully spooky, the town during the day feels vibrant and alive, the town at night feels like you're watching a drive-in horror flick. It's all very well done and immersing. 

The first starts out with a 70s-esque title card and has Norman sitting watching an old horror flick on the TV. When his mother asks him what he's watching, he replies "Sex and violence." This is a kids movie, and kids will most likely love it, but it can also be highly enjoyed by adults and seasoned horror fans. There is plenty of adult humor in here. From jokes about police to statements on modern society.

The plot, though not particularly original, is suitable for this kids movie, and it manages to engage you and not treat you or your kids like babies. It respects your intelligence, well at least for a kids movie. We follow Norman, a kid who can see ghosts and because of it is not only made fun of and outcasted at school, but also has to deal with the struggle for his parent's acceptance. A situation I think many people, myself included, can relate to.

Since Norman is the only one with these supernatural abilities it is up to him to stop the witch's curse. There's zombies too, but I wouldn't really classify this as a "zombie movie". The zombies don't actually attack anyone and though they look like traditional zombies, there's a bit more to them then that as you'll find out. I found it very funny when the zombies entered the town and looked at the human and they themselves became scared.    The film made it appear as if it were the humans who were more zombie than the zombies were. Clever satire that is.

Then we have the witch, who has cursed the town, who is actually a little girl who was sentenced to death in olden times for being a witch.

Norman in ParaNorman being surrounded by zombies.

Keep in mind this is a children's film, but there are some genuinely scary, or at the very least, creepy parts. The great sets and visuals do a great job creating a creepy theme and atmosphere, that can send chills by itself. Like the part when the fat kid was standing outside Norman's window was quite spooky. (There were some very young kids in the theater who seemed to be pretty terrified). The zombies or the witch never feel particularly threatening, and by the end we find out that they're really not. Quite honestly the only true danger was the humans all along.

The film ends with a moral. And whether you agree with the moral or not (it's a very agreeable moral though) I feel it's better for a film to have a moral rather than not. A film that has something to say, no matter how typical or simple, automatically has more value. Too many films just play it completely safe nowadays and choose to not have to make the viewer use their brains.

The cast of ParaNorman

ParaNorman is a true homage to the genre, unlike Hotel Transylvania which was merely a cash-in. The theme of the film, and atmosphere also, really make you feel like you're watching a horror film from the 80s. At least that's how I felt. Even the characters are stereotyped into the same personalities as in many horror films. This is both a pro and a con. The loner kid who has supernatural abilities, the fat loner kid who befriends him, the snot-nosed bully, the slutty older sister who falls for any jock who's ripped. They're all present here. And though they're all charming to watch, you can't help but notice their typical-ness and feel like you've seen them all before. So like I said it's really a pro and a con, because it helps set that horror film feel.

It is also said that this is the first children's movie to have an openly homosexual character, which has cause quite a bit of controversy. I personally think this is a great thing and about time.

The soundtrack was great. It felt like a mixture of rock and minimalist techno, which really worked out great. We also get to hear children singing "Season of the Witch" out of tune, and the Halloween theme even plays at one part. The end credit song is "Little Ghost" by the White Stripes, which plays over some beautiful artwork from the film. Yes, even the end credits were very enjoyable and I sat through them till completion.

A great film for kids and adults and even hardcore horror fans. There are some scares, some laughs, and it is very much worth the ride. 


4/5 stars
Pros:
+Visually awesome with great animation and theme
+Plenty of nods to the horror genre
+Not a "dumbed down" film
Cons:
-Characters could have been a bit better

Purchase ParaNorman on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sleeper (1973) Review

Sleeper posterDirector: Woody Allen
Stars: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton
Genre: Comedy, Science Fiction

An earlier film by one of the greats of comedy, Woody Allen. I, being a fan of both Woody Allen and science fiction, was very excited to watch this. Was I disappointed? No, not at all, but this is still only decent Allen material at best.

After this film is when Woody Allen's greatest stuff really started, like Love and Death, Annie Hall, Manhattan, etc. It seems like Sleeper came right before his peak.

This film was only the second Keaton-Allen film (the first being Play it Again, Sam) and you can really tell they hadn't got their chemistry quite right yet. At least not as good as they were together in say Annie Hall. Don't get me wrong, Woody Allen even here probably shows some of the best, most believable and realistic chemistry and relationships ever put to film. That's what he does best, create believable relationships.

So the plot of this film, which isn't very important, it essentially serves as a vehicle for Woody to get his jokes in, is about a man from 1973 (Allen) who is frozen and then awoken 200 years later. He eventually meets a girl (Keaton) and together they take down the dystopian government.

The futuristic society is a charm to spectate, with their orgasm-machines and their funny little cars. Allen of course delivers a great performance, putting on his expected caricature of a Jewish New Yorker we all know and love him for. The beautiful Diane Keaton also, as expected, does a fabulous job.
Diane Keaton: "Oh, I see. You don't believe in science, and you also don't believe that political systems work, and you don't believe in God, huh?"
Woody Allen: "Right."
Diane Keaton: "So then, what do you believe in?"
Woody Allen: "Sex and death. Two things that come once in a lifetime, but at least after death you're not nauseous."  
Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Sleeper
The jokes here are pretty varied. Some are very situational, some play out like regular jokes, and a few are very slapstick, like Woody Allen being chased by police or hanging off the side of a building. It actually seems like Woody Allen made a bit of a nod to early film comedy with the sped up chase scenes, as was used in many films in the early 1900s. After all, Woody Allen was greatly inspired by the likes of Chaplin, Keaton, and the Marx Brothers. Though I can't say he really performs as well as they did.

The film isn't overly funny. You'll get a few laughs here and there, sometimes you'll feel bored, sometimes you'll find a joke unfunny. It's definitely not Woody's funniest. But it is a much watch for any Woody fans.

It's also an effective satire, poking fun at society (mostly 70s society) and not holding back. Younger viewers may not understand some of the references or jokes, but I didn't have any trouble and I wasn't alive in the 70s so there shouldn't be much of a problem.

Woody Allen stealing the leader's nose with a fake gun in Sleeper

Fans of science fiction, this is a comedy first and foremost. It's merely set in a futuristic world. It is fun to see all the absurd technology, like the robot butlers, and any fan of the genre will be greatly amused. But again, this is a Woody Allen comedy first so if you're not a Woody fan, or are a yet to be fan, I'd either pass or watch one of his better films first, i.e., Annie Hall

A fun time but nothing too outstanding.

3.5/5 stars
Pros:
+Great for Woody Allen fans
+A fun science fiction setting
+A few good laughs
+Great on-screen chemistry
Cons:
-Can be a bit stale at times
-Not the director's best work
-Slapstick is nowhere near as good as what it is influenced by

Purchase Sleeper on Amazon: DVD

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

House of Wax (1953) Review

House of Wax poster
Director: Andre De Toth
Stars: Vincent Price, Charles Bronson
Genre: Horror

House of Wax must have been a very great film to watch in the 50s. Because it is a film that was ahead of its time. Unfortunately, as happens with many films, after many years it loses a bit of its charm with modern audiences. That's not to say it's not a good film and worth watching. Indeed, it is.

In this loose remake to 1933's Mystery of the Wax Museum we have Vincent Price playing the antagonist here, and any film with Vincent Price is worth watching simply for that reason. As always, a great performance on his part. Also, a very young Charles Bronson played Igor in here. Not to mention that this is the first horror film where Price played the lead man. A role that he would repeat many times and a position he is best remembered for.

The film starts out well enough. A very talented wax sculpture (Price) who loves, and is nearly obsessed, with his creations. Unfortunately for him his business partner wants to burn down the wax museum so they can collect on the insurance. Of course the sculptor objects, so his partner burns it down with him in it. Everyone thinks he dies in the fire, but of course we know Vincent Price is never killed off that early on.

The thought-to-be dead sculptor returns and kills the partner who burned down his creations. He then reopens a wax museum, this time focusing on shock and horror rather than beauty. To do so all the wax figures are based on people who were recently involved in horrific accidents, i.e., suicides, murders, etc.

As the plot unfolds we learn there is much more behind the sculpting process than it appears.

Wax sculpture on fire in House of Wax

At the time I could imagine it was a pretty unique film, today it's pretty predictable and typical. It gets a little boring in the middle, and if not for the last twenty minutes I'd say it was a pretty mediocre film. Thankfully the last twenty minutes are fabulous. That scene when the girl snuck into the museum at night was very creepy. And the wax figures really made you on edge, your eyes always working to detect any movement in the inanimate figures. Very creepy. 

And then the scene when the girl breaks off Vincent Price's mask was also a very memorable moment.

Vincent Price in House of Wax

Too bad the whole film wasn't as good as the last twenty minutes though. Still, it is worth the watch and can still provide much enjoyment. It's also very obvious that this film was originally filmed for a 3D theatre, with objects being flung towards the camera, and that paddle ball scene. It's actually kind of cool.

3/5 stars
Pros:
+Fantastic last twenty minutes
+Vincent Price
+Creepy
Cons:
-Slow and boring at times
-Had potential to be much creepier than it was

Purchase House of Wax on Amazon: DVD - Stream

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Fly (1986) Review

The Fly posterDirector: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis
Genre: Science fiction, Horror

Here it is, the remake to the classic 1958 The Fly. Both films I watched and loved as a child, so nostalgia resonates in both of them. But now, re-watching them both, as a much more film knowledgeable person, which one holds up better?

Well, I still think the original is far superior, and I seem to be quite alone in that opinion. I won't do much comparing in this review though, I want to try and judge this film on its own.

Since I will try not to do much comparing right now, which is kind of hard to do, this review may be a tad on the short side. Nonetheless, onward we go.

I'm not a terribly big fan of Jeff Goldblum, I recognize his charm, I just never really got to be super fond of him, this film however is definitely one of his better performances. He did a great job both as scientist and as monster. Geena Davis did a solid job as well, though I'm not much of a fan of her either.

One thing this film is often praised for is its special effects. I'd have to concur on that point, they are quite well-done and damn scary and even disgusting. I cringed every time Geena Davis so much as touched the monster. Ugh, and that white vomit stuff. AND THE FUCKING FINGERNAILS!

It's pretty gross. Don't kid yourself, I love some great gore and splatter films, and I never really have a problem with it. I got through this one pretty well, and I have seen much worse/better gore in film, but this is pretty impressive for a film as popular as it was.

I did have a bit of a problem with the romance in here. I don't mind romance if it's well done and believable but here it felt a bit unnatural. It felt forced and undeveloped, too fast perhaps. Which brings me to the general pacing of the film: I didn't like it. The pacing felt off. I guess it's because this is more of a thriller than the original so it went by much faster, but it just felt wrong. There was no build-up, and the character development never really took off enough to where you can sympathize much with them. Though towards the end there were some brief moments where I sympathized with the monster.

Jeff Goldblum in The Fly throwing up

The appearance of the monster, or fly rather, or brundlefly rather, though it is an ever-changing appearance, is pretty good. Disturbing, sickening, and good. If you're not familiar with the film you'll probably be quite surprised by the appearance of the fly. And one of the great parts of the film is how we get to see the gradual change from man to monster.

There is an example of great use of shadows toward the end of the film which I can't say much about without spoiling. The only real nod I noticed towards the original film was that absurdly large metal sliding door.

The whole journalist character is something I really hate in films. It just seems so overdone and cliche. All journalists seem to be the same in films. Bleh.

Overall it is a worthy remake and a welcomed addition to the genre, though not nearly as amazing as the original.

3.5/5 stars
Pros:
+Great effects
+Can be disturbing at times
Cons:
-Doesn't live up to the original
-Bad romance and character development

Sequel: The Fly II

Purchase The Fly on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream

Monday, September 24, 2012

Trash Humpers (2009) Review

Trash Humpers poster
Director: Harmony Korine
Genre: Mockumentary, Black Comedy

Call this film a metaphor, an allegory, a spoof, a parody, a satire, call it what you'd like. It's very possible that is all of those things and more. Perhaps the only thing we can be absolutely sure it is is a film directed by Harmony Korine, the man best known for Gummo and Kids.

The director wanted this film to feel like a film that someone found in a ditch. I think that's a cool idea, no matter how silly it sounds. The film, often called an anti-film, has no structured plot. In fact, anything you know about films is thrown right out the window with this film, an accomplishment all on its own. Filmed with a far-from-HD camcorder, recording the lives of the oddest characters you'll ever see.

And yes, there is humping of trash in here. Did you expect there not to be?

I'm pretty sure the director's reason for having the film appear like a home video is to force the viewer to draw comparisons between the people in the film and the viewer's own family. The way I see it the film is one big allegory. The character's in the film, at first, seem completely abstract and absurd, humping trash, beating up dolls, so on and so forth. The reason behind this was probably so it has a greater effect when you realize just how similar they are.

Sure, most people aren't as blatantly racist or homophobic as the man with the neck and arm brace, but who is worse: the man who is openly prejudice or the man who is but pretends not to be? And sure, most people don't go into parking lots and smash televisions, but why not? Many people are well aware of the rot that television contributes to society.

Could the baby doll being beaten over the head be symbolic of parents or authority figures beating pseudo-facts and manipulated morals into people's minds from a young age? Could dragging baby dolls around on strings tied to the backs of bicycles in circles symbolize the stagnant state of human development? Or could dragging babies around tied to bicycles through the dirt show that many children have to suffer the same filth as their parents simply because their parents are filthy? After all, many racists are only racist because of their parents, same with homophobia, religion, and many other morals.

Does the soap on the pancakes reference the use of over-synthetic ingredients in many modern food products and how the vast majority willingly eat them? Does the part with one of the characters expressing their love to a fire hydrant imply how many people look at love in an artificial way and treat the opposite gender as inanimate objects?

Did the man dressed in a maid's outfit who spoke out against non-conformism represent freedom and did the killing of him represent war, and how nations and people tend to silence that which they disagree with?

Trash Humpers review

I don't know, maybe. I think so. It depends how you want to interpret it. It depends if you want to interpret it at all, or just watch it and enjoy it. I think the characters in this film are just much more honest versions of ourselves. Showing the true colors of society. We're all just romanticized trash humpers in the end. Which raises the question: is honesty always the best?
"Heads, it would be nice to live without a head..."
This film is a gritty, scary, and even disgusting look into people and society, and those three adjectives can describe both perfectly. Perhaps the most truthful film, and perhaps the best example of a film being both abstract and foreign and familiar and recognizable all at the same time. 

Trash humpers review

OR it's just a really shitty film. Yeah, it's probably just a really shitty film. But then again it may also be the greatest film ever created...either way. I think this film is much deeper than the title may suggest. You could analyze or explain it however you please, but the film doesn't necessarily require an analysis or explanation to be enjoyed. 

Though there is no real soundtrack the characters often sing. I found the songs and spoken word parts to be the most enjoyable. After watching this you'll have "Three little devils jumped over the wall..." and "Make it, make it, don't fake it, fake it" stuck in your head for days.

I wouldn't say this is Harmony Korine's best film (and I've seen all of them) but it's a must watch for any fans of his, and you know what? I think this is a film that everyone should watch at least once. You'll either hate it or love it. But I guarantee it is unlike anything you've ever seen before. And that alone should warrant a viewing.

I've already seen it twice, once in theaters with a friend and once at home by myself. I will say it is a bit more enjoyable if you have a friend with you you can laugh with.

In conclusion, it seems like the director achieved his goal with this film. And at the very least he got a bunch of people to watch a film called Trash Humpers.

3.5/5 stars

Purchase Trash Humpers on Amazon: DVD

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Seconds (1966) Review

Seconds poster
Director: John Frankenheimer
Stars: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph
Genre: Science fiction psychological thriller

What makes a film great? Great cinematography? Great plot? Great acting? Yes, yes, yes, among countless other things. Seconds has all these qualities and more, and in fact I can't really think of much Seconds does wrong.

The film follows a old man who realizes that his entire life was dull and pointless. He realized that he had done none of what he would have liked. He ends up at a company that offers to, at a price, fake his death and through vigorous plastic surgery make him a new identity. New face, new name, new life all together. So this man gets the operation and everyone he once knew (family, friends, co-workers) believes he died in a fire, when in reality he is living in a new home with a new face.

He encounters troubles and he eventually wants to change his face yet again, and give it another go. If there is one thing I'd wish this film did better, I wish they had focused more on the struggles of leaving one identity and becoming another. They didn't really focus all too much on this, and it seems it'd be an important part of a film like this. But, it's not much of a complaint being that what they did instead was still great.
"I couldn't help it, Charlie. I had to find out where I went wrong. The years I've spent trying to get all the things I was told were important - that I was supposed to want! Things! Not people... or meaning. Just things. And California was the same. They made the decisions for me all over again and they were the same things, really. It's going to be different from now on. A new face and a name. I'll do the rest. I know it's going to be different."
The cinematography is amazing, which is to be expected from the legendary James Wong Howe. I'd go as far as to say that the cinematography is the best part of the film. Each angle is chilling and twisted, each scene has a lingering sense of mystery and paranoia. Often it even feels surreal.

Rock Hudson strapped to a stretcher in Seconds

Visually, besides the great cinematography, it also has a very film noir look to it, visually and even in plot. All this creates a very intense atmosphere, almost trance-like and hypnotic, all which is complimented by a chilling soundtrack. 

Rock Hudson did a superb acting job, and though the character he plays could pretty much fit the mold of any film character of the time, it's still fun to watch.

There are some scenes that I'm sure will stick with me for quite some time, like the hippy wine party in the woods, or that abstract hallway. And how could you forget the bandaged face after surgery?

After surgery bandaging in Seconds

In conclusion Seconds is a superb film which makes good use of mystery and suspense, and can even be horrifying at times, not with shock but rather with great atmosphere. Combined with an intriguing plot and a satisfying ending, along with general greatness on nearly all fronts, you have yourself a very worthwhile film.

4.5/5 stars
Pros:
+Strong plot
+Great cinematography
+Chilling atmosphere and score
Cons:
-A few, minor missed potentials

Purchase Seconds on Amazon: DVD - VHS - Stream

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hotel Transylvania (2012) Review

Hotel Transylvania poster
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Kevin James
Genre: Computer animated family comedy/horror

With Tartakovsky directing, a name that has worked on great series such as Dexter Laboratory, Samurai Jack, among many others. With a resume like that it wouldn't be wrong to expect a great film from him. So does it live up to the hype? Short answer: no.

Count Dracula is voiced by Adam Sandler, who, surprisingly enough, probably does the best job out of the whole cast. When I first heard he would be voicing Dracula I couldn't help but cringe. But in the end he did a decent enough job. Kevin James voices Frankenstein's monster...so just imagine Doug Heffernan as a monster. Selena Gomez voiced Dracula's daughter, Mavis, and she delivered a pretty solid performance. The werewolf and the mummy were pretty awful. I found David Spade as the Invisible Man to be pleasantly charming.

If you're a big horror fan, particularly of Universal Monsters, you may either want to see this right away or avoid it completely. On one hand it may be cool seeing all these famous monsters on the screen together. On the other hand it may be like watching your favorite characters being spat on by "family comedy."

The Mummy is fat...yes, fat, and he has a black guy's voice. The Wolf Man never transforms. They call Frankenstein's monster Frankenstein, which as we all know is incorrect; the scientist's name was Frankenstein, not the monster. The Bride of Frankenstein, though voiced by the lovable Fran Drescher (The Nanny), was a huge disappointment. Though the Bride of Frankenstein hardly saw any screen time in the original Frankenstein films, she was still a very memorable and awesome looking character, but in Hotel Transylvania instead of giving a beloved but rarely seen character more screen time, they changed her appearance completely, made her a complete bitch, and only threw her a few lines.

So if you hold your Universal Monsters dear, this film may pain you to watch. 


Dracula and Frankenstein's monster in Hotel Transylvania

The plot is your standard father-daughter story, and though it can be charming at times, it's just boring, predictable, and unoriginal. You know the deal as far as animated comedy plots go.

Speaking of animation, if you couldn't already tell this is CGI, as are most films of the category today. It's not bad, I'd actually call it good. Problem is the overall visual design and art direction of the film. They had the opportunity to create an amazing theme. Look at all the monster movies this film gets its characters from. Remember that eerie gothic laboratory in Frankenstein? Remember the spooky interior of Dracula's castle? The chilling woods in The Wolf Man? The stormy nights of the Invisible Man? All creating great themes and atmospheres with appealing visual sets...well Hotel Transylvania capitalizes on NONE of those possibilities. 

Dracula's castle's interior is kind of cool. It's not spooky or eerie or mood setting, but it has some merit, though not much. The exterior is horrible; it just looks ugly. They couldn't even add good architecture to this film, something early horror flicks did so well.

Hotel Transylvania review

This film isn't a nod or a love letter to the films it borrows from. No, it is a cash-in. The only real references I can recall were Frankenstein's monster saying "Fire bad," and the Fly constantly throwing up. Besides that it is essentially just a typical children's animated film with horror characters. (I understand this is a children's film but there is not even anything mildly scary or creepy).

Not to mention this entire film is a shameless rip-off of Mad Monster Party from 1967. Seriously, watch both films and the similarities will be shocking. From the zombie waiters, the chef character, the ENTIRE IDEA OF THE FILM IS STOLEN FROM MAD MONSTER PARTY.

Don't even get me started on the music bits of this film. In the beginning there was a fairly decent punk-esque song reminiscent of the Misfits. That was cool, and it fit being that the Misfits were a horror-punk band. Then at the end, there is the most stereotypical finale song/dance scene, with Dracula rapping and just more general vandalizing of great characters. There are also mentions of Dave Matthews Band and Slipknot. What is this, the early 00s?

There's a joke making fun of Twilight in here also. It was a cheap, inept joke that was obviously added just for pseudo-cred. I despise Twilight as much as the next guy, but adding modern pop culture references that will be meaningless in a few years is not how you make a timeless classic. At least Twilight didn't shame the Dracula name like this film.

The humor in general is very tasteless. You have the fart jokes and whatnot, nothing at all clever. The bit with the skeleton and his wife I found amusing but that hardly warrants watching this.

I'd avoid this at all costs. If you have kids, there are plenty of family films with horror themes that are way better. I'd much sooner give recently released ParaNorman a view, or look out for the upcoming Frankenweeinie. Hell, show your kids the original Universal Monster films, they'll thank you when they're older.

2/5 stars
Pros:
+A bunch of famous monsters acting like idiots
Cons:
-A bunch of famous monsters acting like idiots
-Bad plot
-Missed potential

Purchase Hotel Transylvania on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD

Curse of the Fly (1965) Review

Curse of the Fly poster
Director: Don Sharp
Stars: Brian Donlevy, Carole Gray, Burt Kwouk
Genre: Horror, Science-fiction

The final entry in the original Fly trilogy somehow manages to both return to its roots and simultaneously destroy them. Allow me to explain.

The first film in the trilogy (which is also the best. Review here) relied heavily on mystery. I consider the first film to be a Science Fiction Mystery with some horror elements. The second film in the trilogy is more of a Science Fiction Horror story. This film, the third one, is kind of a variation of the first one, I'd call it a Horror Mystery with Science Fiction elements.

It's better than Return of the Fly in many aspects, slightly worse in some, and nowhere nearly as good as the original. It does a pretty good job with pacing and mystery. The film starts out with a woman running through the woods in her underwear after just escaping from a mental hospital. That's the first mystery. Then she meets and marries the grandson of the original Fly from the first one. We are shown that something is wrong with this grandson, and he appears to be ill. Second mystery. Then, at the grandson's house, nothing seems to be quite normal. Everything seems a little odd. We eventually find that there are rooms with locked doors outside the house, what is in there we do not immediately know. The third mystery.

It's all built up well enough but in the end none of it really comes together for a satisfying conclusion. Shame really. You never really feel as if any of those mysteries were truly solved, leaving you a bit disappointed.

Oddly enough, there is no monster fly in this one. I don't think there's even a regular fly in here. The only monsters are a few experiments gone wrong, which aren't as cool as the fly monster. You'd hardly be able to tell it was part of the Fly trilogy if, let's say, it came on television late one night and you missed the title.

I also have to compliment the great make-up effects.

Great use of make up effects in Curse of the Fly

There are plot holes, and some things seem a bit stupid. It's a decent enough film though, but quite honestly I really don't feel like talking about it much more. This film also got some of the continuity of the trilogy messed up. Ah, I can only recommend this to those who absolutely loved the first one. If you didn't like the first one, or even just thought it was decent, I'd stay far, far away from its two sequels.

2.5/5 stars
Pros:
+Good pacing and mystery elements
Cons:
-Disappointing in just about every aspect overall

Just stick to the original, or even the 80s remake.

Preceded by: The Fly (1958), Return of the Fly (1959)
Remakes: The Fly (1986), The Fly II

Purchase Curse of the Fly on Amazon: DVD

Friday, September 21, 2012

Return of the Fly (1959) Review

Return of the Fly posterDirector: Edward Bernds
Stars: Vincent Price, Brett Halsey
Genre: Horror, Science fiction

A follow up to the previous year's film, The Fly, and this was an obvious cash in to try and make a buck. You can read my review of the awesome original, where I discuss what makes it just so great. It will maybe give you a better idea of why this one is such a disappointment.

The film starts off at a funeral, where we learn that the mother from the last film has killed herself because she couldn't live with what she knew. This is what happens in the short story that the series is based on, but I suspect they just couldn't get the actress to come back and do the film.

We follow Philippe, the kid from the first one, who wants to reinvent his father's machine thingy, even though he knows the risks. Vincent Price, returning from the first, warns him not to but he fails to heed his warnings. Glad to see Price back, though his performance wasn't nearly as superb as it was in the first one.

The one scene I thought was kind of cool was when the Fly attacked that fat guy. It was even a little scary.

This film plays out much more like a typical mindless horror flick. They changed the Fly's mask from the last time, making it much more bigger and cheesy looking. Not sure why they did that, the original looked great. I suspect it may have been done in an attempt to make the character more memorable and recognizable. It worked out decently because it added to the camp value and that's about the only value you'll find in this.

Return of the Fly review

The film is kind of noir-ish, which is cool. At certain times it really did feel like film noir. Unfortunately the plot is really uninteresting, I've forgotten most of it already, and there are way too many characters to keep track of. Plus it doesn't help that none of the characters are even vaguely interesting or developed.

Then we get a shitty ending. And that's about it.

2.5 stars
Pros:
+Camp value
Cons:
-Confusing and boring plot
-Too many characters
-Bad character development
-Bad ending

As I've said, check out my review of the first one, and stay tuned for reviews of the sequel, Curse of the Fly, and the 1986 remake along with the remake's sequel.

Preceded by: The Fly (1958)
Sequel: Curse of the Fly (1965)
Remake: The Fly (1986), The Fly II

Purchase Return of the Fly on Amazon: DVD - Stream - VHS
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The Invisible Man (1933) Review

The Invisible Man poster
Director: James Whale
Stars: Claude Rains, Una O'Connor
Genre: Horror, Science fiction

Having read the novel by H.G. Wells I was quite impressed at how good of an adaption this is. Of course it's much faster paced than the source material, as to be expected. But it still manages to capture the feel of the original, and many scenes are just how I had imagined they would be. Of course there are a couple of differences but nothing major.

This is probably director James Whale's third most well-known film, behind Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Whale is my favorite director when it comes to 30s Universal Horror, and though I found the his two Frankenstein films to be a bit better, The Invisible Man is a very important member of the Universal Monsters cast and one of my favorites. (Heh, what Universal Monster isn't one of my favorites?)

Though it is not usually classified as a "trick film" like many earlier films are, most notably Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr., it really does a great job of displaying movie magic. We get to see some really awesome effects, still to this day looking superb. From the Invisible Man unwrapping his bandages revealing a seemingly headless body, to books and objects which seem to be floating across the room on their own, and even the man being spun in circles by his feet by the Invisible Man, all never seizing to amaze. And the best part is you can pretty much guess and figure out how all these tricks are done, though I'm sure you couldn't at the time, but it's great to visualize how they tied strings to things and whatnot. If I could pick one film to display early Hollywood movie magic, The Invisible Man would be it.

The Invisible Man review
The plot is good, as should be expected from an H.G. Wells adaptation. In here they kind of make the Invisible Man more evil and ruthless, killing and terrorizing more people than I remember him doing in the book. I do wish they dealt with his psychology a bit more, and allowed you to understand and sympathize with him more. In the novel it was great because you realized he was mad and dangerous but you still understood him which caused sympathy. Don't get me wrong, there is some glimpses into the character in the film, just not as much as the novel. But enough about the novel.

The first half of the film is basically all a build-up to the second half which is just a big, intense game of cat-and-mouse between the Invisible Man and the everyone else. It's pretty funny and thrilling all at once. Add that with a decent dose of science-fiction and horror and you got yourself a tale.

This was Claude Rains film debut, who later went on to star in many well-known and well-acclaimed films. And for a guy who's invisible the entire time he does a damn good acting job. A couldn't think of a better fit for the part, I'm glad, though a little surprised, that they didn't use one of the Universal regulars in this. I of course love Lugosi and Karloff as much as the next guy, I'm just glad this film had a new face...or lack of face rather. However I have read that there were many considerations for the part before settling on Rains, including Karloff. In the end though James Whale wanted an "intellectual voice" that Rains did well in providing.

I should also note that this is one of the most humorous Universal horror films I've seen. There were quite a few scenes that made me laugh. This is partly due to the great writing, partly due to Claude Rains' great performance, and partly due to the mere absurdity of an invisible man running about. The scene where the Invisible Man was skipping down the road in nothing but a pair of pants while singing nursery rhymes and chasing and old woman had me cracking up.

The Invisible Man review

Not very much more to be said about this. A classic and a must see for anyone.

4 stars
Pros:
+Great plot adaptation
+Stunning effects
+Humorous, but not cheesy
Cons:
-Deals less with character psychology and focuses mostly on his evil side

Purchase The Invisible Man on Amazon: DVD - Stream - VHS

The Fly (1958) Review

The Fly posterDirector: Kurt Neumann
Stars: David Hedison, Vincent Price
Genre: Mystery, Science fiction, Horror

Awwwwwwwwwwwww... Worst ending ever. I won't spoil anything just yet (and when I do you'll be forewarned) but this really is a great film for the most part, near perfect I'd say. Let's review, shall we?

First off I'd like to note that this was actually based off of a short story by George Langelaan, which was originally published, oddly enough, in a 1957 issue of Playboy. Yes, that's right, this story has its origins in a pornographic magazine, and actually won the magazine's award for best fiction that year. I haven't read the short story being that I couldn't find the actual text or anywhere to purchase it, but there is a Wikipedia page that has a summary of it. Most of it checks out with the film, a few differences though, most notably in the short story it says he was combined with both a cat and a fly; also in the short story the wife kills herself. But for the most part it's pretty consistent, though it seems like the short story is a bit superior (when isn't it).

The first thirty minutes of the film effectively play out as a mystery. You're thrown right in, knowing nothing, and are forced to slowly figure out what happened as the film progresses. At the start, the very start actually (which is actually the end), we learn that the wife killed her husband. We don't know why though, we don't if he wanted her to, and you may even doubt that she even did it at all. She refuses to answer when questioned and many factors are introduced to make you think. She killed her husband with a hydraulic press machine, but it is said that she didn't know how to operate one, which means someone must have told her how or done it for her. It also lets us know that the machine was pressed down twice. Why would she crush her husband, whom she loved, twice? All these factors, and more, build up to a great mystery.

The use of a buzzing fly in the beginning was also cool, because we obviously know the film has something to do with a fly, see the title of the film. So occasionally you'll here a fly buzzing about or see someone swatting one away. They make it pretty obvious, and it may have benefited from a bit more subtlety, but cool nonetheless. Then we see the wife get hysteric when the maid swats a fly, which only deepens the mystery. This film really is a mystery when it comes down to it.

The Fly review

She eventually agrees to explain what happened to her brother-in-law and a detective. This triggers a flashback and is where the plot starts to come into focus. We finally meet the husband and learn he is a scientist. He invents a teleport machine thing, blah, blah, I think most know the story of The Fly. He eventually tries to teleport himself but a housefly gets caught in the machine and they are fused together.

From here the mystery picks up. We know the husband has changed into something, and we pretty much know it's a fly, but the entire time he wears a bag over his face so you can't see his actually face. This just builds-up to the moment when we do get to see his face. And man the build-up is great, along with some of the best pacing I've ever seen.

The Fly review

We learn that he must find the fly that he got fused with so he can try and reverse the transformation. This leads to some of the most thrilling and intense scenes of someone trying to catch a fly ever. Seriously, you will be thrilled by someone trying to catch a fly. It's amazing. Perhaps the only thing that even comes half close to being as good of a fly catching scene is in AMC's Breaking Bad.

I won't ruin anything but when we finally do get to see his face sure it's nothing amazing but it's surprisingly not cheesy like you may expect. It's not super realistic or anything but it serves its purpose. It actually looks pretty cool. Come to think of it, none of this film is cheesy or so-bad-it's-good, and it has very little camp. Even the laboratory was pretty believable, a rarity at the time. This is a genuinely good film.

Things happens which I won't spoil. All the characters are very easy to sympathize with, a rare thing for films. Seriously, you can sympathize with the wife, the brother-in-law, the husband, the fly, the cat, the kid, even the detective in a way. Something that is hard for films to pull off.

[The following paragraph contains spoilers.] Had the film ended ten minutes earlier it would have been one of my favorites ever. If it ended with the wife going to the mental hospital it would have left it open for debate whether or not her story was true or if she really was insane. After all the only evidence she had to support her story was her words. Even the maid said she didn't see the fly. It would have furthered the mystery and would have really made you wonder whether she was just crazy or telling the truth. She certainly showed signs of insanity. Instead the brother-in-law and detective go out into the garden and see the fly with a human's head (the fly that got fused with the man) and they see it get eaten by a spider. This was the only scene that had mediocre effects and seems to only be here to provide a somewhat happy ending. I really wished it left it open for interpretation.

The Fly review

So, I'll just delude myself and pretend the last ten minutes never happened, because that really is the only bad part. So I wish the film had a better ending, maybe stuck a little closer to the source material, but that's really it. Other than that it really is, in my opinion of course, a perfect film. AH THAT ENDING. WHY!? Sigh.

Overall worth the watch, still one of my favorites. Great pacing, great story, great characters, great everything. If you stop the film ten minutes early, like I'll do next time, then it's great. A highly overlooked film, with most attention for the story going to the 1986 remake, which I will be reviewing soon and then doing a comparison the the original.

I will also soon be doing reviews for this films two sequels: Return of the Fly and Curse of the Fly. And perhaps even the remake's sequel, The Fly II. Stay tuned.

It falls just short of a perfect 5, but I'll be a bit generous and give it a 4.8/5, rounding up to 5.

5 stars
Pros:
+Mysterious and engaging plot
+Good use of build-up
+Good plot structure
+Great characters and acting
Cons:
-Cheesy ending

Remakes: The Fly (1986), The Fly II

Purchase The Fly on Amazon: DVD - VHS

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jurassic Park (1993) Review

Jurassic Park poster
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
Genre: Action, Science fiction

Let me start by saying that this film contains some of the best, most life-like, non-CGI effects ever seen in film. But then again the effects better looking fucking good with a 63 million dollar budget. And really there isn't much else besides the dinosaurs in here that would cost an absurdly amount of money, so it seems like most of the budget did go to the effects.

Adapted from the book, which I haven't read, but I hear it doesn't do the book too much justice. Not unexpected. Though the dinosaurs look superb, there are a number of inaccuracies, mostly with their behavior. But, this is an action thriller so that doesn't even really matter from an enjoyment standpoint (which is what I primarily look for in action thrillers).

Laura Dern was great in this. Jeff Goldblum was... well for some reason I tend to kind of dislike Goldblum as an actor. For no good reason in particular, mind you, I just do. But he had some charm in here. 

One thing that really pissed me off is how the only character that dies is the character that everyone wanted to die, i.e, the lawyer. And it isn't even really too great of a death scene. You can really tell they wanted that PG-13 rating badly. 

[Following paragraph contains slight spoilers] I think Professor Malcolm should have been killed. (and no not because I dislike Goldblum). Seriously though. A few minutes after the lawyer gets killed Professor Malcolm risks his life by being a distraction so that other guy and the kids could get away from the T-Rex. If he had died it would have been a nice little statement on how cowards can die just as easily as heroes can. But no, what do they do instead? They have him get injured and end up surviving just so he can sit on a table with a broken leg for the entire rest of the film barely even contributing any lines. WTF! I repeat: instead of having him die, not only causing emotions in the viewer, but also making somewhat of a statement, they have him lay on a table with a broken leg, contributing nothing to the rest of the plot and hardly saying anything for the rest of the film. Wow. I just remembered that the guy with the shotgun died too. But he was such an unforgettable background character that it hardly even counts. "Clever girl."


Jurassic Park review

Also, some more dinosaur variety would have been nice. There were only a few types, though I'm sure this was a budget thing so whatever. I'm sure the sequels add new dinosaurs, I can't remember. 

But overall it's a standard action film with a few good moments. I liked the scene where you see the velociraptor's shadow on the wall, that was just good directing. The scene with the banner falling that read "Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth" in front of the T-Rex was cool, even though it looked kind of fake. 

The film does a good job of putting the characters in seemingly inescapable situations. You'll always be wondering how they'll get away. Unfortunately the escapes are sometimes a tad unbelievable and ridiculous.


Jurassic Park review

Another thing I've always liked were the enemies. Sure they're just stereotypical dinosaurs but you understand them. You know what the characters have to do when confronted with a T-Rex, stand still. You know they should avoid shining lights at dinosaurs. It lets you know the velociraptors' attack pattern and that if confronted with one you're probably screwed. So that was cool. Which is why more dino variety would have benefited the film greatly. 

Even though the film is just over two hours long, it felt short as hell. Seriously, it goes quick as hell and leaves you wanting more. And I do think that this could have been a much better film if there was more to it. I mean nothing really happens. And the whole ending is stupid as all hell too. It just reeks "family movie". I'd probably even give it a bit lower if I didn't immediately think of Jurassic Park every time I see ripples in a glass of water.   


So yeah, this is worth the watch. It's a fun ride while it lasts but you won't be thinking about it much afterwards. It's a good film for kids too, if you have. 


2.5 stars
Pros:
+Good effects
+Fast paced
+Thought out enemies
Cons:
-Childish
-Ending leaves you disappointed and wanting more
-Little dinosaur variety

Purchase Jurassic Park on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream
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