7.30.2015

Review: Avenged


2015
Directed by: Michael S. Ojeda
Category: Horror

Like most low-budget independent horror films these days, I heard about this one through social media. Someone had asked if it was out on DVD, providing a picture of the poster art, and I was immediately intrigued. At that particular time, it hadn't yet been released, but I kept it in the back of my mind. Just the other day I was browsing what Redbox had to offer when I went to my local grocery store and BAM! There it was and here we are.

I have to admit that it's hard to impress me with low-budget horror. Sure I know it seems I've been raving about them as of late with recent gloating over films like It Follows, Starry Eyes and We Are Still Here, but with every great indie horror film, there are a good 20 that suck. And truthfully, we pretty much know if they're gonna suck just judging by the cover art alone, or in some cases, the title. It's a pretty safe bet that most of these will be lame or mediocre at best, but then every once in a while a film will surprise me, much like the ones I mentioned before.

During a cross country road trip to her boyfriend, Zoe, a deaf mute, is brutally raped, tortured and murdered by a gang of ruthless killers. When a Native American tries to rescue her, her body is resurrected when the spirit of an Apache warrior takes over, and she seeks out revenge on those who murdered her.

While I wouldn't put this quite up there in terms of quality, Avenged aka Savaged has so much more going for it in a completely different way that easily makes it a far better film than you're expecting going in. For starters, whether intentional or not, Avenged looks and feels like a solid Grindhouse flick. No joke. There is a rawness to everything; a distinct raw energy permeating through this film. It might just be in the way writer/director Michael S. Ojeda shoots, or it might be in the subject matter and how it's written, but either way, Avenged plays out like a revenge Grindhouse tale with all the trimmings. Now that I look back on it, I think Ojeda really missed an opportunity to push this film even further into the mainstream as Grindhouse throwbacks are becoming more and more popular these days. In any case, Avenged was a fun film, regardless of what Ojeda's intentions were.

Writer/director Michael S. Ojeda has as very distinct way of shooting this film, which is a lot of handheld shots, quick cuts, and giving the images a burnt, almost over-exposed look. Normally those are the kinds of things I frown upon, but I have to admit that in this case, it works really well. I don't think this film would have had the same feel, or impact had it been shot streamlined with some fancy visual camerawork. The freestyle frenetic energy works wonders overall in this.

One thing I would strongly recommend is checking out the Making Of feature located on this disc. It's a pretty interesting story and gives you insight into how they struggled to get financing for this, and how it really was a labor of love to make, hiring actors and a production with virtually none to minimal experience. Most of the people who worked on this did for the love of the project, and not for the money, which is refreshing to hear.

One thing that might throw some people off is that it tends to be kind of all over the place, which is part of it's appeal for me. One minute it's a serious revenge flick, but then there are times when it's a little silly and over the top, and then they throw in some supernatural elements, with so many other elements thrown in that it's so hard "not" to have a good time, especially when you see endless mediocre or just plain awful garbage in the horror genre these days. You really can't go wrong with this one. It won't blow you away or anything, but you can tell it's made with love and passion, and for a rental, you certainly can't go wrong. Top notch effects work (for the most part), strong cast, and an impressive Grindhouse vibe all contribute to a film that's ultimately much better than you expect it to be.

7.27.2015

Review: We Are Still Here


2015
Directed by: Ted Geoghegan
Category: Horror

Yet again, we've come across another little known horror film that seemed to have flown under the radar, barely scratching the surface of popular public opinion. It's such a crying shame really, because films like It Follows, Starry Eyes, and now this film are pretty much some of the best horror films you will see all year, and they are not playing in your local cinema.

Much like It Follows and Starry Eyes, it was through social media that I even became aware of this. Apparently it had premiered at SXSW to glowing reviews, but outside of that, I hadn't heard or seen anything about it, other than the random blurb from some lucky son of a bitch who was able to catch it at a specialty theater somewhere. Every word-of-mouth was strongly positive, and when I saw Amazon was finally offering it on their streaming site, I invited a bunch of friends over for an impromptu movie night with none of them knowing "anything" about this, other than me telling them it's a throwback to 70's horror and it's a ghost story. 

What followed was an hour and a half of some of the best independent filmmaking we've seen in a really long time. Essentially a ghost story set in an old house that has just been bought by an older couple who recently lost their adult son in an accident, and hoping to get away from the constant memories of him, they soon learn of the "history" of the house from a neighbor, and then things really start becoming painfully apparent. 

There is so much to admire with this film. I personally made it a point to not learn too much going in, so as with the group, I went in virtually cold, and our film experience was all the better for it. But even with what we already knew, which was that it was a ghost story and was set in the 70's, you are kind of taken aback by how ingenious it all is. There's nothing new in here, and certainly nothing that we haven't already seen before, yet writer/director Ted Geoghegan crafts We Are Still Here with so much love, talent, and passion for euro 70's horror that it's damn near impossible to not be impressed. It's Geoghegan's admirable craftsmanship that sets this film apart from so many others in the same genre, and what ultimately makes it so much better than any big budget Hollywood horror remake, reboot, or run-of-the-mill atrocity starring actors (using the term loosely) that look more like models rather than real human beings. 

To his credit, Ted Geoghegan has casted this thing perfectly. Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, You're Next) is exceptionally cast as the grieving mother who wants to move on, yet still finds anything to grasp onto that even remotely reminds her of her son. To be honest, the casting all around was pretty spot on in my opinion. With a small ensemble of principal players, the roles all seemed tailored to their individual strengths. Rounding out the impressive performances were none other than Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie, solid fixtures in the horror and indie film world.

As with any horror film, you have to expect some effects work, and believe me, there are quite a few special effects to admire in here. It can be hard to come up with new and inventive ways to tell a ghost story. I mean, by now, we've seen it all, and when we're not getting unnecessary remakes of classic ghost story films (Ahem.....Poltergeist), then we're treated to inferior films that look like they should be playing on the Syfy channel rather than you local cinema. But with We Are Still Here, we're treated to something new, something fresh, and an ingenious spin on the ghost story genre. It was creative, with some elements I hadn't seen before, and done so damn well. And as far as effects work goes, brilliant. Just fucking brilliant and top notch quality work.

One of the best things about this film is that not once do you ever feel like you're watching an independent film. Not once. So much sheer talent is on display in every facet of this films creative team, as well as it's production, that when it's over, one of the first things you'll most certainly be asking yourself is why didn't this get a full-on theatrical run and play at your local cinema? Everything in here is deliberate, and calculated with it's slow-burn approach to it's stunning climax. Horror films these days could learn a thing or two from Ted Geoghegan and his enthralling little film.

7.23.2015

Review: Ex Machina


2015
Directed by: Alex Garland
Category: Science Fictino

I've been a fan of Alex Garland as a writer quite some time, with films like Dredd and the criminally underrated Sunshine being some personal favorites of mine. While most associate him with being the writer who invented the 28 Days Later franchise, I think his work on Dredd and Sunshine was incredible. So when I heard that he would be making his directorial debut with Ex Machina, based off of his own script, I was excited. But you know, it takes a LOT to get me to shell out $10 for a movie these days, so more often than not, I skip the theater altogether and patiently wait for home video.

Ex Machina is one of the best science fiction films I've seen in a long while. It's bold, clever, and spins the genre on it's head for a number of reasons. I didn't know what to expect going in, but just the word of mouth alone was ridiculously good. So I went in cold, not knowing anything about the premise, the cast, or anything of that nature, other than it was Alex Garland's directorial debut.

Ex Machina is unique in the sense that it plays out more like a stage play than anything else, yet it works stunningly well. With only 3 actors in the entire film, Ex Machina really relies heavily on Garland's script and dialogue to keep things moving, and interesting. I can honestly say that he succeeds....in spades, as I was enthralled for the entirety of it's running time. There was so much about Ex Machina that I was not expecting, with it's stunning use of dialogue to propel both the story's narrative as well as pretty much everything that happens, to Garlands stunning restrained visuals, to the near flawless use of CGI.



With only 3 characters to connect with the entire time, and very little in the way of action or excitement, you better make sure the script is sharp and engaging enough to keep the viewer invested for an hour and a half. Alex Garland does just that, giving us one of the most smartly written screenplay's I've had the pleasure to come across. It's witty, thought-provoking, and engaging, while also keeping you guessing. Garland plays with different emotional themes, often reversing roles to keep you on your toes, and constantly questioning the sincerity of anything any of the characters say. Those are all the marks of an outstanding script.

Oscar Isaac, nearly unrecognizable, is ridiculously good here. You never know what to make of him, oftentimes coming off as genuine and charming, while other times creepy, cocky, and arrogant. He makes you nervous, unable to fully read him and figure him out. Isaac plays him with gusto, delivering an unsettling performance that's easily one of the films major highlights, thus making Alex Garland's personal little film far beyond what you come to expect in a film like this.

I honestly can't praise this film enough. Ex Machina is easily one of the best and most impressive films I've seen this year for a number of reasons - the performances, the script, the amazing eye candy, the intensity, the tone - all of it works splendidly.

Ex Machina is currently available to rent or purchase from any number of retailers, including Redbox and Amazon.

7.21.2015

Review: Everly


2015
Directed by: Joe Lynch
Category: Action

I vaguely remember this coming out this past year. I remember I'd read about it a few times in a few articles or sites, but I don't recall ever seeing a trailer or even a review. So I forgot about it. But about a week ago someone had made a comment about this film on a random Facebook post, saying that they loved it and it was a lot of fun. Since that was the one and only "word of mouth" I'd ever come across, I figured I'd give it a shot. When Redbox recently offered it, I jumped on it.

I knew nothing about this film going in, other than it starred Salma Hayek, and was directed by Joe Lynch. While I'm not entirely familiar with his output, I did see his first film, Wrong Turn 2, and loved it. So the prospect of someone who started out in horror coming to the action genre was exciting to me. It happens a lot, with action directors like Renny Harlin, John McTiernan and Stephen Hopkins all having started out in the horror genre before making it big in Hollywood with action films. It seems to be an almost natural transition, and having fallen in love with Wrong Turn 2 and it's impressive effects work, the idea of Lynch venturing into action almost seemed natural.

Holed up in a penthouse apartment as she fights off the Japanese mafia, Evelyn (Hayek) must find a way out to save her 5 year old daughter using anything she can. 

Everly was awesome; plain and simple. These days it seems to be harder and harder for action films to leave a lasting impression, yet Everly did just that, in spades. With my experience just a few days ago of watching Expendables 3 and being severely let down, Everly was an exciting breath of fresh air. Directed with gusto by Joe Lynch, it's a unique film to say the least. What I wasn't expecting was the film to take place almost entirely in a single room. I'm sure you can imagine how difficult it could be to shoot an entire film in a single room, yet keep it fresh and interesting. Even I wasn't aware of this as the concept of the film until about halfway in when I started to realize that Evelyn (Hayek), though she keeps trying, is never able to escape that penthouse. I guess I eventually would have had I done any research online beforehand, but please don't let that idea dissuade you, because somehow they make it work!

So much of this film is just spot-on, working effectively well as a balls-to-the-walls action film with an insane amount of over-the-top action and hardcore violence, yet surprisingly tense at the same time, with genuine moments of suspense. It's also slightly tongue-in-cheek, releasing some of it's hard-edge tone with some random moments of humor that also work effectively well at keeping the film from being 100% hard. The violence on display here is nothing short of awesome. What I liked most in terms of the violence was that most of it was done with practical effects. You won't see any CGI blood splatter, or CGI gunshot wounds, and believe me, there is a LOT of blood spilled in this film. When CGI was implored, it was done on an extremely minimal level, integrated into an existing shot and you'll more than likely not even notice it.

The action sequences, though contained in a limited space, rule this film. There were things in here I hadn't seen in action films before, and there were things I had, only done in a much more extreme and brutal fashion. And that's what Everly does so well. It pushes the violence, gore and action to the extreme. So much of it is so over-the-top it will surely elicit a chuckle or laugh, while at the same time shocking you. One of things I found most surprising is that most of it is quite clever on a visual and creative level.

Joe Lynch is a revelation here. Going in, and knowing how he shot Wrong Turn 2, I expected the same visual aesthetic, imploring a lot of handheld freestyle camerawork with a kinetic approach. But here, he takes a much more streamlined approach, and it's gorgeous. I can't remember a single handheld shot, sticking entirely with tracking and stable shots. The visuals here are just stunning, imploring some creative camerawork that you'd come to expect from a seasoned pro, and not someone with only 2 other films under his belt, and none of them in the action genre. Though an entirely different aesthetic than Desperado, I found this film to  have a lot in common with Robert Rodriguez's first big budget film in that it was clever, creative, nonstop fun, and shot with passion.

Despite it's seemingly neverending barrage of all-out voilence, Everly took many detours into places I was not expecting, such as the Japanese Mafia angle, and a character who shows up in the last act known as The Sadist. I almost feel like they could have made an entire film out of his character alone. But these are things that only add to it's unpredictability, something sorely missing from action films these days.

I'm sure through it's process of funding, casting and pre-production, Everly must have gone through several casting changes, as is usually the case. But Hayek, whether she was the first choice or not, nails the part of Everly, and honestly, I've never seen her being as badass as she is here. She kills it, playing both sexy as hell, and lethal with an attitude.

I wish films like this got more attention. In this day and age where action films seem to cater to the older crowd by casting Liam Neeson, or only marginally dip into the action genre by giving us cookie-cuter thrills in an age filled with remakes, reboots and re-imaginings, it's refreshing to see something with balls, and rated a Hard R.

Within the past few days, I've seen 2 films that have shown me everything right (Everly), and everything wrong (Expendables 3) with the action genre today. Everly gets everything right, and not only pushes it further, but kicks your ass in the process.

7.17.2015

Review: Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare


1987
Directed by: John Fasano
Category: Horror

Oh man. Where do I begin. Being a fan of Bad Movies, I came across an article somewhere that had compiled a list of movies so bad that they were good, and if you were a lover of this particular little niche of bad filmmaking, that you needed to see these hidden gems. Rock n Roll Nightmare was on this list somewhere, so I looked up the trailer and was sold.

A heavy metal group has just arrived at a house in a small town. Set up by their manager so that they could get away from the distractions of the big city, the intent is to practice and record for their upcoming album. Soon after moving in strange things begin happening, and they soon discover something evil may be lurking in the house.

If you're not in the know, here's a bit of backstory. Jon-Mikl Thor is a real life bodybuilding rock n roll musician from Canada who goes by the name of Thor, obviously not to be confused by the Marvel character, though he does look the part. While he's never struck it big like other hair bands in the 80's (the highlight of his career), he does have a pretty big cult following. He's also passionate about movies, so he decided to write/produce/score/star in his own horror film called Rock n Roll Nightmare in 1987, with the help of ultra low-budget director John Fasano (Black Roses), and the results speak for themselves.

Rock n Roll Nightmare aka The Edge of Hell is bad. I'm a guy who loves bad movies, and when a movie is so bad that it's actually entertaining in a fun way, it instantly falls into the "So Bad, It's Good" category - a category I happen to love. But then there are films like this, that are just awful, and not in any redeemable way. Most of this film is so terrible on every level that with the exception of a chuckle and eye roll here and there, it's pretty boring stuff. While the script is nowhere near good, or decent for that matter, a lot of the fault lies squarely on director John Fasano's shoulders. He's terrible. So much of the "bad" that we see on a visual level goes back to Fasano, and with an endless barrage of uneven edits, weird camera angles, awkwardly long takes, hilarious transitions, and just plain awful directing, there's plenty to rip into. So the film may not be good period, but a good 95% of it's problems come from a technical level. Depending on your definition of "entertaining bad", these issues might make for a better experience for you.

Another odd staple in this are the seemingly endless love-making sequences. There are so many random and totally unnecessary sex scenes that I was warned ahead of time that it almost qualified as soft porn, only there's hardly any real nudity. It's shot in such a weird way that while you know exactly what they're doing, they don't really show any real nudity. Maybe a nipple might make a quick 2 second appearance, but for the most part, you really only see some half-covered side-boob action. So it's really strange that there are so many sequences like this in here that run on waaaay too long. My guess is that they were trying to expand the run time, nothing more. There's definitely something wrong when there are a lot of random sex scenes and you're bored to tears.

It's hard to gauge exactly what Thor had initially envisioned with this passion project, because in interviews from 2005, nearly 20 years after the release of this film, he talks very fondly and proudly of his experience making this film. There's no mistaking that he's proud and confident with the film, but should he be? It's so incredibly schlocky at every turn, with hilariously low-grade makeup and effects that no person in their right mind would ever mistake them for real. It's almost as if they bought all their masks, props and makeup effects from the local 99 Cent sore, only they didn't. Someone actually went through great pains to create a lot of these by hand, and when you see the final product, you wonder why they even bothered when going to the Dollar store would have been just as good. In interviews it's clear he has a love for campy B-Movies, but it's never mentioned whether this film turned out that way on purpose or by accident.

But Rock n Roll Nightmare isn't a total loss. Thor, to his credit, really, really tries here and for the most part, sells the shit out of it. He's not a great actor, but he's not the worst either. He's easily the best of the bunch in the group, and you have to admire the guy. He's in the thick of this pile of shit and he keeps a straight face, even when battling small rubber monsters being thrown at him from off camera and pretending to fight them off in slow-mo when in reality, he's actually holding onto them so they don't fall off since they didn't have any money for suction cups or any kind of sticky substance to make them actually stick to his body. Ah, the joy of low-budget filmmaking.
Jon-Mikl Thor

But while you sit through this odd little horror film for over an hour wondering if the last act will somehow pay off in the end, rest assured, it does. The ending alone is well worth the effort of sitting through this tedious experience. I remember while we were watching this the other day, and the most common comments we kept making were "Wow, this is terrible", "This is kind of boring", and "I've gone this far, I have to see it through to the end now". Boy am I glad we did, because what a doozy of an ending it is. I won't spoil it for you, but as things began to unfold, we both simultaneously blurted out "Whaaaaat the fuuuuuck???". Yea, it's that bizarre, insane, and utterly brilliant in a "WTF were they thinking?" kind of way.

Overall it's an okay "Bad" horror film that will certainly deliver a few laughs, chuckles, smirks and a few grumblings. While not quite up to par with films I generally show on Bad Movie Night (too boring for it's own good), the ending is well worth the trip. Thor is really a better actor than you'd expect, and his bravery (again, the ending) should be commended. I wouldn't say this is worth a purchase, but if you can rent it someplace via Netflix, Amazon or your local video store, I highly recommend doing checking this out.

7.16.2015

Review: The Expendables 3


2015
Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Category: Action

Watching this 3rd installment in the Expendables franchise reminded me why I don't like this franchise in the first place. Here is a franchise that touts itself as being a "throwback" to the Golden Age of action films, the 80's. So naturally, I was excited about this project....initially. I mean, I grew up on this stuff as a teenager in the 1980's. While my brother was solid into horror, I was always more of an action guy. So the thought of seeing all my favorites from films like Rambo, Commando, Die Hard and so on all in one film kicking all kinds of ass the old-school way got me super pumped. Then I saw that first film, and while I did enjoy it to a degree, I didn't like it as much as I had hoped I would. There were a lot of reasons for that, but I'll get into that later. But I figured, maybe it was just a fluke, and the inevitable sequel would fix all that.

When they announced that Simon West would be taking over as director, I got excited again. Hey, Con-Air may be silly, but it's a helluva lot of fun, and such a gorgeous film to look at. And then they went ahead and threw in more big names like Chuck Norris (who looks like he's in a totally different movie) and Van Damme into the mix, and I could hardly contain myself. But then the film came out, and even with all this new talent attached, it felt shockingly more dull and flat than the first! It didn't do anywhere near the business it should have, yet somehow a 3rd film was greenlit.

When this 3rd film was announced, they brought on yet a new director in the form of Patrick Hughes, this time from the indie world, who had impressed Stallone so much with his previous film, Red Hill, that he felt he was the right man for the job. Again, "more" names were attached like Kelsey Grammer, Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and a slew of fresh "young" newbies. I admit, the trailer looked promising. The visuals were more streamlined, and the vibe and action seemed more pumped up, in the trailer anyway. But then reviews started pouring out, and none of them were good. And then the film came out and bombed bigger than the previous entries, making only a quarter of it's production costs, most likely due to a massive leak 3 weeks before it's scheduled release when it was momentarily available online, and subsequently downloaded nearly 200,000 times. None of this got me excited enough to shell out $10 to go see it in a theater. So I waited.

My problem with this film is the same issue, or issues rather, that I have with the entire series in general. While it's fun to see all my favorite action hero's from a time when action ruled the screens, the fact is that the scripts are just mediocre at best, and sometimes too convoluted. While the first film was the simplest in the bunch, the other two got more and more extravagant, when they didn't need to be. The insanely large cast is another issue. It's weird to say, but there's just too many of them, and none of them get the adequate screen time they deserve, or need for you to invest in their characters. Half the time you forget some of them are even in there until they pop up again later in the film. Case in point, I totally forgot Jet Li was even in the group. He didn't show up until at least halfway through the film, and I think his screen time is less than 5 minutes total. Same thing with Antonio Banderas. For my money, I would figure that focusing on just a handful of characters, possibly less, would make for a much better film rather than bombarding us with an endless barrage of familiar faces.

Terrible movie, but a great poster.
One of my biggest issues with this franchise is that it's just not targeting the audience it intends to properly. Nothing about these films scream "throwback", and none of them look it either, starting with the marketing. It's all wrong. What happened to hand-painted posters? That's what needs to be the selling point for these. The big names are what get you interested, but it's the hand-painted badass poster art from decades ago that would be the thing people remembered the most about these kinds of films. Instead what we get is a picture of all of them standing there. Whoopti-fucking-do. Take for example the poster art for The Annihilators (--->>), a low-budget action film from the 80's. It's a terrible and boring film, but man that poster rocks! I'm not even a fan of the font they use for the title. Everything about these films emit "new" and "cookie-cuter", when they should instead be reminding you that there was a time when action films were actually badass, and cut from the same cloth. None of that here...sadly. These "throwback" films seem to be more and more a ghost in the industry. But every once in a while, one sneaks up on us, and reminds me that they still can make these types of films. 2 Guns was that film for me, starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but that movie was fun, made with an old school vibe, had lots of action, didn't rely on CGI, and was occasionally funny. It reminded me of the type of action film we used to enjoy.

What I noticed with all 3 films is that while there is indeed action, none of it is very exciting. I will admit the first film fared better than the 2 sequels, partly because it was more of a stripped-down approach, but all in all, you get sequences of action, meaning lots of shooting and lots of explosions, but it's all rather uneventful. And you kind of expect a LOT MORE in the action department. And you sure as hell expect much cooler stunt-work in general. I mean, practical stunts are a staple of the genre.

This entire post is essentially me complaining about the entire franchise, from the muddled plots, to the lame poster art, to the uninspired font. But I think one of the biggest problems I have with these films overall is the constant overuse of CGI for everything. It's maddening! What happened to old fashioned squibs? What happened to bullet wounds and gunshots looking organic? No matter how  hard they try, no matter how far we advance in technology, CGI blood is no comparison to old-fashioned squib work when you can actually see blood packets exploding. If anything gives you the feeling of a way action films were made back in the day, that will do it. But did they do that? Of course not. Not in any of the films. Furthermore, the annoyingly overuse of CGI in general is enough to turn most people off. I'm talking about just regular shots of helicopters flying, or worse yet, explosions. I can go on and on, because the abundant cheap-looking CGI effects work will drive you nuts. You keep asking yourself "why don't they make the films the way they used to if it's supposed to be in the same style?".

The Expendables films are a huge missed opportunity.

7.15.2015

Review: Conan The Barbarian (2011)


201
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Category: Fantasy

When I began seeing the promotional material for this reboot of Conan, I was immediately turned off, first and foremost by the casting of Jason Momoa as the titular Conan. Being the age that I am, I grew up on Arnold's Conan films, and to see someone who's a quarter the size of Arnold up there portraying Conan just didn't do it for me. And I wasn't a Game of Thrones fan, so I had never even seen anything with him in it. All I saw in the trailers was a much smaller man, wearing a skirt, grimacing endlessly and looking nothing like Conan should look like. So I skipped this one as I had no desire to see it. But when it's hard to find films to watch with your 12 year old son, the slim picking's make you watch films you otherwise would have avoided.

I keep going back and forth with my feelings on Conan. First and foremost, as a swords and sandals fantasy film, it's really fun. There are a lot of technical aspects in Conan that rock. For starters, the CGI is kept to a minimum (YES!), and when it is implored, with the exception of the final act, it's actually not that bad and integrated well within the practical effects work. That's kind of a big deal in my world, especially when you consider that most of these films are "ALL" bad CGI quickie jobs. It was so noticeable throughout the film that they really tried as much as possible to use practical sets and effects that we were constantly commenting on that, and that it was commendable. It's kind of a rarity these days, so kudo's to the production for trying their hardest to keep it real.

I also liked how bloody and violent it was. Where they easily could have gone the PG route, like Conan The Destroyer did, thus killing the franchise, they went for a hard R, and not watered-down to fill more theater seats. I was surprised at how much blood was spilled in this, with a lot of it so over-the-top that it was almost funny at times. I liked the fact that it was actual blood packets being exploded and not bad CGI blood, but it was a little ridiculous. I mean, what's the point of wearing all that armor if it just takes one swipe of a sword and you're dead, regardless of all that armor?



Now onto the negative. Jason Momoa is no Conan. I'm sorry, but it's just such a wrong fit. But even looking past the casting choice, the film just looks and feels like another episode of pretty much any fantasy show on TV, which is one of it's biggest problems. Marcus Nispel is a fine director, but this film should have looked and felt more EPIC. On the plus side, he strayed away from his usual hand-held camera technique and took more of a streamlined cinematic approach, but it still sort of falls flat visually. When you look back at the first Conan film directed by John Milius, it screams big and epic at every turn. Everything from the casting of Schwarzenegger, to the lush widescreen cinematography, to the organic look and feel of using 35 mm film. It all makes a huge difference, and what the original Conan The Barbarian possessed and used to it's full advantage, the new Conan film is sorely missing. It may just be that we're in a huge Swords & Sandals Fantasy boom right now with Game of Thrones leading the pack, but if you're going to attempt something for the big screen, you need to make it bigger. Nispel in the directors chair was a wrong choice. He's proven himself in the horror genre, but for some strange reason he's been the go-to guy for remakes, with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th and now this under his belt. There's nothing in his resume that could have suggested he could handle a big property like this, or a film as epic, and the result speaks for itself. Bottom line is that none of this feels big, and it really needed to be.

And not all of the failings of Conan lie on director Marcus Nispels shoulders. There are a lot of reasons that keep this from being great, or bigger, like the score for instance. The original Conan film boasted a thundering score by Basil Poledouris that has now become legendary. Sadly, I never once noticed a cohesive theme to any of the music here by Tyler Bates, nor anything that resembled a theme in general. It's just kind of....there. No frills or inspiration. It literally brings nothing to the table, nor does it add any level of excitement to the scene.

When we take a look at the over-photoshopped poster art, it's yet another sad reminder of where the film industry is these days. Where as in the original film we got a gorgeous and iconic hand-painted poster reminiscent of the old Conan comics, novels and gorgeous paintings by Frank Frazetta, keeping in the tradition and theme of the larger-than-life character, the poster art for this looks nothing more than a collection of images from the movie, rung through a photoshop program with dozens of filters applied, giving it a Made-For-TV quality that we've come to expect from every single other big budget spectacle. Marvel is the most guilty of this, but it's so sad when it's just become the norm to do it this way now. I can't even remember the last time I've seen an actual hand-painted poster design for a new film.

By the time Conan (2011) came out, it had been nearly 30 years since the original Barbarian classic. Anticipation was high to say the least, and you would have thought that the production, and hell even the studio, would have done everything in their power to give us the Conan film we've been waiting nearly 3 decades for. Sadly, this is not that film, and it's safe to say that the consensus is that it didn't meet our expectations, and there are no plans for anymore. Too bad for Momoa though. I'd read a few articles when this first came out where he was quoted as saying he had a whole series of films already planned in his head if this became successful. Personally, I enjoyed it. If you can disassociate this with the name Conan, it's actually a fun and well-made fantasy film with a ton of violence, bloodshed and impressive use of practical effects. On it's own, outside of the Conan The Barbarian universe, it's quite enjoyable. As a Conan remake/reboot/re-imagining whatever, it sadly pales in comparison to a film made 30 years ago, without the benefit of CGI, and a bigger budget.

7.14.2015

Review: Headless


2015
Directed by: Arthur Cullipher
Category: Horror

I had only become aware of this film because of Facebook a few months ago. Being a part of a few horror groups allows me to find out about films that I otherwise might not have ever heard of, much like this film. When Headless was released on DVD, it seemed (to me anyway) to come out of nowhere. People were going nuts over this and constantly posting pictures of there newly acquired limited edition DVD's and Blu-rays. Their love and devotion to this little film got me wondering where it came from, so I did a little digging, and quickly discovered a few interesting things that got me even more excited to check it out.

First, it's a sort of sequel to the underground hit Found. In Found, the killer is obsessed with a "lost" slasher film. This is that film. When Found became a cult hit, the filmmakers went about a crowd-funding campaign, and secured the financing they needed to produce this film. Headless is made to look like a low-budget slasher film made in the 70's, and in that department, it's pretty damn clever and effective. You'd think it was actually made back then, complete with grainy picture quality and scratches all over the screen. So while it is associated with Found as being the film within a film, it's also the kind of film that stands on it's own. You don't need to have seen Found to understand what's going on in this. This works just fine as a standalone film.

Second, the makeup effects artist from Found sits in the directors chair this time around. So the fact that the person who knows how to handle effects work is directing this film this time around got me really pumped for what I hoped would prove to be an even more effects-heavy experience.

When Headless was completed through its crowd-funding efforts, the film's first limited run immediately sold out. I soon started following their official page on Facebook soon after. Then word came through their page that at some point in the next few months they would be doing a second run, because demand was so high. When they went up for sale, I immediately jumped on the bandwagon and secured my signed Blu ray. Last week I screened it for my movie group for my Extreme Horror themed movie night, and so every one of us went into this cold, not having seen anything on it.

There are things that work really well in Headless, and there are things that really keep it from being exceptionally great. The reaction was extremely varied from my movie group, with some of us enjoying it, and other's not really liking it at all. I will admit that it does require a certain kind of "open-mind" to take this in. Even then, the low-production value can be a task to sit through for some, while the extreme gore and disturbing content (necrophilia) will surely put off others. I think had this film had a stronger director, it could really have been pretty great. But unfortunately, outside of the obvious homage to ultra low-budget grindhouse style slasher's from the 70's, some sequences just don't work very well, or lost a lot of their impact due to the amateur filmmaking.

Surprisingly, there is indeed a story, as well as a back story into why the killer does what he does. Some moments will leave you a little uneasy, while others will leave you scratching your head wondering if what you saw was really happening or just in the killer's imagination. It's that kind of a head-trip experience that makes it somewhat clever and different.

Headless is a surreal experience to say the least. It's a daring experiment that will leave some in disgust, and entertain other sick fucks like myself. Personally I enjoyed it. It was a totally different type of film experience than I'm used to, and for that, I have grown to like it more and more. Not everyone's cup of tea, but if you like your copious amounts of gore with a little slasher throwback, then Headless will surely fit the bill.

You can purchase the film on Blu ray or DVD at their official store HERE.
You can stream it via VOD beginning on 7/17/2015 HERE

7.11.2015

SDCC Star Wars: The Force Awakens Behind-the-Scenes Reel



I think it's safe to say that this years San Diego Comic Con is going to go down in history as being one of the most hotly anticipated in years. With so much AWESOME being unveiled, it's almost impossible to keep up with. Here's a behind-the-scenes reel that the Star Wars panel brought out. It's just magic. There's something about it that just proves this new Star Wars film is going to be something special. I like how they highlight the fact that so much of the film in general is going to be old school practical effects, keeping with the spirit of the original trilogy.

I don't know about you, but after the last 3 prequels, it has been hard to get excited about the Star Wars property anymore. When the first teaser of this new film premiered, it didn't do much for me really. Then when the longer trailer popped up, I finally got excited. Seeing some old familiar faces, and just the vibe of the film in general sold me. But this. This just seals the deal for me. Fuck I'm excited like you wouldn't believe right now for this. If you weren't convinced before, watch this. You will be.