1.23.2015

The Guest


2014
Directed by; Adam Wingard
Category: Action/Thriller

I had been hearing rumblings about this film ever since it was about to hit the festivals. Knowing it was from the same duo who brought us the excellent and better than you'd expect You're Next, you can say I was very excited. To top it off, this wasn't going to be another horror film, which is what you'd expect from some talented filmmakers who knocked it out of the park with their last home invasion horror film. Nope. This time around they decided to head on into action/thriller territory and let me say, it's another home run.

The Guest is an excellent piece of Badass Cinema. Everything from it's slick visuals, the incredible synth score, and it's somewhat 80's vibe, The Guest delivers the goods on all fronts, all in no small part to the incredible turn by lead Dan Stevens, who I'd never heard of before until now. Heralding from England, the guy plays one badass mofo, yet so damn charming that you can't help but like him, even though you know something is lying just beneath the surface waiting to explode. You see, right from the beginning, you know not all is what it seems with this guy, and it's his portrayal of a down home country boy looking after the family of a recently deceased fellow combat friend that kind of throws you for a loop. As an actor, he's got the southern thing down pat, and it's pretty remarkable. His ability to charm, shock, and frighten you all in the blink of an eye is what makes this film so impressive.

A soldier shows up at the door of a fallen soldier's family one day. Claiming to be friends with the deceased soldier, he says that he was told to look after the guy's family. Almost immediately upon his arrival, the mysterious and charming soldier seems like a Godsend. He's handy, and a problem solver, helping every member of the family out in one way or another. But there's something mysterious about him, something just beneath the surface. 

The Guest is a solid entry in the action/thriller genre. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett take a nostalgic approach to this film, making it look and feel like it came right out of the 80's, and these guys are quickly becoming the duo to keep your eye on. The Guest is an excellent film all around and an awesome piece of Badass Cinema. With the recent box office release of John Wick, it seems that stylish thrillers are coming back to the forefront once again, after laying dormant for what seems like forever now.

1.15.2015

Update on where I've been...

As you may or may not have noticed, I've been pretty absent from this blog for over a few months now. Randomly I'll make an attempt to post something, but more times than not, I don't. The holiday's were pretty crazy for me with family visiting and whatnot, but honestly, the main thing, or hobby rather, that's been keeping me busy morning, noon and night is collecting. I've always been a collector, always. Sometimes it's exclusively VHS, sometimes figures, sometimes Laserdisc. I've always been that way and collecting has and always will be a passion of mine and as you may know, it's not something that you can always do because of your financial situation. This is the reason why I had to take a good long break from pretty much buying anything I loved to collect for a very long time.

Recently, my life in general has become comfortable enough that I can now afford to get back into finding the things that make me happy; mainly toys and games from my childhood, action figures, collectibles, VHS tapes, Laserdiscs, and pretty much anything that makes me who I am. And that would be a big kid at heart.

While I will be posting reviews from time to time on here, it will be random and much less frequent than before. That is unless I build a passion for it again. But at this time, it's in collecting, which brings me to another topic.



I've created a new blog dedicated solely to my stuff. I love the idea of being able to share rare finds, badass buys and just retro stuff in general with other fellow nerds, collectors and enthusiasts like myself. That page is Robo-Bit.blogspot.com. Here I will be posting things I find, recent buys, and everything in between. I guess you can say it's like Tumblr, but this would be my own thing. Essentially it's just all the things I post on my Instagram page, which I've become quite busy on these past few months. Please add my new page to your blog list, favorite my page and please comment. I encourage conversation on all things geeky. I love it! I hope to hear from you all over there and please, let's get some dialogue going.

www.Robo-Bit.blogspot.com

1.07.2015

Razorback

1984
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Category: Horror/Thriller

Razorback is a film that I'd been desperately trying to see for some time now. I'd always heard of it, but when it was highlighted in the excellent Ozploitation doc Not Quite Hollywood, I was dead set on finally getting this sucker in my hands. Except, WB Archives DVD was the last US release of the film, and knowing it was going to be a visual stunner, I wanted my first experience watching this to be on blu ray. Unfortunately, there's been no US blu ray release as of yet. However, there is a Region Free blu out there, but when it typically goes for $30 and over plus shipping, I wasn't ready to spend that kind of money on a movie that I wasn't even sure was going to be good. Needless to say, I streamed it.

With it's impressive opening shots, Razorback is undoubtedly one of the most visually impressive films I've ever seen. Knowing this was from Aussie video director Russell Mulcahy, who also directed Highlander, one of my favorite films, I knew I'd be in for a visual treat. Stunning is putting it lightly.  Director Russell Mulcahy seriously outdid himself with this early effort. As much as I love his work on other favorites like Highlander, The Shadow and Ricochet, none of them come remotely close to his brilliant camera work in this. Early in his career, Mulcahy was the quintessential visual director, and it's films like Razorback and Highlander that showcase his impressive visual talents.

When a reporter goes missing on assignment in Australia, her American husband goes in search of her and soon discovers that this may all be the work of a mythical creature, rather than man.

While often referred to as a horror film, I consider it more of a thriller than anything. A very good thriller. Mulcahy does an excellent job driving up the tension to exuberant levels, and his use of visual camera tricks are just brilliant, imploring the sort of gimmicks that can make or break a director if they come across as too schlocky. Thankfully, Mulcahy does it all with class, and it's pretty amazing how he makes the Australian outback look both beautiful and terrifying. There's even a sequence midway through where the film takes a slight hallucinatory detour. While it may seem slightly out of place initially, it's gorgeously shot to such a degree that you honestly just don't care. It's trippy, beautiful, and an excellent example of the power of brilliant visuals.

One of the things I found interesting is that much like in Jaws, you barely, if ever, see the actual creature. I'm not sure if it's just because of  how practical or inpractical the big thing was, but by not actually showing it for most of the film made for some truly tense moments on screen. It's like they say, it's what you don't see that scares you the most.

An excellent example of old school stylish filmmaking at it's finest and a stellar achievement in Mulcahy's career, if you haven't seen Razorback yet, I urge you to get to it!

12.10.2014

The Believers


1987
Directed by: John Schlesinger
Category: Thriller

What I'll remember most about this film more than anything is the year 1989. 2 years after this film was released, an Austin, TX college student by the name of Mark Kilroy vanished while on Spring Break vacation with some friends. While bar hopping one night in Mexico, he got separated from his friends and vanished. Despite massive searches, he was never found. Some time later a high speed chase from the border checkpoint ended on a farm in Mexico, where it was soon discovered that Kilroy, along with 14 other victims, were buried on the premises, the result of human sacrifices by drug dealing cult members who practiced Santeria and Brujeria, often mutilating, eating and cooking the body parts of their victims for their rituals. After a shootout, the cult's leader was killed, along with an accomplice, and his second-in-command (Sara Aldrete) was arrested along with the others.

After their arrest, it was discovered that their favorite movie was The Believers. As soon as this was made public, every video store in Texas took this film off their shelves indefinitely. I live in deep South Texas, roughly about 30 minutes from where all this went down on the other side of the border. So this hit close to home. It was a huge deal here and is still considered folklore in this area. From what I recall, once the film  was pulled off the shelves, it would be many, many years before it would become available again. It's crazy to think that after 25 years, I still remember the name of that kid. What's even crazier still is that when I finally decided to revisit this recently, I didn't really see anything that would cause any normal human being with a rational thought process to think that doing anything this film depicts would actually result in.......well anything that wouldn't put your ass in jail for the rest of your life. Honestly, nothing is plausible in these voodoo rituals. But apparently this drug gang believed it all enough to copy them.

After the shocking and sudden death of his wife, psychiatrist Cal Jameson (Martin Sheen) moves to New York City to start over. He's soon recruited by the police force to help them with one of their own officers, who's being held on a psychiatric hold after having what appears to be a nervous breakdown. Jameson soon discovers that this officer was involved in something much more sinister, as his own world is turned upside down as he's unwittingly sucked into a world of voodoo and Santeria, culminating in a shocking conclusion. 

Written by Twin Peaks co-creator and co-writer Mark Frost, director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man) infuses this thriller with enough bravado and class that through his sure-handed brand of filmmaking, you stay invested, even if it isn't the most exciting thriller you've seen. What sells it is Martin Sheen's conviction. It's rare when we come across a film where he's the star, and not a villain or supporting actor. This was his first foray back into theatrical films after 3 years of exclusive television made-for-tv work, and thankfully Sheen didn't miss a beat. He's just excellent in this, and I don't think the film would have been as strong without him. With that being said, while it was nice to revisit this, it wasn't exactly the nail-biter I was hoping it would be. It's got some great things going for it, but it often felt a bit too long and dull in some areas, and when you consider that this film seemed to inspire some delusional people into doing some pretty atrocious things, there wasn't anything in it that was so far fetched that I would have ever believed it would be so controversial. Yet it was, and all because of a handful of idiots.

I haven't seen a lot of what director John Schlesinger has done, but I know he's regarded rather highly for his craft. I did enjoy Marathon Man immensely. And I remember being creeped the fuck out by Michael Keaton in Pacific Heights, but I don't think I've seen anything else he's done. In any case, solid filmmaking all around. I just wasn't thrilled, I should say, as much as I was hoping to be. A solid thriller, with some mystical overtones that doesn't quite grab you fully, yet slightly makes up for it in the end.

12.09.2014

Snow White and The Huntsman


2014
Directed by: Rupert Sanders
Category: Fantasy

Something about this film never struck me as one that I needed to rush to see. I don't know why, maybe it was the whole Snow White theme, or the fact that Kristen Stewart (rolls eyes) was the star, but needless to say, I never had the itch or desire to check this one out. Yet recently, I decided to revisit Ridley Scott's Legend, and well, I suppose I was in the mood for a fantasy again.

Snow White and The Huntsman surprised me at almost every turn, and on every level. What I assumed would be another humdrum big budget retelling of Snow White, complete with overdone sloppy CGI, turned out to be an exceptionally well made and stylish dark fantasy that was able to capture a certain niche in the film industry that's been sorely missing for quite some time. This film was good, and quite the welcome surprise. What's sad is that whenever anyone hears the name Rupert Sanders, nobody is ever going to mention what an outstanding job he did directing this thing. Nope. What will more likely be mentioned is his affair with his star Kristen Stewart, who was with Robert Pattinson at the time, while Sanders himself was a married man with a family. Funny how one bad decision can totally ruin your life. His entire life got flipped upside down, all for a tryst with Kristen Stewart of all people? Makes no sense to me. But I'm getting off track here. Sanders is arguably one of the biggest reasons why this film works so well. His lush visual's create a world that bring's back memories of Scott's Legend. That's a bold statement, I know, but I honestly stand behind it. As I sat back and watched this, after a good 30 minutes the biggest thing I noticed was how much Sanders particular style resembles Ridley Scott's in his heyday.

I'll also admit something else. Stewart's usual droll acting came off a lot less annoying in this, so much so that I was able to enjoy the film and not want to reach into the screen and strangle some life back into her, just so I could get some kind of emotion out of her. I won't get into it, but I honestly don't see the appeal of Kristen Stewart. She's about as dull as they come, even when she's hitting the red carpet. No emotion, no substance, and no presence. Am I alone in this? Yet, I found her more tolerable in this than in anything I've seen her in up till now.

What's surprising to me is that I know this film did well, so well in fact that a sequel is coming with none other than Frank Darabont coming on board as director. And with all that's been said about this film, I'm probably more shocked than anything else that nobody ever takes the time to comment on Sanders outstanding visuals, or the creature, production and costume design. Artistically, SWatH is an outstanding achievement. Even when we get down to the CGI, it's near flawless and not overdone or shoddy as we've been accustomed to this past decade. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But it's disturbingly true. You'd think in this day and age of outstanding CGI work, the day where we joked about how fake CGI looked was well behind us, but it seems more relevant now than ever. So when a film like this comes out, and you're not pre-occupied with the shoddy effects work, well that's a rare treat indeed. But it all comes back to Sanders aesthetically pleasing work as a visual director. It's hard not to compare the guy to Scott, as they share a very similar visual style. I'm surprised no one has picked up on that, or is it just me who thinks that?

There's a lot to like in this Snow White interpretation if you give it just half a chance. It's dark, moody and incredibly atmospheric. The cast is pretty great, and a visual knockout. And let's face it, nobody does evil quite as effortlessly as Charlize Theron. The effects work is top notch, and it's all rounded out with a better than you'd expect quality. Believe it or not, I'm actually looking forward to the sequel.

12.05.2014

Firestarter


1984
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Category: Horror/Thriller

As I scratch my early 80's horror itch, I realized that I never got around to ever watching this one. Strange, since I'm a big fan of the director, Mark L. Lester, who gave us such gems like Commando, Class of 1984, Class of 1999 and Showdown in Little Tokyo. So yea, I'm a fan.

Released in 1984, Firestarter came out in a time when practically every single Stephen King novel was being made into a movie. Carrie, Christine, The Shining, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Creepshow, Cat's Eye, Children of the Corn, Pet Semetary and so on. It's different now, but when a Stephen King novel got the movie adaptation, it was a pretty big deal. It was almost a guarantee that a SK movie would be a bonafide hit, and believe it or not, practically every single one was. Once the 90's came around though, that all started to change. Sure, we did get a few gems like Misery, Sleepwalkers - though I'll admit that one is not for everyone - and some really good drama's like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. But the 90's was the beginning of the decline of King's rule at the box office in the horror genre as a lot of his novels turned into films were becoming of less quality than we'd become accustomed to. I think the nail in the coffin was when most of his stuff just started going straight to video and made for television. Nowaday's it's extremely rare when a King film is a hit, let alone comes out in the theaters.

One of the things that surprised me right off the bat with this one is the stellar cast. Martin Sheen, David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Louise Fletcher, Art Carney, and a wonderfully evil turn from George C. Scott. Everyone is just fantastic in this; all delivering knockout performances. But it's really Barrymore's show here. This was her first film after the massively successful E.T. and I have to say, casting kids in lead roles is extremely tricky. Pick an annoying kid and it can certainly ruin the film experience for you. A good example is that kid in Tobe Hooper's Invaders from Mars remake. While I still loved the film, that kid was just flat-out terrible and I've heard several times how his performance pretty much ruined the experience for a lot of others. It almost did for me. But Barrymore is a solid actress, no doubt. You saw what she had to offer in E.T. 2 years earlier, but here her range is on full display and quite honestly, she's one of the best child actors I've ever seen.

I really liked this film. It starts off strong, and ends with a bang. Director Mark L. Lester's restrained camerawork feeds into the films overall early 80's aesthetic, keeping things simple, yet effective. It works remarkably well. Take into consideration that this is an early 80's production, and you have that immediate "old school" look. It's awesome. I sincerely doubt that if this would be remade today, it would never, or could ever, have the same visual impact and ambiance that this film presents. There's just no way. Then when we get to the third act, and all hell breaks loose, Firestarter becomes a technical marvel. The pyrotechnics involved are nothing short of astonishing, and hell, even I was surprised at some of the stunt work involving Barrymore. They certainly make films differently these days. Most of the stuff presented in the final act would never be attempted today. It's a guarantee that it would all be done with CGI, and would never have the same organic feel that this film is able to accomplish.

If I had any gripes, it would be that most of the cool fire action doesn't happen until the very end. But you know, I half expected that, so it's not that much of a bummer. There are plenty of moments where Charlie (Barrymore) and her father Andy (David Keith) display their particular talents, but it's really not until the last 30 minutes where she really let's loose and well, it's a flat-out awesome display.

By no means a film that will blow you away, yet an exceptionally well made film that perfectly captures the aesthetic of the early 80's. It has it's lull's, but recovers in it's final act to deliver one helluva finale. I'm so glad they never attempted to remake this.

11.29.2014

Fitzcarraldo


1982
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Category: Drama

One of the things I've yet to do is immerse myself in Werner Herzog's filmography. While I have seen a very slight few of his films, I must admit that I have not seen a good majority of his work. In his vast catalog of films, Fitzcarraldo always seems to be at the top. When I recently watched William Friedkin's excellent Sorcerer for the first time, Fernando over at The Film Connoisseur suggested this film, saying that it was similar in tone and theme. After a few months I finally sat my ass down in what I knew would be a long Sunday afternoon essential Herzog viewing, and I was right.

I'm just going to come right out and say it. I didn't really care too much for this film. Gasp! Don't kill me! I can definitely understand the appeal; crazy story and even crazier star, but none of it really gelled with me. Performances aside, Herzog can certainly put a film together rather well, but judging solely on his work in this film alone, I wouldn't necessarily call him a stylish director. A few scenes indeed stand out, but I found the majority of his visual aesthetic to be humdrum at most. Often times I found myself commenting on how much he shoots things in close-up, where I really thought the scenes could have benefited in a wide shot. But that's just me. I've seen the pictures, the trailer and the promotional material and so naturally, my excitement is in wanting to get to the "scene". You know, the "moving the huge boat over the mountain" sequence. Unfortunately it takes nearly 2 hours for this sequence to come to fruition. In the meantime we are treated to drastically slow tale of a mans passion for the opera, his brash and unorthodox behavior, and his relentless pursuit of the seemingly unattainable. I know some love this film to death, and as I said before, I can certainly understand why for cinephiles. For me personally, I found it all rather dull and incredibly uninteresting. I could bet that a good 30 minutes at least could have easily been cut without losing any of the films integrity.

But I will admit that when the film does eventually reach that third act, it's an astonishing display of Grade A filmmaking at it's finest. This is where the film really shines, and considering all the logistics that go into pulling something like this off, it's mind-bogglingly awesome. With that being said, it wasn't nearly enough to save the experience for me. It's quite fascinating to see something this grande physically happening in an authentic way. If this film was made today, I can guarantee you that it would most likely be done using a healthy dose of CGI to do the things that Herzog and his production team were able to accomplish using practical ingenuity. On that end, it's a stunning accomplishment. But that's where my praise for this film ultimately ends.

I have yet to see Burden of Dreams, the full length documentary based on the harrowing ordeal of making this film and Herzog's tumultuous relationship with his often leading man Klaus Kinski, but I hear it's pretty good. I do own it and plan to watch it soon, and maybe it will help me appreciate this film a little more. For my personal tastes, I feel Sorcerer is a far superior film in almost every way. Different genre's altogether, yes, but both displaying a titular character set out to do the seemingly impossible against all odds. Until then.....

11.22.2014

Saw II


2005
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Category: Horror

Released just a year after the original, Darren Lynn Bousman takes over directing duties this time out, with Leigh Whannell again returning as co-writer (along with Bousman), and begins to resemble more of the type of film the franchise is known for. Instead of just 2 people like in the first film, this time out a whole group of unwitting participants are forced to endure a series of unimaginable tests and traps, with each character having a common link.

I rather enjoyed this film a lot more than the first one. Though Bousman's direction isn't any stronger than James Wan's in the original, there are a lot more kills, gore, and all around it's a better film because it's the start of what the franchise is to become and what it's known for. Structurally, it's a bit different than the first film; a welcome change in my opinion. This entry also has the added benefit of having Donnie Wahlberg (The best thing about Dead Silence) playing another cop, though a completely different type than his role in that film. Wouldn't it have been amazing if it was the same cheesy character from Dead Silence?! But his addition to the cast is a welcome surprise because he's definitely a better actor than most people give him credit for.

There's nothing terribly interesting in this entry, other than the more elaborate kills and torture devices. So in that department, I guess you can say it's a bit more original. But as I look back on it, I can't really think of a single scene that really stood out more than any of the others. Perhaps the pit needle scene? There are more cringe-inducing scenes for sure, but none that really make this stand out in my book. One of the added benefits this time around is that it's a much faster pace than the first one. Instead of building up to a conclusion, this entry basically throws you into the story right in the beginning and it's essentially a series of traps and set-ups for every character forced to participate, while simultaneously try to figure out what the common link they all share is. It's breakneck pace is refreshing though, for that I give them props.

Overall a refreshing addition to the franchise for a number of reasons; Wahlberg's character being incorporated into the storyline, some fresh inventive kills, a faster more hectic pace, and the gore department delivers the goods. I liked it more than I was expecting to, and coupled with Darren Lynn Bousman's "safe" direction, Saw II ultimately plays out like a solid horror film, the kind I was hoping for. On that note, it delivers the goods. Unfortunately I'm finding it hard to get excited about it or to be enthusiastic with this review. I liked it, but nothing about it really got me pumped up. I definitely enjoyed it more than the first one, with the effects and gore department delivering some outstanding work. But it just didn't blow me away. Overall a solid torture porn film where the participants make the stupidest decisions imaginable, much to both our delight and frustration, Saw II elevates all the ideas and concepts conceived in the first film and dials it up several notches. Now on to Saw III!
To be continued...

11.20.2014

The Taking of Deborah Logan


2014
Directed by: Adam Robitol
Category: Horror

It goes without saying that I detest "found footage" films. I hate them. After Oren Peli re-ignited the sub-genre back in 2007 with the vomit-inducing Paranormal Activity, it seems every wannabe director used this concept as a way of breaking into the business and exploiting a concept to death. They're not all terrible though. While a good 95% of them just flat out suck, there are a few gems in the crowd that help you forget that most of these films are simply made because they are cheap to produce, and pretty much anyone can direct them since running around with a camera and spinning it back and forth as much as possible doesn't require any real talent. The Taking of Deborah Logan is an excellent example of doing a "found footage" film right, and bless them for that.

I had never heard of this film before, until a reviewer I follow mentioned how great it was around the same time it premiered for streaming on Netlix. Needless to say, that night we had our sights set on what to watch and The Taking of Deborah Logan did not disappoint.

A team of students decide to chronicle a woman who seems to be suffering from Alzheimer's as part of a study for their school. Though reluctant, the woman agrees and soon things become much worse for everyone involved as it seems that Alzheimer's may not be the culprit after all, but rather something much, much worse. 

 What I loved about this film is that while most found footage filmmakers (I use that term loosely) think they know what it takes to make a low-budget film successful, writer/director/editor Adam Robitel does. Having worked with Bryan Singer for a number of years, he knows exactly what it takes to build tension and suspense, and none of that involves throwing the camera around like you're high on crack. Using a variety of different techniques to tell the story such as video footage, surveillance footage and news reports, he effortlessly blends them all together to tell a compelling and cohesive story that slowly builds itself to a stunning climax. Sure, a lot of what you see in here you've seen before, but I can guarantee you that there's also a lot that you haven't, and for that, TToDL takes a few large leaps above average in this sub-genre.

I feel that I need to mention, and I can't stress this enough, that the BEST thing about this film is it's lead, Jill Larson, who plays the titular Deborah Logan. Her psychological and physical descent, all with the power of acting, is breathtaking. Watching her take on a transformation with no help of special effects or CGI is nothing short of astonishing. Had Larson not been the lead in this, I seriously doubt that the events of the film, and the film in general, would or could have been as effective or successful. She was fantastic and I'm sure anyone who's seen this will agree with me.

Found Footage is an easy type of film to make. So much so that we get at least half a dozen new ones every year. The problem is that most of them aren't successful just because you think you can pick up a home video camera and record some crazy shit and try to "jump scare" us. Thankfully TToDL and it's team does everything right and knows exactly what it takes to tell a story, build tension, offer outstanding performances, and delivers the goods in an otherwise severely saturated field. *Hint: It doesn't involve running around with a camera and making us nauseous. I'm not going to go out on a limb and say this film reinvents the wheel or anything, but for a solid, well-made low-budget horror film with outstanding qualities both in front of and behind the camera, it doesn't get any better than this.