Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Movie Review: The Tomb

  This... Movie... SUCKS!

 There is no better way to describe this film.  It sucks.  This film is only horrific in that it can potentially BORE YOU TO DEATH.  The official title is "H.P. Lovecraft's THE TOMB", yet the film has next to nothing to do with the Lovecraft story.  It was billed as being on-par with the Saw franchise... and it does desperately try to rip-off the Saw premise. 

 A group of people awake in a "tomb", some apparently underground warehouse filled with rows-upon-rows of shelves.  They are held by someone calling himself "The Puppetmaster", who torments them with physical and psychological challenges.  The two protagonists make their way through the warehouse (commenting on occasion about how their situation is like Lovecraft's "The Tomb"), finding people who die shortly after being found.  The film often cuts to the Puppetmaster's past-victims and occasionally a topless woman being threatened by some guy with an axe.  In the end, the female protagonist survives, walks out of the building to find a car waiting for her with a satchel full of money and a book... "The Tomb".  She drives to a hotel were a man finds her and explains that she can keep the money and the car if she has sex with him.  Instead, she kills him.
 The end.

 The only way this film could have looked worse is if it where shot with a cellphone.  Plot?  Who needs a plot?  Character development?  What the hell is that?  Special effects?  Other than apparently some of the most durable plastic bags ever manufactured by man... forget it.  

 If you are given the choice between watching this film or breaking the disc and using the shards to slit your own wrists... wrist-slitting will prove more entertaining.  


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Movie Review: The Devil's Rejects

  Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects is the sequel to his debut as a director, House of 1000 Corpses.  Having seen all of Zombie's films, and being a fan, I would describe The Devil's Rejects as a stylistic prelude to Halloween, though the films have nothing to do with one another.  The cast from House of 1000 Corpses returns, with the exception of Karen Black, who played Mother Firefly, and Robert Mukes, who played Rufus.  Black is replaced by Leslie Eastbrook, who's more intense interpretation of the character is more appropriate for this film.  Also added are Ken Foree, playing Charlie Altamont, Danny Trejo as Rondo, and William Foresythe as Sheriff Wydell.  
 "Intense" would be the one-word describing this film.  The kitchy, carnival feel of House of 1000 Corpses is abandoned, bringing the characters out of their surrealistic portrayal and into stark focus.  Sheriff Wydell, brother of the Sheriff who was killed investigating the missing young adults from the first film, leads an assault on the Firefly compound.  Only Otis (Bill Mosely) and Baby (Sherri Moon Zombie) escape the firefight.  Mother Firefly is taken into custody, and Rufus (Tyler Mane) is killed.  Tiny (Matthew McGrory), who was dragging a victim through the woods when the Sheriff and his posse arrive, goes into hiding.

 Otis and Baby call Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), who is living in another residence with his obese girlfriend (in House of 1000 Corpses, he mentions to the Sheriff's deputy that he likes large women).  Spaulding is introduced having sex with Ginger Lynn Allen, who pulls a gun and shoots him in the face after he cracks a joke about paying her for sex ("you should be paying me").  It was only a dream, and when his girlfriend asks him if his dream was good or bad, he responds "half-and-half".  When Baby tells him over the phone about the raid on the compound, he instructs them to meet at a preselected location.  He abandons his girlfriend, drives to a convenience store where he assaults a young mother and steals her car (all while wearing his clown make-up), traumatizing a young boy in the process.

 The scenes only get more intense as the film goes on.  The assault on the Banjo Family was so intense that the actors and even Zombie himself had difficulty getting through it.  Bill Mosely speaks in the extra material about how the character of Otis goes completely against his own nature, and how it was probably the most disturbing scene he had ever performed.  His "I am the Devil, and I am here to so the Devil's work" speech has become iconic.  Each of Foresythe's scenes are equally intense, though the Groucho Marx/Elvis scene is hilarious.  

 The Dr. Evil character and back story introduced in House of 1000 Corpses is dropped, although among the deleted scenes we are given an idea of what happened to the good doctor as a result of the raid.  The movie is scored with a great soundtrack, mostly classic tunes from the 1960's and 1970's.  Zombie shows an impressive maturation as a director and writer in comparison to his previous film, which goes on to serve him well in his remake of Halloween.  The characters are portrayed as monstrous and sympathetic at the same time, with the final scene bringing the film to a poignant and somehow beautiful close.  The horror is in the depth of depravity that human beings are capable of... on full display in The Devil's Rejects.

The PG-13 Rating is Ruining Horror Films

  The classic, black-and-white horror films by today's standards have a PG or G rating... which means that they are fairly tame.  There is very little blood in Bela Lugosi's Dracula.  Special effects in Lon Chaney's day were done by the actor himself.  Horror films relied on the acting, directing, and cinematography to be frightening.  Violence, when it was portrayed, was portrayed in the shadows, with only the scream of the victim and possibly some strange noises to indicate something horrible happening just out of sight.  Despite these limitations, the classic horror films managed to create tension and fear in their audiences.

 In the 1950's, special effects in horror films became the primary method for creating chills; with "living" brains in jars, half-human, half-fly murderous creatures, shambling beasts, mole-men, aquatic fish-men, and giant atomic monsters.  The special effects were often created from whatever was on hand, with the artistry being in making the effect convincing on a shoe-string budget.  Acting, story, and directing all took a back-seat to the special effects team and the costume/make-up department, but if the monster was convincing enough, then the film succeeded.  Still, by modern comparisons, these films still garner a G or PG rating.

 In the 1960's and 70's, color was common-place in films, adding a level of realism that did not exist in older films (and closing the door on a number of special-effects tricks that only work in black-and-white).  Our society became more "liberated", opening the door to the on-screen depiction of drugs, sex, and violence... often violence so gory to border on the ridiculous.  Aspiring special effects artists would study and attempt to replicate the violence seen from crime-scene photos, war-wounded images, and car-accidents.  Nudity was used to draw the viewer into the story on a visceral level, and even without anything sexually pornographic in nature, I Drink Your Blood became the first film to earn an X rating purely for the violence displayed.  The R rating became far more common than any other rating for a horror film.

 In the 1980's, traditional special-effects wizardry had reached its peak, and directors such as Ridley Scott, Wes Craven, and John Carpenter would make use of all the lessons of the past decades to generate the horror-film heyday and introduce the "slasher" genre.  These films far out-stripped all past offerings in violence, gore, and sexuality, but shifts in our society's perspective allowed these films to receive an R rating (though some just barely and others, like Angel Heart, only after editing).  Another interesting aspect of the film industry was that, despite the rating-board deeming that these films should only be viewed by person 17 or in the company of an adult, teen-boys remained their primary audience.  Movie-houses were more concerned about profits than enforcing the rating-boards recommendations. 

 Then, the outcry in the 1980's from parents and a variety of advocacy groups calling for censorship and political correctness in the media lead to the horror film industry striving to cater to these requests or face regulation.  Horror film franchises, such as Friday the 13th, which had made there mark with their violence and gratuitous nude scenes, began restricting the amount of blood and eliminating nudity altogether in their films.  The result was a number of bland films that did not compare to prior installments.  Most franchises quickly reversed their decision to produce films that catered to the special-interest groups and instead made films that people would pay money to see.

 In the 1990's, those same groups, having failed to make changes in the industry itself, turned to the theater houses and local governments, demanding stricter enforcement regarding keeping minors from viewing R-rated films without a parent or guardian.  The industry was once again forced to make changes to its films or lose profits.  Producers, though, having had a taste of things to come in the 1980's, seemed better prepared for the shift.  They used the budgets ear-marked for special-effects or sex-scenes to pay for what they hoped would be acting and writing sufficient enough to keep viewers entertained.  Changes in the rating-definitions also gave a wider birth for what film-makers could do and still avoid an R-rating.  New categories were added, including PG-13 and NC-17.  PG-13 is essentially an R-rated film with no nudity and slightly less blood and gore.  A PG-13 film can often be just as violent as an R film, but lacks the blood to emphasize the violence.  NC-17 is used for films that, while not pornographic in nature, are still violent and sexually titillating enough to not be deemed safe for anyone under the age of 17.

 PG-13 seems like a perfectly reasonable solution.  Critics and what I would refer to as "light-horror fans" point out that the films should be about the story and the scares, and not having the gross-out factor or the sexuality to rely upon should produce a higher quality of film.  Instead, we have ended up with a crop of horror films that, being so concerned about getting a PG-13 rating, take what might be a frightening and interesting premise and removing its... well... balls.  The films either try to be overly cerebral, which is tough to pull-off, and even when it is most of the audience won't appreciate it, or they rely heavily on "stings"; points in the film where the audience gets a visual and audio "boo!" or jolt. Too many stings in a horror film results in the audience growing bored with it.

 The writers, directors, and producers who love horror and strive for the dreaded R-rating (or NC-17) are still making films.  The film industry, however, is less willing to produce and provide budgets for these films, because their primary audience (boys 14 and older) will be unable to see them in theaters.  The direct-to-DVD market, the vehicle of independent horror-film makers, has the stigma of being low-budget, and while the independents do occasionally make a great film, far more often budget constraints draw mediocre contributors (actors, directors, writers, effects) and produce mediocre films.  This means fewer good horror films, which results in waning interest in the horror genre, and the slow choking-off of the horror-film industry.

 Despite the issues with independent film-makers (minimal budgets leading to cut-rate acting, writing, effects, etc.), the only real solution I see is to support and even contribute to the production of independent horror-films.  First of all, there is a greater likelihood that independent horror-film makers love horror-films and the craft of making horror-films.  They are not as interested in money as they are in creating their film.  Second, because money is secondary to the film itself, they are less concerned about how the film will be rated.  Most independent horror films are not even seen by the rating-board.  Wes Craven and John Carpenter no doubt love horror-films as much as any independent film-maker, having started as independents themselves.  Now, though, they command huge budgets but are also beholden to the concerns of their investors who see backing a film as a way to increase their investment, not as supporting the art of film-making.  Third, independent film-makers are grateful for any assistance they receive, whether it is a contribution of funds to their production or volunteering to hold up a light while the film is being made.  The opportunities to actually contribute abound.

 When independent film-makers are able to produce good, successful films, the major production-houses will wake-up again to why horror films make money, and cut the tethers on therirown film-makers (or higher the independents).  The only way to save the craft of the horror genre is to support the craft-makers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Movie Review: The Mothman Prophecies

  The problem I had with The Mothman Prophecies is that it, well, predicts itself throughout the movie.  Even if you don't know the details of the actual story it is based upon, the film is about some outside force telling the main characters what they can expect next, and despite all their efforts to the contrary there is next-to-nothing that they can do about it.  It has some scary moments, but nothing really shocking.  The movie flirts with the line between a skeptical interpretation of events and the fantastic; thus neither direction is given its due and the film ends up being mediocre.
  John Klein (Richard Gere) is a DC reporter who's wife is involved in an auto accident after she tried to avoid something in the road.  During her examination for a head-injury, it is determined that she has an inoperable brain-tumor and she dies.  Klein discovers a number of sketches she did of what she thought she was trying to avoid the night of her accident, a strange, black, winged creature.

 2 years later, Klein gets lost while traveling and finds himself in Pointe Pleasant, VA.  He discovers that the townspeople are being afflicted by a variety of weird phenomenon; weird lights in the sky, strange phone calls, and encounters with the "Mothman", a creature similar in description to his wife's drawings.  Klein discovers that the appearance of the creature often foretells disaster.  Things get only more intense as he becomes obsessed with the creature and begin receiving calls from a malevolent entity calling itself "Indrid Cold".  Cold makes predictions and warns Klein about an ambiguous danger to the town.  Klein then races to prevent this unknown disaster.

 The issue with this film is entirely with the story.  The direction and cinematography is great, and the actors are convincing.  The story itself just seems to ramble along with no real direction.  You are better off  reading the book or book on the subject for a little thrill than watching this film.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Movie Review: Bloodrayne

  Bloodrayne has one, and only one, redeeming aspect.  Kristanna Loken, who plays the title character, performs an amazing sex-scene.  Other than that, the film is garbage, which is unfortunate considering the list of stars involved; Loken (Terminator 3), Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs), Udo Kier (Blade), Meatloaf (Fight Club), Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar), Ben Kingsley (Schindler's List)... and others.  It is not a matter of acting, it is all to blame on the story, production, and special effects. 
 Ben Kingsley, despite his acting prowess, does not have the physical stature to fulfill his role in this film; the vampire antagonist.  The special effects, especially the swords (why are they so SHINY?) are nothing but a distraction.  You can tell that the actors are doing the best they can with the script, which plods along, trying to provide as much of the back story as possible while also engaging the viewer in the film's story itself.  As for being a horror-film, Bloodrayne is one of those "horror-by-default" flics.  It is a story about vampires, but the vampires are either heroes or villains, and not all that horrific. 

 Given the many problems with the film, I am just going to focus on the one scene, the sex scene.  Kristanna Loken, as Rayne, is in a prison-cell being watched over by a young and naive, but handsome guard.  She is not a prisoner, so the door is unlocked.  Once outside, she maneuvers the guard against the cell-door, takes off her bottoms and during their heated petting reveals her breasts.  She then climbs on the cell-door with the guard between her and the bars and mounts him, pounding against the cage to orgasm.  A chair is conveniently placed between the camera and her ass for the far-shot. 

 Afterward, it is like the two never knew each other.  In guy-world, that is exactly how you would want it to go down, but for the story it was pointless... welcome, but pointless.

 I am fairly certain that the scene I am referring to can be found on the Internet.  There is no need to see the rest of the film.  What's worse is there are sequels to this thing.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Movie Review: Candyman

  I was first introduced to Clive Barker through his "Books of Blood" collections after seeing an advertisement in which Stephen King described him as something like "the future of horror".  Mr. King's opinion was well-placed, Clive Barker wrote incredible stories that raised the horror-fictional bar.  I was introduced to Barker's films with Hellraiser, which remains one of my favorite horror film franchises.  I believe that Barker, though, would see these early offerings from his career as stepping-stones toward something else, something somewhat more fantastic and awe, rather than fear, inspiring.  Candyman, which Barker wrote, is far more true to the expression of Barker's fantasy-tales than his previous works.  Like any other art form, this shift from what one has become known for to what one truly wishes to express is often dissatisfying to fans, who normally clamor for more of that which they are familiar with.  

 Candyman also stands out as what is probably one of the first truly "urban" horror stories.  It is centered on the  Cabrini-Green tenements of Chicago, one of the most impoverished, neglected, and gang-ridden housing-projects in history.  The people of these communities develop their own cultures under the pressures of their existence, including their own myths and legends.  These "Urban Legends" are the starting-off point of the story; the protagonist and her friend are researching a thesis on Urban Legends, and discover the legend of the "Candyman", a kind of bogey-man that haunts Cabrini-Green.  A number of disappearances are blamed on the Candyman, as well as an occasional miracle.  The two women enter into the dangerous neighborhood to investigate a recent disappearance and make contact with neighbors of the victim.  With some effort, they get the neighbor to speak about the event, even though they tenants normally live by a code-of-silence regarding the incidents, especially to outsiders, fearing reprisals from gangs or the Candyman himself.

 Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is the protagonist of the story, and has become obsessed with the Candyman myth, so much so that she begins having visions of the figure and it begins affecting her relationship.  She finds herself tracking down the legend on her own, and is lead to a public-restroom by a child from Cabrini-Green were she is accosted by a local gang-lord who is using the Candyman myth to oppress the people in his territory.  Helen survives the assault, but now the visions of the Candyman have intensified.  A man claiming to be the real Candyman (Tony Todd) approaches her in her college's parking-lot and renders her unconscious.  When she awakens, she finds herself in the apartment of her original informant at Cabrini-Green; the tenant's rottweiler has been decapitated and their baby is missing.  Helen is arrested at the scene, but is bailed out by her husband.

 The Candyman exists only because his "flock" continues to believe in him and perpetuate his legend.  When Helen was assaulted by a fake and named her attacker, the real Candyman's legend was diminished, thus he needs her to re-establish the strength of his myth.  Alone in her apartment, Helen is again assaulted by the Candyman, who pricks her neck with his hook-hand, causing her to bleed.  When her friend arrives, Helen is unable to stop the Candyman from killing her.

 Through the story, the Candyman's legend is revealed.  He was the son of a slave and a talented artist who fell in love with a white-woman.  For this crime, his hand was cut-off, and he was covered with honey and allowed to be stung to death by bees.  His body was burned and his ashes scattered over what would become Cabrini-Green. 

 Helen is accused of her friend's murder, and is sent to a mental-hospital.  During an interview, than Candyman kills her doctor and frees her, predicting that she will help insight new terror in the tenants of Cabrini-Green.  Helen must choose between the life of the missing child in exchange for her own.

 Candyman is a lush tale, typical of Barker who is known for thinking in ways and introducing ideas that are generally not considered by the mainstream.  Candyman's greatest strength, other than the writing, is the portrayal of the actors.  Tony Todd is particularly convincing as the legend who is both trapped by and revels in his own myth.  Candyman shares elements with the Gothic Horror story; a detailed mythology, a villain that is both monstrous and at the same time a sympathetic character, a romantic quality, and a moral.  Though a long way from the more familiar Hellraiser films Barker is known for, Candyman's mix of old-world horror and modern urban legend is well worth seeing. 


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Movie Review: Dawn of the Dead

 Dawn of the Dead is by far one of the best re-makes, period.  The updated version, released in 2004, is arguably even better than the original.  The film is beautifully shot, the acting and script are top-notch, the special-effects are impressive without being over-the-top, and the story takes the viewer on a roller-coaster ride of highs-and-lows.  A plague of an unknown origin and nature has struck mankind, infecting its victims, killing them, and then resurrecting them as flesh-eating zombies.  A small group of survivors makes its way to a shopping-mall where they hope to hold-out until help arrives. 

 The films opening is disturbing.  The audience, already knowing what to expect (it is a remake of a classic film from a well-tread genre after-all), is allowed to witness the day prior to the end-of-the-world.  Signs that they recognize are ignored by the characters, who lack the aforementioned knowledge about zombies and are clueless to what is obvious to the viewer.  Everything seems fine for the first 15 minutes or so.  The lead actress, Sarah Polley, goes to sleep with her character's husband.  The next day, all hell breaks loose literally from the minute they open their eyes.  

 This film is also exceptional that it is completely about the story at-hand.  There is no political message here, no public service announcements about the environment or the government... just a handful of regular people thrown into a very disturbing situation trying to get by.  The lack of a "message" allows for a film full of great scenes and great lines:

 Ken: Is everyone there dead?

 Steve: Well, dead-ish.

 Ken: (in a more firm tone) Is everyone there dead?

 Steve: Yeah, in the sense that they all sort of, uh... fell down... and then got up... and started eating each other.

 The cinematography is wonderful.  Ving Rhames gives a top-notch performance, with the rest of the cast providing realistic and moving performances as well.  The special-effects and make-up crews clearly went all out, providing believable and often amusing zombies (at one point in the film, pot-shots are taken at zombies who look like famous people).  Mark Jonathan Davis and Lounge Against the Machine performing Disturbed's Down with a Sickness was an excellent touch during the films repose when the character's relaxed into their situation.

 Check out Dawn of the Dead.  It takes George Romero's original to the next level. 

Movie Review: John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness

 John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness is the second film of what is referred to as his "Apocalypse Trilogy", which include The Thing and In the Mouth of MadnessPrince of Darkness is, in my opinion, the worst of the three films.  The premise is solid enough, but it tries to do too much with too little.  It has some familiar faces; Donald Pleasance (Halloween), Victor Wong and Dennis Dun (both who played similar roles in Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China), and (though he is prominently featured in all the advertising) Alice Cooper in a bit-role as the lead transient.

Most watch this film to see this guy.
 The story begins with a priest on his death bed who passes clutching a lock-box that houses a key.  This key is passed along to the local archdiocese, leading the investigating priest (Donald Pleasance) to basement chamber of an abandoned church that houses a large reliquary holding a swirling and sparkling green fluid and a book written in several ancient languages.  This priest seeks out a college professor he debated on television about the nature of the universe and the existence of God.  

 The professor (Victor Wong) teaches a graduate level class which discusses philosophy as it relates to the latest theories of quantum physics, specifically the manner with which our logical and familiar laws governing reality break-down at the sub-atomic level.  After agreeing to assist the priest, he invites several of his best students who also include experts in radiology, biology, quantum mechanics, and ancient languages, to work with him at the abandoned church through the weekend while also securing a significant credit toward their grades.  

So... the Devil is a big glow-stick.
 The class sets-up a laboratory and a variety of testing and computing stations throughout the church.  As they arrive and set-up, the local transients begin to gather and watch the church.  While they set-up and begin their tests on the strange reliquary which can only be opened from the inside.  It is revealed that the priest and the authors of the book believe that the reliquary contains Satan himself, who is the emissary or son of an Anti-God.  Christ is described as a extraterrestrial who came to earth to warn mankind about the nature of this "Satan".  

 As the students continue to try to discern the truth, liquid seeping from the reliquary "infects" one of the students, who proceeds to spread the infection to others.  The animals and transients around the church keep the class trapped within, killing those that they catch outside on their own.  Those who fall asleep have the same dream, a transmission from some time in the future showing a static image of a dark figure emerging from the church itself.  The being within the reliquary has marked one of the students to be his vessel, and everyone else is either a threat (and therefore soon to be deceased) or slaves to help release the Anti-God.

Desperately in need of Pro-Active.
 The film touches on a lot of interesting ideas in rapid succession.  Any one of these concepts would have been worth settling on and exploring further; extra-terrestrial deities, the truth behind Christian Myths, quantum theory and the nature of reality, tachyon emission and space-time... All this is mentioned, briefly, but never given the interest they deserve.  The film was given an 'R' rating, but avoids the obvious opportunities for nudity or even overt sexuality.  There is some blood and gore, but this film would probably be given a 'PG-13' rating by today's standards.

 The premise is interesting, but ultimately not explored in the manner it probably deserves.  It is a fair film, but most of John Carpenter's other offerings are far better.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Movie Review: The Brotherhood of Satan

  While driving through rural-America, a young couple and their daughter find themselves lost an approaching a small town.  At the out-skirts of town the pass what appears to be a serious car-accident, but only one vehicle seems to have been involved.  When they get into town, they are accosted by the town's-people who want to know how it is they managed to get into town.  They discover that the people of the town are trapped, and they are now trapped with them, being held by forces that they are struggling to discover and understand.  Several of the town's children have gone missing, and a strange coven of elderly people seems to be behind it all.  This coven is meeting to perform a particular ritual in the name of their Lord, Satan, of which the abducted children are to participate.
 The Brotherhood of Satan is what I would consider a cinematographic curiosity.  Released three years after Rosemary's Baby, with which it shares many commonalities and was probably greatly influenced by, The Brotherhood of Satan is not frightening nor even all-to-deep.  Basically, the viewer sits through 92 minutes of story that could have been told in 30 with the same effect.  The Brotherhood of Satan is a somewhat intellectual film, presenting (like Rosemary's Baby) the possibility that an alternate morality exists parallel to the mainstream, and that those who engage in that morality are as normal outwardly as anyone else, enjoy successful and fulfilling lives, and know a spirituality that is often more substantial.

 Even more interesting is the fact that a real "Brotherhood of Satan" (Google it) exists in Georgia, gathering once a year, who were no doubt influenced, if not inspired by, this film.  They appear significantly less sophisticated and successful than the coven portrayed in this film, more like a convention of role-playing enthusiasts than an actual Satanist Organization, but an amusing side-note none-the-less.

 This film is worth viewing particularly for the coven-scenes.  The ritual chamber is very imaginative, as the ritual itself and the admonition of one of the coven's members who fell out of favor with the Dark Lord.  The end of the film has a slight twist, again suggesting something unexpected about the potential of Satanists.  


Movie Review: The Devil's Advocate

  Of all the Anti-Christ movies ever done, The Devil's Advocate is one of my favorites.  The problem that most people have with this film is that it stars Keanu Reeves.  Reeves is an actor, like Jack Nicholas, who no matter who he plays is still Keanu Reeves.  However, while Nicholas makes this work for him, Reeves tries to be a good character-actor.  People are either Reeves fans or they are not.  I think Reeves is a fair actor and I have enjoyed most everything he has been in.  The Devil's Advocate is no exception.  Reeves co-stars with Al Pacino, who plays this role with the same panache and zeal that we have come to expect.  Pacino's play of his character is the epitome of the expression of this role in my mind.  When I think of this character, it is Pacino's portrayal that most often defines the character for me.  Charlize Theron plays her role well, as does Connie Nielsen... and they both do a full-frontal nude scene in this film.
 Reeves plays Kevin Lomax, a small-time defense attorney who managed to get his client-off of a high-profile child-molestation case, and has never lost a case in his career.  This brings him to the attention of a major corporate law-firm in New York, and he and his wife (Charlize Theron) settle among the power-broking elite for what they think is all their dreams coming true.  John Milton (Al Pacino), the head of the firm, takes a special interest in Lomax, forcing him to prove his talents and question the Bible-Belt morality instilled in him by his mother.  Lomax also finds himself infatuated with Cristabella Andreoli (Connie Nielsen), one of the firm's partners who seemingly represents everything his wife is not.
Church would be a lot better with this in it.
 Lomax's wife begins to struggle with the new situation, including Lomax's long-hours and inattentiveness.  She begins seeing visions of people with demonic faces, and feels that the tenament they have moved into (provided by Milton's firm) is more like a prison than a home... a guilded-cage where she is never entirely safe.  Added to this pressure is Milton's (who resides in the penthouse of the building) blatant womanizing as an enticement to Lomax and the mysterious death of one of the other firm's partners... Lomax's wife seems on the verge of a psychotic-break.
 Lomax is indeed being groomed for something, and as everything in his world seems to be falling apart, Milton reveals the truth of makes Lomax the ultimate offer.

I'll buy that for a dollar!
 The Devil's Advocate is a wonderfully written story that is well-portrayed by all involved.  The cinematography is at times subdued, and others fantastic, used to heighten the mounting tension which builds throughout the film.  Pacino's speech on morality is the true climax of the film, a high-point that on its own is worth watching.  Don't listen to the professional critics about this film, The Devil's Advocate is a must-see film.   


 11/29/2012: I just received a note from a cat going by the screen-name "viccarisays".  Vic wants credit for the demon-face pic on this blog, since he took the time to steal the pic himself from the film.  His own blog, which can be found here: http://filmphilosophy.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/the-devils-advocate-1997/, fails to credit the production company, director, actors, writers, filmographers, and other technical crew involved in the production of the images he uses, but that's fine.  Despite the "Fair Use" clause which applies to all the images on this blog, I hereby award Vic 1 Internets for his minor contribution to the blogosphere.  Take a bow, Vic!

Movie Review: Angel Heart

 Angel Heart is probably one of the most under-rated and least noticed films of its genre, a gem worthy of more praise that it has received.  It is the 1950's, and Harvey Angel (Mickey Rourke) is a detective who has been hired by a lawyer, Louis Cypher (played by Robert DiNero and the character-name is the only cheesey thing in this entire film) to track down a man who owes him something, a man names Johnny Favourite.  Favourite was a musician with an ugly private-life.  He was drafted into World War II, and suffered some form of head-tramua that caused him to lose his memory.  Cypher believes that the hospital he was kept in falsified his records, and Favourite has vanished, possibly with no memory of his actual identity or using the memory-loss as an excuse to avoid his creditor.  Cypher wants Angel to track down this man, or discover the truth about what ultimately happened to him.
 The clues lead Angel deeper and deeper into Favourties sordid life prior to the war.  Favourite was connected to a Satanic Cult in New York, and those connection lead to a Voodoo Cult in Lousiana.  As Angel proceeds from one contact to the next, each of these contacts is killed in a horrible and mysterious fashion, and Angel fear being blamed for the murders.  Cypher offers him more money to continue with the search, which leads him to Favourites daughter, Epiphany Proudfoot (Lisa Bonet).  Proudfoot and her mother are both Voodoo Priestesses, connected to both the Louisiana underworld and the High Society.  Angel, struggling to comprehend the depravity that Favourite indulged in, becomes smitten with Proudfoot.

 Through her, the trail to Favourite becomes even bloodier, and Angel is confronted with the truth.

 Angel Heart is a lushly produced film, painstakingly recreated both New York and the Louisiana bayou of the 1950's.  The film draws in the viewer as they follow Angel through the search for Favourite, the story unfolding for both the protagonist and the viewer at the same time.  The film is intensely erotic, mysterious, and horrific, supported by excellent performances by all involved.  The twist at the end is kept hidden until the last possible moment, and even then has to be confirmed to be believed. 

 Angel Heart in its original version has an "X" rating for a very explicit sex-scene between Rourke and Bonet.  A few seconds of this scene were trimmed off in the "R" rated version.  This scene was controversial largely due to Bonet's fame as a member of the Huxtable family in The Cosby Show, which presents a significantly more wholesome image of Bonet than is revealed in Angel Heart.

 This is an wonderful Faustian tale, supported by it production quality and strong cast.  If you haven't seen this movie, put it on your watch list as soon as possible.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Movie Review: The Blair Witch Project

  Let's be honest.  The Blair Witch Project was not a great horror film.  The Blair Witch Project was an event, a cultural rarity that impacted our society in a way that few other events like it have.  In my mind, the next closest event to The Blair Witch Project would be the Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio drama in 1939.  War of the Worlds was done with only a minimal statement about it's fictitious nature, and people tuning in who missed the opening thought they were listening to a regular radio broadcast being interrupted by actual news reports of invaders from another world.  The Blair Witch Project had the same impact, suggesting that it was edited together from film evidence of the last days of three college students investigating the myth of the Blair Witch in the woods of Maryland.  The production quality is raw and the editing rough to encourage the realism of the films premise.  Viewers are drawn in and made to believe in the film's reality.  I remember hearing outrage and disgust from those who saw the film in theaters regarding the scruples of a production company who sought to profit from the tragic and mysterious disappearance of these young people.

 Never mind that they were being interviewed on Conan and Letterman.

 Many people believed that the event depicted in the film were real.  The mythology of the Blair Witch was well crafted, and the Sci-Fi Channel got involved, co-producing a supporting documentary based on that mythology.  To this day, people still travel to Burkittsville, Maryland to go on Blair Witch tours and to get scared by noises they hear in the woods.

 Because of the nature of this film, it is only scary... only disturbing once.  Like a magician who reveals his secrets, once the viewer confirms that it is all fiction, then the film becomes ridiculous. 

 The Blair Witch Project was innovative not just for its premise.  Most of the film was shot in first-person; one of the actor's shot the majority of the film themselves.  The direction was minimal; the actors were given a general plot and script and were encouraged to ad lib.  The actor's scripts also including conflicting information, or parts of the plot were known to one actor and unknown to the others.  The actors were sometimes intentionally abandoned by the crew, and were deprived of food and sleep.  Much of the frustration caught on film was real.  During many days of filming, the actors were actually lost in the woods with no clue what they could expect to happen next.  

 Another wonderful aspect of this film is the lack of a "reveal".  Some of the best horror films in history never reveal or only partially reveal the antagonist.  The harrowing experience is shown, but the enemy is always kept in the shadows, leaving it to the viewer's imagination to fill in the details.  The Blair Witch is never seen, only felt based on the evidence of its impact on the three actors and the strange phenomenon that is filmed in the woods.  In the end, the viewer is left wondering what happened, knowing only that the three lives they witnessed represented people who were now missing and that what happened may never be known.

 Fictitiously speaking.


Movie Review: Beyond Re-Animator

  Dr. Herbert West (Jeffery Combs) returns for the third installment of the Re-Animator franchise.  His former assistant has turned states evidence against him, and he has been in prison for a decade.  The new prison doctor; Dr. Howard Phillips (Jason Barry), witnessed the gruesome results of one of Dr. West's experiments and the tragic death of his sister as a boy.  Since then, he has been obsessed with West's work.  He has been studying a vial of the re-agent, and took the position in the prison specifically to have access to West.  West has been conducting his own experiments, and has discovered that what is missing from his re-animated experiments is an electrical discharge that occurs at the time of death.  He has found a way to capture that discharge and believes he can implant it into one of his re-animated experiments and correct their psychosis. With Phillip's willing assistance, West is soon up to his old tricks, setting loose killer re-animated corpses and vials of the re-agent amongst the prison population.  Added to this mix is a tyrannical and neurotic prison warden (Simon Andrue) and an attractive investigative journalist (Elsa Pataky), and all hell is going to break loose.

 Brian Yuzna is back as the director/producer, and delivers the same kind of twisted tale as was seen in the first two installments.  Beyond Re-Animator is arguably not on par with the original film, but I think this is to be expected.  The original was just that... original.  Re-Animator did things that had not even been considered in films past (cunnilingus performed by a decapitated head, anyone?).  This film has similar oddities (a re-animated penis), but it is what we who follow the franchise have come to expect.

 What makes Beyond Re-Animator, and the entire Re-Animator series, great to watch is that you can tell that despite the minimal budgets involved everyone enjoys what they are doing and is actually having fun.  Beyond Re-Animator is a spook-house ride type horror film; you go into knowing it is going to have some gore, some thrills, and a lot of camp.  This is a horror film that is not meant to frighten, but rather to amuse. 

 Beyond Re-Animator uses a mix of traditional and CGI special-effects.  The special effects of this franchise have always been a little-off, so it is not surprising that the mix does not come off smoothly.  This is irritating to some, but is also common to b-horror films.  The story builds on the model layed-down by horror-fiction author H.P. Lovecraft, who's work was the inspiration for this franchise.  It builds slowly, establishing some background and setting the atmosphere, and then builds, layer-by-layer, which each turn making things a little more disturbing until everything is in chaos and almost completely departed from reality.  The acting is also sometimes a little off, the characters in these stories are more often than not caricatures and not as fully developed as they could be.  Jeffery Combs, who has played West in each film of the franchise and has had a role in several Lovecraft-inspired films, acts as an obsessed and driven scientist... and little else.  Outside of these films, Combs may display a range of emotion and acting talents, but within them he is basically like a one-note tune.

 However, it is the collection of these inadequacies that lend these films some of their appeal.  Beyond Re-Animator is worth the watch, but in the end is just more of the same.  In this case, that is not a bad thing.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Movie Review: 666: The Beast

  666: The Beast is a film which focuses on the Anti-Christ and the 2nd coming of the Christian Messiah.  These kinds of flics either go one way or the other; very good or very bad.  The Omen franchise, for example, was very good, especially the first two films.  Lost Souls was a decent film, but while billed as a horror film was more in the suspense genre.  This, I think, is the risk that Anti-Christ films take; they do well if they approach the topic from one or two directions only.  If they try to deal with the mythology, make the film a mystery, have suspense, and have gore, something is generally lost in the translation.  The film was produced by The Asylum, a low-budget film company known not only for direct-to-dvd horror films but also for quickly generating low-end versions of titles being produced by the big-budget companies.  666: The Beast is a sequel to 666: The Child; the baby being born in the original is now grown up and guided toward fulfilling his destiny by the forces around him.  That appears to be the two films only connection, and one can watch this film without seeing 666: The Child and not be missing anything.

 The film opens in a church in some foreign land where a monk has discovered the alignment of stars indicating the rise of the Anti-Christ and is assaulted by a demonic spirit (who also likes to blow out candles).  The film then turns to Donald and his very pregnant wife.  Donald is concerned about a promotion at work, and though he believes he deserves it he doesn't think he has the seniority to get the position. 

 During the interview for the position, the Vice President first tells him that he is not getting the job, then goads Donald into expressing his anger over being denied the position.  The VP wants Donald to be passionate, and instead offers him a position as his Junior VP, a position superior to the one he was being denied.  The company they work for, "Global Corp", is maneuvering to purchase Israel's diamond supply, and Donald is in charge of handling things state-side while the VP negotiates in Israel.  Donald is given a new office and a "sexy" (she's a butter-face) secretary who is immediately smitten with.  They celebrate into the night.

 Donald's wife's twin sister, working at the morgue of a local hospital, is strangled to death by a corpse and then tacked to the wall of the morgue in the same manner as Jesus was hung on the cross.  A hexagram is drawn in her blood on the floor at her feet.  Detectives on the scene are at a loss to understand what they are seeing, but a priest who has been having visions about the coming of the Anti-Christ is on scene to explain what is going on.  The hexagram is mistaken for the Star of David (and the film accurately, if politically incorrectly, portrays the meaning of this occult symbol), which the priest describes as a symbol of both God and the Devil, as well as the union of male and female.  It is a Satanic symbol in that it has 6 points and 6 lines forming 6 triangles.  The victim has a cross-shaped birth-mark on her neck. indicating that she was marked to be a victim of the infernal conspiracy.

 Donald's wife is informed of her sister's death, but cannot reach Donald.  When Donald returns home from celebrating, he still has the lip-stick mark from his new secretary's kiss on his neck.  The missus is not pleased.  Donald begins having erotic dreams about his secretary, while his wife had vision of demons, seeing normal people's faces becoming demonic where-ever she goes.  The priest from the crime scene contacts her, but she doesn't believe him.

 The contract of the diamond deal goes missing, and Donald tells his VP that he will find it.  He pours through the documents related to the deal and forges a new copy.  Again, his VP and secretary celebrate his success, and the VP leaves the office after much drink.  Donald and his secretary have sex in the meeting room.  Donald's rival, Tom, discovers Donald asleep on the meeting room table.  He witnessed Donald;s romp with the secretary, and demands that Donald resign or Tom will tell his wife.  Donald, in the mildest rage every portrayed on film, begins choking the life out of Tom, and then throws him down a flight of steps to his death. 

 His VP appears out of nowhere, applauding the murder.  At first Donald tries to make excuses for the act, but when it becomes clear that the VP approves, he calms down.  The VP and the secretary explain the real nature of things; Donald is the Anti-Christ, an infernal army awaits his command, the diamond deal with Israel puts Israel's economy under the control of Pakistan.  Donald is to lead a new world order.

 Donald is taken to witness a human sacrifice.  He is taken to an abandoned industrial park where he watches three women, two cultists and the bound sacrifice, erotically play with one another.  The actress portraying the sacrifice victim has 3 nipples, something that the film-makers did not account for nor did they try to hide.  It is probably the most interesting aspect of the film.  The sacrifice willing dies, and a bottle of her blood is given to Donald, who drinks it.  The VP introduces him to his "army" (composed of 3-5 hooded figures kept at the edge of the shot while crowd noise is played in the background), and then explains that with Donald's arrival, he must die to get out of Donald's way.  Donald stabs his with a sacrificial dagger, then his secretary tells him that he must now kill the coming Christ-Child; his wife's unborn son.

 Donald's wife, seeing demon faces on nearly everyone she looks at, including the priest, heads for the shelter of her home where Donald and what appears to be her sister awaits.  Donald goes to strangle his wife, who chokes out the she loves him, which makes him hesitate (apparently, Donald has a human side and his Satanic side is some kind of possessing spirit).  The priest intervenes, and takes Donald's wife to a church to give birth to the Messiah.  There, 7 priests have gathered to protect the mother of God, but one of the priests turns out to be a Judas, and Donald shows up with an exuberant use of strobe-light lightning effects.  I don't think I need to give away the ending... there are no real surprises here.

 I have some problems with this film that go beyond the shoddy acting, writing, and production over all.  They wrote the film in five days, gathered the cast in 7 days, and shot the film in 9 days for around $75,000... so what should I expect?  Actually, with all that taken into consideration, it is surprising that you can tell that some of the people involved actually tried to make it a good picture.  My first problem is with the way Donald converts to the Anti-Christ.  He is a nice guy who is manipulated into it in a hack-kneed manner.  Who goes from getting angry, to forging contracts, to cheating on his wife, to murder... not exactly a smooth transition? 

 I also do not dig the idea of the Anti-Christ somehow being split about his state-of-being.  Damien in The Omen: II is at first troubled by his discovery that he is the Anti-Christ, but learns to accept and even revel in his fated role.  Lost Souls goes the other way, the Anti-Christ is human until the instant he is taken over by the spirit of Satan.  Maybe if corrupting the person who is the Anti-Christ being the sole focus of the film might have been interesting, but not as an aside to the over-all plot.

 Donald takes command of what is supposed to be an army of fanatic followers.  He shows up at the church alone. 

 The "sexy" secretary was not the hottest nude chick to do a scene in this film.  At least the temptress in The Devil's Advocate was hot.  Her acting was not good enough for me to believe that she was the most talented of all the topless women available. 

 Donald, confused about his potential role as leader of the new world order, witnesses a sacrifice and drink the sacrificial blood from a bottle without any hesitation.  Rrrriiiight.

 "Global Corp"?  C'mon.

 Also, even though accurate, you have to wonder about the vaguely anti-Semitic message regarding the Star of David.  

 Unless you want to see a nude-scene with a three-nippled woman, don't bother.