Archive for the Anthology Films Category

Transmissions to Earth: THE ABCs OF DEATH (2012)

Posted in 2013, Anthology Films, Asian Horror, Body Horror, Controverisal Films, Dystopian Futures, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Murder!, Surgical Horror, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH

zontar_sage_2

presents

THE ABCs of DEATH
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

The-ABCs-of-Death-Poster

The concept is in an interesting one, give 26 filmmakers $5,000 each to make a short film, roughly about five minutes long (some more, some less). The only caveat being that it has to be about death in some way. So we’ve got maybe the most ambitious horror anthology film so far, on the heels of some good ones like THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011) and V/H/S (2012). But with 26 shorts, it’s not the easiest film to review, so a critic inevitably has to stick to the highlights.

The structure is as follows: a short film plays, followed by the screen going to red, and the name of the film (and the director’s name) spelled out in children’s blocks. While trying to guess who did what is part of the fun (unfortunately, I haven’t heard of a lot of the directors here, so I guess it wasn’t that much fun), I would have preferred if the film names and directors had appeared before each film, but C’est la vie.

The movie begins with Nacho Vigalonodo’s “A for Apocalypse,” where a woman attempts to kill her bedridden husband for past sins, first by stabbing him, then throwing hot grease in his face and bonking him on the head several times with the oversized frying pan. Unfortunately, he won’t die, and just stares at her, while we hear the sounds of cars crashing outside their apartment window. It’s an interesting enough start.

As the movie unfolds we’ll be treated to everything from disturbing films to dark comedies, from traditional animation to Claymation, from Japanese surrealism to South American grit. The list of directors includes people from all over the world, and it’s interesting to see what each of them comes up with. The other thing about anthology films is that, if you don’t like what you’re watching, there will always be a new one starting soon enough.

As for highlights, the more squirm-inducing entries come to mind first. These include Timo Tjahjanto’s “L for Libido,” which involves men being forced to partake in a kind of “circle jerk to the death,” where what they have to watch (and get aroused by) gets more and more disturbing. This one, which comes right about at the middle of the overall movie, might just be the roughest of the bunch. Close contenders include Marcel Sarmiento’s “D is for Dogfight,” where a boxer fights it out with a vicious dog, while spectators shout and gamble on the outcome (all in slow motion), and Xavier Gens’s “X is for XXL,” where an unattractive, overweight woman who yearns to be like the pretty girl on the TV commercials she keeps seeing, subjects herself to a very radical diet involving an electric carving knife. Ti West’s “M is for Miscarriage” is another one with a killer last scene that will leave an impression.

A scene from the intense "D is for Dogfight."

A scene from the intense “D is for Dogfight.”

I also liked Ernesto Diaz Espinoza’s twisted “C is for Cycle,” Bruno Forazni’s self-explanatory “O is for Orgasm,” and Jake West’s hi-octane entry,“S is for Speed.”

More light-hearted and/or stranger fare includes: “H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier,” by Thomas Cappelen Malling, a fun, live-action cartoon where an anthropomorphic dog (dressed like a British aviator) sits at a table next to the stage at a strip club, while an enemy (Nazi) cat woman’s act gets more and more lethal; Noboru Iguchi’s installment, “F is for Fart,” where a Japanese girl’s crush on her teacher leads to an odd exploration of bodily gases that come in various colors; the final short, Yoshihiro Nishimura’s “Z is for Zetsumetsu,” which involves naked Japanese people eating sushi and shouting as the world comes to an end; and “T is for Toilet,” by Lee Hardcastle, where Claymation parents who are trying to get their young son to use the toilet for the first time are in for a nightmare.

A scene from the twisted live-action cartoon "H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier."

A scene from the twisted live-action cartoon “H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier.”

One of the more visually impressive entries is “V for Vagitus,” by Kaare Andrews, taking place in a dystopian future where procreation is against the law, but you can earn “special privlidges” if you join the police force.

Some disappointments include Ben Wheatley’s “U is for Unearthed” shown from the point of view of a monster (vampire?) – it had the distinctive look of Wheatley movies like the brilliant THE KILL LIST (2011), and I guessed who it was immediately, but the short itself was pretty much a throwaway and I wanted something more ambitious from such a talented director. Also, with “R is for Removed” by Srdjan Spasojevic (who also directed 2010’s controversial A SERBIAN FILM), I was expecting something with a real wallop, instead getting something more surreal and strange – a burn victim’s skin is peeled off by doctors section by section, and immersed in fluid that reveals the skin is really strips of celluloid from a movie reel. And “B for Bigfoot,” by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, doesn’t even really have a Bigfoot in it (it should have been called “B for Boogieman,” instead).

"T is for Toilet"

“T is for Toilet”

I hate to jump around so much, but that’s the way you remember these films: some are instantly memorable while others you might forgot soon after watching the movie. For the most part, there aren’t many total duds here. There are exceptional installments, and then ones that are just okay (even the “disappointments” I listed above weren’t completely awful). And I liked the way that there were so many tones and styles and flavors, like visiting a visual Baskin Robbins.

If you’re a fan of anthology horror films, there’s a lot to like about THE ABCs OF DEATH, and you should check it out. You’re bound to find several installments that you really like.

It would just be too difficult to list every single short and rate it individually, but overall, I give the movie three knives.

(This movie is currently in very limited theatrical release and is also available on cable OnDemand in some markets.)

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE ABCs OF DEATH  ~three knives.

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Me and Lil’ Stevie: CREEPSHOW II (1987)

Posted in 2013, 80s Horror, Anthology Films, Ghosts!, Me and Lil' Stevie, Monsters, Peter Dudar Reviews, Sea Creatures, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2013 by knifefighter

Me and Lil’ Stevie
Periodically Enjoy
CREEPSHOW II
(1987)
By Peter Dudar

creepshow II

(Exterior-day:  Establishing shot of quiet Maine town by morning.  There is a little boy sitting on his bicycle just outside the local newsstand, waiting for a very special delivery.  An old army-style canvas-covered delivery truck adorned with comic book graphics pulls up, and the little boy sits up tall on his bike.  The truck parks, and then there is a figure rummaging around the back of the truck, sorting through bundles of magazines.  The figure tosses a bundle out onto the curb, and the boy goes to reach for it.  Suddenly, the boy stops and looks up at the figure in the back of the truck.  The camera pans upward and we see that the figure is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Lil’ Stevie:  I wouldn’t do that, son…I really wouldn’t.

Peter:  Why not?  Little Billy, here, just wants the very first copy.

Billy:  Yeah!  It’s all mine!  I got here first!

Peter:  Go ahead, Billy.  Open it up.  You’ve earned it.

(Billy opens up the package.  Instead of being filled with comic books, the package is filled with autographed pictures of Justin Beiber.)

Billy:  Nooooooo!  (abandons his bicycle and runs away screaming).

Lil’ Stevie:  Hyuk Hyuk Hyuk…they fall for it every time!

Peter:  Welcome, Constant Viewer, to another fun-filled episode.  Today, we’ll be discussing Michael Gornick’s 1987 film directorial debut, CREEPSHOW II.  Gornick, like a lot of other directors that have cut their teeth on Stephen King projects, has a long history of working in the cinema, serving as a cinematographer, production manager, camera and sound engineer, actor, and producer.  He is equally steeped in made-for-television projects as well.  So, when George Romero (director of the original CREEPSHOW, 1982) passed on the project, Gornick stepped in (he was cinematographer on CREEPSHOW, and was familiar with the spirit of the project).

Lil’ Stevie:  And the fans of CREEPSHOW rejoiced!  Boo-ya!

Peter:  Not exactly.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  As you already know, Constant Viewer, we examined the original CREEPSHOW back in episode 7, and we happen to consider it a favorite of ours, so we want to treat this entry as fairly and unbiased as possible.

Lil’ Stevie:  Which means we sat our butts down and re-watched it, for old time’s sake.

Peter:  The film begins pretty much as we’ve established with the delivery truck, turning Little Billy’s wraparound segment into an animated storyline featuring him and “The Creep” (Tom Savini, special effects maestro and character actor, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, 1996).

Lil’ Stevie:  You’re already getting it wrong.  The Creep is played by Joe Silver (RABID, 1977).

Peter (sighing): Silver provided the voice.  Now, quit interrupting.  It bears mentioning that the original film was constructed with comic book panels and artwork interspersed with the live action sequences.  It made the movie feel like a comic-book-come-to-life, which was an enormous part of the campy charm that made the original so cool (not to mention comic art veteran Bernie Wrightson’s stunning contributions).  All of that is traded off for “The Creep’s” animated spookshow-host narration.  I found this to be an annoyance more than an upgrade.  At the time of this film’s theatrical release, HBO was already knocking ‘em dead with their “Crypt Keeper” in TALES FROM THE CRYPT.  This feels like a bad rip-off.

Lil’ Stevie:  Can we talk about my stories?   My stories are what bring the movie to life!

(Peter reaches down and snatches up an autographed photo of Justin Beiber)

Peter:  Here, this is for you.  Aren’t you his “Number-one fan?”

(Lil’ Stevie turns aside and throws up).

Peter:  Holy cow!  How are you doing that?  You’re a puppet.  You can’t throw up!

Lil’ Stevie: (Dragging his sleeve across his mouth) Oh yeah?  Well, you can’t write for beans!

Peter:  (Shaking his head).  You disgust me.  Anyway, the REAL Stephen King provided three stories for the film; OLD CHIEF WOOD’NHEAD, THE RAFT, and THE HITCHHIKER (with THE RAFT being the only one of the three segments to appear as a published story.  It was released in Gallery magazine in 1982, and then in the collection SKELETON CREW in 1985).  The first story, OLD CHIEF WOODN’HEAD, concerns Ray and Martha Spruce (George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour).  The Spruces (a loving nod, perhaps, to Tabitha King’s family) are an elderly couple who own and operate the only general store in Dead River, Arizona.  The town, it seems, has washed up and blown away, and its few remaining citizens (most of them being Native American) are in debt to the Spruces.  Ray Spruce doesn’t seem all that concerned, though.  He’s done very well over the years, and feels obligated to give back to the people that supported him.

Lil’ Stevie:  The beginning of the story sees Ray outside his store, painting new war stripes on Chief Wood’nhead; the cigar store-style Indian statue that stands on the store’s front porch.

Peter:  While he’s working, his neighbor, Benjamin Whitemoon (Frank Salsedo, MAGIC IN THE WATER, 1995) pays him a visit.  Whitemoon brings a pouch of Native American jewelry that he has collected from his people as a kind of promissory note to pay off the debts his people have incurred.  “I’ll guard it with my life,” Ray promises.  He tries to convince Whitemoon that prosperity is in the air and that the town is going to come back, but he and Whitemoon already know this isn’t to be.  The pouch is the only payment he is going to see for his kindness, and by taking it, he allows Whitemoon’s people to remain borrowers rather than beggars.

Lil’ Stevie:  You NEVER promise to guard something with your life.  You just don’t do it.

Peter:  That’s right.  Because Whitemoon’s nephew Sam (Holt McCallany, GANGSTER SQUAD, 2013) and his buddies want that wampum.  They hold up the store, taking what little cash the Spruces have, but Sam has his eye set on the pouch of jewelry.  The heist quickly turns into a killing spree, with Martha gunned down while her husband watches helpless, trying to talk Sam out of what he’s about to do.  When Ray refuses to let go of the treasure he promised to guard with his life, he, too is murdered and the pouch is pried from his cold, dead hands.  And then Sam and his buddies are racing off to leave Dead River for new digs in Hollywood.

Lil’ Stevie:  Not if Old Chief Wood’nhead can help it…

Peter:  Precisely.  In E.C. Comics-style vengeance, the Chief (Dan Kamin, MARS ATTACKS, 1996) comes to life and goes on the warpath against the hooligans who killed the folks that took such good care of him.  The siege doesn’t end until all three are dead, with Sam’s scalp (which he treasured) clutched in his hand as he finds rest at his original post outside the store.  The Chief is the real star of this story, and the makeup effects for the statue come-to-life by Gregory Nicotero and company deserve mad props.  This film is one of the last of its breed; the kind with guys in rubber suits and prosthetic appliances providing the scares rather than CGI.  It pays off as you watch the Chief’s subtle facial movements and statuesque body motions.

Lil’ Stevie: …and the blood shots, squirting all over the walls as the Chief swings his tomahawk.

Peter:  On kind of a funny off-note, I’d always believed that Rodney Grant played Sam Whitemoon.  Grant is the Native American actor that portrayed Wind In His Hair in 1990’s DANCES WITH WOLVES.  It turns out that Holt McCallany isn’t even Native American.  Crazy, huh?

Lil’ Stevie:  Hilarious.  You’re an imbecile.

Peter:  (pulls out a tomahawk and crunches it into Lil’ Stevie’s head.)  Heh.  That’s funny, too.  The second story, THE RAFT, is about four college kids who race off to a lake after the summer season has ended to go for a swim in the lake’s secluded waters.  A joint is passed around as Deke and Randy drag their best gals, Laverne and Rachel, to the lake in Deke’s bitchin’ Camaro.  They arrive at the lake with the radio blasting terrible 80s music, and the boys race right into the lake and begin paddling toward The Raft.  The girls follow reluctantly, and as they are swimming, the boys notice a weird, oily membrane floating on the water (the membrane eats a duck alive, to their horror).  Once they are all up on the raft, the kids are held hostage by the membrane, which now seems to move and have a mind of its own.  Rachel buys it first, gently prodding the membrane to see what it is, only to have the membrane snatch her off the raft and eat her up.  Deke dies next, as the membrane slides effortlessly between the raft’s slits and begins chewing away his flesh.

Lil’ Stevie:  Randy and Laverne manage to survive all night, but thanks to Randy’s randy hormones, Laverne falls prey to the membrane.  As the gelatinous blob eats her alive, Randy decides to make a break for it and swim to the shore…but will he make it out alive?

Peter:  This was my favorite segment of the film, and Gornick’s cinematography skills really shine in how this was shot.  It’s beautifully done, the way the camera floats past the kids on the raft at eye-level.  It’s great stuff.  Again, all that’s missing is the neat comic book panels from the original film.

Lil’ Stevie:  The acting was a tad weak in this one.  None of these kids had star quality, and none of them had any meteoric rise to fame because of this movie.

Peter:  Sad but true.  The last segment, THE HITCHHIKER, stars Lois Chiles (MOONRAKER, 1979) as Annie Lansing, the wife of a successful attorney.  Lois has been throwing her husband’s hard-earned money at her favorite gigolo for sex, but in spite of her infidelity, she’s terrified of being home one minute late from the affair as it will anger her husband severely.  So, after an evening of wanton sex with her lover, she notices she’s late and will never be home on time.  She floors the pedal of her BMW in her bid to get home, and in the process, she accidentally runs over some hapless hitchhiker (Tom Wright, BARBER SHOP, 2002) holding a sign reading DOVER.

Lil’ Stevie:  Stephen King cameo!  King plays a truck driver, who happens to be the first on the scene after Annie Lansing disappears in her BMW.

Peter:  The shaken adulterer speeds away, trying to convince herself that she can always turn herself in if she can’t live with the guilt, but the guilt has already begun to manifest itself.  It seems the Hitchhiker isn’t really dead, and will haunt her ride home.  The corpse seems to turn up over and over again, until Annie is literally running his body into trees, and then driving back and forth over the poor guy’s remains until he is the nastiest road kill you’ve ever seen.

Lil’ Stevie:  We really ramped up the gore on this one.  Like the first segment, this tale is all about revenge.

Peter:  It’s really all about guilt.  We don’t honestly know if the Hitchhiker is really haunting her, or if she’s injured her head in the accident and is hallucinating the whole thing.  But Annie eventually makes it back home and parks her totaled car in the garage, where the Hitchhiker visits her one last time…

Lil’ Stevie:  And her husband finds her dead body in a haze of carbon monoxide.  Maybe she couldn’t live with the guilt after all.

creepshow 2

Peter:  A couple of things about this movie…Putting aside the lack of comic book panel framing, this film’s stories verge more on the serious side rather than the campy side that the original movie had.  The first film’s characters were more like caricatures, more stereotypical than typical.  This film opted to play it straight, leaving the comedy to the goofy animated “Creep” segments, and that detracts from the overall impact of the movie.  It’s no wonder that so many King and Romero fans were disappointed with this film (and that’s taking into consideration that Romero wrote the screenplay based on King’s stories).  The stories are very stripped down and one-dimensional, making them predictable in their outcomes.  But they work.  They are entertaining stories built on morality plays.  What would you do if you accidentally ran someone over and killed them?  What would you do if you and your friends were stuck on a raft with something trying to eat you?

Lil’ Stevie:  I’d make sure you got eaten first!

Peter:  Thanks.  I can always count on you.  I guess my final word on this one is that it falls under the category of “What could have been…”  This could have been great if it stuck to the formula that made the first movie so great.  It could have been great if they left out “The Creep” and stuck with the nifty comic book with its pages flapping in the breeze.  It could have been great with a bit more campy humor.  And it could have been great with one or two more stories.  The three tales (and the wraparound story with Billy getting chased by the bullies) just don’t offer a satisfying meal for us to feast on.  Two vengeance tales and a badly-acted hostage story fall short of a complete anthology film.

Lil’ Stevie:  Unless you’re Mario Bava.  BLACK SABBATH (1963) rocks!

Peter:  In the meantime, we’ll keep hoping King and Romero get it together and put out a legitimate CREEPSHOW III, unlike the one that was released in 2006 that had nothing to do with either of them.  Agreed?

Lil’ Stevie:  Agreed.  Well, boils and ghouls, we’ll be slaying ya…er, seeing ya next month! Bwahahahaha!

(Peter leans down and picks up Billy’s bicycle and climbs on, setting Lil’ Stevie on the handlebars.)

Peter:  Thanks a lot, Billy…thanks for the ride!  (Pedals away).

© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar

MOVIE 43 (2013)

Posted in 2013, All-Star Casts, Anthology Films, Bad Situations, Controverisal Films, Dark Comedies, LL Soares Reviews, R-Rated Comedy, Raunchy Fun, Sex Comedies, Sleaze with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2013 by knifefighter

MOVIE 43
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Movie-43-Poster

I’ve always been a fan of anthology movies, and they’ve been making a comeback lately. Most of them have been showing up in the horror genre—in fact, the anthology horror flick V/H/S  was one of my favorite movies of last year. So I was really interested in seeing MOVIE 43 as soon as I heard about it. There hasn’t been a good comedy anthology movie in a long time. The most famous was probably 1977’s THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. There were also 1974’s THE GROOVE TUBE and 1987’s AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON. In a way, the fake trailers that accompanied the main movies in the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino collaboration, GRINDHOUSE (2007), were also a variation on this concept too, since most of them were pretty funny. The basic idea is that a bunch of different directors and casts get together to make a bunch of short films, usually with a wrap-around storyline to tie them all together.

No matter how much fun these kinds of movies are, one thing that almost always happens is that the short films in question turn out to be a mixed bag. Rarely are they all equally good (or bad). And MOVIE 43 is no different. Made over the course of three years (as directors and stars had time), MOVIE 43 is at least a fresh idea compared to most of the comedies that have been in theaters lately. So how do the short films measure up? Let’s take a look. (I’ll give each one its own “grade” and then an overall rating at the end.)

The movie begins with its wrap-around story, in this case called “The Pitch,” and starring Dennis Quaid as Charlie Wessler (the name of one of the movie’s producers, by the way), a deranged guy who forces his way into the office of a movie studio head named Griffin Schraeder (Greg Kinnear) in order to pitch his movie ideas. We then get the various pitches, which make up the other short films in the movie. Get it? This wraparound segment was directed by Peter Farrelly of the Farrelly Brothers (who gave us THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (1998) and, more recently, THE THREE STOOGES, 2012)

The Catch” is the first short. It features Kate Winslet as a businesswoman named Beth, who going on a blind date. Her date is Davis (Hugh Jackman), a famous, successful lawyer and philanthropist, and she’s amazed that he is still single. When they go on their date, all seems to go well, until they go to a restaurant and Davis reveals that he has a very strange physical condition she was not expecting. I will not reveal what it is, but, despite the A-list cast, I thought this was one of the weaker entries. While it is funny when Davis’s deformity is revealed, and Winslet is great at playing it completely uncomfortable, it’s soon obvious that this is going to be a one-joke sketch and after a few minutes, I was already eager to see the next one. This one has good acting, great production values and prosthetics, but doesn’t have much of a pay-off. This segment was also directed by Peter Farrelly and is at least better than “The Pitch.” (I give this one a C, since there’s no real payoff.)

Homeschooled” is one of the better entries. This one features Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber as parents who are homeschooling their high school-age son, Kevin (Jeremy Allen White, who is also really good on the Showtime series, SHAMELESS). Things get out of hand when it’s revealed that they not only teach Kevin at home, but also want to give him the “whole high school experience,” including bullying and..er..dating. (I give this one a B)

The Proposition” stars Anna Faris and Chris Pratt as couple who are celebrating their first year of being together. To commemorate the special occasion, Vanessa (Faris) wants Jason (Pratt) to do something extra special in the bedroom. What she wants might surprise you, and chances are good it may repulse you as well. Kind of funny, depending on your sense of humor. (I give this one a B-)

Veronica” might be the weakest of the bunch. Neil (Kieran Culkin), a cashier at a grocery store, is having an increasingly explicit conversation with his girlfriend, Veronica (Emma Stone), but he left the microphone on that he uses to announce specials over the intercom in the grocery store – so all of the customers get to hear the most intimate details. The customers look like a bunch of homeless people, and this is another one that pretty much is one-joke that goes on too long, except, unlike “The Catch,” this one isn’t funny at all. I thought it was a waste of Emma Stone, who is usually pretty good. Director: Griffin Dunne. (I give this one an F, since it’s pretty pointless).

movie-43-poster03

iBabe” is a parody of iPod commercials, where people listen to an MP3 player that just happens to look like an attractive, naked woman. When it turns out that there has been a rash of accidents where adolescent boys have been hurting themselves trying to get intimate with the iBabe, the company that makes it (headed by Richard Gere) has a meeting to try to determine what the problem is. This one was okay – but nothing great – although nudity is always a plus in my book. (I give this one a C)

Superhero Speed Dating” features a lonely Robin (Justin Long) trying to get a date in a Gotham City bar on “speed dating” night. Unfortunately, a mean-spirited Batman (Jason Sudekis) shows up to torment him and ruin his chances at finding a girlfriend. Featuring Leslie Bibb as Wonder Woman, Uma Thurman as Lois Lane, and Kristen Bell as Supergirl, with a very funny appearance by Bobby Cannavale as a thuggish Superman. For some reason I always find superheroes indulging in bad behavior funny, so I liked this one. The performances are also spot on, especially Sudekis, who is pretty sadistic as a real jerk of a Batman. (I give this one a B)

Middle School Date,” features Chloe Grace Moretz (Hit Girl from KICK-ASS, 2010) as a girl who is spending time at her boyfriend’s house when she has her first period. Unfortunately, everyone in the house is completely clueless, and her young boyfriend thinks she is bleeding to death. Not as funny as it could have been, but it foreshadows Moretz’s upcoming role in the remake of Stephen King’s CARRIE. Directed by Elizabeth Banks. (I give this one a C-)

Happy Birthday,” is probably my favorite of the shorts. Pete (Johnny Knoxville) gets his buddy Brian (Seann William Scott) a special birthday gift – he’s kidnapped a leprechaun (Gerard Butler shrunk down by CGI) and demands the sprite give them his pot of gold, with hilarious results. The last line of this particular short is killer. Directed by Brett Ratner. (I give this one an A)

Truth or Dare” is another good one. This one features Stephen Merchant (a familiar face from the British version of THE OFFICE and cable series like HBO’s EXTRAS with Ricky Gervais) on a first date with Halle Berry. To break the ice, they indulge in a game of Truth or Date that starts out innocently enough and gets more and more deranged as it goes on, and they dare each other to do more and more outrageous acts. Could have been a lot crazier than it is, though.  (I give this one an B+)

Victory’s Glory,” is set in the early 1960s and features Terrence Howard as the coach of a black basketball team giving his kids a pep talk before a big game against an all-white team. This is one of the sketches that was hurt the most by the trailer for the movie, which gives the joke away, but in the movie itself, with more R-rated dialogue, it’s actually somewhat funny, even if it is another one-joke bit. Directed by Rusty Cundieff. (I give this one a B-)

When the end credits begin, you may not want to get up and rush out the door too fast, because there’s one more short to come, “Beezel” features an “adorable” cartoon cat that is actually pretty vicious (and perverted) when his master (Josh Duhamel) isn’t looking. The object of the cat’s ire is Duhamel’s new girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), who threatens the very close (too close?) master/pet relationship. We’ve seen this plot before (most recently in the far superior TED), and it’s actually one of the weaker entries in the movie. I just didn’t find it that funny. Directed by James Gunn, a director I normally like a lot. (I give this one a D.)

Meanwhile, the wraparound story (“The Pitch”) escalates, popping up between the shorts, as Quaid’s character grows more and more demented, eventually pulling out a gun and demanding the studio buy his movie treatments. For the most part,  the wraparound story works to tie things together, but isn’t  funny, a fact that the cast seems to realize themselves, as everyone kind of gives up toward the end and the actors break character. (I give this one an F)

There are also a couple of fake commercials that are actually pretty good. One is called “Machine Children” and the other, which is better,  is a very clever short short commercial for Tampax, of all things.

I’ve listed the directors who I know worked on specific shorts, but it is very difficult to track down a list of who directed what (without going to see the movie a second time). Maybe this is on purpose, but other directors who worked on the movie include: Steven Brill, Steve Carr, James Duffy, Patrik Forsberg, Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan van Tulleken.

The big draw of this one is the cast—which is made up of some very big names who actually worked for scale (there is no way the budget could have covered them all otherwise) —doing outrageous things. Unfortunately, not all of the material is good enough to appear in (most isn’t), and over all, this movie seems to think it is much more shocking than it really is. In fact, in several cases, I don’t think it went far enough to be truly daring, although MOVIE 43 does earn its R rating.

From what I can tell, most critics have given this movie dismal reviews, but I didn’t think it was all bad. MOVIE 43 is a very mixed bag, with some shorts delivering laughs, and others not. If you like anthology films as much as I do, you might want to check it out, but go to a matinee showing (don’t pay full price). I give it two knives, and that’s probably being generous.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives MOVIE 43~two knives.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 2012 by L.L. Soares

Posted in 2012, 2013, Anthology Films, Best Of Lists, Comedies, Comic Book Movies, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Science Fiction, Tarantino Films with tags , , , , on January 1, 2013 by knifefighter

THE BEST MOVIES OF 2012
By L.L. Soares

This time around, Michael Arruda and I decided to write two separate lists listing our favorite films of 2012. It was just getting confusing trying to do both of our lists in one column. So, without any bells and whistles, here are my Top 10 Movies of 2012:

NUMBER ONE:
DJANGO UNCHAINED

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It’s funny how the last movie I saw in a theater in 2012 (and the movie I was most looking forward to all year long), also turned out to be my favorite film of the year. I’m a huge Quentin Tarantino fan, because I love his style of filmmaking, and he hasn’t let me down yet. A new Tarantino movie has become something of an event for me, and I had a great Christmas afternoon sitting in a movie theater, watching DJANGO UNCHAINED.

Intense, gory, violent, often funny, terrifically acted, wonderfully scripted and directed, I just can’t praise this movie enough. Tarantino mashes up two staples of 1970s grindhouse cinema—the Blaxploitation film and the spaghetti western—and in the process transcends everything that inspired it. At its heart, it’s just a great revenge drama and a love story. With Jamie Foxx as the biggest badass of 2012.

NUMBER TWO:
THE KILL LIST (2011)/MOONRISE KINGDOM (TIE)

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Technically, THE KILL LIST is a 2011 film, but it got a limited release in America in 2012, and that’s when I saw it, so it’s going on this list. A hitman drama with a very strange twist. This movie was also incredibly violent, but also incredibly satisfying. Beyond that, I don’t want to say much about it, except that it was one of the most original flicks I saw in 2012. It was going to be my Number 1 choice until I saw DJANGO UNCHAINED. Directed by the very talented Ben Wheatley.

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We didn’t review MOONRISE KINGDOM here, the latest movie by Wes Anderson (who also directed some other movies I love, like RUSHMORE (1998) and THE ROYAL TANENBAUMS (2001)), probably because it didn’t fit in the with the usual genre-driven stuff we focus on here, but it was easily one of my favorite movies of 2012. A strangely innocent movie about two young teens who run away from home to live in a tent together, it was chock-full of quirky characters and terrific performances (from people like Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand,  Bob Balaban and Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray). I loved every moment of this wonderful, whimsical, original movie.

NUMBER THREE:
JOHN CARTER

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JOHN CARTER had to be the most criminally underrated film of 2012. It will go down in history as one of the biggest box office flops of all time, and it cost some Disney executives their jobs, but I still say it’s one of the best movies of the year. Based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who also created Tarzan, John Carter of Mars is a character who should have been adapted for the movies decades ago, but something always went wrong, preventing that from happening. The biggest obstacle was always bringing Burroughs’ world of Mars to the big screen without looking cheesy. Modern-day special effects finally made this possible, but by the time this came out, a lot of people thought it was derivative of science fiction epics like STAR WARS, when in fact, the original books were the forerunner to hundreds of movies that stole –er, paid homage –to them.

This was the real deal, and it captured the spirit of adventure in Burroughs’ novels (the book this movie was based on, A Princess of Mars, was first published in 1912!). Unfortunately, most theater-goers had no idea, because the marketing campaign for this movie was abysmal. If anyone is responsible for this movie’s failure at the box office, the biggest burden of guilt has to fall on the publicity department at Disney. First off, removing the OF MARS part of the title left most people scratching their heads and wondering “Who the hell is John Carter?” And none of the promotional material linked JOHN CARTER with its creator, who also gave us Tarzan.

The movie is pretty faithful to the source material. The acting is really good, especially Taylor Kitsch in the title role. And this movie should have made him a star. Directed by Andrew Stanton – his first live-action film after helming animated movies for Pixar like FINDING NEMO (2003) and WALL-E (2008). Everyone involved deserves high praise.

NUMBER FOUR:
THE AVENGERS and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES  (TIE)

There are going to be a few ties in this list, since there were so many good movies that came out in 2012, and it was tough to fit them into 10 slots (there are also a bunch of Honorable Mentions, as you’ll see).

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2012 was, without a doubt, the year of the superhero. And as a long-time fan of Marvel Comics, it was a thrill to finally see THE AVENGERS hit the big screen. I grew up reading the adventures of Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk and Captain America (by themselves and as members of THE AVENGERS – even if the Hulk only appeared in the first few issues) and Joss Whedon gave us a movie version of “Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes” that was a ton of fun from beginning to end. As a Hulk fan, I was thrilled to finally see him done right in a movie, and the big green guy stole every scene he  was in. The main villain could have been a bit more menacing (we’d already seen Loki in the THOR movie and I would have preferred someone else facing off against the Avengers besides him and a bunch of generic space aliens), but all in all, it was a really enjoyable experience. Kudos to director Joss Whedon.

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THE DARK KNIGHT RISES started off on a depressing real-life note, when a nut shot up a movie theater in Colorado during one of the first screenings, and I thought this would doom the movie, but DARK KNIGHT RISES was able to endure and get the praise it deserved. Darker and more introspective than the lighter AVENGERS, I think DARK KNIGHT was the better film, capping off Christopher Nolan’s above-average Batman trilogy. Tom Hardy turned out to be pretty terrific as the main bad guy, Bane (even if I still think they could have made his voice more understandable with that mask on – you had to really listen to decipher some of his dialogue), and Anne Hathaway was a kick-ass Catwoman. The thing about this movie that impressed me most was that it stayed with me after I saw it, where THE AVENGERS was like a great feast of junk food that was almost forgettable once the credits rolled. DARK KNIGHT haunted me, and I found myself thinking about it more as time went on. I even think it’s the best of Nolan’s Batman movies.

Two very different takes on the superhero story. Both successful in their own way.

NUMBER FIVE:
THE RAID: REDEMPTION and THE COLLECTION (TIE)

Two indie films make up my number five choice.

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THE RAID: REDEMPTION was my favorite action film of the year, featuring cops invading a multi-story building full of criminals, to arrest the kingpin on the top floor. But to get there, they have to survive being under attack, continuously, floor by floor. Not big on plot (although there are a few twists along the way), THE RAID was pure, undiluted action. Nothing like the (often disappointing) brainless big-budget blockbusters it competed against. And the fight scenes were amazing pieces of choreography. Made in Indonesia and directed by Welsh director Gareth Evans, THE RAID was like a bullet-ridden, bone-crunching ballet.

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THE COLLECTION was that rare sequel that transcended the first film (in this case, the 2010 movie, THE COLLECTOR). Without the hypocritical moral “message” of the SAW movies (this one was made by some of the same guys who made a bunch of the SAW films), THE COLLECTION was a non-stop journey through a house of horrors, courtesy of a sadistic bad guy who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when he had to. So violent and gory that it pushed its R-rating to the limit. Sure it got dismissed by a lot of critics as just another “torture porn” flick, but they missed the boat on this one. THE COLLECTION was suspenseful, and entertaining as hell. I just had a helluva great time watching this one. Directed by Marcus Dunstan.
Two movies that seemed like adrenaline-stoked roller-coaster rides from start to finish.

NUMBER SIX:
SINISTER

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One of the best horror movies of 2012, SINISTER actually had some disturbing plot points and intense imagery, and it made me like an actor I’m not always a fan of, Ethan Hawke, a little more.

Hawke plays a true crime writer who brings his family to a house where the horrific murders of another family happened not long before. He thinks it will inspire him to write the book of his career. Then he finds a box of home movies in the attic. They’re actually snuff films of the murderer’s past crimes. Hawke can’t stop watching the movies, and they’re driving him mad. A great idea, done very well. And one of the few truly creepy horror films of 2012. Directed by Scott Derrickson.

NUMBER SEVEN:
THE COMEDY and CLOUD ATLAS (TIE)

Another tie of two very different movies.

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THE COMEDY is more of an anti-comedy as Tim Heidecker (of the “Adult Swim” series TIM AND ERIC’S AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB!) plays a completely obnoxious bastard who offends everyone he meets and somehow doesn’t get his teeth knocked out on a daily basis. Despite the fact that the lead character is almost completely unlikable, I found myself really impressed with the fearlessness of this one. Directed by Rick Alverson.

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CLOUD ATLAS couldn’t be more different than THE COMEDY. It was an epic involving multiple characters in multiple time periods (with several actors playing multiple characters, led by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry), ranging from the 1800s to the post-apocalyptic future. The movie jumps constantly between stories and time, yet you never get confused, and it’s fascinating throughout. It did poorly at the box office and most critics attacked it. I thought it was terrific. Directed by Tom Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN) and the Wachowskis (Andy and Lana, who gave us THE MATRIX movies) and based on the novel by David Mitchell. Along with JOHN CARTER, CLOUD ATLAS was one of the most (unjustly) underrated films of the year.

NUMBER EIGHT:
KILLER JOE and V/H/S (TIE)

Yet another tie.

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KILLER JOE features probably the best performance of Matthew McConnaghey’s career (so far), as a crooked cop who moonlights as a hitman. A family of hick morons hires him to knock off the estranged mom for the insurance money, then try to stiff him. Joe then has to set them straight. Along the way he takes their daughter as sexual “collateral” and they fall in love. Directed by the legendary William Friedkin from Tracy Letts’ play (and screenplay).

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There have been a lot of horror anthology movies lately – which is fine by me, because I’ve always enjoyed them – but V/H/S might just be the best of the bunch so far. Featuring five films by different up-and-coming directors, I found all of the tales to be pretty satisfying (not one real clunker in the bunch) and the movie as a whole to be very enjoyable.

NUMBER NINE:
SAVAGES

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In some years past, a movie like SAVAGES would have topped my list, showing just how good 2012 was in cinema. SAVAGES is Oliver Stone’s best movie since the 90s, based on the book by Don Winslow, with Taylor Kitsch (from JOHN CARTER), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (from 2010’s KICK-ASS) and Blake Lively as three very different stoners in a ménage a trois, trying to get through life growing and selling the best pot in the land. And the Mexican cartel that decides to make a hostile takeover, led by drug kingpin Salma Hayek in one of the best roles of her career, and terrific performance by Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta.

NUMBER 10:
THE GREY/BRANDED (TIE)

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Liam Neeson may seem a little old to be an action star, but that’s the way his career decided to go, and he is damn good at it. THE GREY might be the best action flick he’s made so far. After a plane crash in Alaska, a man named Ottway (Neeson) who was hired to keep wolves away from an oil company camp, has to use his wits to stay alive against some brutal fellow survivors, the harsh elements, and a hungry pack of the same kinds of wolves he used to hunt. With an intense final scene that some people didn’t like, but I thought was perfect. Directed by Joe Carnahan.

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BRANDED is a really strange movie about an advertising guru, working in Russia, who has a strange epiphany and is able to see marketing brand names and logos as grotesque monsters fighting for control of the populace. This movie was so damn weird and different that it just caught me completely by surprise. Based on the trailers, I was expecting some kind of “alien takeover of Earth” story – but it has nothing to do with that. By the time we get to Misha (Ed Stoppard) building an altar he saw in a dream and slaughtering a red cow on it (which allows him to see the “real” world as it truly is) we’re entering some serious Alejandro Jodorowsky territory.  Co-starring Leelee Sobieski, and directed by Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulrayn. This one was so strange, that, looking back, I’m shocked it got a theatrical release at all (I actually saw this in a multi-plex!), even if it was a limited one.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (Yep, there are a lot of them):

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THE MASTER
Paul Thomas Anderson makes the best unwatchable movie of 2012. What do I mean by this? The story of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a confused, violent young man, fresh out of the Navy who comes into the orbit of a larger-than-life L.Ron Hubbard-type religious guru named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Quell wants desperately to take control of his life, and Dodd wants someone totally disconnected from the world to use as a guinea pig for his new religion. Hoffman and Phoenix deliver some amazing performances in this one, especially Phoenix who I think should be a shoe-in for an Oscar Nomination. They why isn’t it in my Top 10? Because it’s incredibly long, slow, and hard to sit through. When I saw it, I left the theater angry because it had been such an endurance test. But I can’t deny its moments of brilliance. A movie I want to praise, but I find difficult to recommend.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW
Really low-budget flick about a company that seeks to infiltrate the human mind. I couldn’t tell if it was a brilliant movie that was hampered by its budget, or an interesting idea that was just done badly. I’m prone to believe the former, as this movie really stayed with me over the months. With some really great imagery. Directed by Panos Cosmatos.

HOLY MOTORS
A very strange film from France about Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), who travels around Paris in a stretch limousine and pops out now and then, in full make-up, as a variety of odd characters. But he’s not some prankster playing games; he takes this all very seriously. From an old woman beggar, to an assassin, to a monster who kidnaps model Eva Mendes from a photo shoot (after licking her armpit) and drags her down to the sewers. This is one messed up movie. And I loved it. Written and directed by Leos Carax.

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KILLING THEM SOFTLY
Brad Pitt as hit man Jackie Cogan, sent to wipe out three guys who robbed a Mob-connected poker game. With terrific performances by Pitt and James Gandolfini, as another hit man on his last legs (Gandolfini is amazing here), and a solid cast that includes Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins. Based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by crime fiction legend George V. Higgins (who also wrote “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”). Directed by Andrew Dominik.

GOD BLESS AMERICA
I’m a sucker for very dark comedies, and Bobcat Goldthwait has become a really great director of this kind of stuff. This one is about a man who finds out he is dying and decides to spend his final days ridding the world of obnoxious reality television stars. An indictment against the horrible crap we try to pass off as entertainment, and popular culture in general, this one will have you thinking long after it’s over. Starring Joel Murray (Bill’s brother) and Tara Lynne Barr.

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THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Joss Whedon’s spin (he wrote the screenplay with director Drew Goddard) on the clichés of all those “kids go to a deserted cabin and are picked off by madmen” movies that we’ve seen a hundred times before. With some interesting twists and even some laughs. Not a perfect movie, but a really entertaining one. With memorable performances by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as two corporate drones behind the scenes, and Fran Kranz, who steals every scene he’s in as Stoner dude Marty.

LOOPER
One of the best science fiction movies of 2012, I was completely surprised by this one. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a guy who kills criminals sent back in time from the future (talk about disposing of the bodies!), until the day when his intended victim is an older version of himself (played by Bruce Willis)! One of the smartest movies about time travel in a long time, with great performances and a suspenseful script. Directed and written by Rian Johnson.

CHRONICLE
Another of those “found footage” faux documentaries, this time about three high school kids who gain incredible mental powers after coming into contact with a meteor. With moments early on that are pretty funny as the kids learn to use their powers, becoming more scary as one of the kids starts to go insane and use his powers for violence. A really effective little film, directed by Josh Trank.

THE TALL MAN
Pascal Laugier, the genius who gave us the horror masterpiece MARTYRS in 2008, makes his first English-language film starring Jessica Biel in a surprise-filled plot about a mysterious figure who steals children in a small town. Not as good as MARTYRS (how could it be?), but fascinating in the way that nothing is as it seems to be by the time we get answers at the end.

THE MOTH DIARIES
At an exclusive all-girls school, Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) slowly comes to the realization that her new roommate, Ernessa (Lily Cole) is a vampire. A lot more interesting than it sounds, with some really nice imagery and some truly spooky moments. Another movie that stayed with me long after I saw it, and that grew on me more and more over time. Directed by Mary Harron, who also gave us 2000’s AMERICAN PSYCHO.

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COMPLIANCE
A great little movie based on a real crime, concerning the manager of a fast food restaurant who gets a phone call from a man claiming to be a policeman, who tells her one of her employees is going to be arrested for stealing. The caller claims to be unable to get there in person for a while, and gets the manager and some fellow employees to do some pretty awful things. A movie that really questions blind obedience to authority. Disturbing stuff, with great performances by Ann Dowd as the manager and a fearless performance by Dreama Walker as the abused employee. Directed by Craig Zobel.

PROMETHEUS
This was one of the most ambitious films of the year. Ridley Scott’s prequel of sorts to his film classic, ALIEN (1979), it was one of the movies I was looking forward to most in 2012 (probably the movie I most wanted to see other than DJANGO UNCHAINED). I gave it a decent review when it came out, but it really didn’t live up to my high expectations. While it’s well made, smart (except for a few odd missteps) and visually arresting, it just was nowhere near as memorable as ALIEN, and the more 2012 went on, the more I realized how many other films I enjoyed a lot more.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: HEAVY METAL (1981)

Posted in 2012, 80s Movies, Aliens, Animated Films, Anthology Films, Based on Comic Book, Cartoons for Adults, Gore!, Monsters, Nick Cato Reviews, Outer Space, Soft-core, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Sword & Sorcery with tags , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2012 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 57:
A Universe of Aliens, Dragons, and Boobs…
By Nick Cato

While most young men got their kicks by swiping a copy of Playboy from their dad’s secret stash in the closet, nothing brought me more joy than an issue of HEAVY METAL, the illustrated fantasy magazine that has been going strong since its first issue in 1977. And in 1977 or ‘78 (when I was in the fifth grade) I managed to obtain an issue and was instantly hooked. But it wasn’t just the sex and violence that grabbed my attention; many of the stories were just so much better than what you found in “regular” comic books, and I was familiar with some of the artists and writers whose work appeared within its pages, even at my young age.

Needless to say, I was beyond psyched when I learned HEAVY METAL was going to be adapting several of its more popular stories into an animated film. After what seemed like an eternity, August of 1981 arrived, and a Saturday afternoon trip to the (now defunct) Hylan Twin Cinema left my buddies and me a bit nervous: sure, this was an animated film, but it was rated R and we weren’t sure if the Hylan would let us in (this was one month before I started the 7th grade!). But the space gods shined their light upon us and we walked right in…apparently they were too busy turning people away from their other feature, Blake Edwards’ S.O.B.  Go figure.

The film opens with an astronaut returning to earth via intergalactic sports car in a segment titled ‘Soft Landing.’ The blaring soundtrack (that’s not all heavy metal bands) kicks into high gear with the song ‘Radar Rider’ by some band called Riggs, who to this day I’m still in the dark on who they are. The whole look and feel of the animation brought several stories from the magazine to life, and my blood was pumping like crazy. The man then walks into his house, and the film’s inter-locking story, ‘Grimaldi,’ begins. Grimaldi has brought his daughter home a green sphere, which then proceeds to melt him to the bone before introducing itself to the terrified girl as “The Sum of all Evils.” The sphere then goes on to show the girl several stories of good vs. evil throughout the universe, with itself involved in each one.

The first tale, ‘Harry Canyon,’ is a neo-noir tale set in a distant Manhattan about a cabbie-anti-hero who gets involved with protecting a famous scientist’s daughter from criminals. I think this is the first time I saw animated sex on the big screen, and at the time it was a real hoot! Kudos for the gore level here, too. (NOTE: to this day I am convinced the screenwriters of THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997) robbed this hook, line, and sinker). A great opening story and one of the best in the film.

A scene from the “Harry Canyon” sequence in HEAVY METAL.

Next up is ‘Den,’ based on Richard Corben’s famous character, who is a nerdy teenager, transported to another world where he becomes a bald-headed, muscle-bound hero. The film does a great job bringing Den to life, and John Candy’s voice works well as both versions of the quirky character. As soon as Den lands on this strange new world, he witness a sacrifice to a Cthulhu-like creature, and before long he’s battling crazed religious zealots and having sex with big-breasted women. Yeah…they pretty much nailed the magazine with this one!

I was all too happy to see one of my favorite Bernie Wrightson stories from the magazine make the film: ‘Captain Stern’ is a short but sweet tale of a corrupt starship captain in a courtroom full of weird aliens as all kinds of charges are brought to him. The green sphere happens to be in the hands of the court ship’s janitor, turning him into a Hulk-like maniac who then goes after Stern (and kills most of the ship’s occupants). Crazy little segment, highlighted by Cheap Trick’s great, seldom-heard song ‘Reach Out.’ The crowd loved this one, too.

Next up is a genuinely creepy EC-comics type of tale titled  ‘B-17.’ A B-17 bomber is taking heavy damage from enemies (in space!) but the crew manages to get through. When the co-pilot goes to check his men, he finds them all dead and notices the green sphere following the plane. The sphere turns the dead crew members into zombies, and only the main pilot escapes onto a plane-graveyard island. But what awaits him is anything but safety. It was nice to see one horror-oriented story here, even if it didn’t have the best plot.

So Beautiful and so Dangerous’ is the weirdest piece here, about a scientist trying to talk to the Pentagon about a series of strange mutations that have been showing up across the United States. He goes crazy when he notices the green sphere attached to the cute stenographer’s necklace. But just as he attempts to rape her in front of the entire Pentagon personnel, a huge space ship lowers a tube into the room and sucks the two of them upward. The scientist’s body explodes while the stenographer, Gloria, loses her clothes and soon has sex with the ship’s mini-robot. Meanwhile, two Cheech and Chong-like alien pilots are sniffing more cocaine than you’ve even seen before and partying like maniacs as they attempt to land aboard a humongous space station. I still don’t know what the point of this one was, but it’s hysterical and ridiculously entertaining.

Sexy Pentagon stenographer Gloria meets two Cheech and Chong-like aliens in one of HEAVY METAL’s stranger segments.

The film ends with a serious (and its longest) segment titled, ‘Taarna.’ The green sphere has now become gigantic and crashes into a volcano, where it mutates a bunch of outcast workers into a vengeful gang, bent on taking over a nearby peaceful city. They kill everyone inside…but the elders manage to summon the last of a warrior race (the Taarakians) to come help them. Taarna (a beautiful but tough-as-nails swordswoman who doesn’t waste time talking) arrives too late to save the city, but goes on a bloody course of Conan-style revenge with her pet dragon. (The sequel, HEAVY METAL 2000, was basically a 90-minute remake of ‘Taarna’ with heavier music). The scene of the workers being swallowed by green lava while Black Sabbath’s ‘E5150/Mob Rules’ plays in the background is a real site to see/hear. Taarna is standard sword and sorcery fare, but well done, and with great animation.

‘Taarna’ and her flying dragon from HEAVY METAL.

In the brief epilogue, the young girl from earlier in the film witnesses the green sphere (or “Loc Nar”) explode and destroy her home. She then goes outside and finds a dragon similar to Taarna’s, and takes off into the moonlight.

HEAVY METAL still holds up well all these years later, and while I’ve enjoyed it on cable and VHS (and DVD), this is one film that truly needs to be seen on the big screen to enjoy all its nuances, and with the proper sound system to appreciate it’s killer soundtrack (the soundtrack album still sells well today). The packed theater I witnessed this with featured countless cheering teenagers, moms dumb enough to take their young kids (uncomfortable giggling was heard at each and every sex scene), and fans of the magazine like myself who went back the next day for a second viewing. Too bad the long-awaited sequel was so sub-par; I wish they would’ve done another anthology film like this, with other tales that had appeared in the magazine.

As far as animated cult films go, I’ll take HEAVY METAL over FRITZ THE CAT (1972) any day.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

V/H/S (2012)

Posted in 2012, Anthology Films, Demons, Evil Kids!, Exorcism Movies, Ghosts!, Haunted Houses, Horror, Indie Horror, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Paranormal, Secrets, Thrillers, Twist Endings, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2012 by knifefighter

V/H/S (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

V/H/S is a new anthology horror movie made up of five shorts and a wraparound story. There seem to be a lot of these kinds of movies around lately. The other ones that come to mind are CHILLERAMA (2011) and THE THEATRE BIZARRE (also 2011). Both were mixed bags. But the good thing about anthology movies is that if you don’t like one of the stories, there are more to come, if you just wait. Overall, I tend to enjoy these kinds of movies a lot.

V/H/S is above-average in this regard. For the most part, all of the stories are pretty good. Sure, some are better than others, but I didn’t feel there were any clunkers this time around.

The film starts off with the wraparound story, called “Tape 56.” This ongoing segment is directed by Adam Wingard, who also made POP SKULL (2007), A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE (2010) and YOU’RE NEXT (2011). Just a word of warning, if you start watching the movie, you might not care a lot for this one. But give it a chance. It just sets up the premise. But the characters involved are kind of despicable.

We are introduced to a bunch of guys led by Gary (Calvin Reeder) who are going around doing awful things and filming it for money. One of the things they do is follow couples and then attack them. The boyfriend is pulled aside and restrained, while the girlfriend is grabbed and her breasts are exposed for the camera. Gary says he gets $50 for each one of these he tapes, and he says he’s done about 25 of them so far. Needless to say, the characters who are supposed to be our point of view for this story start out being unlikable, which may put you off from the get-go.

The set-up is this: these guys are hired to go a house in the middle of the night and get a videotape. It has something to do with blackmail, and the guys say they plan to make copies of the tape, so they can make more money. What exactly is on the tape, we’ll never know. They don’t say (although one character does elude that it might be “a senator having sex on film”), but the job does pay big money—much more than they’re used to. So of course they jump at the chance.

They go to the designated house at the middle of the night, and we’re told there may be someone there, but it’s an old man and he won’t be any trouble. The guys get in, and search the place. They find two things. First of all, they find the old man, and he appears to be dead in a chair, in front of a wall full of television screens. There’s a VCR and a tape in it.

The second thing is that there are lots of videotapes in the house, and the guys aren’t really sure which one they’re supposed to retrieve. So they start looking through them, playing them one after another. And that is the theme of the movie.

The first short film we see is called “Amateur Night.” It is directed by David Bruckner, who also made THE SIGNAL (2007). And right off the bat, it might be my favorite of the bunch. It features more creeps. This time it’s three guys who plan to go to a bar, pick up some girls, and film themselves having sex with them. They’re Shane (Mike Donlan) Patrick (Joe Sykes) and Clint (Drew Sawyer). Clearly there’s a market for this kind of thing. Clint, a nerdy looking guy, wears a pair of glasses that have a camera and microphone built-in. They go to a bar and get sloshed, and find one girl who is willing to go back with them, named Lisa (Jas Sams). At the same time, a spooky girl with big eyes named Lily (Hannah Fierman) is sitting by herself, and Clint starts filming her. She gravitates toward him and keeps saying “I like you.” When they all go back to the hotel room (Lisa and Lily go back with the guys), things get decidedly weird. I have to admit, I wasn’t really surprised by what happened—I kind of saw it coming—but it was so well done, that I didn’t care. I really enjoyed this one. Featuring a great performance by Fierman.

A scary moment from V/H/S.

The second movie is “Second Honeymoon” by Ti West, who gave us HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) and THE INNKEEPERS (2011). It’s about a couple on a road trip—Stephanie (Sophia Takal) and Sam (Joe Swanberg), who are filming it as they go—who stop at a motel. Sometime during the night, someone is in the room with them, watching them sleep, and it goes from there. Not the best of the stories, but a solid little piece from West, who I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of. I actually think he’s feature films are overrated. This one was kind of predictable, but decent, and I liked it better than his feature films that I’ve seen.

Tuesday the 17th “ by Glenn McQuaid (who also directed 2008’s I SELL THE DEAD) is another one that seems by-the-numbers… at first. Four kids go out to the woods to spend some time in a secluded cabin. But once they get there, things go a little differently than expected. Once again, not something that will blow you away, but a solid little film.

The third one, “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She was Younger,” (great title, by the way!), was directed by “mumblecore” indie director Joe Swanberg (who also acted in Ti West’s installment), and it’s another of my favorites. It features two people talking on Skype. One is a girl named Emily (Helen Rogers) who lives in a haunted apartment. The other is her boyfriend, calling from medical school, where he’s studying. Whenever something weird happens, she calls him so he can be a witness, and at one point we see some ghosts. This is another one, however, where things go much differently than we expect. I liked the weird twist ending a lot.

Finally, we have “10/31/98”, by four guys who go by the name Radio Silence (they are directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez and Chad Villella), three of the guys previously made a series of “interactive adventures” under the name Chad, Matt and Rob. This one is a really good one, too. Four guys jump in a car and go to a house for a Halloween party. They have a friend who always rents a house each Halloween and throws a lavish haunted house party. One guy is dressed as a nanny cam (a teddy bear with a camera), so he’s filming this one. They get there, to find the house empty. When they go exploring, they go up to the attic where they find a weird ceremony going on. They think it’s part of the fun, but it’s not. It’s a real exorcism. And things get scary from there.

The wraparound story pops in between the movies and at the end, as the guys in the house search for more tapes, the dead guy in the chair leaves at various points (we see this, but the guys don’t notice) and there’s a big, scary ending.

Another scary moment from V/H/S.

All in all, a great flick, and while there were three that really blew me away, the other two are pretty good, too. So no bad ones. I actually think V/H/S is pretty satisfying and the best of the new anthology horror films I’ve seen lately. It is currently on cable OnDemand in some areas and will get a limited theatrical release in early October.

This one is definitely worth checking out. I give it four knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives V/H/S ~ four knives.

The Cinematic RAY BRADBURY (An Appreciation)

Posted in 2012, 60s Movies, Anthology Films, Classic Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mars, Obituaries and Appreciations, Ray Bradbury with tags , , , , , , , on June 8, 2012 by knifefighter

RAY BRADBURY: AN APPRECIATION
By L.L. Soares

Yesterday’s death of Ray Bradbury was a loss to the world of literature, but it was also a loss to the worlds of movies and television. There were lots of adaptations of his works for screens both big and small, and here are just a few of the highlights:

LIGHTS OUT episode “Zero Hour” (1951) The first of Ray’s stories to be adapted for television.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) – based on Ray’s story “The Foghorn,” features a giant reptilian creature that emerges from the sea. Created (and given animated life) through the work of stop-motion effects master, Ray Harryhausen. This same year, the movie IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE was also released, based on another of Ray’s story.

MOBY DICK (1956) Director John Huston hired Ray to co-write the script for his adaptation of the Herman Melville classic.  Filmed in Ireland, Ray had a lot of stories about his clash of personalities with the larger-than-life director. The film starred Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab and Richard Basehart (later in the TV series VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA) as Ishmael.

THE KING OF KINGS (1961) – Ray provided the (uncredited) narration for this epic about the life of Christ, directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Jeffrey Hunter.

TWILIGHT ZONE episode “I Sing The Body Electric” (1962) – another classic Bradbury story adapted for a classic TV series.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1956 – 1962) Ray wrote several teleplays for this series, including the episodes “Design for Living” and “The Faith of Aaron Menefee”. There was also a later hour-long version of the show called THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR (1964), which adapted “The Jar,” one of my favorites of Ray’s stories.

FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966) – Arguably the most famous film (and one of the best) to be based on one of Ray’s books, this one is a classic directed by Francois Truffaut, and starring Oksar Werner and Julie Christie, in a tale of a future where a fireman’s job also includes the burning of books.

THE ILLUSTRATED MAN (1969) –Movie based on three stories (and the wraparound story) from Ray’s short story collection of the same name. The adaptations include Ray’s stories “The Veldt, “The Long Rain” and “The Last Night of the World.” Starring Rod Steiger as the heavily tattooed title character. Directed by Jack Smight.

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983) – Well-regarded movie version of Ray’s novel, directed by Jack Clayton and starring Jason Robards  and Jonathan Pryce. Ray wrote the screenplay for this one, and it was produced by Walt Disney Studios. There was also a 1972 film based on the same book.

THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES (1980) – a television miniseries based on one of Ray’s most famous and acclaimed books. Directed by Michael Anderson and written by Ray and the great Richard Matheson. It was aired in three installments. The cast included Darren McGavin, Rock Hudson, Roddy McDowell and TV’s SPIDER-MAN, Nicholas Hammond.

THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER (1985 – 1992) – Considering how many stories Ray wrote over the years, it’s not surprising that there was a television show devoted completely to his work.  Ray wrote most of the screenplays for this Canadian-produced series and even appeared in a few episodes.  Many episodes were filmed in Auckland, New Zealand.

THE WONDERFUL ICE CREAM SUIT (1998) – Director Stuart Gordon adapted Ray’s story about a magical white suit. Starring Joe Mantegna. Ray wrote the original story and the teleplay.

A SOUND OF THUNDER (2005) One of the last films to be based on Ray’s work during his lifetime, this one was directed by Peter Hyams and involved a time-traveling hunter who goes back to prehistoric times to hunt the ultimate prey, and who disturbs the time continuum in the process.

RAY BRADBURY’S KALEIDOSCOPE (2012) – recently completed short film based on Ray’s short story.