Archive for the Faux Documentaries Category

The Distracted Critic Enters THE TUNNEL (2011)

Posted in 2013, Australian Horror, Faux Documentaries, Horror, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, Suspense, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , , on February 26, 2013 by knifefighter

THE TUNNEL (2011)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

The Tunnel

THE TUNNEL is an Australian film written by Enzo Tedeschi and Julian Harvey, who have stepped beyond the “found The ” angle by concocting a faux documentary complete with interviews and enhanced screen shots, which reveal images the original crew didn’t realize they’d caught. They’ve crafted a decent story, giving their characters the kind of solid motivations that are rarely found in Hollywood releases. Another way it differs from Hollywood films is that they cast age-appropriate actors who you can believe hold the jobs of their characters, rather than casting pretty-looking twenty-somethings obviously too immature and inexperienced to hold the jobs they portray.

The movie opens with a spin on the “Sleight of Hand Start” (which is when the director reveals a scene from the ending to create tension right off the bat)—a 911 call, complete with subtitles, on a black screen. It tells us very little while it conveys panic and desperation. It’s a popular opening sequence for many documentaries, so it didn’t feel out of place here.

Next, we get a montage of news reports detailing a water shortage in Sydney. The reports cover a government plan to convert an abandoned subway station into a water reclamation facility. This will allow the use of water from a huge underground lake deep beneath the train tunnels. Further reports outline opposition to the plan, including worries that the evicted homeless will flood the streets. Finally, there’s a dismissive report that the plan has been shelved, though no one will explain why.

Now we meet Steve and Tangles, having drinks at their executive producer’s birthday party. Someone is filming the festivities for the hell of it, and Steve is happy to narrate the inter-office politics, while making fun of everyone the camera pans across. We see Pete and Natalie in an intense discussion, and Steve insinuates that Pete is hitting on her. When Natalie moves away warily, Steve and Tangles laugh.

In an interview segment, Steve describes Natalie as: “Just another young person coming in, getting paid too much money, hadn’t really proved herself, but you know, she was ‘the next big thing.'”

Natalie latches onto the abandoned water reclamation project, and when her investigation uncovers stories of people disappearing in the tunnels, Pete is yanked from a story that will take him to China so he can help Nat with her project. It’s a decision that Pete is painfully unhappy with.  He tells Steve and Tangles that Natalie’s: “…treading on thin ice. That’s why John put me onto this, to make sure she doesn’t f___ up again.”

Eventually, Natalie coerces Pete, Steve and Tangles to accompany her into the tunnels, insisting that John knows where they are. They break in through a maintenance gate and wander about using an outdated map. In an interview segment, Natalie confesses that she could not get the necessary permits to film in the tunnel, and she believed that without them the station would cancel her story. “…I put a lot of work into my career and I think it was all basically hanging on this one story. I didn’t really have a choice.”

Eventually, the team makes their way to the underground lake. Here, Natalie tries to record a sequence for her report, but Tangles keeps cutting her off to tell Pete and Steve to quit whispering. They deny doing it, but Tangles doesn’t believe them and accuses them of “punking” him.

Later on they find the “Bell Room,” where we learn that the tunnels were used as a public air raid shelter during WWII. The bell used to alert citizens to a bombing raid is still intact. Tangles complains that it’s too loud when Nat rings the bell, so he takes his microphones into the next room to try and dull the sound. Steve dons Tangles’ headphones and watches the gauges while Pete takes over the camera. The instant Nat rings the bell, Steve screams Tangles’ name and runs into the next room. Tangles has disappeared. They return to the bell room and discover their gear has disappeared as well….

They do manage to locate Tangles' flashlight, however.

They do manage to locate Tangles’ flashlight, however.

Director Carlo Ledesma has experience with real documentaries, having directed both FOOD MATTERS [2008] and HUNGRY FOR CHANGE [2012]. With THE TUNNEL, he has put together a “horror documentary” with a true-to-life feel. We see reporters like this all the time in real life, self-important gung-ho types who believe that their cameras and microphones will magically protect them from danger and keep them separate from anything that happens around them.

The acting is very good. Bel Deliá (THE LOVE OF MY LIFE, scheduled for 2014– I’ll be looking for it), as Natalie, conveys the desperation of someone on a last chance to save her job while trying to conceal her own self-doubt. She is believable throughout. Andy Rodoreda (BLACK WATER, 2007) plays Pete, who is increasingly relied upon to lead the group as Natalie’s composure begins to fracture. Steve Davis (the Australian TV series EVENT ZERO, 2012) plays Steve, the cameraman. It was a surprise to learn that his primary filmmaking experience is with cinematography and camera work, because his acting was fantastic.

Steve Davis plays Steve, a surprisingly good actor for a cameraman.

Steve Davis plays Steve, a surprisingly good actor for a cameraman.

Lastly, Luke Arnold (BROKEN HILL, 2009 and a lot of TV work down under) is excellent as Tangles, who, wearing the sound man’s headphones, gives most of the early tension to the film. There are a handful of moments when Steve focuses on him staring intently into the blackness as if he expects to see someone or something out there.

THE TUNNEL has some frightening moments and above-average suspense, though it does contains one eye-rolling sequence where you have to question the director’s judgement. (It involves the re-appearance of a minor character in a place he has no business being.)

In the end, the documentary format is not a new idea. It was used in the Australian film LAKE MUNGO in 2008, and there have undoubtedly been others. THE TUNNEL is more reminiscent of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), the Spanish film [REC] (2007), and even CLOVERFIELD (2008). While it differs from these movies by coming at you like a legitimate documentary instead of a VHS cassette filmed by dead people, you don’t walk away from the movie feeling that difference on any meaningful level. It comes off, all told, like another entry into the ‘found footage’ pantheon. A good entry, but still.

I give THE TUNNEL two and a half stars with a single time out.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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Transmissions to Earth Intercepts THE LAST BROADCAST (1998)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, ESP, Faux Documentaries, Horror, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Madness, Murder!, Mystery, Plot Twists, Secrets, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , on February 21, 2013 by knifefighter

Transmissions to Earth:

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THE LAST BROADCAST (1998)

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Review by L.L. Soares

With the recent boom of fake documentaries (otherwise known as “found footage” movies), especially in the horror genre (the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, CLOVERFIELD, THE LAST EXORCISM, etc.), THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) constantly pops up in conversation as the influential flick that started this all. And it deserves the attention. The flurry of excitement that surrounded BLAIR WITCH when it first came out was sure to inspire a lot of would-be filmmakers. But a year before BLAIR WITCH, we got THE LAST BROADCAST (1998), which dabbled in this style first, and also shares a lot of similarities with a certain Blair Witch.

Directed and written by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler, THE LAST BROADCAST begins with filmmaker David Leigh (David Beard) introducing himself and his movie, which is made up of footage from several sources, starting with a cable access show called “Fact or Fiction,” starring Steven Avkast (Stefan Avalos), who also goes by “Johnny,” and Locus Wheeler (Lance Weiler). Their show explores paranormal phenomenon, but it didn’t really get much in the way of viewers until they decided to hook up a voice response system to their computer, so people could type questions and the voice would speak them aloud on the show. This little bit of audience response is enhanced by the fact that the computerized voice that reads the questions sounds rather spooky. One of the viewers, through this system, suggests they investigate the legend of the Jersey Devil.

Steven and Locus get the idea to film a live show in the middle of the New Jersey Pine Barrens; their plan being to exploit the Jersey Devil legend for big ratings that will maybe get the show out of cable access and into the big time. To help them out on their little camping trip into the middle of nowhere, the hosts bring along sound man Rein (pronounced “Ryan”) Clackin (Rein Clabbers), and a “psychic” that Rein knows named Jim Suerd (Jim Seward), who is sensitive to the “spirits” of the woods.

We learn early on that Jim Suerd has recently died in prison when THE LAST BROADCAST begins, where he was serving two life sentences for murder. We also learn that he was a bit of a loner who was obsessed with the Internet and magic tricks. The implication being that his “psychic” powers were fake, perpetrated by someone with a rudimentary knowledge of magic, and that Suerd was a bit unbalanced to begin with.

Fake "psychic" Jim Suerd. Did he commit the murders in the woods?

Fake “psychic” Jim Suerd. Did he commit the murders in the woods?

Suerd finds the other guys the “right spot” in the middle of the barrens, and they set up camp. There’s a disagreement at one point, when Rein is picking on Jim about his “psychic powers,” which turns into a shoving match (which becomes important later). Then the guys broadcast their show from deep in the woods.

But something goes wrong. Rein and Locus are murdered. Steven Avkast disappears (but they find his hat and a lot of his blood), and Jim Suerd calls the police (his 9-1-1 call begins the movie) to report that something has gone horribly wrong in the woods.

A year or so after the events in the woods, and right after Jim Suerd has died in prison under mysterious circumstances, David Leigh receives a strange package in the mail. Inside is a mostly destroyed VHS cassette, and a lot of loose tape. Leigh brings it to a data retrieval expert , Michelle Monarch (Michele Pulaski) to analyze. Through painstaking work on her computer, Michelle is able to isolate sections of the tape and recover the images, which turns out to be previously lost footage of Steven and Locus’s final broadcast in the woods. The more she deciphers, the closer she gets to revealing the true identity of the murderer.

Things go bad int he barrens in THE LAST BROADCAST.

Things go bad int he barrens in THE LAST BROADCAST.

With the concept of a group of people in the woods, filming themselves, and the exploration of a local legend, you can see the parallels between this movie and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. And THE LAST BROADCAST is just as compelling. In fact, I found myself getting pretty engrossed in the story, wanting to know more as it went along. The acting here is all believable (and I wonder how many cast members were actually professional actors), and the central mystery is very compelling. I really liked the cast of this one, which includes a bunch of other “talking heads,” people who knew the film crew, including the psychologist who met with Jim Suerd as a child (Dale Worstall), a film editor for the prosecution in Suerd’s trial (Mark Rublee) and a director who was hired by the “Fact or Fiction” team, who formerly directed soap operas and who looks a lot like Phil Spector, named Sam Woods (Sam Wells). All of the “witnesses” who talk on camera are interesting and help move the story toward its creepy conclusion.

In a time when the Internet’s domination of us all wasn’t as profound, THE LAST BROADCAST is notable for having both the Internet and videotaped footage play major roles in the film. For the most part, the videotaped footage works very well.

My only complaint is that there’s a coda at the end of the film that feels tacked on. For the most part, the points of view in the film make sense, and are believable. The movie should have ended at a scene where two characters come “face to face” (if you see the movie, you’ll understand what I mean). But instead, there’s a last segment that suddenly breaks the rules of the “point of view” format that was used up to this point, and this final part almost ruined the movie for me. Almost. It’s not completely disastrous, but I found it unnecessary (and who is filming it?) In trying to creep the audience out, it goes a little too far to explain everything (instead of trusting the audience to “get it” at the scene where I think it should have ended).

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THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT might get all the credit for starting the “found footage” genre, but THE LAST BROADCAST, a film that isn’t as well known, clearly got there first. In a lot of ways (especially because of its amazing marketing campaign at the time), BLAIR WITCH is the more memorable movie, the one that influenced so many other filmmakers to follow in its footsteps, but THE LAST BROADCAST is just as effective, and deserves more credit than it gets.

Also, at several points, when the “Fact or Fiction” guys discussed tracking down the Jersey Devil, I kept wondering, “Why don’t they explain what the legend of the Jersey Devil is all about.” Well, this is not addressed in detail in the movie, but after the end credits, there is a short, related film that does just that – explaining the Jersey Devil myth pretty well.

I liked this movie a lot, and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the “found footage” genre.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L.  Soares

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A HAUNTED HOUSE (2012)

Posted in 2013, Comedies, Evil Spirits, Exorcism Movies, Faux Documentaries, Fun Stuff!, Ghosts!, Haunted Houses, LL Soares Reviews, Parodies, Possessed By Demons, R-Rated Comedy, Spoofs with tags , , , , , , , on January 14, 2013 by knifefighter

A HAUNTED HOUSE (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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While Michael was seeing GANGSTER SQUAD, I opted to check out this comedy starring Marlon Wayans instead, and I’m glad I did. A HAUNTED HOUSE, despite the lame, generic title, is actually a pretty good comedy, taking aim at all of the “found footage” horror films we’ve been subjected to lately, from the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films, to THE LAST EXORCISM (2010) and last year’s THE DEVIL INSIDE.

The found footage genre is so prevalent in the movies these days, that it was only a matter of time before someone skewered them. So along comes actor/writer Marlon Wayans (who’s been in everything from the TV show IN LIVING COLOR, 1992 – 2001, to the first two SCARY MOVIEs and WHITE CHICKS, 2004), to do the skewering.

Marlon stars as Malcolm, a likeable guy who tells us early on that this is a big day, because his girlfriend, Kisha (Essence Atkins), is finally moving into his house. Like the people in those PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, Malcolm is obsessed with filming everything that goes on in his house. Things start off on a bad foot when Kisha runs over his poor little dog pulling into the driveway, and they just get worse from there. When Kisha is upset that her keys are on the floor (How did they get there?!!), she immediately deduces that the house must be haunted and calls in a psychic named Chip (Nick Swardson), who seems a little too interested in Malcolm. When things get weirder, Malcolm calls in a security guy named Dan (David Koechner) to install cameras all over the inside and outside of his house, so that he can keep track of the “ghost.” An especially funny scene involves Malcolm’s cousin Ray-Ray (Affion Crockett) and his crew, a group of thugs who are determined to get to the bottom of the haunting, but find out it’s not that easy to intimidate a supernatural being.

When Malcolm and Kisha determine that it’s not a ghost at all, but a malicious demon (!), there’s a funny flashback to Kisha’s childhood with her callous Mom (Robin Thede) and Dad (the always hilarious J.B. Smoove), that delves into the origins of Kisha’s demon problem. Malcolm and Kisha do everything they can to get rid of their unwanted visitor, including getting stoned with the invisible creep (they all get mellow and engage ins some supernatural hijinks), and even having sex with the demon (while Kisha has a good time with this, Malcolm’s experience isn’t quite so pleasant).

Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) and Kisha (Essence Atkins) find themselves in A HAUNTED HOUSE.

Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) and Kisha (Essence Atkins) find themselves in A HAUNTED HOUSE.

When Kisha finally gets possessed by the demon (and we get into EXORCISM territory), Malcolm finally has to call in the big guns, which include psychic Chip, Dan and his cameraman sidekick, Bob (Dave Sheridan), who have their own paranormal TV show (on the Internet and cable access) and the local priest (and ex-con), Father Williams (Cedric the Entertainer, who’s really good here). They chase the possessed Kisha all over the house, with funny results.

Directed by Michael Tiddes, and written by Marlon Wayans and Rick Alvarez, A HAUNTED HOUSE could easily be part of the SCARY MOVIE franchise, but those movies have been taken over by the Zucker Brothers (the guys behind the AIRPLANE and NAKED GUN movies). That said, A HAUNTED HOUSE seemed to be funnier than the usual SCARY MOVIE installment, with a higher ratio of laughs.

Marlon Wayans does a fine job as our “hero,” Malcolm. Essence Atkins is really funny as Kisha, and the entire cast is pretty solid. Other supporting players include Andrew Daly (who you might recognize from the HBO series EASTBOUND AND DOWN) and Alanna Ubach, as Steve and Jenny, a swinger couple who are friends with Malcolm and Kisha, and who are always trying to get them to swap partners (Malcolm is completely clueless to their intentions), and Marlene Forte as Malcolm’s maid, Rosa, who is up to some very surprising shenanigans when the couple is away.

If a comedy is judged by how much you laugh, then A HAUNTED HOUSE is a success. I laughed a lot, and so did the packed audience I saw it with. The gags in this one come fast and furious, and most of them work. It doesn’t hurt that the movies this one is spoofing have created their own list of clichés just waiting to be goofed on.

I give A HAUNTED HOUSE, three knives. But man, do I wish they had come up with a better title.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives A HAUNTED HOUSE ~three knives.

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THE WORST MOVIES OF 2012 by L.L. Soares

Posted in 2012, 2013, 3-D, Bad Acting, Bad Situations, Based on a Video Game, Exorcism Movies, Fantasy, Faux Documentaries, Just Plain Bad, LL Soares Reviews, Sequels, Worst-Of lists with tags , , , , on January 2, 2013 by knifefighter

THE WORST FILMS OF 2012
By L.L. Soares

Well, there were lots of really good movies in 2012, but, as usual, there were some dogs as well. I think the fact that it was a lot easier writing this list – and keeping it to 10- is a good sign. There were a lot more good movies than bad ones in 2012.

These are the worst movies I saw last year.

NUMBER ONE:
SILENT HOUSE

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I keep hearing the original 2010 film from Uruguay was better. That’s not hard to believe. The American remake of SILENT HOUSE was one of the worst movies I’ve had to sit through in a long time. Poor Elizabeth Olson, who was so great in MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011) is completely wasted in this “thriller” about a woman terrorized in her summer home by an unseen intruder (well, unseen until the end). The big gimmick here is that it was supposedly filmed in real time, all in one take. If that’s so, then it was a lot of effort for nothing. It has a stupid twist ending, involving something that should have been traumatic, but is never made believable by the awful script. It was an idea that could have been done well, but the filmmakers involved completely blew it. Laughably bad.

NUMBER TWO:
RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (IN 3D)

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The previous Resident Evil movie (RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE, 2010) was at least dumb fun. I was starting to think this was one of the better film series based on a video game – at least the movies were entertaining. Then the new one (RETRIBUTION) comes out in 2012, and it’s just friggin dismal. It’s more of a place holder between the previous movie and the next one than a real movie of its own, with very little plot to distinguish it, and no attempt to tie up loose ends. I walked out of the theater feeling really cheated. If nothing else, this movie convinced me that it’s time to stop making RESIDENT EVIL movies.

NUMBER THREE:
DARK SHADOWS

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As a kid, I used to watch the original DARK SHADOWS TV show after school every day in the late 60s/early 70s. It was extremely low-budget, and sometimes laughably bad, but they always played it straight and tried to make it a decent show. Basically a soap opera with vampires and werewolves, the main plot involved the vampire Barnabas Collins and his struggle to reunite with the reincarnated version of his lost love, Josette.   It spawned two pretty good movies at the time, too (HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS in 1970 and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS in 1971), which were clearly horror films. Then Tim Burton decided to revive the old show as a new movie. Is it a bigger budget version of the old horror show? Nope. It’s a completely asinine comedy, involving Johnny Depp as Barnabas (the role was originally played by Jonathan Frid), rising from the dead in the 1970s and experiencing culture shock when confronted with hippies and bad fashion. Made with that “wink wink” style of comedy that I can’t stand, this is easily one of the most annoying films of 2012. What a wasted opportunity to make a movie version that was truly scary. Instead, we get a moronic exercise in tedium.

NUMBER FOUR:
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2

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You know something’s wrong when the latest TWILIGHT movie isn’t the worst movie of the year. The end of the “saga” – BREAKING DAWN – was broken into two films so the greedy studios could make more money. Meanwhile, we get more of the same crap we’ve been getting since the first film. Bella (Kristen Stewart) is now a vampire and is still in love with Edward (Robert Pattinson). The bad guys are told a lie and instead of checking it out, just attack our heroes and their family, when everything could have been resolved in a few minutes. I want to say this movie was a relief, because I knew the series was finally over, but I bet you they find a way to keep it going. Just to keep the money coming in. I want the two hours of my life I wasted on this movie back.

NUMBER FIVE:
SILENT HILL – REVELATION 3D

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Not a good year for movies with “Silent” in their titles, I guess. And almost all of the 3D movies in 2012 were pretty lame, so this one has two strikes against it from the get go.

The original SILENT HILL movie from 2006 wasn’t great, but at least it had some interesting imagery and some strange scenes to keep it from being a complete snooze. About a journey to a surreal town/world where it’s always raining ashes and demons fight each other for power, it was actually one of the better video game-based movies. But as we learned with the RESIDENT EVIL franchise, these guys should stop while their ahead. It took six years to make this sequel, and they shouldn’t have bothered. It’s boring, incoherent, and just plain bad. Poor Pyramid Head, the strange-looking beastie from the series who deserved a better movie to appear in. Maybe it’s time to finally have a moratorium on movies based on video games.

NUMBER SIX:
UNDERWORLD AWAKENING (IN 3D)

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The UNDERWORLD films aren’t based on a video game, but they might as well be. Kate Beckinsdale returns as an ass-kicking vampire who has to fight werewolves and humans in what has to be one of the most boring franchises around. I hate this series. I hate it even more because Beckinsdale is hot in that leather outfit and deserves to be in a horror movie franchise that doesn’t suck. The vampires here might not sparkle like in the TWILIGHT movies, but they’re not much better. Another boring series that needs to just stop already.

NUMBER SEVEN:
THE DEVIL INSIDE

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Another “found footage” horror movie – a genre I normally enjoy. And the first half of this exorcism movie is actually pretty good, until it falls apart. A woman is making a documentary about her mother, who has committed murder while being possessed by a demon. There are a few good scenes, but they’re not enough to save the movie. Overall, it’s just too predictable and doesn’t give us anything we haven’t seen before. And then there’s the fact that the movie doesn’t really have an ending. Instead,  it ends abruptly and we’re given a URL and told to go to the website for more. I’m sorry, I don’t pay for a movie ticket to be told to check out a website. Another movie where I left the theater more than a little pissed off. You would be much better off renting the 2010 movie THE LAST EXORCISM instead. It’s another “found footage” horror flick about an exorcism, but it’s actually really good and doesn’t waste your time.

NUMBER EIGHT:
THE INBETWEENERS

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The British series this movie was based on, about four socially inept teenagers who are desperate to finally lose their virginity, is supposed to be pretty funny. Or so I’m told. But, if that’s the case, I have no idea why the movie version is so unfunny. The characters are likable enough. There’s some heartfelt scenes where you actually care about the people involved. But there are hardly any laughs. This is supposed to be a comedy. A comedy without laughs isn’t much of a success. And the fact that this was a big hit in England is kind of depressing.

NUMBER NINE:
BATTLESHIP

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The idea of making a board game into a movie is kind of dumb. The people involved with this movie were given an almost impossible task – to take this concept and run with it – and they try. But it’s a failure. Another waste of film and actors and special effects – all for nothing. Poor Taylor Kitsch. After playing the lead in a really good movie (JOHN CARTER) that was unfairly maligned, he next starred in this cinematic garbage, and any buzz he had as an up-and-coming movie star pretty much vanished. Until SAVAGES, that is. But will SAVAGES be enough to keep his career from fizzling out? 2012 must have been a real rollercoaster for poor Mr. Kitsch. As for BATTLESHIP, I hope the poor box office for this one has sunk any chances of a sequel. But no matter how awful this movie was, it was still better than the eight movies I listed before it.

NUMBER TEN:
WRATH OF THE TITANS

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Despite their budgets and the high-tech special effects, the TITANS movies have left me cold. First there was CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) that was a remake of a 1981 Ray Harryhausen fantasy film with stop-motion monsters. In the new films, the monsters are CGI, but I don’t see them as much of an improvement. They’re kind of generic in a way. Sam Worthington plays Perseus as kind of a one-note character (and I know he’s capable of more than that – maybe he’s as bored as I am). Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are completely wasted as Zeus and Hades, respectively (but they’re the only characters in the movie with any real passion). Some of the monsters look cool, but overall, the movie is kind of boring. The story just isn’t that compelling….ZZZZZ… Oops, did I nod off there for a moment?

HONORABLE MENTION

PROJECT X – A faux documentary-style teen sex comedy about the craziest house party ever. It didn’t make my list because it was so forgettable that I…er…forgot about it until I saw it on Michael’s list. It mustn’t have annoyed me as much as it did him, but, frankly, it’s not worth talking about any further.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

THE BAY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Conspiracy Theories, Disease!, Faux Documentaries, Found Footage Movies, Gore!, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Parasites! with tags , , , , , , on November 15, 2012 by knifefighter

THE BAY (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

This one sounded interesting to me. A “found footage” horror movie by Barry Levinson, the director who gave us such memorable films through the years as DINER (1982), THE NATURAL (1984), RAIN MAN (1988), BUGSY (1991), SLEEPERS (1996) , WAG THE DOG (1997) and lots more. That’s one hell of a resume.

And I’ve actually enjoyed most of the “found footage” movies that have been coming out lately, even though the genre gets a bad rap. I was definitely interested in seeing what Levinson would do with the concept.

THE BAY (2012) got a limited release in a few cities across the country, and is also currently on cable OnDemand. Watching this movie, I found myself wondering why it didn’t get a wider release.

The “bay” in question here is Chesapeake Bay, which I read is “the largest estuary in the United States” surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. The movie THE BAY takes place mostly in a small town called Claridge, Maryland. It relies mostly on tourism for its income. But there are also lots of chicken farms in the area, made possible thanks to a big desalination plant that makes enough water available to support the industry. But there’s the problem of animal waste and rumors that there might have been a nuclear waste leak years back, or so the movie tells us. And that chicken waste has a lot of chemicals in it like steroids and other stuff to increase the birds’ growth and meat production.

It’s the Fourth of July, and there’s a big celebration in Claridge, including a crab-eating contest and sailing and fireworks. But this year, something goes wrong. People start getting sick. They starts to erupt with boils and throw up blood, and develop wounds that look as if their flesh is being eaten away from the inside. People start to panic, and bodies start piling up in the streets.

What is causing this pandemic? We have clues as to the conditions that bred such a disease, but the actual culprit might surprise you.

Meanwhile, the movie is made up of footage that was being suppressed. A chunk of it is from the point of view of Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue), a young news reporter who got her “big break” that Fourth of July, when she thought she was just covering another small town holiday, but instead stumbled on something horrible. She just wants to get this footage out to the world before it happens again.

Not all of the footage is of Donna and what she witnesses, however. There’s also video of two researchers who were testing the bay’s toxicity;  a family (wife, husband and baby) who film themselves taking their boat to Claridge to meet the wife’s parents; and footage of Dr. Jack Abrams (Stephen Kunken), who first sees an emergency room waiting area with about 30 people who are infected with strange symptoms. Then he sees that number rise to 60 people, and more and more. His frantic Skypes to the Center for Disease Control don’t seem to be taken seriously at first, and by the time the authorities start to worry, it’s clear they want to cover this up and avoid a mass panic. We also see a few Claridge police officers making their rounds in COPS-like footage, and we see a girl on Facebook making videos, unable to get help, and afraid she might die alone. As the movie progresses, the symptoms of the people infected get more gory and disturbing.

Somehow, all this various footage meshes well together, and tells a compelling story about a horrible flesh-eating disease, and puts a human face on that disease.

Levinson does a fine job with the material. No matter how much I want to get sick of the found footage genre, movies like this pop up that keep it viable. I was pretty riveted throughout, wondering what was behind all this, and if it could be stopped in time. Levinson does a great job here building suspense. And the performances help him to sell the story. The acting here is all very good and the people are believable.

Keather Donohue plays reporter Donna Thompson, who is trying to get word out about what seems to be a killer disease in THE BAY.

There has been some hype about the fact that Oren Peli is one of the producers. He’s the guy who gave us the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise and the short-lived ABC series THE RIVER. And sure, Peli is the king of this kind of stuff. But THE BAY stands or falls on the work of a director named Barry Levinson, and while it might seem that he’s working with material that is beneath him, he pulls it off really well.

I enjoyed this movie, and it kept me glued to the screen throughout. I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE BAY ~three  knives.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Demons, Evil Kids!, Faux Documentaries, Haunted Houses, Paranormal, Plot Twists, Sequels with tags , , , , , , , on October 22, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(The Scene: A bedroom. MICHAEL ARRUDA lays in bed asleep.  For a long time.  The words, “3:13 AM.  Night 13” are superimposed on screen.  Still, nothing happens.  MA looks up at camera.

MA:  This is a long time for nothing to be happening.  Too long.

THE VOICE OF L.L. SOARES:  You said it.  If I were making this movie, I would have chopped your head off already.

MA:  Where are you?

(Bedroom door swings open, revealing the silhouette of a person.)

MA:  Well, that’s predictable.  Couldn’t you think of a more original place to hide?

LS:  Um, that’s not me…  I’m in here.  (Climbs out of a bureau drawer.)

MA:  That’s not so predictable.  How did you fit in there?

LS:  It’s not real.  It’s a prop.  Just like this carving knife (raises knife).  You would have been in for one helluva surprise reaching for your clothes this morning.

MA:  Lucky for me, I’m already dressed.  (Climbs out of bed, fully dressed.)

LS:  You’re an odd duck.

MA:  Quack.

(Silhouette in door steps forward, revealing that it’s a woman.  Suddenly, she stomps forward, her steps booming loud, and MA & LS scream.  She grabs LS by the head and twists it around full circle, then leaps at MA and does the same to him.)

LS (with head spinning):  Hey, this is cool!  Woo-hoo!

MA (head also spinning):  It gets the kinks out.

LS (to woman):  Thanks!  This feels great!

(WOMAN frowns, then Exits.  LS & MA’s heads stop spinning.)

MA:  That was different.  I think I’m ready to review today’s movie now.

LS:  Start us off, then.

MA:  Today we’re reviewing PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012), the fourth film in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series, a series that admittedly has grown on me, so I was actually looking forward to seeing it.  But as movies go, this one’s about as deep as—(walks to the bed and pulls a feather out of a pillow) — as this feather.  In other words, it’s a lightweight movie if I ever saw one.

Since PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 was a prequel, this movie follows the events of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, and at the end of that movie, Katie (Katie Featherston) kills her sister, her sister’s husband, and walks away with their little boy, Hunter.  That movie ended with the superimposed words on the screen stating that Katie’s and Hunter’s whereabouts remain unknown.

And that’s where the action picks up in this movie, as we meet a new family, specifically a 15-year-old girl, Alex (Kathryn Newton) who spends most of her time with her boyfriend, Ben (Matt Shively).  Alex lives with her parents and younger brother, and next door to them lives a creepy little boy named Robbie (Brady Allen) and his mom, who we assume, of course, are really Hunter and Katie.

LS: Which may or may not be the case.

MA: One night, the little boy’s mom is rushed to the hospital—supposedly, as this is what Alex’s mom says, and we don’t actually see this— and so the strange little boy temporarily moves in with Alex’s family, since he has no other family of his own.

LS: Well, we kind of do see this. We see an ambulance across the street at Robbie’s house with its siren flashing. And Alex’s mom says that she was asked to take Robbie in.  But no, we never actually see Robbie’s mother physically being carried to the ambulance.

MA: And of course, since he is a strange little boy, weird creepy things start happening in the middle of the night, including visits from the ghost or demon who’s been haunting the folks in all these movies, the spectral dude known as Toby.

You know, you’d think that Toby would pick a house without so many friggin cameras, so he could actually accomplish something without people watching him!

LS: Maybe he’s an attention hog!

MA: Of course, that’s the gimmick in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, that everything is filmed by the cameras of the characters in the movie, to give it a realistic feel. And for the most part, this gimmick works.  It’s why these movies are fun, because there are long moments of silent “in the middle of the night” footage which prompts audience members to yell out various comments, because they can’t stand the tension.

Of course, for story purposes, this gimmick made the most sense in the first movie.  I can believe some guy filming everything on his video camera.  In the second film, the family was concerned about burglars, and so they had security cameras installed, and that’s how we saw all the footage in that film.

In this one, Alex’s boyfriend Ben is a computer geek, and so he records everything with his computer camera, and so when the strange events start happening in Alex’s house, she has Ben fix all the computers in the house so they’ll be taking video footage 24/7.  Not that this is unbelievable, but like I said, what are the odds that every house Toby haunts has cameras on him all night?  I’m suspending disbelief here more than I want to.

Anyway, this is how in this movie we’re able to see all those PARANORMAL ACTIVITY scenes we’ve come to know and love, scenes of silent rooms in the middle of the night, just waiting for something scary to happen.

And of course the story in this one is about that strange little boy next door, who we assume is Hunter, and the eerie events his presence causes once he’s inside Alex’s house.  And that’s it folks.  There really isn’t much of a story here.  There is a twist, but I was unimpressed.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is easily the weakest film in the series.  I didn’t hate this movie by any means, but I was unsatisfied.  Big time.  I mean, all the signature “in the middle of the night scenes” are there, but they’re just not that scary this time around.

The ending, which is a bit scary, is quick and over WAY too fast.

I liked the main character Alex, which is a good thing, because she’s in almost every scene of the movie.  I thought Kathryn Newton did a great job, and if I’m allowed to say this about a 15 year-old, she’s stunningly beautiful in this movie.

LS: Well, maybe you should wait about three years to say that. (laughs). But you’re right, she’s quite pretty.

MA: Matt Shively is also likeable as her boyfriend Ben, so these two main characters aren’t the problem.

The problem is the story, or lack thereof.  The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies have never had strong stories, but they’ve been fun because they’ve been scary.  I didn’t find this one scary at all.  The scares just aren’t there, and in a gimmicky movie like this that doesn’t have much of a story, if you don’t have scares, what’s left?  The answer is, not much!  There just isn’t much to this movie.

Christopher Landon wrote the screenplay, and he also wrote the scripts for the second and third films in this series as well.  I think maybe he’s running out of ideas.  There are “middle of the night sequences” where nothing seems to happen, and this is the same problem I had with the previous films in the series, especially PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (2010).  You’re waiting there, watching a silent empty room in the middle of the night, and the pay-off is a little boy walking around a room.  Come on!

Plus the little boy in this one just isn’t that creepy.  I thought the kid in LOOPER (2012) was much creepier!

(The door opens and the little boy from LOOPER enters the room.  The boy grimaces, his eyes widen, and he grows red in the face.)

MA:  Easy kid!  Don’t use your telekinetic powers on us!  I was actually complimenting you!

LS: Geez, kid. Give us a break.

BOY:  Where’s the bathroom?  I have to go.  Bad!

MA:  It’s down the hall on the left.

BOY:  Thanks.  (Exits, as he runs down the hall).

LS (calling after him):  Next time don’t wait so long!

MA:  I had some questions about the story as well.  I wanted to know what was actually going on in the house next door to Alex.  At one point, she sees a bunch of cars there, and when she goes to investigate in the middle of the night— of course—she finds people there, but she’s frightened and runs away, and so we never learn what’s going on.  Now, based upon the events of the prequel, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3, I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, but this movie might have been scarier had we seen more of those people next door, since we all know they’re not about to win any good neighbor awards!  They’re evil!  Why would you not make your scary story more about them?

LS: At the same time, it makes sense that she’d get scared and run away. So it is in character.

Most 15-year-old girls wouldn’t challenge people at a neighbor’s house and demand to know more.

MA: Then there’s good old Toby, the friendly neighborhood PARANORMAL ACIVITY demon.  He’s not much of a factor in this one.  Maybe he’s finally getting camera shy.

LS: Yeah, Toby’s a bit of a letdown this time around.

MA: Alex’s parents aren’t so bright either.  In one scene, a knife falls from the ceiling, and her dad, although spooked, doesn’t do anything about it.  It’s not like a door swings open.  Sometimes a stray draft opens or closes doors.  We’re talking about a knife falling from the ceiling.  I’d want to know what the hell a knife is doing in the ceiling in the first place!

LS: I kept expecting that knife to drop down and imbed itself in someone’s head.

MA: In an earlier scene, the mom is cutting vegetables with a knife— the same one I assume—she walks away….

LS: Of course it’s the same one. Why do you have to “assume” it?

MA: …we hear the knife swiped up and away—she returns and of course is dumbfounded and wonders where she put the knife.  She then walks away and returns with another knife and continues cutting.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a knife disappear into thin air from a kitchen counter on me.  I’d be somewhat freaked.  I wouldn’t continue cutting my vegetables like nothing had happened.

LS: So you wanted more time wasted with her just standing around, looking for the knife?

MA: No, I wanted her at the very least to ask someone in the house, “Hey, did anyone just take the knife I was using?”  Show some concern!  Jeesh!

I also have a complaint about Spooky Katie.  Does she always have to walk so slowly?  It’s like watching a store mannequin.  Someone light a firecracker under that woman!

(Outside there is an explosion and a flash of light, followed by a scream.)

I didn’t mean that literally!

VOICE OFF-CAMERA:  Sorry!

MA:  Also, the very creepy scene shown in the film’s trailer doesn’t appear in this movie.  This isn’t the first time this has happened in this series.  I remember a similar scary scene shown in the trailer for PARANORMAL ACTIVTY 2 which wasn’t in the film.

LS: This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since way too many trailers give away the complete story of a movie before you see it.

MA:  I dunno.  It bugs me.

LS: At least these scenes in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies that don’t appear in the movies are kind of like bonus scenes. But you’re right that this new movie could use all the scares it could get.

MA: This one was directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the same folks who directed PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3.  Like their screenwriter Christopher Landon, I think they’re running out of ideas.

All in all, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is weak horror movie, hardly worth your time.  I enjoyed last week’s SINISTER better, as that one disturbed me in a way that this movie doesn’t even come close to doing.  Again, I didn’t hate this film, but I sure was underwhelmed.
I give it one and a half knives.

LS: Y’know, we’re actually in complete agreement about this one. This is the Year the Sequels Died. When some of the franchises we’ve come to rely on have run out of steam. I felt the same way about RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION. That was a series I didn’t mind, although it was never rocket science, and I at least found each sequel entertaining. If you have to sit through these movies, you at least want to enjoy yourself a little bit. But the new RESIDENT EVIL movie was so cynical and such an empty example of greed, that it pissed me off. There was absolutely no reason for that sequel to get made except to cash in, and a series I had liked a little bit finally ran out of steam and lost all reason to keep going. (I should have known better when the previous one ended right in the middle of the story, demanding that it “Be Continued.”)

I don’t feel as angry and cheated by PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4.

MA:  I agree.  I’m not angry about it either.

LS:  There are some plot points that push things forward (although not all that many), and lead character Alex is very likeable and you care about her. But overall, Part 4 is pretty flimsy compared to the other movies. I liked this series a lot. They’re not amazing works of art, but they’re fun. And I’ve come to rely on that. But this one really felt like they were phoning it in. Like they were just making a new movie to keep the franchise going. And we really didn’t get enough answers by the end to satisfy us.

What you do with a franchise like this is inject some new blood once in a while. The people who started the movies do not need to keep working on each one. Like Michael said, it’s obvious that these people run out of ideas and start repeating themselves.

If you bring in fresh people and maybe let a franchise go in a new direction, then there’s more of a chance that the audiences might actually feel surprised.  It’s a risk, but it’s better than wasting our time.

With PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, I just think the filmmakers are admitting defeat. Either let someone new take a turn, and take a chance on actually improving on the concept and the series, or just end it here.

Because otherwise you’re just jerking us around and taking our money.

I really wanted to like this one, but I give PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 a rating of one and a half out of five knives, too.

MA: Wow, we agree on something.

LS: That’s a surprise in itself.

MA:  And I don’t think we’re alone in not liking this one.  I don’t know about the audience you saw the movie with, but the theater I was in, the audience was rather subdued.  There weren’t many comments until the last 10 minutes or so.

And when it did end, the woman in the row in front of me said, “That’s it?”  My sentiments exactly!

(Suddenly, a big glass chandelier above them crashes down on the floor, just missing them by inches)

MA: Yahh! I’m out of here.

LS: I think Toby is angry with the bad review.

(They run out of the house)

-END-

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 ~ one and a half knives!

L.L. Soares also gives PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 ~ one and a half knives!

Pickin’ the Carcass: GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011)

Posted in 2012, Faux Documentaries, Ghost Movies, Haunted Houses, Michael Arruda Reviews, Paranormal, Pickin' the Carcass, Supernatural with tags , , , , , on March 9, 2012 by knifefighter

PICKIN’ THE CARCASS:  GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011)
DVD Review by Michael Arruda

 

All I can say is the 21st century is proving to be a gold mine when it comes to “found footage.”

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011) is yet another in the growing line of “recently discovered footage” movies with documentary-style filmmaking, hand-held camera usage, and people running around screaming “Oh my God!” and “Did you hear that?”  It fits right in with the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, and films like CHRONICLE (2012) and THE LAST EXORCISM (2010).

This is not necessarily a bad thing, because I tend to like this style of filmmaking.  It lends itself easily to eliciting scares.

The gimmick in GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is that a crew which films a reality TV show called “Grave Encounters,” a show about ghost specialists searching for ghosts inside houses and buildings, arranges to spend a night inside a former mental institution that is supposedly haunted.

The movie opens with the show’s producer introducing the footage, explaining how the show had held so much promise, and that all was great until the crew filmed the episode inside the institution.  It would be their final episode.  The producer goes on to say that the footage the audience is about to see is real, edited only for time.  And thus the movie begins.

Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), the host of the show, is busy with his small crew of camera and sound operators setting up for their latest gig.  Preston interviews various people associated with the now-closed institution, and we see that Preston is not above paying people to give him phony answers.  This is not a team that really believes in what they’re doing.  Sure, they’d love to find evidence of real ghosts, but they don’t expect to.  For Lance, it’s all about creating an entertaining show.

Their resident ghost expert, Houston Gray (Mackenzie Gray), is also a fraud.  He’s seen on camera speaking about demons being present and how it’s not safe for them to be there too long, and as soon as the camera stops rolling, he laughs it up, wondering how good his performance was.

Preston and his crew are locked in at the institution for the night, and they’ve arranged for the doors to be unlocked at 6:30 am.  They also can’t escape through the windows since, like a prison, the windows are all barred.

As you would imagine, as the night goes on, strange things begin to happen.  Preston and his crew hear odd sounds, see mysterious apparitions, and eventually bad things begin to happen to them.  Very bad things.

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is not a bad little horror movie.  I liked it for the most part, but if there’s one glaring weakness with this film, it’s that feeling of déjà vu that we’ve seen this all before.  Because you know what?  We have.

It’s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY in a mental institution.   We know where this story is going to go.  Plus, we’re told at the outset by the show’s producer that the crew doesn’t film any more episodes, and so the fate of our friendly TV crew never comes as much of a surprise.

To its credit, the movie does try to shake things up a bit.  It has some weird things going on with both the building itself—doors aren’t where they once were, for example—and with the conditions outside the building.  These ideas are welcome, but in the end, our TV crew is still hounded by ghosts, and their fate is nothing we haven’t seen before.

The movie works much better early on when things are creepy and eerie, and we’re not exactly sure what’s going on.  Once we start seeing the actual ghosts, it doesn’t work as well.  There are ghosts and shock scenes aplenty, but for some reason, these scenes just aren’t as scary as the subtle frights encountered earlier in the movie.  As a result, the movie drags somewhat during its second half.

One thing I did like was the movie does a good job making its case that if ever there were a place for unhappy ghosts to haunt, it’d be a former mental institution.  There are plenty of images in this movie showing what life was like for these mental patients, and because these patients were treated abysmally, it makes perfect sense that their pained spirits would be inside this building, still trying to make sense of it all, still striking back against people they viewed as their tormenters.

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS was written and directed by The Vicious Brothers. They sure have a nice name, but too bad this movie didn’t live up to it.  It’s not so vicious.

That being said, I did enjoy GRAVE ENCOUNTERS better than John Carpenter’s THE WARD (2011), the movie I reviewed in my previous PICKIN’ THE CARCASS column, also about a mental institution.  GRAVE ENCOUNTERS was scarier and did a better job showing the horrors of mental institutions from the past.

The cast is likeable enough.  Sean Rogerson is believable as the driven host of the show, Lance Preston.  He’s committed—heh, heh—to making the episode the best it can be, and once the ghostly hauntings begin, he’s the one who drives the rest of his crew to get this stuff on camera.

Mackenzie Gray also turns in a nice performance as the phony ghost expert Houston Gray.

For the most part, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is creepy and enjoyable, but it doesn’t possess enough originality to lift it above the pack of “found footage” movies, except perhaps for the validity of its mental institution ghosts.

A mildly satisfying haunt, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is okay, but it’s certainly nothing to be crazy about.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda