Archive for the Secrets Category

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)

LastBroadcast_DVDcover

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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SKYFALL (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Bond Girls, Cinema Knife Fights, Espionage, Fast Cars, Femme Fatales, Gimmicks, James Bond, Michael Arruda Reviews, Nick Cato Reviews, Secrets, Spy Films with tags , , , , , , , on November 12, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SKYFALL (2012)
By Michael Arruda & Nick Cato

(The Scene: On top of a moving train, MICHAEL ARRUDA is fighting with a thug.  On a hill in the distance, NICK CATO aims a high powered rifle at them.)

NICK CATO (speaking into a headset):  I don’t have a clear shot.

L.L. SOARES’ voice on other end of the headset:  Take the shot.

NC:  But I might hit Michael!

LS:  So???

MICHAEL ARRUDA (hearing conversation on his headset):  So??? Gee, thanks a lot!  You want a clear shot?  Here, you’ve got one!  (MA stops fighting, pastes a large bull’s-eye on the thug’s chest and steps away from him.)  There you go.  He’s all yours.

(Thug drops to his stomach.)

MA:  What the—?

(Train enters tunnel, and a standing MA hits the top of the tunnel, which knocks him off train into the water below.)

NC:  Oops!  That’s not good.

LS:  What happened?  Did you shoot anyone?

NC:  Nope.

LS:  Any blood and gore involved?

NC:  Nope.

LS:  Then it’s all too tame for me.  I’m leaving.  Catch you guys later.

(NC takes off his headset, just as MA appears in dry clothing.)

NC:  Weren’t you just in the water?

MA:  It’s amazing how quickly one dries off in Cinema Knife Fight land.  It’s like being in a movie with bad continuity.  Ready to review today’s movie?

NC:  Sure. And I apologize for shooting you, but I was just following L.L.’s orders.

MA: No problem.  Today we’re reviewing SKYFALL (2012) the latest James Bond movie and the third one featuring Daniel Craig as Agent 007.

SKYFALL opens with James Bond (Daniel Craig) chasing a bad guy who has in his possession a computer drive of extreme value.  They end up fighting on top of a train, while another agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), tries to shoot the villain, but hesitates because she doesn’t have a clear shot and worries she might hit Bond.  M (Judi Dench) orders her to take the shot, and she does, hitting Bond in the process, and he plunges into the water below, presumed dead.

NC: At first I thought a train-top fight was a bit cliché to open a Bond film with, but director Mendes really made this one work.

MA: Yeah, it’s a pretty intense scene.

Anyway, since this is a James Bond movie, he’s not dead, and after lying low for a while, he returns to MI6 to help his boss deal with the latest threat to national security.  The stolen computer drive contained the names of agents working in some very dangerous places, and so now their identities have been compromised.  It’s Bond’s job to locate the computer drive and also find out who’s responsible for stealing it.

It turns out the villain is a man named Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent of M’s who wants nothing more than to get back at her, because he feels her ruthlessness left him for dead, similar to what we saw happen with Bond in the movie’s opening segment.  So, Silva releases the names of several of the agents to the public, and promises to continue to do this on a regular basis, putting them in harm’s way, all in an effort to humiliate M.

Silva also plans an elaborate scheme to kill M, and of course, it’s up to James Bond to stop him.

NC: I thought Bardem did a fine job as Silva, and his homoerotic taunting of 007 gave him a dimension we haven’t seen in a Bond film before.

MA:  Yep, that was an excellent scene!  Some people squirmed, others laughed out loud.  Very effective.

NC:  But, at the same time, I think early reviews painting him as one of the best Bond villains ever is a bit of a stretch.

MA:  That’s definitely a stretch.

NC:  Silva’s on a personal vendetta against, M, not so much on a mission to destroy the globe like a classic Bond enemy. (That said, the sequence of MI6 headquarters being blown up was quite intense). He’s off his rocker, that’s for sure, but to me he wasn’t half as threatening as most of the goons Bond has gone up against over the years.

MA:  Agreed.

SKYFALL is being touted in some circles as “the best Bond movie ever,” and while I liked this movie, it’s certainly not the best Bond ever.  I wouldn’t even call it my favorite Daniel Craig Bond film.  While I liked it, I also had some problems with it.

NC: I can’t stand early reviews that label things the “best ever.” Regardless, I still went in with an open mind and was surprised at just how much of the film I found myself…bored with.

MA: One thing I’ve always liked about the Daniel Craig Bond movies is the way they’ve reinvented the franchise. Since Daniel Craig has come on board, the films have showcased a darker, more realistic Bond, and the results have been similar to what Christopher Nolan did for Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy.

Speaking of which, I was reminded a few times of THE DARK KNIGHT while watching SKYFALL.  We learn more about Bond’s past, how he’s an orphan and how he lost his parents at a young age, a la Bruce Wayne, and when he returns home he even finds a faithful servant Kincade (Albert Finney) still living there.  Can anyone say “Alfred”?

NC: I have a love/hate relationship with what little we’ve learned about Bond this time, from his parents’ early death to his alcoholism. They’ve made Bond a more “real” character since Craig has taken the lead, and while it has been refreshing at times, I still find myself yearning for that suave, in-control, “man-up” Bond of yesteryear.

MA: Also, at times, the villain Silva reminded me of the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT as it seemed to be his plan to cause utter chaos, and in fact, one of his ploys, to get captured on purpose, comes right out of the Joker’s playbook.  But Silva’s nowhere near as interesting as the Joker, and I have to say, SKYFALL, as good as it is, is no DARK KNIGHT.

The cast is solid, and on paper, it’s an excellent cast.  Daniel Craig is a natural as James Bond, and I liked him immediately in the role in CASINO ROYALE (2006).  That being said, he seems to have aged here, which is part of the plot, I guess.   CASINO ROYALE opens with him making his first professional kills, hence beginning his 00 status, meaning he now has a license to kill.  Here, in SKYFALL, he’s close to retirement, and his abilities constantly come into question.  Again, there were shadows of THE DARK KNIGHT series here, which went on to feature an older, beat up Batman.  With that in mind, I found Craig’s performance less satisfying here.  It seemed to be lacking that efficient edge he held the first two times around, when he came off like a killing machine.  Here, he’s like a killing machine in need of an oil change.  He seems to be missing a step.

NC: Agreed. And while I’m a big fan of M as played by Judi Dench (who, by the way, is absolutely fantastic here), Bond seems to be a bit too close to her this time, following her around like a lost puppy. Of course, her life is in danger and Bond gives his all to protect her (especially during the way too long finale), but that little bit of rebellion 007 always had going on is lost in the shuffle here. He comes off as just another agent within MI6’s arsenal, but if the ending is any indication, things look like he may be getting back to business in the next film.

MA: Yes, once again, Judi Dench is great as M, and she seems to have more screen time in each successive Bond movie.  She first played M back in GOLDENEYE (1995), Pierce Brosnan’s first foray into the series.  Her M is certainly more integral to the plots of these movies than the original M, Bernard Lee, who simply showed up to give Sean Connery and Roger Moore their assignments.  That being said, if you go back to those original Connery Bonds, you’ll see some very memorable scenes between Connery’s Bond and Lee’s M where M was continually frustrated with how much Bond seemed to know about every subject on the planet.  It was a running gag in that series.

NC: And part of my problem with the Craig series is M doesn’t seem to see that in Bond. Perhaps they want us to understand that 007 is only human (hence the “realism” of the latest films)? Either way it’s little nuances like this that seem to be making Bond less of a super spy and more of a typical agent. Some are enjoying it. I’m still on the fence and hoping we’ll again see the fine balance that was displayed in CASINO ROYALE (2006).

Bond gets his Aston Martin back in SKYFALL.

MA: Javier Bardem as Silva makes for a very colorful villain, but he’s nowhere near as memorable as he was in his Oscar winning performance as the hit man in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007).  And while I liked Silva as a villain, he seems a little out of place here.  Again, these Daniel Craig Bond films are a gritty, realistic lot, and the villains in the first two movies were also dark and realistic.  Silva is two steps shy of the Joker, missing only some facial make-up.  Not exactly the most realistic fellow for Bond to lock horns with.

NC: Silva’s mission to destroy MI6 and M herself is surely a different thing for Bond to deal with. But when Bond villains aim their sights low, the films lose their epic feel. Look at 1989’s LICENSE TO KILL, where Bond (played for the second and last time by Timothy Dalton) goes after drug kingpin Sanchez (Robert Davi) after he kills two of his personal friends. While the film wasn’t as bad as many claim, Davi wasn’t after anything other than making money with a new way to transport cocaine, hence making him one of the more forgettable Bond villains. I feel Silva’s personal mission to wipe out MI6 (in years to come) won’t be as memorable as many are giving it credit for. As goofy as Hugo Drax (from 1979’s MOONRAKER) appeared, his hell-bent goal to attack the world’s cities with chemical bombs from space isn’t something one easily forgets. Silva has a creepy laugh (and a nifty, hidden facial disfiguration), but he left me quite underwhelmed.

MA (cringing):  Not Hugo Drax!  But you’re right, at least he had an ambitious goal, worthy of a supervillain.

NC: Muhahahahahahahaha!

MA: Naomie Harris is okay as the latest Bond girl Eve, and I really enjoyed Ben Whishaw (most recently in CLOUD ATLAS) as a new young Q.  Rory Kinnear also reprises his role as Tanner, M’s assistant from the last movie, and does a nice job.  Kinnear is the son of late actor Roy Kinnear, who appeared in so many British movies over the years before his untimely death on the set of THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS (1989) in 1988.

Ralph Fiennes is also on hand as Gareth Mallory, the man who’s put in the position of telling M her days on job are numbered and she should retire, and he makes the most of his scenes.  Rounding out the cast is veteran Albert Finney who does a nice job as Alfred—er, Kincade.

NC: I enjoyed Bérénice Lim Marlohe as Severine, who gives the film that classic touch of Bond-girl mystique and sophistication. She’s a real treat for the eyes, although her screen time here is a bit limited.  I thought Ben Whishaw was good as the new Q, too, but I’m hoping future films will contain more classic “gadget” segments. Q tells Bond (after handing him a gun and a small radio), “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t do that anymore.” I hope the kid was just joking.

(Q appears and approaches them.)

Q:  I never joke about my work.

NC:  Bring back the cool gadgets!

Q:  You’ll have to talk to the screenwriters about that one.  (Exits).

NC:  As a tease, when Bond manages to get M away from danger, he takes her to a hidden MI6 garage and pulls out in the classic Aston Martin DB5, first seen in GOLDFINGER (1964), which caused 007 geeks like myself to squeal aloud in super-nerd glee.

MA: SKYFALL was directed by Sam Mendes.  This one looks great with some very impressive foreign locales, but I thought it was short on action.  I liked the film’s opening pre-credit chase scene, which culminates on the top of the moving train, as I thought it was amazing and intense, but other than this, the actions scenes were few and far between.

NC: Most Bond films are sprinkled with sections of non-action, but usually they’re interesting. After SKYFALL’s spectacular opening train fight, the film goes to sleep for far too long, and the ending shoot-out (that reminded me of a typical Western, only with better firepower) became way too tedious.

MA: I did like the chase in the subway, and the attack on M in London was very suspenseful, but like you, I thought the finale, the armed assault on Bond’s family home, was anticlimactic.

The screenplay was written by Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.  This is the fifth Bond film they’ve written, the first being the Pierce Brosnan film THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999).  They’ve written every one since.  The third writer in the credits is John Logan, who has written a wide variety of movies, including HUGO (2011).

I was hot and cold on the script.  The story itself—a crazed former agent out to kill M— I thought was just OK.  At times it works, but more often than not it wasn’t all that exciting.  I wanted more of a threat to the world, not just M.

NC: Exactly.

MA: One scene I did like was M’s speech, where she talks about the changing threats the world faces today, how today’s threats aren’t on a map.  They’re in the shadows, and you don’t always know who your enemies are.  Too bad in this one they knew exactly who their enemy was.

NC: M’s speech reminded me a bit of President Bush’s speech shortly after 9/11, which I guess the screenwriters figured would give the series modern relevance.

MA: Thomas Newman’s music score was very effective.  I thought I would miss the music of David Arnold, who’s been doing a phenomenal job scoring these films since TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997), but I didn’t.

NC: It was great to hear the classic Bond theme when the Aston Martin came into play, though. And while I’m not a fan of the title song, I have to admit Adele nails that classic 60s-style Bond feel with her opening track.

MA:  Yes, that opening track, which I also heard from folks as the best James Bond theme song ever!  What is up with all this “best of” stuff?  I think fans were really in need of their James Bond fix this time around!  For the record, I wasn’t that impressed with the song.

There were also some good uses of humor, such as one scene involving Bond, M, and the ejector seat.

In general, I like how the Daniel Craig films are more modern, fit in better with current times, and are nowhere near as unbelievable as the Pierce Brosnan films ultimately became.

NC: Hey! The Brosnan films did get a bit silly, but man was GOLDENEYE (1995) great!

MA: But somehow, SKYFALL has less of an edge than the previous two Daniel Craig Bond movies. The plot’s not as good or as tight, and the majority of the scenes simply aren’t as intense.  I definitely wanted the villain Silva to do more.  I mean, all this planning—years of planning, they say in the movie— just to get back at M?  Why not just shoot her and be done with it?  If you’re going to concoct this elaborate scheme, why not come up with something more ambitious?

NC: And this is exactly what Mike Myers made fun of in his AUSTIN POWERS films: if you’re going to make the series more “modern,” knock it off with the bad guys’ intricate planning and just get down to business.

(AUSTIN POWERS zips by in a motor boat.)

AUSTIN POWERS:  Oh, be-have, baby!  Be-have!

MA: And this ultimately is what SKYFALL is missing:  something grand and ambitious.  Silva should have been planning the ultimate terrorist attack, and it should have been up to 007 to thwart him.

NC: Silva reminded me a bit of Jonathan Price’s far more threatening cyber terrorist Elliot Carver, from 1997’s TOMORROW NEVER DIES, only working on a much smaller scale.

MA: I liked SKYFALL, but it’s not the best Bond ever, not by a long shot.  I give it three knives.

NC: SKYFALL has its moments, but overall I was disappointed. The scenery (especially during a silhouetted fight on the top floor of a Shanghai tower) is often excellent, and much of the cinematography is very well done (such as the aforementioned train-attack scene). Regardless, I found this to be the slowest moving Bond caper since 1985’s A VIEW TO A KILL and far from the best film in the series. CASINO ROYALE (2006) is still easily Craig’s best turn as 007.

I give it two knives.

MA:  Well, I guess you were more disappointed with it than I was.  In spite of its shortcomings, I still enjoyed seeing Daniel Craig as James Bond on the big screen.  It’s just that after all the hype, I expected it to be even better.

Well, that about wraps things up here.  Want a ride back to town?

NC:  Sure.

(MA & NC approach a parked Aston Martin.  MA tosses NC the keys.)

MA:  Why don’t you drive?

NC:  Cool.

(They drive away in the Aston Martin as James Bond theme plays.)

NC:  Hey, what’s this button?

MA:  That’s the— (screams)  Ejector seat!!!  (flies into the sky.)

NC:  Sorry.

(MA lands back in the water.)

NC:  There’s something symmetrical about all this.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and Nick Cato

Michael Arruda gives SKYFALL ~ three knives!

Nick Cato gives SKYFALL ~two knives.

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 Distracted Critic Visits THE POKER CLUB (2008)

Posted in 2012, Crime Films, Indie Horror, Murder!, Paul McMahon Columns, Secrets, Suspense, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , on June 27, 2012 by knifefighter

THE POKER CLUB (2008)
Movie Review by Paul McMahon—The Distracted Critic

A long time ago, I read Ed Gorman’s short story “Out There in the Darkness.” It’s a quick and gritty tale which hints at a lot more suspense and violence than is actually there. In 2000, Mr. Gorman released a novel-length version of the story, titled THE POKER CLUB. He changed little about the characters and situations and fulfilled all the promise of suspense and violence that the novella laid out. In fact, he stretched the tension in the book tight as a drumhead. The characters do a lot more, and thereby screw up a lot more as well. It’s a difficult trick to expand an older story without making it feel padded, but the novel is excellent and a testament to a great writer.

Why, then, does Tim McCann’s film of THE POKER CLUB (2008), fail to get off the ground? McCann previously directed DESOLATION ANGELS (1995) and NOWHERE MAN (2005), two films that look pretty serious. He treats things here seriously, as well. Maybe too seriously.

Ed Gorman’s novel opens with four friends playing poker, drinking, and passing around skin mags like exuberant ten-year-olds. Neal is late because he’s on neighborhood patrol. Seems their tight little community suffers a lot of break-ins. The friends gamble for a while, and are interrupted when a burglar breaks in. Aaron, who owns the house, cares for Curtis, who’s been attacked, while Neal and Bill catch the burglar and tie him up. Their adrenaline’s pumping, they’re feeling powerful, a little drunk, and are eager to interrogate their prisoner. When the burglar tries to escape, they accidentally kill him. The friends’ power-trip turns to panic. Frightened of losing everything they’ve achieved in their lives, they make the disastrous decision to dispose of the body in a local river. Once that dirty job is done, they go their separate ways, thinking their trouble is over.

Problem is, the burglar had a partner waiting outside. He saw what they did, he knows who they are, and he’s plotting his revenge.

In the novel, the poker club is made up of four basically good guys. They feel guilty over what they’ve done, but are so racked with the fear of losing everything they’ve worked to attain that they repeatedly talk themselves out of calling the cops. Instead, they try to hunt down the mystery burglar themselves, determined to take back their lives on their own. It doesn’t take long before people start turning up dead.

I understand that filmmakers want to change things up when adapting a book into a movie. It gives people who have read the book something different than they expect, with the hope that the surprise will make them like the movie more. In reality, this psychology almost never works. The changes that were made for THE POKER CLUB, for instance, don’t work at all.

Gone is the “Neighborhood Patrol” and the back story of burglaries. These aren’t guys intent on protecting their family and property; these are just overgrown adolescents being asses because it’s what they do. Not a single character on the screen is likeable. Even Aaron, the book’s moral compass, who always tried to coax his buddies into doing the right thing, is revealed to be cheating on his wife. Neal has a cocaine addiction, which he maintains on the salary of a college professor. Bill has gone from being a doctor who deals with terminally ill patients—thus grounding his bullying nature in an interesting context—to being a strip club owner who bullies, it seems, because he enjoys it and because nobody has ever been tough enough to stop him.

Very little is done with the mysterious burglar. Aaron gets phone calls in the middle of the night where the caller doesn’t say anything. In the novel, these events heighten the tension and build suspense because the threat is revealed through Aaron’s inner dialogue. Movies don’t have that tool, so we end up sitting through a lot of barely interesting one-sided conversations.

There are a couple of intense scenes in the book where the friends gather around Aaron’s kitchen table to discuss their situation and what they should do about it. These scenes are poignant and gripping—four guys clinging to their friendship while struggling to squeak through the ugliest, most destructive situation they’ve ever faced. In the movie, these discussions are held in Bill’s strip club and can barely be heard over the pounding music while the camera focuses on pole-dancing nudes. Without subtitles, you’ll have no idea what’s being discussed. These are four guys discussing a problem that could ruin their lives and land them in prison, yet director McCann seems to think we won’t pay attention unless there are topless dancers to watch. Does that speak to McCann’s lack of confidence in his material or his lack of confidence in the American moviegoer.

Ed Gorman’s novel, which THE POKER CLUB is based on.

Michael Risley (SHATTERED, 2007), who plays Neal, and Loren Dean (ENEMY OF THE STATE, 1998), who plays Curtis, look alike and act with identical blandness, making their characters hard to tell apart. Johnny Messner (ANACONDA: THE HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID, 2004), who plays Bill, is a little more memorable, if only because his character is such a blatant ass, he’s hard to forget. Jonathon Schaech (QUARANTINE, 2008), who plays Aaron and co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Chizmar, never emotes during the film. It’s as if he’s still rehearsing and no one’s told him they’re shooting for real.  So, not only are the characters unlikable, the actors portraying them do little to make them even seem alive.

It probably goes without saying that they’ve changed the ending of the story, as well. It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone to learn they changed it to a ridiculous degree. McCann tries to surprise the viewer by veering off in a different direction, but his big surprise negates every single hint and foreshadow he’s put in place since the dead burglar’s tarp-shrouded body hit the water. He turns the movie into a shell game where no matter which cup you think the peanut is under, you lose. McCann has tossed it beneath the sofa.

Nothing that worked in the book has made it to the screen. It’s my opinion that the movie version of THE POKER CLUB should be avoided and forgotten. If you come across Ed Gorman’s novel, though, definitely give it a read. There’s a reason the man’s won the Spur Award, the Ellery Queen Award, the Shamus Award and so many others.

I give THE POKER CLUB a single star because the cinematography and sets were pretty good, and am giving it five timeouts. Technically, it was a lot more, but by the time the film wrapped, I was grasping at any excuse whatever to shut the thing off and walk away.

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© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon