The Seven Year Ick

Usually it's the traffic or the smog or the hipsters that'll get you in Los Angeles. Nope. The Things That Go Bump in the Dark, they're what'll get you.

"Absentia" (2011)
written and directed by Mike Flanagan
starring Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine, Justin Morgan, and Morgan Peter Brown

How Is It?
Low-key, atmospheric, moody, and well-made. It doesn't rush to get you anywhere, and though it can feel like it's moving a little slow here and there, it really isn't. The story is about pregnant Tricia (played by Courtney Bell) whose husband has been missing for seven years. Her prodigal sister Callie (played by Katie Parker) moves in with her for support, as the county is finally ready to declare Daniel, the missing husband, deceased. It should come as no surprise that things go awry. Rather than spectacle the film focuses on the characters, no cats jumping out of cupboards or other cheap scares. "Absentia" is a slow burn, an eerily slow but steady burn.

The Players
The acting is pretty solid all the way around. Parker and Bell have good chemistry playing the sisters, as do Levine and Gordon as the police detectives. Brown as husband Daniel, while not on-screen as much, gets to play the widest range and to great effect. There's not a lot to say on this end, really. Very human, engaging performances from all quarters.

Behind the Camera
Mike Flanagan wrote and directed. It's a tight, clean script, nuanced and interesting, as is the direction. The cinematography and editing are sharp and keep you interested, focused, and engaged throughout. No frills, though. Flanagan kept the look and feel simple and did so to great effect. The visuals complement the story and the acting, a very adept movie package. The movie has a personal, intimate feel, coupled with an uneasiness, an uncertainty and sense of things being somehow off-kilter the whole while. Economically and effectively eerie and subtly unsettling, and that's good horror.

The Verdict
It's a solid flick top to bottom and side to side. If you're in the market for gore and screaming and action and slashing, this one is not for you. "Absentia" is a smart movie, a very good movie indeed. Not only do I recommend it, I'm buying a copy for my personal collection.


You didn't see that coming, did you?

"Oculus" and "The Quiet Ones" don't deliver quiet what's expected. That works in one but alas, doesn't in another.

"Oculus" (2014)
You've seen this movie before... ish. It's the time-tested spooky story of kids with a terrible past going back to the scene of the crime to get to the truth and get even. Just this time the baddie is... well, it's a mirror. Karen Gillan stars in what looks like it should be a bog standard haunted house movie with cliches galore, and it is... and isn't. Yes, there are some key point in the film that avid horror movie fans see coming miles away, but it still works. "Oculus" is a pretty tight, well made, well performed, fairly well paced ghost story with a healthy dose of psychological horror in the mix. I was skeptical going into it and actually a bit surprised and pleased as the credits rolled. The movie doesn't reinvent anything in the genre. What's refreshing is it doesn't try to be something it isn't, and it tells its story very well. Hats off to all involved in the making of it. I quite liked it. It's well worth watching.

"The Quiet Ones" (2014)
I am still rather stuck on exactly how to put how this film doesn't work, except to say that it seems in it efforts to lead viewers to wonder "What really happened?" it simply made itself rather muddy. All the hallmarks of paranormal investigation movies are there, all the stock characters, scares, character arcs, and twists. It was distinctly Hammer, yes. It was just rather flat, unfortunately. I expected more.  Streamable, maybe rentable for the special features for hardcore Hammer/horror buffs.


Battlefield Moon

The guy that directed Battlefield Earth directed this. I'm sure for some that's review enough of any movie.

"Stranded" (2013)
directed by Roger Christian
written by Roger Christian and Christian Piers Bentley
starring Christian Slater, Amy Matysio, Michael Therriault, and Brendan Fehr

How Is It?
It's almost as if they kidnapped a Roger Corman sci fi movie from the early '80s but made it worse. No, really. It's derivative in every possible way, but what sets it apart from most of those films it attempted to parrot, it has no soul of its own. It's a hollow, drab, gray, uninteresting movie. (It's still not as bad as this one, though.)

The Players
This is the depressing part: The ensemble of four good actors got stuck with a bad script and a director with a very checkered track record. Nobody was written a character to play. The movie is about four cardboard cutouts stuck in a crippled mining base on the moon. Slater plays the typical base commander. Therriault plays the typical engineer with a drinking problem. Therriault plays the typical level-headed, logical medical officer. Matysio gets the most to draw from out of the gang. She gets to play both the brave, capable first officer as well as the damsel in distress. It's just that the writing is so bad, so flat that all of their characters have only as much dimension as the descriptions of them you just read.

Behind The Camera
Roger Christian is am industry recognized, award-winning set decorator and production designer. He directed the cult horror classic "The Sender" (1982) as well as the universally decried and derided "Battlefield Earth" (2000). So the sets in this movie looks good, as does the lighting. The moonbase exteriors and other miniatures work are quite good. For the just over $2 million the film was made for, it looks pretty good. Looks. The look of the movie is where all the money wound up. Not enough of it made it into script rewrites, which is as much of a shame as it is becoming more common in movies. The look of a movie is its frame, and the script is the picture, the colors, textures, brushstrokes, and theme. "Stranded" is a frame without anything inside.

The Verdict
It would have been a different movie, could have been a different movie, a good movie, if only the script wasn't so derivative, joyless, and boring and there was anything there to watch. Avoid.


Sometimes it's just best to quit while you're behind.

Rutger Hauer in a 3D re-imagining of "Dracula" with a decent dose of T&A could work but for one thing: Dario Argento.
"Argento's Dracula 3-D" (2012)
directed by Dario Argento
written by Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo, Franco Paolucci, and Antonio Tentori
starring Thomas Kretschmann, Marta Gastini, Asia Argento, Unax Ugalde, Miriam Giovanelli, and Rutger Hauer

How Is It?
It's about as sophomorically substandard as you have come to expect from Dario Argento, alas. Plodding, dull, cheap-looking, and frequently painful to watch. This is one of the worst films I have ever seen.

The Players
It is so hard for me to write this, but it was disappointing all around. Kretschmann as Dracula came across bored, as if he was simply going through the motions. Asia Argento was dutifully in her dad's movie. Gastini and Ugalde were wooden, and Hauer... oh dear. They were all there, but none of them looked present. The rest of the cast, on the other hand, chewed the scenery like it was going out of style. So in many ways, this was a typical Argento joint. Alas.

Behind The Camera
It was almost like watching a SyFy Original Motion Picture, just less fun and far less entertaining. A woeful script written by committee, nearly comically mediocre digital effects, low-end practical effects, sets and lighting that looked as if they barely tried at all, and a lack of apparent cohesive vision to the project are what hurt this film. In short, this movie died while it was being made. There was nothing new in it, and there wasn't even anything out of Argento's really old and dated bag of tricks that was done well. Overall, it was a lesson in incompetence.

The Verdict
Remember Argento's heyday thirty years ago. That's all there is to do at this point. Avoid this film at all costs.


Three to start again...

"Frankenstein's Army" (2013)
World War 2 rages on, with the Communists storming through Eastern Germany, and while answering an advance unit's request reinforcement one Soviet unit finds far more than they ever bargained for, a secret Nazi lab in full swing making new kinds of super soldiers. The film's well made and fairly entertaining but does sag a bit in the middle, taking some too long playing one note before gearing up again for the run to the end. All in all, it really is a cut above average, even if just. Rentable.

"The Moleman of Belmont Avenue" (2010)
Two rather bumbling brothers have run their inherited brownstone apartment building into the ground, and adding to their woes, something's trying to eat every living thing in the place, starting with the tenants' pets. It lives in the basement, and it's up to the boys to stop the menace. It's not exactly a grabbing premise, and unfortunately the film keeps in line such. It's not a bad film. It's certainly not a good one, though Robert Englund stands out as Confab, a mildly creepy and at the same time cool older ladies man. The problem with the film is that only Englund seems to fire on all cylinders. Besides his performance and a few moments here and there, the film's really not that fun. Not recommended.

"Manborg" (2011)
I will only say that the poster says it all and that this film was made for $1,000 (Canadian). Beyond that, it's the best film on today's list and better than several I have reviewed on this blog. Watching it, it's the 1980s all over again. It's a marvelous pastiche. The nearly nonexistent budget is obvious in every frame, as is the ludicrous amount of fun, work, and love that went into it. "Manborg" is nothing but laugh-out-loud fun all the way through. It's definitely worth renting and/or buying.


Two night clerks alone in a soon-to-close old haunted inn. What could go wrong?

The Yankee Pedlar Inn is about to close after over a hundred years of business. Two clerks have desk duty for the last weekend. One of them is a mildly creepy but somehow almost lovably well-meaning guy who seems to be love with... his laptop, and the other is a rather cute, slightly clumsy, asthmatic young woman with a keen imagination and a desperate desire to... find the resident ghost. Oh, and Kelly McGillis is there, too. Between the tape recorder, the crystal, and the dark, locked basement what could possibly go wrong?

"The Innkeepers" (2011)
written and directed by Ti West.
starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, and Kelly MicGillis

How Is It?
It's old school horror and suspense, and it's done well. It's done really, really well.

The Players
All of the players in this film deliver spot-on performances, nothing over the top. Sara Paxton's Claire comes across pleasantly awkward, both socially and physically, and believably innocent, honest, and both serious and fun-loving. Pat Healy's Luke is quite believable also, never remotely unpleasant but with an understated and not well-hidden burden of loneliness. Kelly McGillis' Leanne rounds out the main character cast as the '80s tv celebrity turned mystical healer who is visiting the inn while touring on the convention circuit. The three work solidly together, as well as alone. Solid work all around in front of the camera.

Behind the Camera
Ti West can make a good movie. It was filmed on location in a real inn, and it was just the right place. West uses the interior geography of the place marvelously. It's homey and charming and quaint and all, and it's also a bit eerie, then pretty spooky, and then it's just plain sinister. And the real kicker is that it's never overdone, visually or audially. West keep the emphasis on atmosphere, ratcheting things up bit by both, punctuated with just the right amount of levity, and it winds up with the film really being, in my opinion, a course in how to make a haunted house movie. "Hometown Gothic" is how I would classify the film. For me it's reminiscent in feel to Robert Wise's 1963 classic, and quite possibly the finest haunted house movie ever made, "The Haunting", and that is high praise indeed.

The photography and lighting are good. The script is tight. The direction is top-notch.

The Verdict
I bought a copy the day after I watched it. It's a solid, dependable, excellent made film. It's a slow burn of a scare, and it's an excellent movie. "The Innkeepers" delivers. Highly recommended.


The Thursday List: Foreign Film Edition

"Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968)
Not only is the film that almost single-handedly breathed life back into westerns, it is quite likely legendary Italian film director Sergio Leone's best film... and widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, western movie ever made. The combination of a strong story, interesting characters well portrayed, Leone's directing near-operatic style, and brilliant score by Ennio Morricone is marvelous and really fires on all thrusters. And Henry Fonda as Frank, in my opinion one of the best screen villains in all cinema, is amazing. This film isn't just a must-see for fans of westerns but also for film fans in general. This film is in my Top 100 and the Top 100 of many others as well. Highly recommended.

"The Devil's Backbone" (2001)
A horror film set in Spain in 1939, the last year of the Spanish Civil war, "The Devil's Backbone" is simultaneously a compassionate, heartfelt story of humanity, innocence, comradery, human frailty, and sacrifice and a story of greed, viciousness, corruption, fearful villainy, war, and murder. And a ghost story. Guillermo del Toro's work here delivers both a remarkable elegance and a pronounced and relentless dread. This film is in my Top 30 and is held in very high regard by a wide swath of moviegoers as well. It's a horror film, and beautiful, that you would do yourself a real favor to watch. Highly recommended.

"The Third Man" (1949)
At the crossroads of post-WW2 Germany, while the Cold War escalates almost quietly, a pulp novelist arrives to visit a friend and finds far more than a bargained for. "The Third Man" is regarded by many to be the best British film of the 20th century, and I am not inclined to disagree. It was brilliantly written by Graham Greene, skillfully and creatively directed by Carol Reed, and Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton, as well as the rest of the cast, deliver near perfect pitch performances. And then there's the memorable score, only one instrument, a zither. Shot simply and much on location in still war-damaged Vienna, the striking cinematography strongly complements the performances and lends enormous atmosphere. This film is in my Top 10. It's a classic. Highly recommended.


Coming Soon: "Twenty-One Questions" (2012)

Here is the trailer for a short film I'm in that was shot last October. It's by the folks at Strawhouse Pictures and should be out to festivals in October. It's a science fiction comedy that's generally a conversation between a time traveler and a bureaucrat. I play the bureaucrat.

Should the uploaded video be of a quality not suitable, you can go check it out on Vimeo here.



Two Things: something cool and something dumb

The Cool Thing

In 2006 a cool movie got made. "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon". It was a documentary about an aspiring serial killer, and some time during the movie the documentary turns into a slasher film itself. It was funny, had a wonderful and talented cast, was well written and well directed, and was a lot of fun.

Now the same production team wants to make a sequel, and I think it's a good idea, and I've pledged $50 to their Kickstarter campaign. Their studio is apparently nervous about making more horror, and so the "Behind the Mask" gang want to raise $450,000 to make the picture. (The original was made for $262,000.)

Here's the link their Kickstarter page: 

"Before the Mask: The Return of Leslie Vernon"

The Dumb Thing
For whatever reason, Blogger will not allow me to comment on any of my posts. Nothing seems to fix it so far, not clearing or resetting my browser, not anything. I'm not ignoring anyone whose commenting, not that there are many of you. I simply can't respond in the comments. More on this as/if it develops.

Now go pledge a few dollars to "Before the Mask".
Pretty please.
It'll be cool.


The Thursday List: Gangster Edition (International)

Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
This movie isn't simply a good story well told. This is my favorite martial arts film ever. It's well paced, with plenty of action, lots of laughs, and just the right amount of drama and suspense, and the special effects are all in service of the story, not simply there to look cool. On top of that it looks like the cast and crew really enjoyed making it, which is a plus in my book. It's a genuinely fun, enjoyable film. Highly recommended.

Snatch (2000)
A comedy of errors and omissions between a bunch of villains, ranging from truly bad men and men who desperately want to be truly bad but really aren't. It's a roller coaster, rapidly paced and a bit of a jigsaw. And funny. People get threatened and beat up and killed, but... yeah, it's a gritty crime comedy, with a marvelous cast, including Jason Statham, Benicio del Toro, Dennis Farina, and Stephen Graham. Alan Ford delivers a truly stand-out performance as Brick Top, the main villain and undeniably the film's Most Very Bad Man. This is one of my Top 10 Crime/Caper Films. Highly recommended.

Jackie Brown (1997)
Some may consider it heretical, but I consider this Quentin Tarantino's best film to date, not that his others have been exactly poor by any stretch of the imagination... except for maybe "Death Proof". It's got the trademark Tarantino pacing and dialogue, but the characters are by and large the most relatable and interesting of his works. It helps of course that the cast is stellar, particularly Robert Forrester, Pam Grier, Robert DeNiro, and Samuel L. Jackson, and they're working from a near-perfect script. High marks all around. Highly recommended.