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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick 'r Treat (2008) Horror

Trick 'r Treat (2008) - This really terrific little movie was the high point of my Halloween. Wonderfully interwoven tales all take place on Halloween night on a quiet street. Veteran actor Dylan Baker is a school principal who likes to take and kill children while showing his little boy how it is done. Leslie Bibb is a party pooper who blows her Jack-o-lantern out too soon and pays the price. Brian Cox is Mr. Kreeg, former school bus driver who after escaping a demonic Halloween creature finds that the past can not be avoided forever. Five preteens get more than they expect when pulling a prank near the old quarry. Finally scooping guys for a party on Halloween night is just the start for four hot young women. This movie does a great job at weaving the stories together seamlessly. with character from the different pieces interacting and crossing paths. Great look and feel with very creepy music when appropriate. Acting was exceptional and the stories interesting.
Rating (7.7)

Drag Me to Hell (2009) Horror

Drag Me to Hell (2009) - I missed this one in the theaters and after hearing many good things about it decided it was a must on DVD. I was not disappointed. Sam Raimi famed director of "The Quick and the Dead" and "For The Love of the Game" takes a stab at horror. Well okay, besides directing the "Spiderman" movies he did do a couple small horror films, "The Evil Dead" and "Army of Darkness" but we all know Bruce Campbell carried him in those. Anyway this one is a somewhat predictable story with some great and gross scenes of bodily fluid exchanges. Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a bank officer who is plugging away trying to get a promotion. When an old gypsy comes for a loan extension she denies it to impress her boss. Unfortunately for her the gypsy curses her coat button, so that the coat will never match anything she wears. No wait, she will be tormented by a demon who will then come and drag her to hell. Christine over the few days of the story is indeed tormented and works hard with a psychic to try to figure a way out of the curse. After much torment and fluid grossness she finds she can give the button back to the now dead gypsy, so she proceeds to dig the women up. Only problem with this solution was as soon as the papers fell in the car, I knew the ending, shit! I hate when that happens, it may be that I see way too many of these movies but I knew exactly what was going to happen from that point. I really enjoyed the film, the creepy old gypsy (Lorna Raver) was great and the main character has a well defined story arc. The gore and gag factor was wonderfully high. The music is pitch perfect and visually it is a beautifully filmed movie. So the rating...
Rating (7.9)

Drive-In Horror Show (2009) Horror

Drive-In Horror Show (2009) - The first of my full slate of Halloween viewings, this local horror film was a collection of stories tied together with the antics of a ghoulish host. It is the post Apocalypse and the dead still go to the drive in; of course they are going to see horror stories. Written by Greg Ansin and Michael Neel and directed by Neel this was a fairly well put together feature. Five tales connected with the Drive-in skits. I really appreciate someone getting a movie made, there is so much effort needed that it is always a marvel that small independent film gets made. I may get these stories out of order but hopefully I won't forget any. The first "Pig" we have the aftermath of a college party and a young man wakes in a bathtub, clued to the tub. A college prank? No it appears he drugged a young woman and raped her and now she is going to get her revenge. He pleads and pleads for release, offering money and apologizing, but some crimes can not be forgiven as he soon finds out. This was one of the weaker stories and there was little tension, the editing too obviously showed the water level inconsistently. The gore effect as he ripped his feet off the tub was great.
The weakest of the stories though was the last, 'The Watcher" where for young adults go camping and shooting in the mountains only to be hunted and eaten by a cannibal. It had Jenna Morasca from winner of Survivor:Amazon and Ethan Zohn also from Survivor in one of the roles as Cherry. Unfortunately everything they did was stupid and there was really nothing to the story. Note if you are walking through the woods with bright lights on at night the last thing you have to worry about is being quiet.
"Fall Apart" was a cerebral story of a doctor who contracts a disease that rots his body. This one had some wonderful visuals although the story itself was just okay in my opinion. I would think a doctor would know to immediately head to the hospital instead of self treating.
My two favorite both had to do with kids. The first "The Closet" was a story about a boy in a horrible family who loved his sister but did not seem to care for him. A monster in his closet solves the lack of love issues by eating each family member in turn. The great turn, although not realistic of the kid then realizing he can not live with the hassles of life was cute in its way.
My favorite was "The Meat Man" a smartly written piece where a couple of kids think their father is the "Meat Man" killer. The writing in this one is wonderful as characters each take the same facts but craft very different stories.
The connecting Drive In theme was cute but I am not sure it really added anything to the film. It was a bit goofy a real throwback to the Creepshow movies. Each movie finished with a downer though, there was not a positive outcome in the bunch. I take it that it was intentional and certainly the best horror is unpredictable, but I think this was a bit predictable and I wished for a surprise ending in at least one of the pieces.
Over all the production values were low budget but hey this was a local film so you can't take too much away from it for that. Three of the stories were good to fair. We had a great atmosphere at the theater, STUDIO CINEMA 76 Trapelo Rd Belmont MA. The film makers and some of the actors were in the house, we had a costume contest and it was good fun even though it was freaking cold in the theater.
Rating (5.0)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story (2009) Documentary

Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)- Michael Moore is a fine filmmaker, he knows how to draw a story and make a point. He is far from the "Cinema Verite" style documentary film makers ascribe to and instead is forceful with elaborate antics to get his points across. He is not a traditionalist when it comes to form, Moore does document what he sees going on and does this pointedly in Capitalism :A Love Story. Starting with a comparison to the pre-collapse Roman empire with the current United States, he points out the excesses of then to the conditions of now in a humorous cross cutting ploy that starts his film off in chosen direction. Seeing the United States as country drunk on power and collapsing from the inside with corruption.
Moore tries to tap into the popularist anger that comes with the collapse of our economy and focuses on some of the more underhanded as well as over the top schemes companies in this country are pulling. He show the connecting lines between the top politicians who write financial regulations to the very banks they are supposed to be regulating. He looks at how the people put in charge of running our economy are the very same who caused the meltdown we are still suffering through (Robert Rubin, Henry Paulsen, Lawrence Summers, Timothy Geithner). These Goldman Sach's former leaders are now administering the economy and Goldman's is benefiting more than most.
Although Moore doesn't make the connection we can see how Niomi Kline's theory of Shock Doctrine may be at work. Looking particularly bad is Senator Chris Dodd democrat of CT, after receiving sweet deals $1,175,133 on loans from the very banks, Countrywide he helped.
The movie looks at companies in our free market economy have so corrupted the system that it can no longer be trusted. Like the companies that without letting their employees know take out life insurance policies on them. They call the policies "Dead Peasants" policies. Unfortunately the company is the beneficiary not the family of the employee. Moore names companies and shows the opinions of surviving family members when they learn the companies profited from the death of their loved ones. Walmart in particular looks bad in this section with many of the deceased employees families not being able to afford burial while Walmart collects secret insurance money.
Another example of how privatizing harms us at a Pennsylvania detention center that paid off judges to send kids to it. The judges took hundreds of thousands of dollars and sent kids to detention for minor offenses.
At his best Moore paints the plight of the average man caught up in a system he has no control over. There are interviews with regular folk to show just this. He explores how after we save industry from itself with tax dollars how cold and heartless it can be to regular Americans. Moore does rely on antics that take away some of the seriousness of his subject. He tries to do citizen arrest on Wall St. He tapes off the area with crime scene tape. He does a bit with Jesus(from movie clips) disagreeing with capitalism. They are distraction he does not really need in this film.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Paranormal Activity (2009) - Marketing strategy

Paranormal Activity (2009) - No this is not a review. This is one of the smartest marketing campaigns I have seen in recent years. The movie must be decent of this would have died out very quickly. Paramount Pictures goes with a limited release but says if you vote for it, it can come to your area. The buzz has built and the movie grossed half a million in midnight showings in a very limited release. Now it will expand to 40 cities and the campaign is a success BUT I have to say I am getting annoyed with the "Is it in your city?, No! then Vote." approach. It feels manipulative. If your movie is so good then just release it and be done. Let it stand on its merits. I don't want to hear that crap about you can't afford it. It has enough buzz that Paramount Pictures could release it nation wide. Why don't they? Because they are playing us to create a buzz for their movie, to maximize what it can gross. They are trying out a new model where they try to slow burn a movie into a success. Currently you get a few weekends and then movies stop grossing much. Hell most horror movies only get a few weeks in theaters and then they are gone. Here they are trying a different approach. This though, is the thing, backlash can be an ugly thing. People don't mind the underground word of mouth but when they find out it is the studio spreading the word they will turn on the film. I am already in the camp that I don't want to campaign to see a movie. I am paying to see movies, Am I going to work to get to my area and then get to see it free? No! Paramount gets us to do the selling and then charges us to see the movie, what is with that? So if Paramount is as smart as they seem they will quickly end this campaign.

Zombieland (2009) - Comedy / (Horredy)

Zombieland (2009) - A fun romp through a post apocalyptic world of Zombies. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has his rule for surviving in the US of Zombieland and we are treated to a crash course early in the film. He is making his way back to Columbus when he accepts a ride from Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) who is surviving and in search of Twinkies. The two men are scammed a couple times by Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) who are heading to an amusement park they have fond memories of. The four travel together and survival adventures and bonding ensue . There is a hilarious cameo by Bill Murray being himself. When the girls split off to do the amusement park the lights and noise attract all the local undead and the girls are in real trouble. Columbus and Tallahassee come to save then in the action filled finally.
This was fun. A story about people coming together and being a family when all around them has gone to hell. When survival dictates that being alone is better, but being human means joining and connecting what do you do? This movie is about that struggle. The light approach to the film making worked to set the tone as light and comedic but with that feel good story underneath. Splattering the camera with blood, having the rules appear on the screen and the voice over all work in the playful approach this film takes. Harrelson must have had the Tallahassee role written for him. He was perfect for it. Emma Stone was competent as survivalist and just sexy enough to pull off her role. Eisenburg was good as the guy with the rules of survival the goofy guy to Harrelson's quirky straight man.

I looked around the theater and saw the laughter at the right times and the smiles the rest of the time. I really think this movie pulled off what it was trying to do.

Rating (8.1)

Grace (20009) - horror

Grace (2009) - New Age mom to be Madeline (Jordan Ladd) loses her baby in utero after an accident that kills her husband. She decides to finish the pregnancy instead of having a medical intervention. The still born is delivered by her former lover and now doctor and midwife Patricia (Samantha Ferris). It is a surprise when the baby comes back to life and seems to be perfectly healthy. Madeline retreats to her home protective of her child. Mother in law Vivian (Gabrielle Rose) struggles with the loss of her son and plots to get the child away from what she sees in a hippie daughter in law. It is the last part of her son in this world and she will have it. When madekine realizes that her baby did not come back to life without issue things get a bit difficult. She must deal with the strange aroma of the child and how it is attracting flies, but that is the least of her problems. Instead of breast milk the baby craves blood and Mom is hard pressed to provide enough of her own. What is a mother to do?
The selling of the new age women to old school mother in-law is a bit over the top, but is sets up the Vivian character well. My wife wondered aloud why a new mother would not take a child to the doctor? Besides the set up of being over protective there was little explanation of this. New agers may believe in alternative medicine but they are far from being anti doctor. Jordan Ladd was not the most convincing of characters and paled in the scenes with Gabrielle Rose who was very good in the grieving mother role. Still when we got to the part where the stress of supplying food for the child grew, Ladd seemed more believable. Samantha Ferris was good, she sold the former relationship and her inability to move on from it. The movie was a bit slow in the middle and the ending was a bit to campy for the earlier dark tone of the film.
Rating (5.3)