Geek For E!

TwitView: “A Cure For Wellness”

Promising start, horrible-in-a-bad-way finish.  In-between is a whole lot of horror padding, and a waste of gorgeous cinematography and production design.  If you must head out to see this derivative mess, watch the first 40 minutes, then head home and write the rest in your head.  I guarantee it’ll be better than what goes on onscreen.

TwitView: The Conjuring 2

CONJURING 2 posterSequel slump averted – this film has scares, chills and creepyness just like it’s predecessor.  The horror is upped a bit here, but it’s still got that claustrophobic chill director James Wan does so well.  Recommended for all horror fans.  Horror lightweight?  You may want to stay home…or wait ’til Netflix, when you can watch with the lights on. Grade: A

Movie Review: The Last Witch Hunter

The Last Witch HunterGorgeously detailed set design, a fascinating mythology of witches & the “Axe and Hammer” society tasked with keeping them from harming humans, and action sequences that are messy but cool as [Radio Edit] breathe life into The Last Witch Hunter.  Diesel does a great job doing the same basic character he’s done in F&F and Riddick, and his ennui-cum-world-weary demeanor works perfectly here.  Pity a 180 degree, out-of-nowhere switcheroo in one character’s arc whole being throws a wrench into the works at the climax.

Is the plot a huge mess that throws a cool new mythos at you in the hope that you’ll forgive the fact that this film is nothing more than “man kicks butt amongst all the CGI”?  Abso-witchin’-lutely.  Then again if you’re coming to see a movie about a witch hunter that does nothing but kick butt and you expect coherence?  Baby, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

The Last Witch Hunter feels like the start of a series, and if it does even so-so box office I’m betting that’s exactly what’ll happen.  Which is fine, because the trio of Disel’s Witch Hunter Kaulder, witch-with-a-heart-o-gold Chloe (Rose Leslie, Game of Thrones) and Kaulder’s Catholic Church babysitter-cum-biographer Dolan is a cool gang to watch.  Though I’m hoping Leslie will get to say “YOU KNOW NOTHING KAULDER” at some point in the inevitable sequel.  BTW, folks hoping for more of Leslie’s awesome Ygritte-styled throwdowns will be disappointed here; Leslie’s witch Chloe is a bartender, not a fighter.  Y’know, unless you really push her.  tl;dr: don’t expect bows and arrows here.

A blast of a horror/action film that’s perfect for Halloween, even if I did get incredibly peeved at the strange lack of character consistency at one point.  Here’s hoping that if they pull another “Gotcha!” moment with a sequel, that they actually leave some mystery to a character that will allow such a shift to be believable.  But this time, go for Diesel whoopin’ seriously evil witch tuchas.

Grade: B-

Movie Review: Crimson Peak

crimson peak onesheetCrimson Peak would probably have been a much more effective film if it hadn’t telegraphed it’s ghost reveals so early into the story. I’ll say that right now.  Most of the chills I expected to experience were watered down by my knowing exactly why the ghosts were there, and what they wanted.

But there’s some serious awesome here to take your mind off waiting for the climax.  The dripping, oozing gothic mansion is a dastardly delight.  Speaking of, Hiddleston, Chastain, Wasikowska and Hunnam all have solid careers in the gothic genre if their star-power careers ever bore them.  Bonus points for casting Supernatural’s Jim “Bobby” Beaver as “Mr. Cushing”.  That’s so cool on so many levels.

Peak is definitely overkill, from the hyper-stylized costumes to the hammy yet still engagingly creepy performances.  And riffs on The Shining, Jane Eyre, The Haunting and many other classics sometimes feel a bit too obvious.  Still, for all it’s bombastic excess, Crimson Peak manages to deliver a creepy good time, with director  Guillermo del Toro spinning a Hammer films-like Gothic with a 21st Century heart.  Good, bloody, chilling fun, and a perfect Halloween haunted house.  Grade: B

The Visit: M. Night swings and misses. Again.

the visit onesheet

TwitView: There are lots of amazing”people in a new situation” horror flicks.  This ain’t one of ’em. Grade: C

Drats.  Add another so-so film to the post-Sixth Sense pile.  Perhaps M. Night tried to make this film kid-friendly, as the leads are teens.  But in trying to craft a spookfest that’s palatable to kids, the scares in The Visit come of more hinky than horrible.  There’s something off here, and it’s not just Nana and Pop-Pop.

The story is pretty straightforward; teens Becca and Tyler head out for a week at their grandparent’s house, so they can give their mom some much-needed vacation time alone with her BF.  Mom left home at 19, and hadn’t spoken to her parents in 15 years, so this is the first time the kids have visited.  All seems well ’til mid-afternoon, when Pop-Pop seemed tuned out.  And then things really get strange when night falls… [Read more…]

Movie Review: The Gallows

the gallows

A great concept hung up (heh) by a hackneyed use of “found-footage” film. Can we all agree that this “new, exciting” style is long past its sell-by date? Grade: C

What: On October 29th, 1993, a high school put on a production of “The Gallows”.  But a set malfunction — yep, those gallows — causes the death of a cast member.  Cut to October 28th, 2013, where the school decides to revisit this play.  Why?  Because they’re masochists.  Why care about something that happened in ’13?  Why indeed.

Why:  Are you already amping up for Halloween, and in desperate need of a fear fix at the multiplex?  Well, if you’re not too picky — and don’t need to care about the victim list in a horror film — this could fit the bill.  A few creepy moments thanks to quality cinematography and effects keeps The Gallows from really dropping the ball.  Plus, there’s a ton of sub-par horror garbage on Netflix lately, so hit up this film if you’re really jonesing for a fright.

How: An intriguing premise, but too muddled and enamored of its “found footage” format to really work.  Perhaps that’s due to two directors — Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing– helming the film.  That’d explain the lack of cohesion and disjointed feel of the plot.  But that’s not the only problem here.  There’s too much suspension of disbelief required to really dig into the horror that The Gallows tries to trot out.  A school would be allowed to perform a play that caused the death of a student years before?  Sure, because the school board and neighborhood folks would be fine with that.  A high school where unknown folks can wander in to sit and watch the kids for hours?  Of course, not creepy at all, and totally acceptable in this day and age.  But most of all; drama class is MANDATORY?  Um, as much as I’d love that, there’s no way in hell that’d fly.  The Gallows doesn’t bother to flesh out any backstory beyond “wanna see how that kid died?”, so gaping holes in plot and characterization soon become the only thing to focus on.

The actors deliver decent performances, but they’re really only tasked with running around and screaming a lot.  There’s no character development beyond “he has a crush on her”, “she’s his girlfriend”, “he’s a douche”.  Screenwriters  Cluff and Lofing (double duty!) write characters so boring, empty and vapid that there’s no reason to care about any of them, so much like the audience, these kids don’t have anything to sink into.  When these characters start dying, it’s just one step closer to the film being over, rather than any true terror. The bright spots in this film are Edd Lukas’ cinematography and the makeup FX by Rachel Jenkins and Michael Needham, which go a long way toward making this film look a whole lot better than it has any right to.

The scariest part of the film was the end, where there was just enough of a BOOGABOOGA scare to hint at a sequel, if this film makes any kind of money.  Brrr, now that’s scary.

TwitView: Unfriended

Unfriended onesheet

Found-footage goes social media, with remarkably spooky results.  Though there’s really no build-up of the Big Haunting Bad beyond “she’s dead”, Unfriended lets you feed your voyeuristic tendencies and delivers genuine chills. Grade: B+

Poor Laura. You go to one backwoods kegger and really get sheisse-faced (almost literally in this case), and some douchecanoe posts your horrible night on YouTube.  What’s a girl to do?  Well, Laura killed herself.  And a year later, a group of her friends — who seem to be hopelessly addicted to Skype — find there’s an outsider in their group call.  An outsider with the subscriber info Laura used to use.  As the night progresses, these six friends go from annoyed to horrified…to dead.  Let’s just say I’ll never again play “Never Have I Ever” without getting a slight chill.

Yeah, this is another “found footage” genre flick.  But as it’s about modern high schoolers — and how technology can get hacked by The Beyond — it works here.  Excellent use of all the social media things; from Skype to Facebook, YouTube to Spotify, they’re used just like you’d use ’em at home.  Director Levan Gabriadze gets a special high-five for his use of Spotify as voice/playlist-from-beyond. Nice touch.  There’s also a nice touch to the film editing, with it’s quick-cuts and constant rapid flashes from one Skype account to another, from Skype to YouTube to Spotify to Facebook and it’s rapidly growing comment feeds.

Two things thew me about this film.  The first?  Laura herself.  Earlier press info had said that Laura was “a vicious bully” before her suicide.  But there’s nothing about the kind of person Laura was before the video, or after.  She’s simply someone these kids knew and were friends with, who had a horrible video posted about her when she was at her weakest.  Perhaps some editing cut the negative view of the victim in order to make the kids that bite it seem more deserving of their fate?  Not sure, but I kept waiting to see more about who Laura was…to no avail. [Note: I notice all mention of Laura being a bully before her shaming has been cut from IMDb.  So perhaps this was indeed a change of direction for the storyline.]

The second?  The complete lack of tech savvy behavior on the part of these Generation Z kids.  They click open JPG images sent from unknown sources, don’t know how to clear Skype, and install strange downloads.  Heck, according to the backstory Laura had been dead for a year, and yet nobody had memorialized her Facebook page?  That helps the story along, but didn’t help me get lost in the moment.  Instead, I kept thinking “why didn’t anyone do [X]?”  And nobody ever thought of ditching their laptops and running over to [X friend who just drew the death short straw] rather than simply watching said friend die on camera?  Of course, I could say the same thing about stupid teens in 80s horror flicks — going outside in the dark when you know there’s a killer?  In your underwear? — so perhaps I’m just being curmudgeonly.  Get off my lawn!

Kudos to screenwriter Nelson Greaves (Sleepy Hollow) for being able to combine cyberbullying, teen suicide and straight-up horror in such an effective, creepy way.  But what really resonated with me was the way Unfriended played with who the Big Bad really was.  Laura might possibly have been a Queen Bee when she was alive (and is definitely a force to be reckoned with after death), but as the story unfolds her former friends end up thoughtlessly turning on each other as things get progressively worse.  Who is the real evil entity?  Perhaps not Laura…

Movie Review: The Lazarus Effect

lazarus effect onesheet
TwitView: Fantastic setup, believable characters, and genuine chills all get hobbled by a lack of a satisfying ending and a screenplay that’s all over the place.  It’s as if the director was running out of film and said “yeah, one last gotcha scene and it’s a wrap.”  C-

It’s no secret that I’m a horror movie junkie.  So when The Lazarus Effect hit the screening rounds, I jumped at it.  And enjoyed a good part of it…until it got lost in it’s own storyline and cheaped out by pulling the usual “gotcha!” ending that has been beaten to death popular since the 90s.  Pity, as there’s some genuinely unique and well executed moments in this film.

This film got my interest with a killer trailer, and the promise of more from the folks that brought us Insidious, The Purge, and Paranormal Activity.  And by “folks”, I mean the producer.  Director David Gelb has done good documentary work (protip: catch the wonderful Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Netflix.  You’re welcome.)  However, The Lazarus Effect is his first dramatic effort, and it’s a mess, jumping from scene to scene, subplot to subplot.  I’m betting Gelb would have been okay, if he’d had a strong screenplay to rely on, but Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater are newbies as well, which makes for a hodgepodge of abrupt scene shifts, dangling subplots and unanswered questions.  Luckily they’ve got real talent in front of the screen, and that helps save this film from sinking into total dreck.

What I loved best about this film is Olivia Wilde; she looks like she’s enjoying the hell out of this film.  Her performance is top-notch, as if someone forgot to tell her than a horror film doesn’t exactly need great performances.  She delivers one though, and it elevates the film.  In fact, all the performers here do good work.  Especially Evan Peters — my favorite Quicksilver (sorry, Aaron T-J) — is a hoot as the too-smart-and-cool-for-this-room Clay, and Donald Glover as the passed-over-in-love Niko.  Glover’s comedic work is excellent, but he has strong dramatic chops too, if this is any indication.

I did love the start of this film thought.  The Lazarus Effect not only dives into the idea of bringing folks back from the dead — paging Dr. Frankenstein! — it also digs into the life of the person whose life will be upended by these experiments.  And by upended I mean she dies, is brought to life, and then gets amped by…demons?  Herself?  The serum?  There are no answers, no hints or deeper thoughts beyond “hey, lets’ use the black sclera contacts on Olivia — she’d look spooky!”  She does, no doubt.  And her terror at what she’s becoming is palpable, and a refreshing change of pace from the usual add-water-and-stir instant baddie.  But as soon as her eyes go full black, it’s all dropped by the wayside.  Forget trying to make sense out of what happened to her, it’s the Blinking Lights And Telekinesis Show y’all!

Once folks start dying, all thoughts to keeping this up to the level of films like The Purge and Paranormal Activity get thrown by the wayside.  What I would have liked to have seen was more about Zoe’s past.  Her nightmares, and the truth/history behind them.  Was there more to them than the simple fact that a child could only do so much?  Did Zoe have a hidden bit of evil in her from all those years ago?  Was she a Bad Seed that had done much to try to get over her past, or was she in the wrong place at the wrong time?  But her past is brought to viewers as a tantalizing idea of where the film will go…and then it’s used as a prop, nothing more.  Same goes for the Evil Corporate People who come in midpoint.  Who are they?  Are they up to no good?  Who cares — they’re introduced, and never heard from again.  That sound you hear is another good idea dying.  Digging into character motivation would have had me rooting for these characters to survive, but even though a few delicious tidbits of backstory are thrown to the audience — tidbits that could have been used to build deaths that really mattered — when it’s time to die these folks are nothing but telekinesis fodder.  Bye-bye…

The Lazarus Effect ticks me off more than it should, and that’s because this film showed great promise at the start.  But with a main cast of 5 the kills aren’t big enough (or gory enough; most deaths are off-screen or cut-aways) for the gore crowd, and the screenplay isn’t cerebral enough for the thinking-horror fan.  Add muddled storytelling and a feeling that this film dragged on much longer than it’s scant 83 minute run time, and The Lazarus Effect is a movie that’s big on promise and short on delivery.

Movie review: Ouija

Keep thinking its just your friends pushing the game marker around...

It’s Hallow-Month!  So horror movies are naturally the way to go. Want to get to the nitty-gritty?  Here’s a little list I’ve borrowed from another source  that’ll help you get to what you’re looking for in a Halloween horror show.  Does Ouija measure up as Boo-tastic, or is it just a bomb?  Read on….

Story: Two little girls play around with an Ouija board.  Fast forward to high school, and one of those little girls hangs herself “under mysterious circumstances”.  Wanna guess how the other girl handles it?  If you said “by using the same Ouija board”, you should be a scriptwriter!

Scares: Even though this is cliché-central, there are a few Gotchas here, of the “jumped from the shadows” variety.

Splat factor: Not much blood, though there’s desiccated bodies, stitches where you wouldn’t want ‘em, and top-notch visual effects to signify possession.

Closing scene “shocker”?: Not if you know anything about horror movies.  But for the noobs, they could be shocked.  With this film, I expected a “leave room for a sequel” twist.

Remake, Sequel or OG (Original Ghoul)?: Though the usual tropes can be found in just about every single horror movie since 1979, this movie’s an original. And by original I mean the first in an inevitable series.

Trick or Treat?: Ouija is more of a drinking-game film than a serious horror film.  Why else would the characters be so incredibly stupid?  “Hey, my BFF just died after strange stuff was happening to her.  Let’s whip out the Ouija board just lying on her bed to see if we can talk to her!  What could happen?”  What really made my eyes roll were the lack of grown-ups.  (Y’know, beyond the twenty-somethings playing high school students.)  A group of kids start dying, and nobody’s parents are around?  Anywhere?  C’mon.

Are there good points?  Surely.  The FX is top-notch, but with director Stiles White a member of Stan Winston’s shop, that’s to be expected.  Still, seeing that A-game level of effects made my evil heart happy.  David Emmerich’s cinematography is also fantastic, head and shoulders above the usual horror movie.  This is Emmerich’s first film as a cinematographer (though he’s got quite the resume in camerawork), and I’m looking forward to seeing more of his clear-eyed, ultra-sharp visual style.

The actors are all fun to watch, but they’re little more than walking dead with targets painted on ‘em.  Olivia Cooke as Deb, the brain trust that decides to use the Ouija board to summon her BFF, reminds me of a young(er) Rose Byrne.  I feel sorry for these actors for having to act out the motivations of teens with no clue, but then they got to work with some obviously talented FX folks, so it balances out.

Score: 2 out of 5 pumpkins.  One for the use of a slumber-party toy to wreak havoc, another for the cool FX.


Movie Review: The Conjuring

“From ghoulies and ghosties. And long-leggedy beasties. And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!”

The Scots have a great prayer there.  And for decades, real-life couple Ed and Lorraine Warren did their level best to help folks who suffered from beyond-the-norm problems.  The Conjuring is a film that gives the couple the big screen treatment…and it’s a throwback to the good ol’ fashioned scare-you-pantsless spookfests of the 70s.  Loved The Changeling, Ghost Story and The Amityville Horror (which, by the way, is also a case the Warrens worked on…)?  Baby, you’re gonna love The Conjuring.  This film starts off with an opening sequence that takes off with a serious case of spooky, giving the audience a heads-up; this is gonna be a bumpy night.  Oh yes, yes it is.  Okay I’ll say it; The Conjuring is looking like the best horror film of 2013.  And yes, that’s taking into account the Evil Dead remake earlier this year, the fact that a new Carrie is coming to town for Halloween, and that Director James Wan’s Insidious: Chapter 2 hits theaters this September.

The story is simple; a couple (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston)  sinks their savings into a house that’s roomy enough for them their five girls.  Said roomy house starts with the creepy occurrences almost right off the bat.  After one particularly harsh night of bangs, thumps and physical attacks, the family call on paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) for help.  But the Warrens have handled a few cases that have taken a toll on Lorraine — including a creepy doll that tried to kill it’s owners — and this may be one too many.  And even so, it’s going to take a lot to figure out what’s going on at the Perron house, along with the why, and how to get it to stop….


[Read more…]