Vantage Point

Just finished watching Vantage Point. This film uses, sort of, the Rashomon gag of showing the same events over and over from different perspectives. (Eight, as the film boasts, though they start to get mushed at the end.) Unlike Rashomon, however, you don’t get the “unreliable narrator” effect. Instead, you get a trickling out of information from each perspective.

It’s not bad.

The start is a little slow, because the first perspective is a little slow and the new information trickles out slowly in the subsequent perspectives. As the perspectives begin to converge more and the plot is revealed, the movie picks up the pace a lot.

Unfortunately, it also gets a little silly. The problem with all caper movies (where the caper-ers are not the good guys) is that they rely on the criminal masterminds making mistakes or worse, acting out of character. In this case, the impressiveness of the stunt is glaringly undermined by the subsequent stupid mistakes and a climactic out-of-character moment. On top of that, the basically realistic vibe is broken as Dennis Quaid becomes practically superheroic at the end.

As you may know, I’m a big fan of concise moviemaking. (I’m not a short movie snob per se but if you’re going to indulge yourself at my expense, you’d better be good at it.) So I have to give this film its props for bringing in the whole eight-viewpoint thing in under 90 minutes.

A good cast, good suspence and pacing, so set your mind off and have a good time.


There must be a bunch of critics who just sit around sharpening their knives waiting for historical movies to come out so they can savage them for not being comprehensive or presenting their preferred angle on history.

Case in point, Defiance. This is the story of Belorussian Jews who flee into the forest because the Nazis have invaded with the intent of rounding them up and hauling them off to the “work” camps. Through hard-work, tough choices and persistence, they manage to survive for a time even despite the brutal winter.

That’s really the story in a nutshell, and it’s based on the real-life story of the Bielski brothers.

But check it, New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott says the message of the movie is “if only more of the Jews living in Nazi-occupied Europe had been as tough as the Bielskis, more would have survived”.

Well, first of all, that’s a bit of a stretch. It’s hard to imagine a more insulated story about the Jews in WWII. These aren’t German Jews or Italian Jews, but Polish/Belarus Jews, and their experience of the war is particularly idiosyncratic.

On the other hand, isn’t it true, to the extent that it can be applied? If more Jews had been as tough–and had a wilderness to escape to–wouldn’t more of them have survived? Do we have to take the stance that, as harsh as the Nazi regime was, all the Jews did everything they could?

That sort of simplistic analysis is rebutted by this film, in fact, as one of the big problems they have in freeing the Jews from the ghetto is that the Jews still believe that the Germans are sending them to “work camps”. In fact, that they won’t be killed because they’re useful as slave labor.

Anyway. Sometimes I see a review and just think, “What the hell movie was he watching?”

So. About this film, which The Boy pronounces “excellent”.

This is a manly film. Daniel Craig and Liv Schreiber are the brothers who end up taking on more and more “civilians” and trying to figure out how to feed them in the woods. (I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t hunting animals.) Craig wants to take on the civilians and concentrate on surviving while Schreiber wants to join up with the Red Army partisans.

This leads to some tension between our manly men.

Director Zwick (Blood Diamond, The Last Samuri) is remarkably non-judgmental in his direction. There are things in this movie that might be called murder, but there’s no attempt to make you feel one way or the other about them.

There’s a scene, for example, when the Jews get a hold of a nazi soldier and want to kill him. And, really, it’s hard to fault them for it. I mean, if we’re supposed to be appalled at the savagery of human nature, or something, it doesn’t come off. There’s a revenge scene and a command-struggle scene as well, and there’s even a debate about what to do with a baby being born.

But while the emotions are there, they’re not forefront. At the forefront is survival, and the question of what makes us decent human beings versus what we have to do to survive.

Note that while this is a manly-man film, the women are enlisted into the fighting and are eager to defend themselves and provide for their families. In fact, the manly-men have to adjust to them doing so. But you can see the echos of Israel in these scenes of women fighting.

So, we have strong characters, good pacing, some historical authenticity, rejection of victimhood (at least to the extent possible under the circumstances), dramatic tension…and Nazis! But no Oscar noms here. (We’ll leave that to the naked girl Nazis.)

Flaws? Well, the accents seem to come and go (particularly Daniel Craig’s). The last scene struck me as somewhat preposterous, if dramatically necessary for a satisfying ending. And I thought some of the scene juxtapositions (marriage vs. battle) were needlessly affected. But overall a solid flick, and not at all ooky.

Which may be why the Academy and critics didn’t like it.

Bolt from the Blue

You just knew John Lasseter taking over Disney’s animation studios would be a good thing. In the Eisner years, the “gimme” product, where some Disney property was used in some shoddy direct-to-video format because they knew it would sell X units, was reminiscent of those ‘70s live action films the studio went to after deciding animation was too expensive. Even the A-list material had begun to decline after the death of Howard Ashman (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and the good half of Aladdin).

Although I thought I detected some of his influence on the earlier film Meet The Robinsons, this seemed unlikely to be very direct, since he had just taken over the studio. But it is very obvious in Bolt. The lead character is a dog in a TV show who, for dubious reasons (earnestly explained by the TV show’s director, voiced by “Inside the Actor’s Studio” host James Lipton) requires Bolt to be convinced that he’s a superdog really rescuing his person (Penny, played by Miley Cyrus).

Bolt, then is much like Buzz Lightyear, Lasster’s Toy Story hero, or becomes much like him when a mishap has him mailed across the country and forced to find a way home to rescue Penny (who isn’t really in trouble). His companions on the journey are Mittens, the cynical New York cat, and Rhino, the couch potato hamster. The former doesn’t get Bolt’s delusion until the latter–a Bolt true believer–explains that he knows Bolt from “the magic box”.

John Travolta, Susie Essman and Mark Walton are the dog, the cat and the hamster respectively, with longtime Disney animator Walton being far and away the funniest voice. Essman (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) takes enough of the nasal twang out her voice to be palatable as the tough-but-vulnerable cat. Travolta is, if not distinguished, exceedingly pleasant as a dog learning how to be just a dog.

There’s no edge to this movie which, as you may know, I approve of. I don’t really want kid’s films to be “edgy”. There is the usual message of what you believe being an empowering factor but it’s ultimately an appreciation of his mundane abilities that allows Bolt to save the day.

The animation is quite good, as you’d expect. There’s a very nice transformation with Bolt, who both captures a lot of expressions and mannerisms of Travolta, as he becomes more “doggy”. And the common problem of the CGI character seeming lack mass is avoided.

The Flower liked it, of course, but The Boy also approved. Also, my mom loved it. So, there’s a broad range of appeal, even if this isn’t a great movie.

We didn’t do the 3D. My brain doesn’t do 3D.

Movies Seen in 2008

Seventy-three movies in the theater in 2008. Almost none of them alone, most with popcorn. That’s some cash right there. These were plucked from reviews I did for the blog; it’s possible that I missed some.

You’d think moviemakers would start pandering to me but no dice, yet.

An American Carol
The Band’s Visit (2007)
The Bank Job
Before the Rains (2007)
Body of Lies
Bottle Shock
The Boy In the Striped Pajamas
The Bucket List (2007)
Burn After Reading
The Counterfeiters (2007)
The Dark Knight
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
El Orfanato (2007)
The Fall (2006)
Forbidden Kingdom
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Frozen River
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)
Get Smart
Ghost Town
The Hammer (2007)
Hellboy 2
Horton Hears A Who
How To Lose Friends and Alienate People
In Bruges
Incredible Hulk
Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull
Iron Man
Juno (2007)
The Kite Runner (2007)
Kung Fu Panda
Let the Right One In
Live and Become (2005)
Madagascar 2: Back To Africa
A Man Named Pearl (2006)
Man On Wire
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day
Mongol (2007)
Moscow, Belgium
Persepolis (2007)
Pineapple Express
Priceless (2006)
Prince Caspian
Quantum of Solace
Rachel Getting Married
Refuseniks (2007)
Role Models
The Ruins
The Savages (2007)
Saw V
Slumdog Millionaire
Son of Rambow (2007)
The Strangers
Sweeney Todd (2007)
Tell No One (2006)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Tropic Thunder
Trumbo (2007)
The Visitor
Young At Heart (2007)
Zack and Miri Make A Porno

Thoughts on Best of 2008

I haven’t done a review of all the movies I saw in 2008, to make my pronouncements about “best”, yet.

But the Oscars noms are out, and a more predictably dreary selection you can hardly imagine. You know, if they were really about “best of”, you’d get a much broader selection of movies, and seldom would you see sweeps, because there can be complete gems in an otherwise turd-of-a-movie.

Big Hollywood has a “top 5” snubs article. I quote:

1. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) – Not just the best picture of that year, but one of the greatest achievements in cinema history. Were it not for the height of the MGM musical in the late forties and early fifties, you’d now be reading an argument that film as an art form peaked with “Sunrise.”

2. The Searchers (1956) – Arguably the greatest film — not just Western – ever produced. John Ford’s epic character study of a man who helps create a civilization that will not have a place for him received a grand total of zero nominations.

3. The Wild Bunch (1969) – Was it the violence, which looks pretty tame by today’s standards, that turned the Academy off? Something has to explain why “Hello, Dolly!” And “Anne of a Thousand Days” made the cut and Peckinpah’s masterpiece did not.

4. A Night At The Opera (1934) – It would take a revival three decades later for the genius of the Marx Brothers to be fully appreciated. “Duck Soup” was never nominated either, but I’m partial to this one.

5.Sweet Smell of Success (1957) – The dark, cynical response to anyone who says Tony Curtis wasn’t one helluva actor.

I had not even ever heard of Sweet Smell of Success until about five years ago, and such a marvel of a film that is. As far as Tony Curtis goes, I have had this discussion with myself and others more than once:

Me: Kirk Douglas wasn’t really a very good actor.
Me (or someone else): Oh?
Me: Well, he was great in Sweet Smell of Success, though!
Me (or someone else): That’s because that was Tony Curtis.

Anyway, Success was up against some real heavyweights: Bridge on the River Kwai was the winner, with 12 Angry Men and Witness for the Prosecution waiting in the wings. The two sacrifices to the God of Mediocrity that year would’ve been the Brando vehicle Sayonara and the (at the time) steamy soap opera Peyton Place.

I’ll try to get off my keister and put together a “best of” for 2008.

David Fincher’s Zodiac

David Fincher rose from humble beginnings (music videos for Madonna and Alien3) to become one of the most influential filmmakers of the decade through films like Se7en and Fight Club, but since 2002’s Panic Room, he’s been associated with dozens of films that never got made (or got made without him).

So, it’s with some anticipation that his newest film about the Zodiac Killer is met, and it’s not surprising that it perhaps doesn’t meet with expectations.

Zodiac is a sprawling story, not primarily of the Zodiac killer, but of Robert Graysmith, an editorial cartoonist who becomes obsessed with deducing the identity of a crazed killer who is writing taunting letters to the newspaper where he works.

This is more a film on the lines of Close Encounters of the Third Kind than Silence of the Lambs. The only violence is early on: The Zodiac went on a little spree early on in his “career” and this is shown somewhat graphically. But really, this is practically a Fincher movie for people who don’t like Fincher movies. After the initial spurt of violence, you still have two hours of psychological suspense thriller to endure.

Despite finding it rather low key, I rather liked it, but this is my kind of film. Alongside the always good Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards and Robert Downey, Jr. (typecast as a guy who ends up drinking and drugging his way to obscurity), it was peppered with short, solid performances from lesser known actors who still usually play meatier roles: Brian Cox, Chloe Sevigny, Candy Clark, Dermot Mulroney, Philip Baker Hall, James Le Gros, Charles Fleischer, and on and on. (The only place this may have backfired, ever-so-slightly, is in the casting John Carroll Lynch as the pedophile prime suspect. Lynch does a great job, but I had just watched Fargo, where he plays Marge Gunderson’s gentle, artistic husband.)

In some ways, the low-key atmosphere makes the intense parts more intense, but the fidelity to actual history means there is no great climactic point—in particular, no great showdown between Graysmith and Zodiac. They do share a moment, and it’s important but not really satisfying in the cinematic KABOOM sense.

Just as it doesn’t meet some expectations, there are those who would over-hype it because it is a Fincher film, but it’s best to approach this as a competent but modest slice-of-American-history movie. It won’t actually lose much on the small screen.

Finally, some critics objected to the lack of period music: I actually thought that was one of the strongest points. Veteran David Shire (Norma Rae, All The President’s Men) provides a score that’s way less self-conscious and hip than, say, playing The White Album would’ve been. Although the story takes place in a let’s-call-it-”colorful” period of history, it also transcends the time.

(originally posted 2007-03-11)

Cinematic Titanic Docks At Frankenstein’s Castle Of Freaks, Part 2

I don’t think I wrote this review yet. I’ve been caring for sick people for the past several days and my mind is about the state it would be after doing a lot of time-traveling.

Oh, yes, here it is. Check it out. I’ll wait.

Back? OK.

So, this is good. The team is really humming along; we’re getting a much better, cleaner sense of their characters, their sense of humor, etc. We’re getting a little more backstory, and a cute little device called “the breast blimp”.

I’m very, very glad they’ve kept it clean, although Joel actually swears once, and I think there was a political joke or two–but really minimal stuff. That’s good.

The pacing is really good, too. It isn’t boiling hot at the beginning but the laughs are pretty steady.

I think that the live performances the crew is doing is also a big help; there’s a real polish to this episode. I’m looking forward to the rest of 2009.

Sorry for the light review, but y’know, I’m running out of things to say besides “funny” or “less funny” or “more funny”. I’ll have to see if I can’t raise my game….

The Curious Case of the Benjamin Button Down Mind

I like David Fincher. Not as a person. I mean, he could be perfectly fine as a person, even if there are rumors that he’s a jerk. (It’s not like those rumors don’t fly around for just about every great director.) But I don’t even know the guy. Cut me a break. How the hell should I know?

But I digress.

I mean to say, I like his direction. As a streak, Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room and (arguably) Zodiac is up there with the best directors of all time. (I think Panic Room is under-rated.)

Maybe the best thing you could say about this movie is that it doesn’t seem like it’s two hours and forty-five minutes long. That’s a pretty good thing to say about a movie (unless it’s 90 minutes long, I guess).

It’s basically an episodic story about a man who is, sort of, growing younger, and the problems this causes in his life. It doesn’t really work, in a mechanical sense, but it’s okay dramatically.

Mechanically it doesn’t work because it’s clear from the start that he just looks old. Physically, he’s supposed to be afflicted with all these old-age conditions at birth–yet he goes through puberty after about 12 years of being born. The aging is sporadic, as well, the movie settles him in to middle-age to soon and keeps him there too long. (One plot point revolves around him getting “too young” but he looks about 40.) In his youth, he becomes afflicted with dementia, meaning that he ends up having old-age problems both coming and going.

And he’s not living backward in time, a la Merlin, either. So he’s completely inexperienced while looking 70 but has a lifetime of experience while looking 20.

Dramatically, it mostly works, except where the murky mechanics raise questions, and a sort of “well, what’s the point, then?” feel. That is, how is this story significantly different from someone aging normally? It really only provides one major plot point that comes when Benjamin and Daisy finally get together.

Well, and it does provide the gut-punch at the movie’s end. (Think about it.)

Lord knows I don’t need–or even want–a message movie, but this movie does sort of play around with it. There is a message here that Benjamin understands and Daisy only “gets” when it’s practically too late: That there is worth in loving others and being loved, and that worth transcends worldly things and–in good people–selfish interests.

Yeah, it’s not exactly rocket science, but it works for me.

Your mileage may vary. (What do you think? Good catch-phrase or no?)

The Reader (not _iam)

Sure, Nazis are bad. But is it okay to sleep with them if they’re really hot?

That’s the challenging question the new Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours) Oscar-baiting movie asks.

The answer appears to be a qualified “yes”.

I’m being flip about the totally super-serial movie The Reader wherein a 15-year-old boy ends up involved with the stoic 37-year-old Hanna Scmitz (Kate Winslet) who teaches him ze ways of love.

This just in: Kate Winslet looks good naked.

But that’s not really important when you’re dealing with, you know, deep thoughts.

You might not even notice that the film is produced by ZOMBIES! OK, no one’s seen Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack emerge from their graves, but no one’s not seen them, either.

OK, ok. I’ll try to calm down a bit.

Wait, why isn’t this child porn? I thought it was against the law to have sex scenes involving minors or anyone pretending to be a minor or a drawing of a putative or even fictional minor.

Let me try this again: This movie is about Michael Berg, played half by Ralph Fiennes and half by David Kross. Fiennes played the top half.

And David Kross was a lot funnier on “Mr. Show”.

I guess I don’t have much to say about this movie. It’s good, and all, for some definition of “good”. Good acting, and plenty of it, of course. (Besides Winslet and Fiennes, there’s also Lena Olin and Bruno “Hitler” Ganz.) Good cinematography. It moves pretty quickly, though some seem to think the first half (with all the sex in it) is slow, it sets up the 2nd and 3rd act, wherein Berg’s life is ruined by the events in the first act.

I think this movie works as a character study of a boy who was too young to have an affair with an older woman and whose life is basically ruined by the affair for one reason or another.

I think it’s supposed to be about the difficulties of the Nazi generation and the next generation in reconciling those actions. (Turns out war sucks and genocide has repercussions. Huh. Who knew?) There isn’t a lot of empathy for the Nazis, which is good, I guess (see first sentence) but the forms this lack of empathy takes–show trials, expressions of desire to basically kill one’s parents (which oh-so-coincidentally takes place in the ‘60s, when lots of non-Nazis were talking about the same thing).

If it is, it partially misses there, because Michael is all messed up before he finds out Hanna is a Nazi, and then after he finds out she’s a Nazi, he takes ten years or so but finally decides to send her books-on-tape. Also, he’s almost completely non-functional as a human being, so he’s obviously punishing himself, too.

So, he he doesn’t forgive her, exactly, but he doesn’t break it off exactly, either.

Dunno. I guess it’s a reasonably murky topic so presenting a clear resolution would probably seem too pat. At the same time, it’s so freakin’ morose, I sort of have this counter-urge to laugh at the whole thing.

Your mileage may very. After all, it’s no laughing matter.

Update: Be sure to check this out as well.

Torture Porn Redux

I may have misled Knox in my recommendations post by referring to Borderland as not torture porn. I see my reviews at the time suggest otherwise but apart from a gory opening, I’m not remembering the details. As I recall, the horrors were less flamboyant and more banally real–making them all the more horrible.

I remember mostly being concerned about it, rather than it actually happening. I’ll review it when I can and see if my recall is correct.

Meanwhile I’m watching Captivity, which caused a kerfuffle when it came out because of its posters. The kerfuffle struck me as dumb. It is torture porn, though, by my definition. The movie’s sole purpose seems to be to degrade Elisha Cuthbert. Her abuse, interspersed with other women being abused, dominates the first half hour. The second half hour is more abuse, with another person being abused alongside her.

The final half hour is the big reveal, the why, the twist ending. The entree into this part is really, really stupid, but that’s not the point, really. The point is, we’ve had an hour of torture up till now, there’s nothing you can bookend it with that makes this movie not about sadism, or that makes it a documentary, or anything other than enjoying that first hour at some level.


The script was co-written by schlockmeister Larry Cohen, who recently wrote the tight Phone Booth and Cellular but who goes back to the blaxploitation days and the It’s Alive series. He also directed one of the better “Masters of Horror” episodes. No big shocka, though, he’s a working man, and someone probably said, “Hey, Larry, whip us up something Saw-like.”

The real gut-punch, though, is that it’s directed by two-time Oscar nominee Roland Joffe, who achieved fame with The Killing Fields and The Mission–which was referred to as something akin to torture porn at the time, unfairly, in my opinion–and then went weirdly off the rails by directing (at least in part) Super Mario Bros., the first ever video game movie.

Freeman Hunt (whose blog is missing from my roster on the right, I just noticed) maintained in an earlier thread that the Saw movies were just about torture–that that was all that was going on. But here you see when that really happens. Cuthbert is simply tortured. There’s no suspense, really. She’s going to be tortured, she can’t do anything to stop it, there’s no transformation that can occur, she’s done nothing wrong other than be pretty and famous.

If you just can’t tolerate the gore, all the reasons for it–however, good–won’t change that. If that’s what you’re into, then you don’t care about the reasons. But if you see it as just another color in the palette, then there’s minimally an aesthetic and maximally a morality to how it’s applied.

Gran Torino: Grumpy Old Men With Guns

Many have already noted that Clint Eastwood, at 78, dominates the screen in every way in his new movie Gran Torino. Some of this has gone out as criticism of the younger actors, but I think that’s misplaced. They are callow and naive, and whether it’s bad acting or not, it works perfectly in the context of the movie.

And this is legendary stuff, with Eastwood no less a mysterious, alien figure than an Ent from Lord of the Rings. This is kind of rare: Power Fantasies are common enough, but how often do we see a senior citizen power fantasy? (2-3 times a decade, max.)

It’s also really, really corny. Has anyone mentioned that yet?

Get over, for a minute, that Eastwood’s playing the “gunslinger with a past”, only instead of blowing into town, the town has blown up around him. He’s killed people (55 years ago) and he’s a lousy father and his wife–the one person in the world who understood and loved him–has just died.

Beyond all that, he’s still the archetypal “crusty but benign” oldster who takes the youngster under his wing and teaches him about the world.

Corny as hell. But it works, even down to gravel-voiced Eastwood singing the first verses of the closing song.

That’s right. You heard me: Singing.

And I think it works because, like Kwai Chang Caine and the Incredible Hulk, Walt Kowalski hates violence–but he’s not afraid of it. Well, “hate” is a strong word. Let’s just say he doesn’t like killing people. Roughing them up can be part of a healthy parenting philosophy.

It also works because there’s a disturbing truth there: Urban centers are an awful lot like Old West towns where gangs have the population in fear because nobody is willing to fight to defend themselves–well, nobody not in a gang, anyway.

Mostly it works because Eastwood glowers, growls and snarls his way through, while wearing his pants too high and having a strange little old-man paunch and wobbling when he walks–except when it’s time to hold the rifle steady.

There’s also some good story building there. It’s hard to imagine my pool-sharping, sharp-dressing, beer-selling (and swilling), WWII-fighting grandfather having much in common with me or my dad.

So we understand when Kowalski doesn’t “get” his sons and views them as disappointments. They are hugely spoiled, by his standards, and his grand-kids even worse. When he has a revelation that he shares more in common with the Hmong than his own descendents, it works.

And it works without trying to cover up Kowalski’s sins–his failure to reach his sons being his worst.

So, yeah. It works. Well. And it’s a successful vehicle for a 78-year-old 4-decade strong movie star. The Boy heartily approved.

Now, I make a point of avoiding message movies. Milk, for example, is not on my list. But Eastwood is definitely working at more than one level; does he make message movies?

I tend to say no. For example, I think it’s a real mistake to look at Million Dollar Baby as being pro-euthanasia. The situation addressed in that film was unique. It would make no sense to apply it generally.

This situation addresses something more generic, I think: That we’ve lost an important set of values, that we’re spoiled, and that immigrants represent a lot of those old values–but not all the truly great American ones.

But, you know, that’s all very cliché–and very corny–stuff. It’s something you could see John Wayne doing. Hell, it’s something Wayne probably did in one of his later movies.

What’s nice, though, is that it still works. Is anyone in Hollywood paying attention?

Best of Fest

Knox asked me which films I would recommend from previous After Dark festivals, and whether they were things you could actually view on (e.g.) Netflix. Last question first: Yes, they’re all get-able through and get aired on FearNet and sometimes the Sci-Fi channel, so I have to assume they’re available through Netflix as well.

I wouldn’t recommend watching any horror movie on a network that has commercials, with the exception of FearNet because FearNet only puts one commercial break in, early on. (They do the noise at the bottom of the screen, though, which is nasty.)

Recommending movies is a much harder process, because it’s highly personal (and doubly so for horror) and the experience tends to be different at home which affects some movies more than others.

But assuming you’re not a horror fanatic, there are a few recommendations I can make pretty comfortably.

Borderland is probably the most genuinely frightening film of the three festivals, not because it’s based on a true story (which is usually an excuse for lameness) but because it’s so very, very plausible. Americans down in Mexico end up crossing paths with a violent gang. Sean Astin plays a very creepy role. I remember being concerned that it was going to veer into “torture porn” but the horribleness is mostly kept at a very real level–that is, you know, in real life, we’re more rattled by things that we brush off in horror movies–and is still very effective. (UPDATE: My reviews at the time say it is, actually, torture porn-style violence. So, use caution.)

The Gravedancers is probably the most fun. It stars “haunted house” and goes “Poltergeist”, with more than a nod to “Scooby Doo”.

Rinne (Reincarnation)is probably my favorite movie of the three festivals, but it’s not for everybody. It’s a mystery, you have to be very attentive, and it breaks Blake’s law of movie reincarnation (which is that audiences reject using dramatically different actors for the same characters). But it “made sense” to me. (It reveals “the rules” and “follows the rules” without being predictable.) Apparently some people find it slow, though. Subtitled. Must be relatively immune from “they all look alike” syndrome.

I love the atmosphere in Unrest, which is powered almost entirely by the verisimilitude of the situation. The corpses are not just realistic, they’re real. The writer/director having been a med student gets the feel just right.

In an entirely separate way, I loved the “realism” of Mulberry Street,which comes from the setting and the truly excellent characterization. I get the idea that the writer/director pulled his friends out of the neighborhood and said “Here, be in my movie.” Which may be totally false–because they all do their lines excellently and without sounding stilted–but it feels that way. The movie runs out of steam when it goes into standard zombie/plague mode, sort of ironically, or this movie would be a horror classic.

I can’t really recommend The Abandonedbecause I didn’t like it. But I don’t like this kind of movie. No matter how well done, if I know the characters are doomed from the start and yet the movie is going to make them go through the motions of surviving, I get both bored and pissed off. But for whatever reason, this movie is the only one they show on pay cable so maybe it’s a good example of a kind of movie I really dislike.

In the horror-like-Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-is-horror category, there’s The Deaths of Ian Stone.This is one of the few films that had a real budget, like $14M or something. It shows. And while it’s darker than Buffy, it feels like it could be a pilot for a Buffy-like series.

Butterfly Effect: Revelationhas a similar feel. I mean, the whole premise isn’t far off from “Quantum Leap”, which always threatened to scramble Sam’s brains. They just do it in this one.

Out of the 24 films, then, I’d feel comfortable recommending six pretty strongly. Sturgeon’s Law and all that.

If you’re okay with campy low-budget type flicks, then I can add Tooth & Nail,Nightmare Manand Autopsy.The camp in T&N may be entirely accidental but director Kanefsky (Nightmare) knows the limits of his medium and knows a laugh is as good as a shriek–and Autopsy is so completely committed to the “funhouse” style, it’s unimaginable that they didn’t know exactly what they were doing.

So, those are my recommendations.

Except for Autopsy, there’s not really any heavy gore in any of them (and the gore in Autopsy is right on the line of horrific/comic). Oh, there’s a compound fracture in T&N, that’s always good for an “ew”, and the majority of Unrest features half-dissected corpses as props. (I’m trying to remember if there was a lot of gore in Borderland. If there is, I’ve blocked it out.)

For hardcore fans, most of the movies have something to recommend them. And for would-be filmmakers, these would have to be interesting if only to examine: a) how much can be done on so little; b) how easy it is to go off the rails.

But for entertainment, the six abovementioned are worth the 80-90 minutes.

After Dark Horror Fest 3: Final Thoughts

In total: Eight movies, no monsters. You had two curses, one slasher, two sets of rednecks, one set of zombies, one mad doctor, and one set of doppelgangers. The zombies weren’t even really zombies–and their whole purpose and motivation was murky to say the least. (Were they eating people? Were they using them for interior design purposes?)

Other things not seen: Ghosts. Demons. Alternate realities. Haunted houses. Aliens. Vampires. Were-creatures.

Seven of the eight took the cheap ‘n’ easy horror movie-ending out. That is to say, in six of eight movies, everyone dies. In the seventh, the main character goes insane and the “monster” isn’t really dead.

There were very, very minimal effects this year. I missed having one film that really went over the top, like last year’s The Deaths of Ian Stone and the previous year’s Gravedancers. Even while Unearthed had a laughable CGI monster, nobody even tried this time. I guess in some ways that’s good.

Autopsy was ballsy with its effects, uber-cheap though they were. There are some simple rules for low-budget horror making that these guys don’t seem to know:

1. Don’t be boring.
2. Don’t be forgettable.

I’m assuming they fall into #1 by mistake. I’m sure they know not to be boring but miscalculate. But they don’t seem to get how critical #2 is–even at the expense of your movie getting a laugh that you didn’t want or seeming campy.

Ultimately, it’s the imagery of the horror movie that makes it stick in the mind and makes you want to watch it again. It’s why most of Roger Corman’s movies–even the good ones–don’t tend to get a lot of mention. It’s why the Saw movies get attention when much gorier movies don’t.

The first ADHF, for example, had the imagery of the violent poltergeist in Gravedancers and the authentic “corpse tank” in Unrest, and the second one had the world-shifting effects of Ian Stone, the orange-ish hot-n-sweaty cast to all of Mulberry Street and even a floating, demonically possessed Blythe Metz in Nightmare Man.

The only flick that really brought the funk this time was Autopsy. Ridiculously creepy hospital lighting, naked scary guy unemboweling, and an organ mobile. Nothing else came close. Butterfly Effect was the best movie but its best imagery was in the sex scene.

One scene–the closing scene–is what turned Friday the 13th from just another Halloween knock-off to a mega-franchise. I sort of assume that that’s why so many filmmakers seem eager to trash their entire film for a good “twist”–but they’re doing it wrong. The twists aren’t good. And note that Halloween’s best imagery is not at the end, but in the middle. Frankenstein has a cool closing image–but it’s the lab scenes that make it. Psycho’s shower scene, Invasion of the Body Snatcher’s (’50s) chase scenes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (’70s) funky dog-with-human-head, the crab-walk in the Exorcist, Alien’s face-huggin’, chest-‘splodin, inner-mouth extendin’…

You get the idea.

One of my all-time favorite horrors is a mess called Dead People. It was a disastrous shoot, I’m told and the film was butchered to incomprehensibility, but there are some scenes in it that are unforgettable: a supermarket where normal looking people are feeding directly out of the butcher’s display, a movie theater where the two normal people sit down and then (from the screen’s POV) you see a bunch of other people file in who are all clearly “wrong”, etc. (They’re restoring the movie now; I can’t wait to see the new print.)

But it’s that kind of thing that keeps the horror movie fan going back.

We ran into a couple of women today that recognized us from last year. They expressed a concern as to whether there’d be a fourth horror fest. That’s always been my concern, since the theaters are far from packed. (We never saw more than 20 people.) This year there was no advertising that I saw.

Worst of all, though, I’d have a hard time recommending it to someone else. It’s a crap-shoot. Though the movies are at least professionally done for the most part (and even cheap ones look better these days and have way better acting), this year I’d only comfortably recommend two at all. (Last year I could recommend seven of the eight to the right people.)

Them’s not good odds.

I’ll keep going if they keep having ’em, though. There are lots of things I like about them:

First, you don’t need a big budget to make a good film (horror or otherwise). Bug is estimated at $4M on IMDB, for example. A lot of these guys are working in that range–though Nightmare Man’s total budget was about $250K and Mulberry Street was closer to $50K, I’m told. Great new things can come out of low budget flicks.

Second, you get to see who the working actors are. Richard Jenkins may get an Oscar this year for The Visitor, but he’s still working it in Broken, as is Lena Heady. Robert Patrick and Jenette Goldstein get to ham it up in Autopsy. This works the other way, too: Maybe Rachel Miner and Rider Strong never make it out of the B-movie ghetto, but that doesn’t make them less enjoyable to watch. (Hell, look at Bruce Campbell, who’s been stuck there going on 30 years.)

Third, they’re a good antidote to “important”, “arty”, award-bait flicks: The filmamkers can’t really indulge themselves–no budget–and their big goal is to hold you for the entire film, so they aren’t going to be stretching out past 90 minutes. (As Roger Corman famously said, “Monster’s dead, movie’s over.”) Not to say that some of the movies don’t have pretensions, but there are distinct limits.

Just for your edification, I’ve listed below the films shown in the three After Dark Horror Festivals. I’ll link them up to my reviews later. For now I must sleep. And dream.

Year 1: Dark Ride, Gravedancers, Unrest, Rinne (Reincarnation), The Abandoned, Penny Dreadful, the Hamiltons, Wicked Little Things

Year 2: Unearthed, The Deaths of Ian Stone, Borderland, Lake Dead, Mulberry Street, Tooth and Nail, Nightmare Man, Crazy Eights

Year 3: From Within, Butterfly Effect, Dying Breed, Slaughter, Perkins 14, Autopsy, Broken, Voices

After Dark Horror Fest 3: Third and final day (for us)

Theme of the day: Mirrors. Meh. It has been done. A lot.

Look, I love Lena Heady. She’s hot and she can act. But she’s not in her late 20s. In fact, part of the reason she is so hot is that her skin looks lived in. (Seriously, the whole botox thing evokes images of embalming.) So, you know, if there’s no plot reason she can’t be in her 30s, change the character to be in her 30s.

Oh, she is skinny though. It’s funny to me that actresses are required to be super-thin to look good on film, and yet all they have to do to fit in a horror film is be lit to show the bones that must absolutely be visible for their non-horror work.

One last word on Lena: Nobody could’ve carried Broken. Not Dame Judy freakin’ Dench. Not Anthony Hopkins. Not Zombie Jimmy Stewart. The movie was fundamentally, well, broken.

The Koreans are a beautiful people. This limits their ability to be scary.

Hey, cool: Korean moviemakers turn a hot chick into a cold braniac by putting a pair of fairly sexy glasses on her, just like everyone else.

Speaking of Koreans, they’re pretty lax when it comes to people trying to kill other people. The police never seem to get involved. One girl gets a transfer to another school.

Apparently every low-budget horror filmmaker in the world has one of those cranes that allows you to raise up and look down on a shot. Well, except for these two guys. These seemed to be the only movies that didn’t use that shot.

Eight movies is a lot for three days. In the previous years, the really dull films came on the first or second day, which helped. Broken didn’t get any boost from making 90 minutes seem like two years when it was the seventh film we saw.

You can do “atmosphere” and you can do “tension” but you’d better bring ‘em if you’re not going to have some real scares through big chunks of your movie. When you think about it, Kubrick was the king of this stuff–and a lot of people find him insufferably boring.

After Dark Horror Fest 3: Voices

I was pleased when the credits started rolling and this turned out to be a Korean film. ADHF #2 didn’t have any foreign films, and were it me, I’d be trying to push the foreign stuff, since you have the chance of a high quality film that can’t get access just because it’s subtitled. Also, my favorite film of ADHF #1 was the Takashi Shimizu (of The Grudge–trust me, he’s better in Japanese) film Rinne.

This film is actually similar in some ways to The Grudge, in the sense that there’s a curse causing people to act out their jealousies by killing their rivals. Call it The Blame.

The problem with all of these abstract-concept-comes-to-life films–and other killer ghost story movies like The Ring or One Missed Call–is that without defining some clear parameter for your boogen to operate in, you give the game away that you’re just making it up as you go and ending the movie in the 6th reel.

Really, it’s vital for a horror movie to have rules. (Or any fantasy film.) Without it, you’re not performing the “trick” of art that your audience wants.

For example, The Ring is powered by the idea that the ghost can be stopped by doing something for it. That gives the characters a task to undertake that can help them avoid their fate. Then, when the truth is revealed, this gives them another, different task. This is good.

Another good example can be found in The Sixth Sense, even though the characters and the audience are not ever made explicitly aware of the rules. In fact, it can be fun to go back and look at all the clues (the colors, the effects, etc.) that indicate when ghosts are around.

Without rules, the audience feels cheated, which is unfortuantely what happens here. I’m not going to rag on this movie much because it wasn’t boring, which is the absolute worst crime for a horror film (or perhaps any film, although being unfunny may be even worse).

Basically, anyone can turn on you at any time. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Worst of all, one of the characters admonishes that you can’t even trust yourself. Well, that’s like the deus ex machina of any horror story, since you can always end it by having the character do soemthing unintended by fooling with their perception. That can done well, but it’s very tricky. (See Fight Club for a good example–but once again there are rules.)

The end tries to make us believe that, somehow, the events of the film are set into action by the characters, as if they had control over it all along, but that just feels like a big cheat. There’s no reason for it and no control.

So it wasn’t the worst we saw, but it was disappointing. It should have worked: The whole concept of your family and friends having the urge to kill you–which you know they all do, or is that just me?–could’ve made a tight, paranoid film like Bug.

Instead, the film is unfocused, having the lead meander about as person after person harms or kills themselves trying to kill her.

Then the movie tags on an epilogue which would’ve perhaps helped the film hang together had it been filmed with the lead and stuck at the beginning of the movie, but just ends up feeling like a cheat.

Kind of a disappointing ending to the whole festival, which itself was kind of disappointing.

After Dark Horror Fest 3: Broken

Doppelgangers were big for a brief while in the ‘70s, but they’ve had a resurgence of late because of Geoul sokeuro (remade as Mirrors). And, actually, if I’m not mistaken, the evil doppelganger is a common “effect” in Asian horror, if not as an entire plot. (That is to say, I think there are a lot of Asian horror movies where a person sees an evil version of someone else.)

This was actually our “big name” movie, even more so than the mad doctor flick Autopsy, which we saw yesterday. This one featured the hot (in more ways than one) Lena Heady (of 300 and “The Sarah Connor Chronicles”) and Richard Jenkins (who should get an Oscar nom for The Visitor but it’s not looking good).

And, essentially, what we have here is Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

It’s so, so boring.

I mean, okay, it was obvious to us within the first few minutes what was going on, but you know, I can watch Invasion over and over again, even though I know exactly what’s happening. The ’50s one or the ’70s remake, even. (I draw the line at the two latest ones, though.)

This has the similar problem as Slaughter in that they expect atmosphere to carry them through the uneventful parts, and it just plain doesn’t. Remember that all eight movies are under 90 minutes–this one was really short, they say 88 minutes but I’m thinking under 85 if you don’t count the credits.

But it seems so much longer.

You’re waiting for something to happen. And waiting, and waiting. There are two or three good chilling moments, but that works out to nearly a half-an-hour of nothing in-between them–or it would, if they were spread out, which they’re not. They all come at right around the same point.

And the reveal is tortuously slow.

Despite the good production qualities and acting, this would be my pick for worst of fest.

OK, let me see if I can think of something else to say about it. Well, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, really. Which was something of a trend this year: Directors and writers so obsessed with having a “twist”, they make their whole movie nonsense–and then the twist is actually “generic horror ending #4”.

I don’t find windows particularly menacing, I’ve discovered. I don’t find the London skyline very menacing, though I do wonder what’s up with the giant penis building and the Brobdingnagian Ferris wheel. Dripping water doesn’t threaten me. Whatever technology they have that allows them to simulate (or just super slow down) car collisions is cool, but not really very interesting after the 14th or 15th time you’ve seen it.

Seriously, there’s a car collision which is the focal point of this movie, but the actual purpose it plays in the story is murky. That is, it hides behavior from the main character that is part of the Big Reveal, but since the events of the Big Reveal occur before the collision, there’s no real reason for the events prior to the Big Reveal to have occurred at all.

The ultimate problem, though, is that while the menace in Body Snatchers comes from an increasing awareness of the intent of the invaders and the scope of their plan, at the end of this movie, you don’t know anything about the doppelgangers. Why are they doing this? Are they just evil? If so, how is the premise of the movie even possible?

As I said, worst in show.

After Dark Horror Fest 3: Second Day

Theme of the day? Impromptu dental work. Kids, don’t try this at home.

The films are pretty restrained, on a number of levels. I notice they don’t try the too graphic for theaters nonsense they did in the first year. Nothing I’ve seen compared to the level of graphic-ity as seen in mainstream fare like Hostel 2 or Marley and Me.

A few more people in seats today. We’ve stayed away from the prime shows, though, so not much crowding.

Weird getting-older phenomenon: On the first movie of the day, my eyes refused to adjust. My left eye in particular. Which is bad, because that’s my “good” eye. Later I actually tripped over someone hanging out in the walkway leading to the theater. Didn’t see him at all. Yeesh.

Every After Dark so far has had a hospital-themed movie: Unrest from the first one and Tooth and Nail from the second one. (Crazy Eights was an institution, not a hospital, or there’d have been two that year.) This year, so far, we have the zany Autopsy.

Oh, speaking of zany? Killing kids (kid kids, not teens) is neither shocking nor edgy, and if you just do it to make some sort of uber-nihilistic statement, skip it. We don’t like it, and we don’t like you for trying to get some special cachet for doing so.

After Dark Horror Fest 3: Autopsy

Another in the generically named series, this was probably our favorite movie of the day. It’s also misnamed: There are, in fact, no autopsies. This reminds me most, I suppose, of Horror Hospital, from the mid-70s.

A bunch of college-age kids get into a car accident and are taken to a hospital (in New Orleans? Katrina is mentioned!) whereupon they one-by-one get to “see the doctor”.

This is a mad-doctor-tries-to-save-his-wife movie, in the vein of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, e.g. It’s really kind of old school. And it helps that the mad doctor is none other than the T-1000 himself, Robert Patrick.

And, speaking of James Cameron alumni, in the Nurse Ratched role, we have none other than Jenette Goldstein (Sgt. Vazquez in Aliens, John Connor’s foster mother in Terminator 2), looking more than a bit frumpy if not downright frowzy.

This is the movie equivalent of a fun-house ride. There are a lot of set-ups for scares, and the scares and done knowingly, in such a way that you’re set up for one thing but get a completely different surprise. These don’t always make sense but, seriously, why should you care?

This is also the first movie that wasn’t unrelentingly grim. There are some good, deliberate laughs in the movie. And this movie gets the “best image” award for the fest (so far), involving a great deal of let’s say “floating viscera”.

It’s a little bit campy and a lot creative. A fun, fast-moving watch!

After Dark Horror Fest 3: Perkins 14

Now, Crazy Eights + 75%! No, actually, this ends up with more of a Mulberry Street vibe, though it’s set in a small town, which is a lot easier to pull off.

Basically, our movie features the interesting face of Patrick O’Kane as Dwayne Hopper, a cop who’s been brooding over the loss of his boy since his abduction 10 years previously. He’s jeopardized his job and is on the verge of losing his family. When we meet him, he’s about filling in for a friend on the night shift at the precinct.

The residents that night include a “usual” (who amusingly turns out to be an eco-terrorist) and a guy named Roland Perkins (portrayed by excellent heavy Richard Brake, who played Joe Chill in Batman Begins) who tried to flee a traffic stop. As the night progresses, Dwayne becomes more and more convinced that Perkins is the serial abducter who kidnapped 14 kids ten years ago.

The title is, of course, the giveaway there.

So, this part of the movie works. A little mystery, some nice interaction between O’Kane and Brake.

The next part of the movie involves the 14 Perkins “kids” but is, essentially, a zombie movie. O’Kane powers this, as he becomes determined to rescue his daughter (the gorgeous Shayla Beesley) and his wayward wife (Mihaela Mihut). All three do a good job here and the build-up to the final act is pretty good.

At last, they decide to barricade up in the police station. A logical choice on paper, this is where the movie falls apart. After risking life and limb to get to the police station, they move around dangerously and ultimately decide they need to leave. Rather than, say, holing up in a cell until at least the morning.

This act only has the vestiges of the family dynamic from the second act, and Dwayne’s hope that he can somehow connect again with his long-lost son.

The ending goes totally obvious and cliché, unfortunately.

Director Craig Singer’s last appearance at the fest was at the helm of #1’s Dark Ride, which suffered from a similar problem: The first third of the movie is funny, referential (to the slasher genre), and fast-moving. When they finally get to the amusement park, it’s as if amnesia set in, and they were unaware anyone had ever directed a slasher-in-a-funhouse flick.

So, hey, you know, this is better.

After Dark Horror Fest 3: Slaughter

Inspired by true events. Few words strike fear into my heart than those. Usually it’s a poor substitute for a well-plotted movie with a lot of really awful stuff that’s based on nothing but the film maker’s attempt to pander to the lowest common denominator.

The generically named Slaughter claims to be so inspired. How generic is the name? Well, I thought this Slaughter was the one where a bunch of actors find themselves in a Japanese snuff film. When, in fact, this is the Slaughter where a woman on the run from an abusive boyfriend finds herself on a farm populated by menacing rednecks.

The Boy opined that he would like to see rednecks be cast as the heroes once.

The “true events” may be a 100 year old story where a farm family lured city folk to their doom to steal their stuff and then fed them to their pigs. (I think I saw that on HBO’s “Autopsy”. ) That sort of fits, though very loosely.

Anyway, the story as it’s told here is that Faith (Amy Shiels) is fleeing her abusive boyfriend, and ends up befriending Lola (Lucy Holt) and staying with her at the family farm. The first half of the film abounds with menace: Men in clubs, the old boyfriends, the men at the farm–hey, they don’t call it menace for nothing.

This film’s biggest problem is that the menace is dull, virtually Lifetime movie-of-the-week girl stuff about Faith and Amy’s horrible upbringings. This does come in to play later, but that doesn’t actually make it any less slow.

When the action gets going, the movie picks up tremendously. It veers into a slightly unexpected territory and plays out in slightly unexpected ways. It only goes off the rails at the end–which, unfortunately, is the by-word for this festival’s movies. (Four, maybe five, depending on how you reckon it, out of the six movies so far have pretty much gone the “everyone dies” route which is just a cheap out.)

The only other thing I’d add, maybe weirdly, is that the actresses seemed to old for their parts. It’s not something I notice, usually, but Faith is between 18-21 and Amy is under 18. This is important to the plot, but I would’ve guessed both girls were in their mid-20s.

Verdict: The action parts are better than the scare parts.

After Dark Horror Fest 3: First thoughts

Ooh, I hope they’re not all super-vanilla type horrors. I like the different ones, even if they’re not great. Last year’s Mulberry Street was wonderfully atmospheric in the relatively unused horror location of Brooklyn. (Or is it the Bronx? I forget.)

Last year’s theme? Leggy brunettes in their underwear.

This year’s theme? Bear traps used on humans.

I prefer the brunettes. Sure, it’s cliché, but so is the bear trap thing.

Including us, 4-5 people in the theater in toto for the 6PM show. The 2pm one had 8-10. How can they afford this?

The IMDB times are wrong. Also, they start the movies early! They did this last year, too.

Three movies and no Rider Strong. I hope he’s feeling well.

After Dark Horror Fest 3: Dying Breed

Inbred hillbilly cannibals menace city folk.

Sure, we’ve seen it before. But have we seen it in Tasmania? I think not! (Joe Bob Briggs is going to sue me for stealing his shtick.)

Leigh Whannel is best known as the writer of the first three “Saw” movies and producer of the whole series. But before that, he was an actor, as he is here, in this rather by-the-numbers hillbilly horror flick.

Seems his movie-girlfriend is on the hunt for a rare Tasmanian beastie (which I believe they have found but don’t disclose the location of in real life) and also for answers as to her sister’s drowning eight years previous. He invites jerky buddy along for the trip and buddy brings along girlfriend, so that we have plenty of potential victims.

Before you know it, they’ve pulled up in a small “town” in out-of-cell-tower-range territory and are being menaced by the locals. Although the locals actually seemed pretty nice to me. Maybe it’s just the Aussie accent.

Actually, tThe accents are somewhat Irish which is confusing to me since I didn’t know if they were Aussies trying to do Irish accents or if some Aussies actually have Irish-ish accents.

Then they’re 10 miles into the out–well, not the Outback because it’s Tasmania, but whatever the Tasmanian equivalent is–and walking around trying not to fall into mineshafts.

The jerky guy–who’s really very jerky–brandishes a crossbow, which upsets the lead, but I was thinking if it were me, everyone would have a pistol, a rifle, a knife and possibly some small explosives (or optional automatic weaponry).

There’s not much to write here because it’s mostly pretty standard, with a little twist at the climax which sort of gets untwisted at the end, which gives us a kind of twist-ish stinger. Except it wasn’t surprising in the least. It was sort of like, “Oh, yeah. I guess that makes sense. Or something like it.”

Not horrible, and less cliché-driving than From Within (which was really merciless as far as the stereotyping goes), still a lot less than I was hoping for.

Butterfly was definitely the winner of day 1.

After Dark Horror Fest 3: Butterfly Effect: Revelation

I didn’t see the first Butterfly Effect due to my severe allergies to Ashton Kutcher. (I don’t know why. I barely know who the guy is. I’m probably just pissed he wouldn’t do a sequel to Dude! Where’s My Car?) So I don’t know what, if anything, this has to do with the previous two movies.

I didn’t see the second installment because I blinked.

The basic premise is that the lead character can change the past by–em–well, he time travels by sitting in a bathtub fill of ice in the dark. I gather that this is given a more plausible treatment in the first film but in this one we don’t waste any time justifying it. (In fact, I think they get around it by saying he doesn’t actually time travel.)

Look, the guy can time travel, let it go already. Think of it as “Quantum Leap” with gore and a gratuitous sex scene.

When the movie opens, he’s doing what he does for the cops: Basically, he travels back in time to the scenes of crimes and IDs the perps. This falls within the confines of “the rules”, the things you can and can’t do without frying your mind or unleashing the dreaded butterfly effect.

The butterfly effect, of course, is when you make a change, however minor, to the timestream. The ripple effects from that cause massive changes in history, and in the case of this movie, the time-traveler ends up with a mashed-up memory of both timelines. (I think. It’s a little hard to tell what the main character knows and doesn’t know.)

So, the trouble begins when a childhood friend–the sister of his murdered girlfriend, in fact–exhorts him to use his talent (nobody knows the icy bath thing, they just know he knows stuff) to clear a wrongly accused man about to be put to death and to find the real killer.

But going back to your own life causes all kinds of problems and God help you if you change your own timeline.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Every time our hero goes back in time to right something, he wakes up in a new present with new people dead and his own life worse off than before. Before you know it, he’s created a serial killer and gone from taking care of his shut-in sister (whom he saved in a previous incident but at the cost of his parents dying) to being taken care of her.

The sister, by the way, is played by Rachel Miner, who I always figure should be the daughter of horror-meister Steve Miner, but doesn’t appear to be. Ms. Miner has the distinction of being the only actress I know of who has appeared in all three Horrorfests: In #1, she was the eponymous Penny Dreadful and in #2, she was in the much enjoyed Tooth and Nail.

The Boy liked this one a lot, as did I. Chris Carmack in the lead has to play an increasingly confused and unstable character, and you do feel sorry for him even if you wonder how smart he is to keep going back trying to fix stuff.

The aforementioned gratuitous sex scene is pretty funny, just because it goes on way longer than necessary, only to end with a “I guess I’m just not in the mood.”

Anyway, this film does follow a nice dramatic arc, pulls you in, gives a sense of real danger, and then a pretty satisfying climax and denouement. There is a certain preposterousness to it, even accepting the time-travel stuff. The plot hinges on a looseness in “the rules” that isn’t really explained or justified, and the ending is a little too neat (though with an obligatory “…or is it?” feel).

But, hey, not complaining. It was different enough and fun enough.

After Dark Horror Fest 3: From Within

A curse afflicts members of a small town, causing them to “commit suicide”. Crazy Christian community members decide to blame the local witches.

Sure, we’ve seen it before, but have we seen it…uh…have we seen it…have we seen it…

OK, yeah, we’ve seen it. There’s nothing really original about this film. The old “witch’s curse” thing hasn’t really been big since the ‘70s, but they’ve sauced it up a bit with Japanese-style horror effects. Actually, come to think of it, that part is highly reminiscent of Mirrors.

The boy pronounced it “run of the mill”. At the same time, we both agreed it wasn’t boring. One reason is that it’s mercifully short. Another reason is that the general production quality is good: Good cinematography, good acting, lighting, sound, etc.

But it is relentlessly clichéd: Screenwriter Brad Keene wrote one of my favorite films of the first After Dark Horrorfest, Gravedancers. It was also rife with clichés but it sort of takes them to the wall, with the movie getting progressively more outrageous. It was a light, sorta funny-scary that moved from “haunted house” to “Frighteners”-style.

This one starts as standard coven ‘n’ curse and ends that way, too, though I guess you might give the ending a few points for not totally Scooby-Dooing out. It has a kind of a “Twilight” vibe, too, with the Christian girl liking the, uh, Witch boy.

Curiously, IMDB lists this as having a planned sequel for 2010.

There’s a peculiar problem with this sort of film: It’s almost necessary (apparently) for the Christians to be clueless and powerless against the real witchy, and to show them as narrow-minded bigots. At the same time, they sorta have to be right. So we’re confronted with at least one character who has to be both sympathetic and murderous.

The movie could’ve been better without that constraint. If there’s a plot more stale than “small town narrow-minded Christians go wrong” I am not aware of it.

I actually enjoyed this more than the first film last year (Unearthed) which, while beautifully produced, was really dull.

Torture Porn

“Torture Porn” is most commonly a phrase applied to a movie the critic applying it didn’t like, regardless of merit (cf. The Passion of the Christ). This is unfortunate as it robs the phrase of any meaning.

The label “torture porn” should only be applied to movies where the point of the film is to titillate the viewers through the suffering of others. This is why I don’t consider Saw torture porn: However sympathetic Jigsaw is made out to be, he doesn’t enjoy the suffering of others and the audience isn’t expected to either. In Hostel, the young characters are victimized by the wealthy older psychos, and there’s no empathy for the older guy (even before you know how crazy he is).

Death Wish comes to mind–it’s the 25th anniversary–though it may not be a good example. Been a while since I’ve seen it. A lot of those revenge flicks of the ‘70s were particularly affectionate toward the violence committed.

On the other hand, Hostel II clearly meets the definition, in parts. In what was probably an attempt to keep things edgy, there’s a strong focus on the mechanics that make the whole thing possible. Then there are some twists to keep you “on edge” about what happens next but which also tend to put you into sympathy with someone doing violence and enjoying it.

Then there’s an actual porn scene where blood is used instead of some other bodily fluid. I mean, really: A hot older woman tortures the “homely” girl and–well, it’s pretty awful, or it would be if it weren’t so silly.

You could argue the point, since there’s no narrative or exposition about the older woman, but director Roth knows how to make something ugly and there was a sympathy, at least at the level of the imagery, for this act. In other words, one gets the sense he is trying to titillate there despite the perverseness and horror of the situation.

Interestingly, Hostel II flopped compared to the first movie’s relative success. True sadism is a niche market.

Cinematic Titanic Docks At Frankenstein’s Castle Of Freaks

The latest CT is here! This time it’s the 1974 Italian horror flick Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks that’s up for mocking. You may recall that we were somewhat disappointed in the previous entry (Santa Claus vs. The Martians) but it must be conceded that expectations were impossibly high.

Well, we’re away from the cultural landmarks now, and having a great time with this bit of silliness, which involves a the Frankenstein clan happily at work using body parts the way the Barbarienne uses Lincoln Logs.

No final verdict yet: Fatigue set in and we paused before finishing, but I’ll update this post when we do.


I am, for the most part, not inclined to look at movies through a particular political filter.

Let’s say, for example, there’s a movie about an evil Republican. Well, doubtless such a creature does (or could exist), and I’m disinclined to view a movie about said creature as an indictment of all Republicans.

Even if it’s meant that way.

My justification for such ignorance is Shakespeares Richard the III. Ol’ Bill knew what side his bread was buttered on. He wasn’t going to make a Yorkie a good guy while there was a Tudor on the throne.

Still, it’s a great play. And that’s what matters in the long run.

Bush-related stuff of the past decade is an exception for two reasons: The drumbeat was constant, and impossible to ignore; but more importantly, art was sacrificed at the altar of Making A Point.

I mention this because many people went to Doubt with–or avoided it based on–some pretty heavy prejudices. And that’s unfortunate, because this is a pretty solid little movie.

There is a lot of acting in this movie. (Not necessarily a bad thing: 12 Angry Men has more acting per foot of film than any other movie I can think of.) You have Meryl Streep doing an accent that reminds me of an old Jewish lady, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charming priest and Amy Adams as the wide-eyed naive girl.

And, as you might imagine, they’re all quite good. I’ve not always been a big Streep fan–I like her much better now than during her more acclaimed youth. She’s convincing as the feared Mother Superior, but not monochromatic even given the narrow palette she has to work in. Hoffman has a rather challenging role, too. (I’m not sure how much doubt we’re supposed to have that he’s a pedophile; clearly he’s “good” with children, and that takes on creepy dimensions.)

The delightful Amy Adams–last seen on this blog in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day–shows that she is just as comfortable as a naive, unworldly nun as she was a vibrantly sexual flibberdigibbit. She, in a lot of ways perhaps surprising, best reflects the audience: She’s enchanted by Flynn’s (Hoffman) modern ways and disapproving of Sister Aloysius’s (Streep) draconian ways.

And yet she learns. Quite apart from Flynn, she learns that there is a reason for the stern-ness, and there are consequences for abandoning it. Viola Davis (“Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit”) has a brief but powerful role as a woman who is willing to sacrifice her son to help him succeed. (That’s as convoluted as it sounds.)

In fact, you could easily see this movie as a struggle between conservatism and liberalism and, perhaps surpisingly, conservatism comes out way ahead. I think that’s probably an unsubtle and incomplete take-away, but the most sympathetic character in the movie is the ballpoint/transistor radio hating Streep.

And it’s impossible to not see this 1964 school, even with its slow integration of blacks, as superior to modern ones. Sister Aloysius, as school principle, knows all the types of students there are: good ones, bad ones, fidgety ones, troublemakers, etc. She knows which girls are going to get into trouble. She’s a terror, yes, but because she’s a terror, a naif like Sister James (Adams) can control her classroom while still being sweet and gentle.

Sister Aloysius’s matter-of-fact-ness–her complete lack of doubt, in fact–is what powers everything. The students get an education because she makes it her business to see that they do, to the limits of her ability, and regardless of any of the sticky, mushy, ultimately obstructive dramas the world wants her to care about.

It’s that same shark-like focus that removes any doubt as to Father Flynn’s ultimate fate, too.

Indeed, Flynn’s guilt is never spelled out, but as Sister Shark swims for him, the inability to stare her down, unflinching–his continual shifting of tactics, from denial to eliciting sympathy to what might even be considered blaspheming, is what makes him so obviously guilty.

It’s ultimately this dynamic–the implacable Streep versus the shifty Hoffman, the pollyannish Adams, the horribly oppressed Davis–that powers the movie. Indeed, like the aforementioned 12 Angry Men, Streep is juror #8, if Fonda’s character had Lee Cobb’s fierceness and E.G. Marshall’s intellect to go along with his sense of justice.

The Boy liked it. And this is ancient history, really. The world isn’t one that he has any familiarity with.

Althouse has some thoughts up about it. I confess I didn’t notice the mucous. Does that make me unobservant? She’s right about the religion being mostly absent, though there is a bit with Flynn praying and the altar boy ringing the bells behind him that was decidedly religious.

The issue of pedophilic titillation I can’t really address. Going out on a limb here, as a non-pedophile myself, I’m not sure how it works. Is a movie about a priest among boys the equivalent of Some Like It Hot? Titillating because it’s a fantasy, even though nothing suggestive is shown? If so, I’m not sure how the subject can be addressed at all without falling afoul of the implications.

There’s also talk over there of the lack of subtlety in certain places, such as using the weather (windy, wintry) to hammer home a point. But my guess would be that writer/director Shanley would’ve put that in his play if it were less trouble than it was worth.

Howard Shore (and his all nurse orchestra) does a great job on the score, too.

I can see this film being very re-watchable. I wouldn’t recommend skipping it just because you think it’s another H-wood hit job on The Church.

Betsy Russel Gets A Cramp

I was looking through my site referrals and discovered the maelstrom comes up first if you Google:

betsy russell i’ve got a cramp private school

I mention Betsy Russell in the context of the “Saw” movies, but I do recall this scene perfectly. Private School was a “high concept” movie (that was when the term was first popularized) that played out as Some Like It Hot meets Animal House.

Three high school boys are trying to get laid (duh) and the handsome one is in love with the acharacteristically reticent Phoebe Cates, while the fat one and the skinny one provide comic relief and sexual slapstick. Cates’ rival for the affections of the handsome one is Betsy Russell. (And what does it tell you that I can barely remember the boys in this movie at all but know Cates and Russell offhand? The supporting cast included Ray Walston and the movie’s absolute high-point, Martin Mull as a pharmacist helping the boy pick out condoms based on various aesthetic qualities.)

Anyway, at one point in the movie, the boys sneak into the girl’s dorm dressed as women because, you know, that way no one will recognize them or suspect anything. Betsy figures this out and decides to cause trouble by pouting and preening in front of the handsome one, so as to later feign outrage when his cover is blown.

At this point, she’s stripped down to her underwear, including some fetching tiger striped panties and complains about her figure. (Funnily enough, on a good screen, the lighting is not very flattering, but I assure you no one noticed at the time.)

Then she utters the immortal words, “I’ve got a cramp” and beseeches handsome boy to rub her thigh to help her–placing her foot between his knees and her thigh at face level. She may even be topless at this point.

What makes this post worthless is the absence of pictures, of course. But seriously, what do you expect me to do? Dig up a 25-year-old movie and post a clip?

Well, all right. Here you go. I think the cramp part comes after this (and after she takes off her shorts). It might be that she also takes off her top which is why the clip ends here.

Meanwhile, we’re still getting hits on Janet Leigh’s breasts, post-apocalyptic stuff (yay!), and barbarian sex novels (I feel guilty about this one).