Tagged Blu ray

No Telling: Mary Shelley’s Rural Frankenstein

No Telling. 1991. Directed by Larry Fessenden. Screenplay by Larry Fessenden & Beck Underwood.
Starring Miriam Healy-Louie, Stephen Ramsey, David Van Tieghem, Richard Topol, Ashley Arcement, Robert Brady, Susan Doukas, Ward Burlingham, J.J. Clark, Stanley Taub, Francois Lampietti, and John Van Couvering.
Glass Eye Pix.
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Horror

★★★★1/2
tumblr_nvscpgAbbS1r1p2eko1_400Larry Fessenden has long been a filmmaker in which I’ve had intense interest. There’s a quality about all his films, no matter how far apart thematically or plot-wise they may be, I’m consistently drawn in by and after every watch, regardless which movie, I usually find his stories on my mind for days.
The first time I saw a Fessenden film was about a decade ago – more like 11 years ago, to be exact. I saw his flick Wendigo on a whim. It was being screened by some group in St. Catharine’s, Ontario where I went to school at the time. There’s a mysterious and eerie air to that movie I couldn’t compare to anything else, at least nothing I’d seen at that point. Not only that, I was going to film school and his filmmaking struck me as such a beautiful, natural process. After seeing more of his work, eventually getting the chance to see Habit, Fessenden became a beacon of light in the indie world. Because his movies, while low budget compared to Hollywood, didn’t feel low budget. He makes use of interesting locations, as well as talented actors to make all the horrific and sometimes completely terrifying aspects of his writing come across.
No Telling is perhaps some of his best work, honestly. Though it isn’t a comment on his skills – he’s always improving, like any true artist.  But I find most interesting here the weight and execution of what he’s getting across in this film. Plus, there’s a lovably indie quality to this film which gives it a subtle, special quality. Certainly Fessenden doesn’t appeal to everyone as it is. At the same time, if any of his movies might divide people it is this one – paced with a wonderfully slow burn, there are some intensely gruesome moments in terms of animals; something a portion of people appear to have trouble with. Either way, be prepared: it’s a great non-conventional horror movie.

Geoffrey and Lillian Gaines (Stephen Ramsey/Miriam Healy-Louie) move into a a house during the summer, out in the countryside. Geoffrey is a scientist. He does top-secret work in his barn where a lab is setup. His artist wife Lillian becomes friendly with an activist named Alex Vine (David Van Tieghem), which becomes more frequent as time goes on.
Soon enough, though, Lillian begins to wonder what it is exactly her husband does out in the laboratory. Some days she barely sees him at all. Others, he’s there yet not really, or he sweats uncontrollably, nervous and awkward around any other people. Once Lillian manages to get into the secretive lab, she sees pictures of dissected animals, she finds one of the old traps, and their relationship begins to crumble.
In the same vein as Mary Shelley and her mad Dr. Frankenstein, Fessenden’s No Telling pits man against nature, man against man, and even woman again man.
12584_1The basic look of this film is actually incredible. Funny enough, the cinematographer David Shaw actually did nothing after this movie, which is a shame. Though, he did operate Steadicam on a film in’95. It’s crazy because one of the first things I enjoyed about No Telling was the look. The Blu ray comes courtesy of the Larry Fessenden Collection, only recently released; also comes with Habit, Wendigo, and the Last Winter, as well as a ton of extras including short films, music videos and lots of commentary. Really this Blu ray collection is a fucking treasure.
No Telling‘s audio and picture are both unbelievably perfect. The exterior shots are something to behold, then there are great contrasted shots of shadowy goodness inside the barn-laboratory and even at times in the house itself. Again, I’m so amazed Shaw didn’t go on to do more work as cinematographer. Between him and Fessenden there is a wealth of beautifully composed shots, interesting camerawork (angles particularly) and an all around nice style.
Fessenden-5Obviously, when you look at this film’s alternate title The Frankenstein Complex, you can easily see – even without doing so – there are roots of this story growing out of Mary Shelley’s original novel Frankenstein. Lots of interesting things happening in this movie, courtesy of the tight screenplay from Fessenden and Beck Underwood. Naturally, this comes out from the young doctor and his experiments. However, the movie takes it further into the idea of man playing god using animals as his subject. You can clearly see how Fessenden feels about animal experimentation; at the same time, he makes a good point for the side of the scientist, as well. As I mentioned earlier, there are a couple particularly savage shots where Geoffrey (Ramsey) is in his barn-lab doing work that might get touchy for anyone sensitive seeing animals in horror movies. But this only serves to create a weird character in Geoffrey, the heinous doctor working out in the isolated farmlands on who knows what sort of mental medical experiments.
The whole film is very heavy in theme. We watch this doctor and his wife sort of spiral into a descent towards a place where life is dark and dangerous. To compliment such darkness, again it’s the camerawork and the style of Fessenden which make it all compelling. One specific shot I can’t stop thinking of comes after Geoffrey puts a few small metal traps out to catch animals around the property – as Lillian is upstairs, the snap of a trap comes in the distance and then a red filter takes over the visuals, slowly cutting and cutting, editing towards shots of a fox (or something similar) baring its teeth, no doubt caught in the trap’s jaws. Very, very effective and such a neat moment. I was caught off-guard, in such a perfect sense. Made my eyes widen and excited me with all its horror. This is only one of the awesome sequences out of this fascinating film.
No-Telling-still-3_283824dc-a267-e511-9442-0ad9f5e1f797_lgThis is one of my favourite Larry Fessenden films. I’ve seen them all now, especially since getting this collection it’s been easy. 4.5 out of 5 stars, none less. No Telling has a ton of spooky horror, but it isn’t conventional like jumpy stuff. Nor is there a lot of the typical sort of reliance on genre tropes. What Fessenden does here is a create a unique and intensely modern story using Mary Shelley as a very basic framework. Too many seem to pass this off as a mere retelling of Frankenstein. It is so much more. Just take a chance and watch this excellent little indie horror. It will compel and disturb you and surprise you even.

The Bleeding Religion of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs

Martyrs. 2008. Directed & Written by Pascal Laugier.
Starring Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne, Juliette Gosselin, Xavier Dolan, Louise Boisvert, and Jean-Marie Moncelet. Canal+.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Drama/Horror

★★★★★
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Martyrs is most definitely a bloody, gory, savage film from beginning to end. Of course those bits alternate, as well as the fact Pascal Laugier builds up tension very nicely at so many points. But there’s no doubt about the savagery contained within this horror movie.
There have been many gory movies in the history of horror film. From Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast and Wizard of Gore, among others, to stuff like Saw, then classic horror such as many of Fulci’s films and Dead Alive from Peter Jackson. So there are many ways in which gore can play a part in a horror movie. It can either be so-called “torture porn” (those who’ve read my reviews before know my stance on this dumb label; I only use it for ease), or it can serve a purpose of some sort. What I’m saying is that gore need not be useless, just some element thrown in to make a horror more scary, more effective. It can be used as a means to an end, rather than an end in and of itself.

To me, Martyrs is one of those films with all the blood and gore to satisfy even the most desensitized horror hounds, but even further it has heart, character, and a ton of interesting, complex story to boot. Laugier has a masterpiece of horror here and I think that the writing helps to elevate this from simply another gore picture, to a profound horror which leaves its visceral, bloody mark on the viewer long after the credits stop rolling.
vlcsnap-2013-06-10-04h02m56s84The movie starts with a quick scene of a young Lucie running in a tanktop and underwear down the street, screaming for help. She’s brought to an orphanage where she comes to bond with a girl named Anna.
Years later, grown up Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) goes back to the little house from which she’d escaped years earlier, running away bloodied and in a frenzy, then kills the mother, father, and the kids inside. Calling Anna (Morjana Alaoui), the two women then begin to try and pick up the pieces. Only Lucie seems to be having trouble with something inside the house. After the unthinkable happens, Anna is left to try and figure out how to proceed from then on. Only, the house hides more secrets, things Anna couldn’t possibly anticipate. As she goes down into the basement, discovering what amounts to a whole complex underneath its foundation, things are revealed which will shake her world and her beliefs forever.

Watching this again for the dozenth time or so now, I forgot how awesome the music was during the moments with the ‘thing’, as it first encounters Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï). It has this almost heavy metal, ominous, pounding rhythm. Very intense. Then the rest of the film there’s also more nicely composed score. Alex & Willie Cortés do the music in this film. They also did music for an interesting independent film called Eden Log, also worth checking out. This was the first time I’d noticed any of their work, and other than the aforementioned film I haven’t seen anything else with which they’ve been involved. Doesn’t matter; their work here speaks for itself. I thought it worked well with so many of the tense scenes. A good bit of music helps to increase the mood, which Laugier helps set through dreary atmosphere and even a bit of the unexpected in there, too.
947476557For the first half an hour when I saw Martyrs initially, I had no real clue what was going on. While I knew roughly that something obviously happened between Lucie and the family she slaughters, when the ‘thing’, the terrifying and hideous woman first showed up I couldn’t figure out what the hell was beginning to come out.
We get bits and pieces, slowly, then finally the plot starts to filter out. This is ultimately the greatest part about the film. Laugier puts the gore together with an innovative, refreshing story, and this makes the entire gorefest so much more worth it for the thoughtfulness on Laugier’s part.
And in the meantime, the gore and the effects are incredible! The first woman, the ‘thing’, looks out of this world. As if her outer layer of skin had literally been peeled off. I mean, kudos for that. Then comes the woman whom Anna later finds in the basement; when she’s trying to take the metal blinder thing off the woman’s skull, it actually made me cringe once or twice. I’ve seen a ton and that still got to me. Gnarly!
Perfect work in terms of special makeup effects. I have to mention Benoît Lestang – other work includes: The City of Lost ChildrenBrotherhood of the Wolf, and Amen. Then there’s also Adrien Morot whose credits range from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s upcoming film The Revenant, to NoahX-Men: Days of Future Past, to smaller work on indies like Rhymes for Young Ghouls and Canadian television series Durham County starring Hugh Dillon. In Martyrs, these two artists come together to make some truly effective, disturbing, and nasty work. Wonderfully macabre business!
martyrs-pascal-laugier-francia-canada-2008I don’t think there’s any possible way two actresses other than Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï who could’ve done a better job with these two characters. There’s a true, evident connection between the two women. Even though there’s not a particularly massive amount of character development, nor do we get to know either of the women overly well, the deepened relationship between Anna and Lucie is clear, as they’re both there for one another. Particularly the fact Anna obviously loves Lucie, maybe more than just a friend. Yet either way, she did so much for Lucie, to try and help her get past whatever it was that happened to her as a young girl in that awful house. So with a small amount of time, Laugier is able to setup a perfectly believable and emotional relationship between the two women while not having to focus too directly on any expository dialogue, or even flashbacks of any sort.
Martyrs2008720pBluRayx264-CiNEFiLEmkv_20140712_234042243.png~originalThis leads to another aspect I loved – the backstory for what is going on in the house. There’s so much more going on than I’d ever imagined from the start of the story. Once things kick in, as Anna is left behind following Lucie’s tragic death, they really take hold of the jugular.
After a while, the story comes out that these people were a part of some larger, obviously heavily funded, operation in which people were essentially being groomed into martyrdom. This is martyr in the sense of being “witness”, or bearing witness; in this film, it is bearing witness to what lies beyond death in the afterlife. Like a sick type of experiment – well, not like, that’s exactly what it is: an experiment. They take humans – especially girls apparently because they’re even more resistant to the pain overall; tougher and built for martyrdom – then they subject the human body to everything, to and beyond the limits of what a person can handle. I think I found all the pictures of the previous martyrs especially chilling! First, we see them almost meaninglessly as Anna walks through the newly discovered, sterile-like environment in the basement. Then later on, it’s all explained, and the gorefest which preceded everything begins to truly mean something.
Now, whether or not you think that something is a load of crap or not, that’s another story. I thought it was twisted and depraved and perfectly suitable. In a way, it subverts our expectations of horror films that get labelled stupidly as “torture porn”. We expect this is all just sick pleasures and people getting off by torturing others. Yet the deeper Anna takes us into the house and its catacombs beneath, the chambers and labs and rooms below, there seems to be more and more to this supposed torture. I thought the script was an excellently refreshing horror on Laugier’s part and it’s nice to see something with all the earmarks of a typical gory horror, which ends up being more than a sum of bleeding and dripping parts.
martyrs-05There are a bunch of ways you can look at the film, if you want to dig deep into as a metaphor or analogy of some sort. Whatever way you cut it, I think there’s a lot to offer in the story of Martyrs. You can look at it as ultimately the story of what lengths some people, under the guise of “faith” will go to figure out if there is anything beyond the pale of death. You can also look at this as how society, many groups in particular, heap all the weight and harshness of the world onto women; as the villainous lady in the film says herself, women are better at taking the pain, they have a higher threshold and tolerance for it, therefore they make the perfect candidates for this imposed and supposed martyrdom. We’re able to digest Laugier’s work in any number of ways, but regardless it’s stellar. I think you can take from it what you will – at face value, or something with a little more value under the skin.

This a masterpiece of horror, as I’ve said before. Absolutely 5 stars. Pascal Laugier has an incredibly twisted eye for horror and I think he brought all this forward in Martyrs. Truly great horror movie. It has everything from an interesting backstory, well-written characters, great performances, and on top of all that there is a near non-stop gore machine pumping out the wonderfully macabre and nasty makeup effects.
If you’re a horror fan, you need to see this honestly. I think if you take the time to let the plot sink in, take the ride for the first 20 minutes to half an hour, this will really get under your skin. Plus, if you watch it on Blu ray the sound and visual quality is extraordinary. Couldn’t get enough.
There’s a good deal of interesting work here that doesn’t often come along in horror anymore. One of the best modern horrors I’ve seen. Period.

Halloween II: One of the Few Perfect Slasher Sequels

Halloween II. 1981. Directed by Rick Rosenthal. Screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Jeffrey Kramer, Lance Guest, Pamela Susan Shoop, Hunter von Leer, Dick Warlock, Leo Rossi, Gloria Gifford, and Tawny Moyer. Dino De Laurentiis Company.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
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There are very few sequels which come out living up to the greatness of the original film. Especially when we consider horror movies, there are not too many franchises that end up pumping out sequels that match the first.
However, I’d argue that Halloween II is more than a worthy sequel compared to its predecessor. I don’t like this more than the first Halloween, but all the same I think it’s one of the most flawless slasher horrors out there, and definitely a favourite of mine out of the 1980s; an era that held so much great, as well as shlocky and awful, horror from start to finish.
While John Carpenter only returned to this film in the form of screenwriter, I still find that Rick Rosenthal attempted to keep up with a particular style laid out by Carpenter in the original. In that way, with a build of tension and suspense alongside the continuously solid acting from both Donald Pleasance and Scream Queen original Jamie Lee Curtis, my opinion is that Rosenthal made a worthy sequel that should stand next to the original and not be derided as some less than decent sequel trying to capitalize off the success of Carpenter’s first film. Though Carpenter expressed more than once he wasn’t too pleased about a sequel, I think that in 1978 with an ending such as the original Halloween had, there was no way they couldn’t make a continuation. Today, it’s easy to say “no more sequels” because everything is a sequel, a remake, a reboot, a rehash – but in 1981, I bet tons of people wanted more Michael Myers. Maybe going on for over half a dozen movies was not the perfect concept, however, I love this sequel and I think it has enough of all the good stuff to warrant it being an excellent horror movie on its own, even without riding the coattails of Carpenter completely. Luckily, the script works well and it doesn’t come off as a needless movie, and I’m happy that at least Carpenter put his mark on things, even if only slightly through the script with Debra Hill.
Halloween II Myers in windowBeginning immediately after the events of 1978’s Halloween, we pick up as Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is brought to the hospital. Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is somehow still trying to convince the authorities of Michael Myers’ impending danger, while the masked serial killer continues on stalking through the darkened streets of Haddondfield, trick-or-treaters still running around in their own costumes. Police are out, looking for the murderer, but Loomis still can’t get through to everyone how Michael is essentially the physical embodiment of evil.
With a quiet and isolated setting in a cold, sterile hospital, Halloween II gives us a claustrophobic romp through terror, as Michael Myers wants to find Laurie Strode – for reasons we come to discover – and he will stop at nothing to find her. Moving through the dark halls of the hospital, Myers cuts and cracks his way through everyone and every single thing in his way, until it’s only him, Dr. Loomis, and Laurie Strode left.
Halloween II 1981 8Really dig how the story starts right after the original events. This makes the tension and suspense feel as if it’s still lingering. Even years and years later, starting from the night of Michael Myers’ return and heading right into the plot of this film, I think it was one of the smartest screenwriting choices they could’ve made. It’s as if we’ve never left the streets of Haddonfield, like Michael Myers has been continually stalking Laurie, Loomis, all of us, ever since we last watched the 1978 original. Every time I watch it, the opening scenes from Carpenter’s Halloween that work into the official first scenes of Halloween II really put me back into that terrifying seat where last I sat. A great effect.
halloween-ii-2A few wonderful Steadicam shots throughout the halls of the hospital. I think not only does Rosenthal stick with a structure of suspense, he also goes for a similar visual style to the first film, which helps again to keep us in that mood extending out of Carpenter’s Halloween. There’s just enough of the movie sticking close to the 1978 classic while still remaining a separate film that I sort of love Halloween and Halloween II as a pair. Though I love the original most, there’s something perfect about how these two horror movies come together. They’re different beasts, but cut from the same cloth. To me, Halloween II becomes a logical extension of the first instead of merely coming off as rushed piece of work to be forced into the market, hoping to spawn more movies. Maybe others see it that way. Me – I love this and think it’s a great addition to the first, making Halloween into a legitimate series. Some say Halloween III: Season of the Witch ought not be considered as a part of the series – it’s more of a stand alone picture – however, I think it works in wonderfully. A lot say the series falls off heavily after this one, but I find the 3rd, 4th, and 5th instalments a lot of fun. That’s just my opinion. Not as good as the first two, but these first two films made it possible for Michael Myers to become that never dying embodiment of evil. At least in Halloween II, we’re treated to an excellent slasher film that works as an impressive double feature with the first.
halloween-ii-2-e1430018078368Apparently Carpenter went back, after believing Rosenthal’s version didn’t have enough blood, and re-shot some extra nasty parts to make it more visceral. Even though Rosenthal did not like it; he planned to go the same route as Carpenter did in the original, with little-to-no blood. So the story goes, Carpenter thought that with the newer slashers coming out and going for heavy gore, nasty kills, this sequel would fail to compete with the others and get washed away in a tide of new horror movies. I don’t think it detracts at all from the film, and even while Rosenthal didn’t approve I believe Carpenter did the right thing. There’s still a ton of suspense and genuine tension built up through the cinematography and how Rosenthal has that dark, fluid sort of movement with the camera going from one shot to the next. So in the end, I really don’t think Carpenter’s decision to add in a little more bloody stuff was a bad one. Stepped things up a notch while also not trying to imitate every last little detail of the original. Sets it apart slightly from the film it follows.
The kills add another dimension to this movie. I love Carpenter’s style in the first, but again, I think he’s totally justified in making this one a slight bit messier – on the blood side. Not that it’s outrageous, not at all. Though, there are a couple worthy moments of blood and terror, it isn’t anything over the top. It’s like that cherry on the top of all that succulent, delicious icing.
One of my favourite kill scenes is the part where he scalds the nurse to death. It is vicious, but it also starts off so subtly. First, in the background as the nurse towels off, we see her male companion get offed by Michael, almost in a fuzzy view. Then he works his way out and up behind her, as Myers so often does. She’s lulled into a false sense of security, thinking it’s her man back again for a good time, but then he
hall2blu_shot9nlNote: amazing to have included Samhain in what is most likely blood on a chalkboard in the school. Thought that was an expertly creepy touch. Not sure if it was Carpenter, Hill, or Rosenthal who came up with that one. Either way, it adds another level of creepiness to Michael Myers as a killer. Almost as if there’s something… supernatural at work. Though, there’s no effort to linger on that. And I think it’s why I love that moment – there’s no explanation, we’re left with only the weird word of Samhain: the beginning of the darker part of the year, a celebration at the end of harvest season. Is this meant in terms of Michael out harvesting his crops, cutting down victims? Or is it merely creepiness the child in Michael picked up along the way? Something he grafted onto his personality, the savage terror that sits behind his blank mask. Who knows. Regardless, it’s great.

The hospital setting really does it for me. One reason I enjoyed the modern slasher Fritt Vilt II is due to its reminiscence, but not carbon copying, of the setting and suspense from this movie; it really pulls off an excellent Halloween II vibe without stealing anything or trying to replicate it. A lot of that has to do with that setting of the hospital – it’s a place we’re meant to feel safe, a haven, somewhere the bad people and things aren’t supposed to be able to get us. However, Michael Myers always manages to go where he is not wanted, where others do not go. He will find a way in. And that’s what I find worming under my skin – the fact Myers is virtually unstoppable. Not even so much that you can’t kill the guy, but the idea there’s nowhere he cannot find you. He’s the ultimate apex predator.
Once inside the hospital, there comes all that claustrophobia, the stuffy feeling of not being able to get away. Not only that, Laurie Strode (Curtis) is also banged up, needing a little medical attention, so there’s a vulnerability to the hospital setting which ratchets up all that creepiness and makes the suspenseful moments inside the location all that more intense.
halloween-returns-5-fan-favorites-that-should-make-a-return-in-the-sequel-donald-pleas-522650Like I’ve continually pointed out, I love this movie. Both as its own scary movie, with much more on-screen killing and blood/graphic horror than the original, as well as the perfect companion to John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece of slasher horror Halloween. Certainly there’s enough of the DNA from the original film to make it work, I think Rick Rosenthal crafts his own thing here, making Michael Myers his own for 92 minutes.
And who can complain about getting more of Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis? Donald Pleasence continues to make Loomis one of the best horror movie heroes out there – part madman himself, the doctor is unstoppable almost like his evil counterpart in Myers. All the while, Jamie Lee Curtis proves she has the chops even more in this movie than the first. There’s another aspect to Laurie Strode here once bits of her past are revealed, as well as the fact she’s injured and medicated in the hospital. Great performances once more from these two fine, fine actors. They bring real legitimacy to these first two films and I think it’s another big part of the reason why I’ve enjoyed it so much over the years.
No matter what the case, Halloween II lives up to what I think it should be: a tense and unsettling, claustrophobic romp through slasher horror. Myers is ever frightful and dangerous, while the revelations Laurie Strode faces bring new life to the young girl we saw emerge from the terror of Michael’s killing spree at the end of the original film. A bit of good nasty stuff with the kill scenes and excellent cinematographic choices on the part of Rosenthal, as well as a couple pieces shot by Carpenter himself, and you’ve got a great hour and a half of slasher madness. And never forget the always eerie music of Halloween, another significant element to the liquid terror oozing out of nearly every single scene.
I always recommend this as one of the best sequels out there in the horror genre. I’ll continue to do so, even if people think that’s foolishness. This is a great slasher and stands up there alongside the best, including its predecessor.

The Blu ray is pretty damn solid all the way through from picture and sound quality to the additional features included in the release from Universal Pictures. There are deleted scenes, an alternate ending, as well as the documentary film Terror in the Aisles, which is hosted by the ever fabulous Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen; it’s a big compilation of scenes and trailers from crime, drama, horror, and sci-fi films from the 1930s up to the 1980s. Excellent addition to the Blu ray. Also, the quality is beyond incredible! What a great transfer. The scenes are so crisp, you just feel all the atmosphere leaking out from each scene. Most definitely worth a purchase. A solid part of my horror movie collection.

ENEMY is a Beautiful, Dark Mindfuck

Enemy. 2014. Dir. Denis Villeneuve.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, and Isabella Rossellini. E1 Films. Rated R. 90 minutes. Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★ (Movie)
★★★★ (Blu ray release)

enemy-poster03I won’t waste any time really describing the plot of Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, which is in part based on the novel The Double by José Saramago. You can easily get the quick description from any site like IMDB, or somewhere else of that nature. What I want to talk about is my take on what actually happens in the film. So, with that being said, if you’ve not yet seen this you’ll probably want to avoid the remainder of my review.

Early on, Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a history professor at some college, gives lectures pertaining to totalitarian regimes. I think this leads into one of the larger themes of the film. While some think the movie is an analogy of how it is to live under a totalitarian regime, maybe unknowingly. However, I think this is ultimately about the totalitarian in all of us. What I mean is that I believe Adam Bell and Anthony Claire – his double – are truly one person. I think this movie speaks to how we are often dictators of ourselves.
In this sense, Adam is both himself, a history professor, and Anthony, or Daniel Saint Claire the background actor in lesser known films.
One of the instances I think that points to this is when Adam meets with his mother (the consistently interesting and lovely Isabella Rossellini) – he tells her about this possible double, which she of course pretty much laughs off. Afterwards, though, she tells him: “I think you should quit that fantasy being a third-rate movie actor“. The statement throws Adam off. It’s worth mentioning that just before this his mother serves blueberries for dessert. Adam tells her he doesn’t like blueberries, but she reassures him “of course” he does, and they’re good for him – this directly relates to when we see Anthony earlier before his meeting with Adam, when he arrives home looking for blueberries and his pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon) forgot to get the ones he wanted. I believe this is one tell-tale sign Villeneuve is exploring the duality of one person.
enemy06There are most certainly instances in Enemy that cannot truly be reconciled into one neat little package for explanation. On the other hand, I do believe there’s one overall theme that protrudes from the film – the struggle of certain men to overcome their desire and draw towards infidelity. I am almost certain the spider imagery here is also closely paralleled with the idea of women. For instance, the very end – and once again, TURN BACK if you have not see this film to the end!
enemy05At the close of the film, Anthony has died in a car accident along with Adam’s girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) after a switch between the two identical men goes awry. After this, Adam is seem continuing on, seemingly, happily with a pregnant Helen. He receives an envelope in the mail containing a smaller black envelope; inside, a key. This is harkens back to an awkward encounter Adam has in the elevator with a man, thinking he is Anthony, talking about some place they went together, rambling about new keys, and so on. All of this plays to the beginning where Anthony is seen at the weird sex club with the women and the spider – all that. Adam then says he may have to go out later that night, but receives no response from Helen. When he goes into the room to find her, Adam only finds a massive black spider huddling up, as if scared, in the room instead. He doesn’t really look scared so much, as he almost seems to have expected to see it there sooner or later.
enemy07I believe this is a huge key. Right there, Adam comes face to face once more with the infidelity inside him – the feelings Anthony represented. Adam had no desire to have sex with Helen in the beginning. It was only due to Anthony’s aggressive behaviour Adam ever agreed to switch places for the night; Anthony was the one who wanted to get away from his pregnant wife and be a single man again for a night, even if it meant pretending to be Adam. Once Anthony’s crazy behaviour goes over the top, it leads to him and Mary being killed in the car crash – this is Adam effectively killing off the side of him which strives to cheat on his wife. In reality, Adam and Helen are together, and the parts of the film involving Anthony and Mary are almost like the struggle involving his feelings of infidelity going on in his mind. You can see a real change start to happen particularly once Adam lays down in bed with Helen for the first time – I think this scene unlocks a lot of things.
These ideas also tie into the moments where we see the ominous spider stalking through the Toronto skyscrapers. Furthermore, the woman in the beginning about to crush the spider with her heel is sort of a representation of a woman being the answer to Adam’s search – the woman is literally going to crush the spider, the infidelity, underneath her boot. At the end of the film, Adam sees the giant spider in that room and we can see how he may have thought the thoughts of infidelity were killed off with Anthony – however, they were simply relegated to a room in his mind – because it’s clear the city itself is a sort of lifelike, realized world representative of Adam’s overall mind. Even some of the cover art points to this fact. I think, for me, this is one of the best explanations of the film. It works for my viewing. Maybe not for that of others.

1015996-rodeo-fx-enhances-villeneuve-s-enemyThis is by far one of the best films I’ve seen in the past decade or so. I love a movie which not only has what can be taken as a definitive meaning behind all the imagery, but also likes to play with the imagery in a way that can shock us, or push us to interpret, reinterpret, and so on. Villeneuve does a great job of weaving a fantastic tale here. He certainly leaves a lot to the imagination. I’m not saying my opinion on the meaning of this film is a definitive answer at all – there are many other great views on what Enemy truly means, and I think some of those are excellent, as well as very viable options as to a concrete theory. I happen to think mine, which is shared by plenty of others before me, is just one of the most interesting ways to look at the film. It’s a great one, and on the top of my 2014 releases – this didn’t make it out until last year here, even though it was screened plenty in the latter half of 2013. So please, check it out.
The Blu ray is also fantastic – there are a few special features you can dig into, including interviews with all involved. Wonderful picture and sound. Highly recommend this release. Denis Villeneuve is one of the best Canadian filmmakers ever to grace us with his presence. I can’t wait to see what he does in the future.

V/H/S/2: A Mixed Bag of Nasty Tricks

V/H/S 2. 2013. Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sánchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, and Jason Eisener. Magnet Releasing.
Rated 18A. 96 minutes.
Horror.

★★★1/2 (Movie)
★★ (Blu ray release)

For my review of the first V/H/S on Blu ray, click here.  For a review of the third installment in the trilogy, V/H/S: Viral, click here.

vhs_2_poster_3The wraparound story for the first V/H/S held things together well enough. While it was at best a decently played out section of the film, what really sold me on it overall were the individual segments (minus one), which I thought were really creepy and the first was fairly innovative in terms of their use of found footage. This time around in V/H/S/2, the wraparound segment called “Tape 49” (directed by usual writer Simon Barrett) is much better than that in the first installment of the series, and by the same token I didn’t really like as many of the shorts this time around. While I still love this series, I do think V/H/S/2 is essentially the weak link of what is so far a trilogy; I’m a big fan of third regardless of what others think – I think it’s the most unique and definitely the most far reaching in terms of concepts, particularly the segments by Gregg Bishop and Nacho Vigalondo. That is for another review.

I’m a big fan of Adam Wingard, and I honestly love almost every single bit of his work, however, I really can’t get hugely into his segment here, “Phase I Clinical Trials”.
Quick synopsis: Wingard plays a man who has a bionic eye implanted by a company that will monitor his every move and record whatever he does – it isn’t long until he discovers the eye helps him see just a little too well, and a little too much.
500full It is not badly done whatsoever – let me start by saying this – I have no problem with the visuals or aesthetics in general. What I’m not a fan of is the execution in terms of how it was written. I find usually Barrett, who wrote this segment along with the one he directed, subverts some of the norms I come to expect from horror. Here, in “Phase I”, Barrett really plays into some foolishness. Like when the girl just suddenly decides the best way to ignore all the weird, undead-like stuff going on around her and Wingard is to take off their clothes and start having sex. I mean – come on. I am a big fan of both Barrett and Wingard, and I usually never find myself saying these things about their work together, but here it is just unbearably bad. I really thought this was some tired writing. The direction worked well, as well as benefitting from Wingard acting in the short, in terms of the filming techniques used (he talks about this in one of the featurettes on the Blu ray – Wingard wanted to have an actual actor play the part but because of the fact he was shooting the segment in the first person perspective he felt it easier to take on the role himself). Other than the fact Wingard directs well, this segment isn’t really much fun – a few cool effects don’t make a decent short horror. I like its finale; there are some creepy ghosts and all that. The build up, on the other hand, doesn’t really do anything for me.
VHS2_19-1024x576Eduardo Sánchez is another filmmaker whose work I really enjoy. He does really well in the found footage sub-genre, and thrives. His segment is a zombie-filled romp through some woods called “A Ride in the Park”, which sees a mountain biker zipping through forest recording on his GoPro – he comes across a wounded woman, gets bitten, and then slowly becomes a zombie. From there, we follow him and his GoPro as he wanders with a herd of zombies through the trees, terrorizing others, including a little girl’s birthday party.
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Not only do I like the innovative use of found footage here with the GoPro camera on the biker, I really thought it was interesting to follow the perspective of a person who gets bitten by a zombie and becomes one himself. The GoPro really helps add to things by giving us a very up close and personal view of this perspective. Sánchez explores ideas about what happens to us after the zombie virus takes hold – do our feelings still linger? Can we retain any sort of control?

One really great, and heartbreaking, moment comes when the man-turned-zombie hears his phone making noise. After fumbling it from a pocket and realizing he accidentally dialed his girlfriend, a single pathetic-sounding groan comes from him, and it’s the stuff of good drama really. Thoroughly enjoyed this segment. It was good in all these senses while also being downright fun zombie madness – after the zombies infiltrate the birthday party it is just awesome.

Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto teamed up to create a really horrifying and adrenaline injected segment named “Safe Haven”. This short takes a young documentary film crew inside the complex of a cult run by a man known as Father. They want to give an inside scoop into the cult with untampered footage, giving the leader a chance to present his group, unbiased, to the outside world. Father allows them unprecedented access into the complex. Soon after, the crew begins to realize something is amiss. I won’t say any more. Go in knowing only this, or less.
500full-1I love how the pacing really keeps up in this segment. Things kick in with crazy gore, horror, and downright terror. I enjoyed every second of this one. The effects are outrageous, in the best way possible, and even the performances, specifically that of Epy Kusnandar as the previously mentioned Father – he is maniacal, a little funny at times, and absolutely scary as hell. This is by far the best segment of the first two V/H/S films because it scares the life out of me, but it also remembers to stay fun, and doesn’t take itself seriously the whole time. The final moments of “Safe Haven” are brilliant, hilarious, and terrifying all wrapped into one.

I enjoy Jason Eisener, especially after I’d seen Hobo With A Shotgun, but his segment “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” isn’t his greatest work to date. Not that I didn’t enjoy it – it was a lot of fun. The story is basically about a bunch of kids, with the parents gone away, who are then laid siege upon by a UFO and some aliens. Pretty good little plot for a short.
I just thought there was a bit too much epilepsy-inducing light flashing. The effect worked in certain places. Others, it was highly annoying. It really did help several shots look more effective, particularly when one of the kids goes up into an attic, and there ends up being a number of alien-creatures already there, some coming up behind, and I thought it definitely enhanced things. On the whole, though, there was too much of it. I just wanted the segment to end after things kicked into high gear. The adrenaline was pumping, there is no doubt, however, I don’t think it pumped correctly because there was too much flashy nonsense.
Eisener should have focused more on the horror itself and the terror rather than trying to forcibly slip us into being terrified by flashing lights and noises; I, personally, was creeped out as it was with the aliens, I didn’t need some of the nauseating effects that came along with it to be scared. Really disappointed in this section ultimately, but I did love the initial setup, as well as some of the kids’ dialogue.
VHS2_72-1024x576Part of the reason I really did enjoy V/H/S/2 is, as I mentioned earlier, the wraparound segment. Barrett’s “Tape 49” follows two private investigators who are looking for a missing student, and after they manage to get into his seemingly deserted house they come across a bunch of strange VHS tapes. Once they watch the tapes, their night gets even worse.

I thought this angle for the story that sort of encompasses the film, explaining the tapes themselves, worked very well, and it was also directed well by Barrett. I just thought it worked even better than the simple premise of the first film’s wraparound segment. It was more intriguing.
VHS2_75-1024x576I think one of the things V/H/S/2 really does have going for it, adding something new to the second installment of this series, is that the whole film is really fun. It’s absolutely an exciting and entertaining ride. Though I didn’t really click with Eisener or Wingard’s shorts, they were still enjoyable even if I had some problems with them myself. “A Ride in the Park” and “Safe Haven” really hit the mark the best I could have possibly imagined (I expected good things from both Evans and Sanchez because I was huge fans of theirs previous to this movie), and they keep the energy of the entire film at a really high level.

If you enjoyed the first V/H/S then you will most likely enjoy V/H/S/2 because, for all its faults, the film tries its best at all times to be entertaining, innovative, and above all else scary, as well as disturbing. You can do worse than this movie – certainly, I wouldn’t own it on Blu ray if I didn’t think it was worth watching.
That being said, the Blu ray release is not really the greatest. While the picture and sound are incredible, there is little else to be excited about other than a 3-minute featurette on each of the segments; one includes a ridiculously pointless video of Sanchez and crew tipping over a dead and rotting tree, which ends in slight injury. I only enjoyed the featurette for, surprisingly enough a segment I wasn’t big on, “Phase I Clinical Trials” – I really like Wingard a lot, and just hearing him talk a little about the filming process, et cetera, it was nice. Though, it was still only 3 or 4 minutes. Neither of these features are longer than 5 minutes tops. Disappointing, especially considering this is a film highly based around the visuals. They could have done better.
Check out the Blu ray, but don’t expect a ton of great extras to keep you entertained. You’ll be getting the film and not much in the way of added toppings. The movie is pretty good. The Blu ray? You’re better off waiting for them to put out all the V/H/S movies as a set. Maybe then they’ll get some more, and better, footage to include for the fans. Until then, this a mediocre at best Blu ray release.

The Raid 2: Because Somehow It Gets Better

The Raid 2: Berandal. 2014. Directed & Written by Gareth Evans.
Starring Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Yayan Ruhian, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusodewo, Alex Abbad, Julie Estelle, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, and Kazuki Kitamura. Entertainment One Films Canada.
Rated 18A. 150 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)

Even the trailer just absolutely melts my face off. I couldn’t wait for this movie to come out. And boy, was I ever not disappointed in the least. In fact, this is one of those few sequels where it surpasses its predecessor joining the ranks of The Godfather Part IIStar Trek II: The Wrath of KhanStars Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, and The Dark Knight. This addition to what will hopefully be a trilogy is an incredible action film, and most certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen.

The plot of The Raid 2: Berandal begins only a few hours after the previous events of the first film. Now, Rama is forced to go undercover in a ruthless prison to protect his family, as well as infiltrate the criminal organization which stretches even into the police. He must become a mob enforce in order to break through and gain the information needed. This is easier said than done. Once again, Rama has to fight through criminal after criminal to succeed in his objective.
So get ready for an all-out brawl with so much balls you’ll feel the kicks and punches in your gut with every bone smashing scene.

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O
ne of the things I immediately loved about The Raid 2 is that it gives us another chance to engage the character of Rama. In the first film, Evans gave us a look at tough yet nervous rookie, who was navigating a world completely unfamiliar to him. Even more so this time around, Rama is in a dangerous and unpredictable environment. But this time, Rama is also more experienced.
Right off the bat we’re treated to amazing fight choreography just in the first 25 minutes or so. First, we get to see an enclosed space brawl where Rama fights off numerous prisoners, as they kick and punch their way to him. Then, later, Rama must fight for his very life, as a gigantic brawl begins in the prison yard. Arms and legs are broken. Heads are smashed in with fists, rocks, and whatever else these men can grasp their fingers around. Some inmates are kicked to death in the muddy yard by groups of other prisoners. It’s just an absolutely incredible scene.  ‘m not sure how many actual edits are in there, but Evans makes it all look like one long, fierce take just following fight after fight, death after death. It’s one of those powerhouse sequences where it feels unbroken for a nice long time. You see a lot of these types of shots in other films, but action films it’s not exactly commonplace to see these extended takes because that takes a lot of work. Evans, however, pulls out several of these throughout the film.

A really amazing sequence, among many, is the crowded fight in the car. Watching how Evans actually accomplished that entire fight including some very unique and tricky camerawork, it’s just a breath of fresh air in the action world. Not only does Evans care about the fights themselves looking great and natural at the same time, he still pays close attention to the details of the actual camerawork for such fights. I know there are other stylized action films out there. Nevertheless, Evans and his two Raid films really takes the cake on visionary action-thriller filmmakers. Seeing the camera operators passing the camera around through the car, as well as discovering there’s one of them actually dressed as a seat (I never would have guessed that on my own – not in a million years), it is spectacular movie making. There aren’t enough minds like Evans, especially in the action genre.

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Love the role of Uco played by Arifin Putra. He did a great job. It was good to see another strong role in The Raid series aside from the main role of Rama (Uwais). This guy did a nice job with a character who could be typical. In certain respects, he is, quite typical. Yet there’s a savage, brutish nature to the way Putra plays Uco I really enjoyed. I sort of felt bad for him in a way, even though he’s really just a spoiled little psychopath.
Regardless, Putra gave a good performance, which worked well opposite Iko Uwais, who was just as excellent (if not more) in this film as he was in the first. Uwais had more to work with here, as the treacherous waters Rama must wade through become deeper and darker, murkier than before. In particular, there’s a fight later in the film where Rama scalds a man’s face terribly (a man he discovers afterwards is a police officer like himself). Following the fight, Rama is absolutely devastated with what he has become in order to fight criminals – essentially, a criminal himself. Uwais does a terrific job with this role and I felt for his character, which we rightfully should. Then of course his fighting has only gotten better, it seems. Not long after the previous scenes, the aforementioned car fight goes down; it’s one of the more wildly choreographed and executed scenes in the entire movie.

Action films are always better served by good performances (stupid thing to say – any film is served well by a proper performance), so having both Putra and Uwais play their roles with skill only makes things better. When you get good action with fun, interesting characters it isn’t hard to enjoy. The Raid 2 really improved in a lot of ways from the first, as much as it could seeing as how that one was incredible. The main way in which this film is better comes down to the performances. Though there is plenty of action, even more than the first (or at least on a bigger scale than its predecessor), this sequel really gets into the performances more.
There are some really unique characters in here. One in particular sees Yayan Ruhian (who also apparently choreographed bits of this film – not sure exactly how much but that is excellent) back in action; here, he plays a different character than his insane Mad Dog character from The Raid: Redemption.The character he played was weird, which is awesome.  Not only that, he fights a bunch of dudes in the street, while holding a machete, and yet doesn’t actually use it on any of them – not until the final person he fights. This also includes a great blood effect that I cannot get enough of! Evans does a shot of a body sliding down a wall after being ran through with the machete’s blade, except it’s from the rear, and so we get a nice view of the bloody hole from his gut to his back, as it slides down the wall leaving only Ruhian visible through the hole in the wall. Maybe that sounds like a mouthful, but believe me – it is an awesome little, almost throwaway, practical effect. It looks really gnarly, and I totally dug it to the fullest.

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Two other honourable mentions must be noted when it comes to characters: Hammer Girl (seen above in mid-kick assery) & her equally demented sibling Baseball Bat Man. Great additions to the film. Not only was it sort of fun and a kind of homage to less serious/more silly martial arts flicks, it really kicked up the madness of the entire Raid series another notch. In the first movie, we get that real crazy vibe from the machete gang. I was really wondering what Evans would do in this film; if there would be that sort of vibe I got from them.  This is where Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man came in. Their fight with Rama was just absolutely intense. One of those great sequences where you’re actually not sure for a few moments here and there if the hero would come out on top. I like that, when a filmmaker isn’t afraid to tease us a little with the true fear of a character’s death. But of course Rama is the man; I mean, do you really doubt that? This fight is one of the more balls-to-the-wall sequences out of either of the Raid movies, and I couldn’t rewind enough to watch it over and over.
Not to take away too much from the final fight Rama endures – it is a dam fine fight both in the camerawork used and the fight choreography of the actual scene. I just particularly wanted to mention those characters. The last fight, regardless of how much I enjoyed Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, was near perfection. Incredible, the score really amped things up with a sort of John Carpenter feel to it, and it was just really beautiful and brutal all at once. Plus it comes to a bloody conclusion.
Also, it’s worth mentioning the locations Evans chose to shoot were really interesting to look out, so while there’s great fight choreography and bone crunching hits happening, there’s also a beautiful visual style to the whole film overall in the form of interesting locations, as opposed to a ton of set pieces (I’m not positive whether there were specifically built sets used in this film or not – to me most of the locations look natural). Always a plus for an action film.

As a film, The Raid 2: Berandal is easily a 5 star experience. It stands on its own as a really great crime thriller with extraordinary action sequences and fight choreography. In regards to its status as a sequel, this definitely improves on the first for me – there were no characters here I felt weren’t portrayed well. The acting really did it for me here, and took The Raid series to a higher level. The fight choreography stepped it up, too. The prison yard fight alone is enough to raise this up over the first movie. Put all those things together and you’ve got one hell of an action film. There isn’t the same music as the first, but I think the score here really works for the movie, and the fact it doesn’t sound the same is not a drawback. Yet there was a wonderful use of my favourite artist Nine Inch Nails both in the very last moments of the film and over the credits, as well. Really awesome music from Trent’s work on his Ghosts collection of albums. Excellent experience overall, from action to character to plot to sound. You won’t find too many films, particularly action-thrillers, better than this one.

The Blu ray release, again, is a god damn treasure. Getting a look behind the scenes of these Raid films is a treat for me. Like I said before, the fight in the car and watching it broken down kept me busy forever. Not to mention the entire featurette included called “A Violent Ballet”, which is focused solely on the choreography involved in the production of the film. Of course there’s also some director commentary (really worthwhile to listen – a lot of insight from a great filmmaker), and another featurette about shooting a sequel to the first film. These are all really wonderful extras. Highly suggest checking them out if you pick up this release.
Also thrown in is a four and a half minute deleted sequence entitled “Gang War” – this shows a group of thugs getting ready for what promises to be a massive battle, putting guns and grenades and ammo in bags, marching together down the street, and finally they meet another gang. This climaxes in a ridiculously wild and gory shootout between the gangs. I loved every last second of this. There are some great effects in the 4-minute span of this scene. Although, I can understand why Evans opted not to include this sequence in the finished film, it’s really fun to watch. An action packed deleted scene if there ever was one!
The Blu ray release is beyond worth the purchase. 5 out of 5 star ratings times five. I’ve spent hours watching the extras. The picture itself is worth seeing because it’s as close to seeing it in theatre as you can get. Really great experience. The fight sequences look incredible here. Evans’ work as a director shines when you can watch his film in such gorgeous definition. Recommended to the fullest – go pick this up and you will not be let down in the least by either the film or the Blu ray.

One Ass Kicker Cop v. A Building Full of Psychotics in The Raid: Redemption

The Raid: Redemption. 2011.  Dir. Gareth Evans.  Starring. Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Donny Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno, Tegar Satrya, and Ray Sahetapy. XYZ Films.
Rated 18A. 100 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★1/2 (Film)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)

There are not a lot of action films I truly love, in the sense I don’t particularly favour the genre over others. Whereas I’m a bigger fan of horror and thriller films, action movies really need to be a big deal for me to get hooked in, and for me to walk away thinking it’s a great piece of film. That being said, there are a few I absolutely love. For instance, The Terminator to me is the best action-thriller ever conceived; it’s not only thrilling and full of great action sequences, a great plot to boot, it has the sci-fi element thrown in, which really helps it. However, there are action films that come along from time to time which really surprise me. Not only are they jam packed with some really impressive fighting and choreography, they’ve often got one or two solid performances alongside a decently entertaining plot and story.

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The Raid is one such film. At the beginning I sort of expected something derivative of a typical ‘good cop gets in over his head’ scenario. I soon changed my mind. Quickly.
The story follows a rookie member of an elite special-forces quad named Rama (Uwais) who is allowed to go along as the team attempts to extract a savage crime boss called Tama (Sahetapy) who runs a dilapidated apartment complex.
But when a spotter blows the team’s cover, Tama offers up a great incentive for anyone on any floor of the building who brings him the heads of the intruding police. Rama ends up having to take charge when a big load hits the fan.
From there it’s basically a massively entertaining and brutal action film. Yet it isn’t just an action film. It really is thrilling. I really can’t get over a few of the fight sequences. The choreography is some of the best I’ve ever seen, in any action movie. While there’s a beautiful rhythmic way the camera follows these fights, it is all very real. The punches and kicks are hard and crushing. You can almost feel every bit of it. There are so many action movies where the fight scenes are either outrageous, or consist of people fake fighting. Instead, The Raid is like a giant sparring session.
One thing I really love is that this film doesn’t at all go for the ‘one man versus ten’, as they all go at the one man individually, single file, and he fights them off. In particular, one scene in the hallway where Rama is basically forced to fend off several men at one time by himself really does away with this tired trope. But what I love isn’t necessarily that it bucks the norm, it’s the fact that we get to see the fighters really showcase their talents. After this film, as well as its sequel The Raid 2: Berandal, I suspect Iko Uwais’ name will only get bigger and bigger.

Another little scene I love is when Rama and Officer Bowo (Satrya) are forced to hide in one of the building tenants apartments. They’re hiding behind a wall, as a gang of thugs lead by a machete wielding maniac (when in fact they’ve all got machetes) search the place for the two cops. The maniac puts his blade in through the wall, one place after another, until it slides in and slices open Rama’s face. At that instant, the owner of the apartment urges them to get out. The maniac leaves his machete in the wall and yells at the man. Evans really pulls out a great gem of a moment here – Rama holds the blade, and as the man hauls the machete back out, he wipes the blood off it, so nobody is the wiser. We’ve all watched those scenes where someone is hiding, just about to be caught, and yet something prevents it; this moment really subverted those typical scenes into something new. I dig that. Not usual many action films really screw with the tropes of the genre, and The Raid does a great job with this at times.

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There’s really something to be said about action films being violent. I mean, isn’t that the point of certain action really? When I go to see action movies, I don’t particularly look for a great performance. What I do focus on while I’m watching them is what the fights look like, how they’re paced. I don’t want to go and watch an action film that’s got too much drama. Although I like some; there’s a mix that can be attained. There’s just enough here in The Raid to satisfy the drama quotient. Just a little. Sort of like adding flavour. What really sets this apart as a great action film is the fact it isn’t rated PG-13. Evans pulls out some perfect gory kills here. Even some vicious kills that weren’t gory, just really nasty. One I thought was unique happened when Rama just tosses this guy running at him over the ledge of one floor, and the guy lands on the opposite side, one floor down, right on his back; I actually said “ouch” aloud. Delightfully awful. Another is after a savage brawl with the machete gang when Rama jumps back through a doorway hauling one of his opponents’ heads down with him, putting a jagged piece of broken door through a guy’s neck and throat. I just didn’t see it coming, and it was one of those martial arts moments where you realize this guy Rama is so aware of his surroundings; he’s a god damn excellent candidate for law enforcement.

Iko Uwais is a really talented guy. Of course there wasn’t really a massive amount of drama here as I said, he still pulled off his character convincingly – in between kicking ass, dodging bullets, and generally saving the day. The beginning, as well as a few points in the latter half of the film, show him with his wife, and he did a nice job. Certainly things also get dramatically tense once we find out more about the plot, as the film goes on. He gets more chances to showcase his acting abilities over his fighting prowess, and gave a nice performance. I won’t give away exactly what happens or who he meets, just for those who’ve yet to see it, but one other moment I love is when Rama comes in contact with somebody he did not expect to see in the apartment complex. Both him and the other actor did great. I loved their scenes together. It adds more complexity to Rama’s character, as well as the entire film.
The rest of the cast was great. Although I honestly did not enjoy Ray Sahtapy as Tama, the crime boss. It never clicked with me. Also, I wasn’t really a huge fan of Pierre Gruno here. I didn’t like his portrayal of the character. I felt he was flat compared to everyone else.
But aside from those two, the rest of performances were good. The brief bits we get with Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog were spectacular, and he was one of the real shining points in the supporting cast. Even in a smaller role he blew me away. Not only with his fight scenes, which were outrageously awesome, but his acting was surprisingly nice (I only say surprisingly because I’ve never seen him anywhere else but here – that I know of anyways). I hope to see more of him outside The Raid movies.

Another aspect of this film worth mentioning is the excellent music. The dubstep-style songs in certain parts really fit, as well as the rest of the suspenseful, intense scoring during other moments. Everything really piece together well. The music helped with the film’s tight pacing. One of my favourite moments concerning the music is when Rama is trying to bust a hole through the floor with an axe; there’s just something so gritty and kick ass about the music there, it really sets the tone. Action films need more music like this. When it wasn’t the dubstep-style music, we got some great, low-key electronic scoring, and at other times it sounded beautifully dark and intricate. Amazing.

I’m absolutely in love with this movie. One of the best action films I’ve ever seen. Certainly one of the best in the last 10-15 years, if not the best action film of those years period. I give this a 4.5 star rating. It’s almost a perfect film. I cannot recommend it enough. Especially if you’re having one of those movie nights where you can’t decide on something. If you’re looking for an action-thriller of the highest quality, look no further.

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The Blu ray release is also pretty damn fantastic. First of all, Claycat’s version of The Raid was so funny and so awesome. Put it on and you will most definitely have a blast. I cracked up.
The featurettes on this release are beyond incredible. Listening to Gareth Evans break down scenes as he shot them is inspirational, honestly. Some of the takes here were insanity. They broke down the ‘Hole Drop’ scene, as Rama busts a hole in the floor for the team to escape through. While one of the actors jumped down through the hole, a camera operator was sort of lowered partly down into the hole, and another operator took the camera from him continuing on to shoot as he follows the actor. Watching it while Evans talks is so cool. I always love seeing these types of things on a Blu ray or DVD release because, as someone who eventually wants to make films (short films at the least) it’s interesting to watch certain scenes broken down because it gives me ideas, and also exposes people to the intricate process of filmmaking most movie watchers often don’t pay attention to, or are even aware of in a lot of cases.
Evans talks further about the stunts, and how many scenes were actually stitched together to make them look how they did in the final film; particularly, the kill I mentioned with the broken back. Very cool. Most of the stunts, of course, were natural in the fighting process. There weren’t many shots here that needed any wire work. Not as far as I can tell, anyways. Regardless, watching the filmmaking in all its forms is amazing. The featurettes go through everything from soundtrack and themes to stunts to production. Mike Shinoda and Gareth Evans sit down and talk through a lot of it, which was definitely an interesting watch. The Blu ray is hands down a 5 out of 5 stars. Nothing wrong with this release. There is beautiful sound design, the picture is magnificent, and the special features really do the release justice.

If you haven’t seen The Raid: Redemption, go see it now. If you love it – get a copy of the Blu ray, and sit back to some amazing visuals, balls-out fights, plus a pack of extra features to keep you busy.

The Guest is like a Young Terminator in Post-Blackwater Era

The Guest. 2014. Directed by Adam Wingard. Written by Simon Barrett. Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, and Lance Reddick. Picturehouse.
Rated 14A. 99 minutes.
Action/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★

To begin, I’ve been a fan of Adam Wingard a long while. I think the first time I actually saw one of his films it was A Horrible Way to Die, which I recently got on Blu ray and enjoyed again to the fullest. After that I got the chance to see both Home Sick and Pop Skull within a couple days. Though I enjoy his later work more, I still really dug those films. Wingard really has a different sensibility about the way he makes movies than a lot of new, young horror directors. Not to mention, Simon Barrett, who has been writing films for Wingard since, I believe, A Horrible Way to Die. Barrett is a really interesting writer; another of his works I enjoyed before his partnership with Wingard is the creepy Confederate gold horror Dead Birds. Together, the two of these guys are a great pair as writer-director partnerships go. Especially in the horror genre. I think these guys continually prove they’re the next big thing (hell – I think they’re the big thing right now) in horror.
That being said, after You’re Next, Barrett and Wingard have moved onto a slight change of pace with The Guest.

THE GUESTThis story follows a young soldier named David (Stevens). The film begins as we follow behind him, jogging. Soon, he reaches the home of a soldier he knew, Caleb, who recently died. David tells the family Caleb wanted him to find them and give them his love. David also says he promised Caleb he’d do anything possible to help them. Anna (Monroe), Caleb’s sister, seems suspicious. However, the rest of the family, especially the mother (Sheila Kelley) and younger brother (Brendan Meyer), take a liking to David. Even some of Anna’s friends, including a sleazy sort of dude named Craig (a nice small role played by Joel David Moore), think David is the best. Eventually, David’s past comes back to haunt him. People start dying.
And soon enough, Anna starts finding things out about David; dangerous things.

The movie plays out like something we’ve seen before, and yet The Guest feels different. A lot of people focus on it seemingly being a throwback to 1980s action-thrillers, and also some of John Carpenter’s works specifically, which I agree; a lot of this film seems very much inspired by the look of Carpenter, as well as the feel of certain action movies from the 80s, most specifically probably The Terminator. Regardless, The Guest is not some 80s rehash. It’s a smart little thriller with the entertainment of thrillers we’ve known before. Yes, there are influences here. Yes, the soundtrack is most certainly a heavy lean towards the 80s.
But Barrett and Wingard both are too clever to make this just a throwback piece.

For anyone who has not actually seen The Guest yet, what I’m about to say in the next little bit has a huge SPOILER in it. So, if you’d rather not have the film spoiled, and I’d rather you not because I don’t want anyone complaining when I’ve clearly forewarned them (even though I think the whole concept of ‘spoiler alert’ is ridiculous – if you don’t want anything spoiled, stay away from the fucking internet), PLEASE TURN BACK.
The-Guest-1So, one of my favourite pieces in the entire movie is nearing the finale. Just as things start going haywire for David, he and Mrs. Peterson (Kelley) are in the kitchen, taking cover from gunfire and such. I honestly believed David was going to protect the family. I figured we’d be treated to a massive shootout, as well as maybe a few hand-to-hand combat scenes. Instead, Barrett subverts those expectations, and David instead stabs Mrs. Peterson just before she yells to the men outside the house as she figures out his intentions. I really didn’t see that coming. Also, I think this is really clever because even earlier when David kills two other people, we don’t necessarily switch him to the bad guy. We’re still wondering what exactly is going on with him; maybe the government has done his head in, maybe they turned him into a killing machine without the off switch – who knows?
But once David kills the mother, all bets are off. We now see him as an unstoppable force. He strategically snuffs out any single person who may, or possibly may not, it doesn’t matter, become a trail leading back to him. Then from this point on things get even wilder.

This is one of the many reasons I really enjoy The Guest. Another thing – Wingard avoids going for some extended, unnecessary sex scene during a party in the film. Whereas a lot of other filmmakers might make it into a whole scene, Wingard keeps it at a very brief few shots, which gives us enough information to deduce that, yes, the two characters indeed have sex.
It’s not that I’m against sex scenes. In fact, I’m not at all. I think if the plot provides a moment where a sex scene is organic and natural, then why not? But on the contrary, if there is no need for it, if it doesn’t serve the plot or characters in any way, then why include it? Only makes for a bit of fast forward. You can either have sex or watch it on the internet whenever you want – it doesn’t need to be filler in a movie. Not for me anyways. Kudos to Wingard for not falling into the same old traps other filmmakers do. Instead, he uses every scene, every shot, because they’re all meant to be in there. Signs of a good filmmaker, in my opinion.
the-guestI really enjoyed Dan Stevens as David. I’ve never personally seen him in anything else, though I know what he’s done. His portrayal of this character was incredible. He swung between charming and handsome, to dark (still handsome) and brooding. There were times he genuinely chilled me with a few of the looks on his face; not even his words, just expressions. I think I’ll definitely have to see some of his other work. Great casting.

Though there are a few small performances I enjoyed (Ethan Embry as a small-time arms dealer, Joel David Moore as the burnt out Craig, Lance Reddick as Major Carver, the always unique Leland Orser as Mr. Peterson), the one other performance aside from Stevens I enjoyed most was Maika Monroe. She did a wonderful job as Anna. Again, I don’t ever really recall seeing her in anything else, but she was great here. This could’ve easily been played badly had they cast someone else, however, Monroe turns the character of Anna into someone less-angsty and a bit more intelligent than most young characters we see in horrors, action-thrillers, and the lot. Also, she gets to utter the final line – I absolutely love it. The way she says it, the three words themselves; it all puts things perfectly in perspective. Another great instance of casting. She and Stevens played well off one another, as well. Some really great scenes between the two.
GUESTEXCPICSNEWS1The Guest is a fun and weird ride through what could have been a typical action-thriller, but instead comes off as the next legitimate step on the path towards greatness for Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. I think this is not only better than most action coming out post-2000, it’s also just one of the better action-thrillers I’ve seen. I recently rewatched The Terminator on Blu ray (and I probably consider that to be the best action-thriller ever), and I can honestly say, for me, The Guest ranks up there with that film.

I love the dialogue, as I usually do in movies scripted by Barrett; I never find myself stopping and wondering why someone had to say that, why the screenwriter left this in there, et cetera. The plot is a lot of fun, and Wingard really executes things well. He is great with a lot of the handheld work in his previous films, but I think with the bigger budgets his and Barrett’s talents have started bringing in his films will start to see more and more stabilized framing. Not to say handheld isn’t good, or that Wingard isn’t good at it (the opposite – as I said he is great), I just think with The Guest, Wingard proves he is capable of true beauty with more steady framing and shot composition. There are just absolutely magnificent shots here; one such action-style shot is when Craig (Moore) is running away from David, who lets him go, and eventually picks him off with a headshot from long range. Just really great and twisted stuff.

The Guest will be on Blu ray January 6th, but is also going to be available for purchase as a Digital HD release on December 16th through VOD services. As soon as you can, check this out. I’m looking forward to the Blu ray because this is a gorgeous looking film with great camerawork, a killer soundtrack, and some top notch performances.

Kevin Smith’s Whacky Creature Feature: Tusk

Tusk. 2014. Directed & Written by Kevin Smith.
Starring Michael Parks, Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment, and Johnny Depp. Sony Pictures Releasing Canada.
Rated 14A. 102 minutes.
Comedy/Horror

★★★★

First of all, a lot of people seem to misunderstand Tusk as a film overall. It’s meant, above all else, as a comedy and a drama. Yes, there is horror, and it is a horror film, but the comedy and drama trump everything. Just a little over halfway through the movie, things get divisive because a lot of people think it gets ridiculous, or silly, or whatever.
Me – well, I think differently.tusk-poster

Second, I just love the premise of this movie. Kevin Smith is not particularly one of my favourites, though, I really love Clerks (the first one – I don’t dig the second so much), MallratsDogma, and Red State a lot. His move into a bit of horror while still holding onto the comedy roots he works so well with really is spectacular. Red State was a lot of fun, and I’ve re-watched it a bunch of times since the first; for me, it holds up time after time.

The story of Tusk follows Wallace Bryton (Long), a rising podcast star, who interviews weird and wild people everywhere; he travels to different locations, interviews different characters, and then retells his experiences for Teddy Craft (Osment) who never travels. There emerges a side story involving Wallace’s girlfriend Ally; the two share a bit of a rocky relationship, as we see both Wallace’s infidelity, as well as Ally’s eventual, secret at first, indiscretions, too. Wallace goes up to Canada to interview the Kill Bill Kid – a young man who chopped off his own leg with a sword accidentally – but once he arrives in Winnipeg, he discovers the kid has taken his own life, and the story is quite literally now dead.
Unfairly pissed, Wallace heads to a bar before moving on home. In the bathroom he discovers a wanted ad: an old man, once an adventurer at sea, has a room for rent, and stories to tell. Out in the woods of Manitoba, Wallace finds Howard Howe in a beautiful, sprawling estate type home. Howe seems just a little eccentric at first telling stories of being at sea, meeting Ernest Hemingway (even claiming one of old Ernie’s most famous quotes about drinking was first quoted to him personally), however, soon enough it’s really damn clear the old man doesn’t just want company. He misses an old friend, and Howe is determined to bring him back by any means necessary.
TUSKOnce Wallace goes missing, Ally and Teddy wake up to a frantic voicemail he left them both; he claims Howe has kidnapped him, and wants to turn him into a walrus. Worried, they seek out the police, who are of course sceptical (I spell it that way ’cause I’m Canadian, eh). They then meet a man named Guy Lapointe (played hilariously by Johnny Depp). He has been hunting a serial killer across Canada, and it turns out this is most likely Howe. They join together hoping to track down and save Wallace.

A lot of people have trouble with the way Tusk shifts gears between horror to drama to comedy, and back, and forth. I don’t necessarily see the problem. If either of these genres were being inappropriately served up, then I would understand, but to my mind it’s all carried out pretty well. The horror works. Some may say the “transformation” is silly. I understand. I mean, the comedy of Long’s “transformation” is not lost on Smith – he knows it looks a bit funny. Aside from the initial laugh it might get, the “transformation” (I say that because I don’t want to outright describe anything and give it away) is pretty fucking disturbing. Especially when you couple Long’s appearance with the shrieking and moaning he does after being transformed. After awhile it really gets grating on the nerves. Not in an annoying sense. It grates on them hard and makes me uncomfortable. Watching Parks’ character rant at Long, transformed into a hideous thing, feeding him, making him eat; it’s awful. But awful in the best sort of way.

The bits of drama worked into the storyline served things well. Once you get to the end and look back at the drama Smith infused into the screenplay, they really add to one another. The ending (I won’t give it away) sort of makes you look at how both Ally and Teddy feel about Wallace, deep down, regardless of everything which came before. Some might see the ending as foolish, or whatever – I don’t see it that way. There’s a real sentimental angle at work that serves the dramatic storyline well. It isn’t just an attempt for a goofy/happy ending to a horror-comedy. It’s how Smith closes out the emotional angle he’d been playing at with the Wallace/Ally/Teddy story. I thought it was probably the best way for Tusk to end. In a way, it’s sentimental, yet still a bit horrifying.
Kevin_Smith_s_Tusk_could_be_the_scariest_horror_of_2014__Or_the_funniest__Or_bothThe comedy really works. I’m Canadian, and I thought a lot of the Canada jokes were hilarious. The ‘aboot’ thing is a bit overworked in film/television generally, but other than that it’s really funny. I thought the ‘double double’ joke was pretty funny because I’ve heard lots of people actually say things like that. Some might misinterpret the joke as Smith not understanding what a ‘double double’ actually is, but it’s the opposite – he knows, and he’s making fun of Tim Hortons lovers. At least that’s how I see it.

Also, near the opening Long’s character goes through the airport, and one of the Canadian guys working there is just so ridiculously funny it makes me tear up – plus, his beard is gnarly as all hell.

The performances in Tusk are what really make things chug along wonderfully. Of course people will talk about Parks because he did a great job, as he did in the previous outing with Smith on Red State. And he was fascinating. Really creepy, especially in the early dinner table scenes opposite Long. Some very ominous stuff.
Even Just Long, who I’m admittedly not huge on really, does a good job with the material. He is a perfect fit for Wallace, and was pretty funny at times, especially in his banter with Parks, as well as with the two young girls at the Canadian convenience store (played by the daughter duo of Depp and Smith’s girls). There are a few really creepy points where Long does a fantastic job after his “transformation”; his vocalizations are really god damn scary at times, to me, and I watch a lot of horror. He could have simply wailed, but you could really feel some of Wallace’s fear by the way Long screamed and pleaded for help.
227Mainly, though, I really want to talk about Mr. Depp. A lot of people like to say he isn’t actually a great actor, he only takes a role depending on the hat he gets to wear, he sold out, blah, blah, blah. I think that is a load of bullshit. Depp is not only an extremely talented actor, he absolutely blows the screen to bits in Tusk. First off, his portrayal of a French Canadian Quebec accent (for those who don’t know, yes, there are other French people in Canada aside from the people of Quebec..) is so awesome. Even just his speech patterns, let alone the accent, are perfect. Loved it. A lot of times we see Depp in roles where he’s got a sexy sort of edge to him; even his dirty, fiendish Jack Sparrow was meant to have a kind of sex appeal to him. Here, Lapointe is just a really awesome dirtbag. He’s lovable, but good lord is he strange and sort of gross.

One of my favourite parts of the whole movie is when Lapointe mashes down a slider, nearly flat against a table, reminiscing on the only downfall of the great people of Quebec, and then eats it up (special note: wait until after the credits before you leave the theatre or turn off the film – there is a fun little post-credit scene with Lapointe recalling his love of the slider). Plus, there are plenty of other little bits where Depp absolutely sucks the marrow out of every bit of the Lapointe character. Anyone who says he “ruined the movie” or some such nonsense is a hater. Depp is hilarious here. For a second, I almost didn’t recognize him. Once he speaks, of course you’ll know. Before that, though, the prosthetics and the facial hair and the accent almost conceal him. I loved every second of his performance.
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I really have to give Tusk a 4 out of 5 stars. It isn’t a perfect film. There are points where things sort of drag a little. I don’t know if the switch between genres had anything to do with pacing – I really liked the genre mashup here – but it’s possible that maybe a little less of a stark contrast between the genres in Tusk might appease more fans. Regardless, this film really hits the right notes. As I said, Smith finds a way to loop all those dramatic elements back together into something tangible while still hanging onto all the comedy and horror of Tusk. Not to mention Smith shot the film gorgeously. His eye for shot composition has only gotten better with time, film after film.
People will say it’s too funny to be all out horror. I say bullshit. People say the “transformation” is too silly to take seriously – I say, you’re watching a movie about a man wanting to turn another man into a fucking walrus, stop acting like it’s an Ingmar Bergman film. Sit back, enjoy Tusk for what it is – a horror comedy with dramatic elements and a few really awesome, creepy, and fun performances to boot. I really can’t wait for this to finally get out on Blu ray because I will most certainly be picking it up. Smith continues to impress me with his horror efforts on this second outing after his initial dip into the genre with Red State. I like the way he approaches horror. Looking forward to some more.

Wes Craven & Ronald Reagan: Socioeconomic Horror in The People Under the Stairs

The People Under the Stairs. 1991. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A.J Langer, and Ving Rhames. Universal Pictures. Rated R. 102 minutes.
Comedy/Horror/Mystery.

★★★★ (Film)
★1/2 (Blu ray release)

I really have a thing for Wes Craven. Do you think he knows?
He’s written and directed some incredibly disturbing, unsettling, and wild horror films. Let’s count the great ones, shall we? The Last House on the LeftThe Hills Have EyesSwamp ThingA Nightmare on Elm StreetThe Hills Have Eyes Part II (maybe I’ll draw some ire by planting that one in here, but I love it, and think it’s unfairly maligned by a lot of critics and horror fans), The Serpent and the Rainbow (directing credit only), Wes Craven’s New NightmareScream (directing again only).
This is not to mention the bunch of other fun horror films he’s had a had in producing, such as FeastWishmaster, and the fantastic remake of his own The Hills Have Eyes. I mean, for A Nightmare on Elm Street alone Craven gets a spot on the top horror masters of all time. Brilliance. But there are a few of his films (such as the aforementioned sequel to his The Hills Have Eyes) which don’t get the credit they deserve.

Cue: The People Under the Stairs.

peopleunderthestairsAt first the film could appear to be a crime thriller about some robbers, but (aside from having Craven’s name on it) you can quickly tell it isn’t going to be the same old story. The film starts off with “Fool” Williams living in a ghetto in L.A. His family is soon to be evicted. Luckily, or realistically unfortunately, for Fool, he knows Leroy who is a lifetime criminal. They quickly decide to rob The Robesons, who lovingly call themselves Mommy & Daddy (played fabulously by former onscreen husband & wife in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Wendy Robie and Everett McGill), who live in a big, old house with only their daughter Alice. Once they get inside the house, hoping to find all the supposed riches the Robesons have hidden away, they discover, to their horrible surprise, it isn’t any treasure Mommy & Daddy have been hiding; the secrets in the house are far worse.

I really love the trailers for The People Under the Stairs because it has such a creepy, dreadful feeling. It starts with the ominous “in every neighbourhoodthere is a house that even the adults talk about“, or something similar. Just superbly disturbing. Once you get into the film, past the bits of ham, there are some wild bits that really creeped me out. In particular, Everett McGill puts on a suit at one point that turned me away, by pure fright, from leather – long before I ever enjoyed the devilishly fun first season of American Horror Story, and the Rubber Man.
gimpsuitOne thing I love is how hard Craven attacks the Reagan era. Particularly, you can see how he is really skewed in the Mommy and Daddy naming of the two crazy people who own the house. It’s known that Ronald often called his wife Nancy Reagan “Mommy”. While Nancy called the Commander-in-chief “Ronnie”, you can still see, along with the rest of the film skewing his era of presidency, how the names Mommy and Daddy were certainly meant to really poke at the political & social commentary of The People Under the Stairs. Even at one point when Fool is looking around the house, he comes across a television set, which is clearly blaring graphic news reports of armed forces conflict (most likely they’re videos from the Gulf War which ended the same year this film was released). I mean, Daddy even stalks Fool and Leroy around the house, eventually shooting Lero, using a high-powered pistol with a red dot sight on it. The artillery Daddy is packing in that house is beyond simple home protection. I think there’s a little message about guns, or at least the military, under Reagan floating around here.

It all lines up, with the plot itself of course, to be very clear Craven doesn’t only intend this as a sometimes campy other times disturbing little horror flick. There’s more than meets the eye.
xDP7rThe acting here is generally pretty good. Rhames is decent in his small part. Really it’s McGill and Robie who shine here. They’re perfect for the role. Of course, they were also perfect on Twin Peaks, so I didn’t doubt they’d do a great job here. Everyone else fills out the cast just fine for the most part.

The People Under the Stairs is mainly all about the plot and story. I liked where it all went. It was disturbing and creepy. Plus, there are some fun and camp-ish moments that really fit well with the overall film. I really do think this movie works as a social metaphor. I’ve seen a few good theories. One in particular talked about how there was, especially around that time in the late 80’s and going into the 90’s, a big divide between those being oppressed and those who were aware of the oppression. Maybe even not so much the times, it’s something that always happens. Generally, until a situation completely boils over (such as it would in 1991 after the Gulf War ended and then Rodney was beaten a month later, one of the many, continuing brutalities committed by police against black men), there are pockets of society unaware of how serious a particular group is being oppressed, and often times eradicated. Here, we see a couple black people break into a home only to discover there are white people literally trapped in the walls. The divide between these two groups being held down are Mommy and Daddy, perfectly representative of Ronald Reagan and his administration in the White House.
I don’t know – maybe it’s nonsense. But I happen to agree with the person who was giving out the theory. Others seem to agree. I don’t mean it’s a perfectly and amazingly profound film, it’s still a weird and wild horror, but there is definitely something else behind it. Craven intended The People Under the Stairs to speak both to horror fans, as well as those looking for a bit of social commentary in their movie-going experience.
thepeopleunderthestairsparents-600x325As a film, I’d absolutely have no problem saying this is worth 4 out of 5 stars. I think Craven has taken a few missteps in his career, but this is not one of them. Some don’t particularly put this at the top of his filmography. Me, however, I believe it’s one of the better written horrors Craven has done simply because there is bit more meat to it; it isn’t all blood and guts and scares. There is a little dark comedy, some hammy acting, and disturbing moments, all wrapped into one package. I dig it.

The Blu ray is not great. Aside from the picture, there is nothing worth talking about. Literally nothing. You can put on subtitles, pause the film, or look through its chapters. Other than that? Don’t count on wiling away the hours on special features. There are none at all. Too bad. I wouldn’t have minded a bit of behind-the-scenes stuff, a featurette or two. Nothing here.
It’s still worth it to own this fun horror on Blu ray. The picture quality is fabulous. Makes a great 1990’s horror classic look pristine. If you haven’t yet experienced The People Under the Stairs do yourself a favour and watch it soon. Especially if you’re a fan of Craven; this one deserves more attention and less ridicule. I think it’s a solid horror, a little different from most. There are even some pretty gory bits just before the hour mark hits. This definitely stands out among a lot of shitty 1990’s horror.

Trollhunter: Found Footage Fairy Tales

Trollhunter. 2010. Directed & Written by André Øvredal.
Starring Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Mørck, Knut Naerum, Robert Stoltenberg, and Glenn Erland Tosterud. Momentum Pictures.
Rated PG-13. 103 minutes.
Dark Fantasy/Comedy

★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)

When you hear the title Trollhunter it isn’t easy to imagine what the plot and story of the film might be. You guessed it.
Basically, a group of students are making a documentary about a slew of supposed bear killings, and a possible poacher. While visiting places where the poacher supposedly killed bears, illegally, the students talk to hunters, as well as a man from the Wildlife Board in Norway. Though there is some doubt, the consensus is this poacher, Hans (Jespersen), has been killing animals, regardless if they were bears or not.
Then the students start following Hans until one night they see wild lights in the forest while trailing him, and roars in the trees. Eventually they discover Hans does not hunt bears, he hunts trolls. Of course they don’t really believe him at first, but soon enough it is all too obvious Hans is telling the truth. And so the students continue on with Hans to uncover the truth about trulls that the Norwegian government hopes to keep covered up.trollhunter-poster

Most obviously to me when I first started watching the movie for the first time, Trollhunter is one of the more original films in any genre, from any country I’ve seen – in a long time. Not to say there aren’t original films. Yes, of course there are, I’m not crazy. But this film is one of the more unique of those originals probably in the past decade. This story is fresh. They take found footage, which can often be a tired genre nowadays with the flooded market of bad horror entries using its premise (side note: I love found footage – when it’s used well), and used it in a fantasy style. Though the effects are not always perfect, the trolls are absolutely incredible. When you first get a good look at one of them, it’s fascinating. They did a great job of taking a fantasy element and dropping it into a modern setting. I suppose the fact it’s a Norwegian film helps, as there’s a lot more folklore and such from their culture/geographical location to carry the subject along. I feel if the Americans wanted to remake this, which I’m sure they’ll do (apparently Chris Columbus’ company has the rights – not sure if this is the case any longer or what), they would have to pick some other type of monster instead of trolls; the trolls just fit so well with Norway, and perhaps might fit with other European locations. That’s what gives the story some better pull, in my opinion.
The actual physical locations used in filming Trollhunter are also part of what makes it great overall. There are some beautiful landscapes.
TrollHunter-1024x576The entire film is played as a mockumentary, which also lends itself well to the story, as there are some real great silly bits. It helps that Otto Jespersen, as well as some other Norwegian comedians, were in the film. I didn’t know this until I watched the special features. But you can tell a few of the actors have great comedic timing. While there are bits that are definitely verging on horror, though not blood & guts style, the best parts of Trollhunter are the ones which are played firmly with their tongue jammed in cheek. This is absolutely a dark fantasy film, but the comedy really shines, and the mix of genre blends pretty well. Jerspersen especially as Hans really does a fabulous job at bringing out laughs, even at times when you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be laughing or not.
trollhunter01As I mentioned before, the special effects are not always spot on. That’s not to say they’re bad. Not in the least. The budget, in American dollars, was only $4-million.
Only you say?
Well, take a look at some of your favourite big budget pictures, and compare those with that of Trollhunter. They did a fabulous job with the amount of money they were working with, and it shows. Not every troll looks flawless, but so what? They still look like massive god damned trolls. They were at times funny, but always creepy, and always terrifying. The look of the trolls works, regardless of the effects. My favourite troll is the one with three heads; I don’t know why, just dig it. A lot.

As a film, Trollhunter is topnotch. However, I could have used some better acting. That’s my only problem. Jespersen was solid the whole way through, but some of the supporting actors weren’t exactly great. They weren’t poor, either. They could’ve just used some work. I can’t really knock them for the few parts where their special effects weren’t perfect because, as I mentioned, the budget wasn’t huge compared to most films. Especially for something indulging the fantasy genre the way Trollhunter does. Overall, I loved this film, and I can watch it often when I want a fix of both some fantasy, as well as a bit of comedy.
trolljegeren2The Blu ray release for Trollhunter just don’t quit! Love it. There are some deleted scenes, plus they include some moments of improvisation while filming, and to add, a bunch of bloopers. All a good time. Then there are also some extended scenes thrown in. One of the best featurettes is the visual effects; they give us a nice little look at some of the work they did. You really get a better appreciation for the film watching a lot of the behind-the-scenes extras.

Any fan of foreign films, whether you enjoy drama, comedy, horror, or whatever, will certainly get a treat if they check out Trollhunter. Like I said, this is dark fantasy, all the way, but the comedy really sustains it. Not that you couldn’t make a deadly serious horror about trolls; you absolutely could. My belief is that Trollhunter treats things seriously at times while knowing exactly when to pull out the comedy bag of tricks. You won’t be disappointed. This is a great film. Also refreshing to get a look at something that isn’t typical; this is a movie with a bit of creative backbone. I hope others will check out the Blu ray, and really hope those who watch the movie enjoy it the way I did.

Prisoners: Guzikowski & Villeneuve Subvert the Usual Thriller

Prisoners. 2013. Dir. Denis Villeneuve. Written by Aaron Guzikowski.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano. Warner Brothers Pictures. 14A. 153 minutes.
Drama/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★ (Movie)
★★★ (Blu ray release)

Denis Villeneuve has been on my radar ever since I was first able to see Polytechnique; a great little film about the awful Montreal Massacre on December 6th in 1989. Of course he’s also directed several other fascinating films including Incendies and another recent film again with Jake Gyllenhaal, the unique and, for some, the confusing Enemy. When I heard he was doing a film with both Hugh Jackman and Gyllenhaal, I got really interested. First of all because Villeneuve has a real talent for dark subject matter. Second, I love Gyllenhaal. After first seeing photos from production and the trailer, I couldn’t believe the look he had going for this film; it was thrilling. And last but not least, I think Jackman is underrated. Sure, he’s in tons of big budget films, and people know him very well, but I don’t think he exactly gets the praise he deserves. However, Prisoners changes the trajectory of his career, and I believe people should notice how good an actor he really is. While the entire film is also just about perfect, all these things come together to make Prisoners a dark modern classic.
prisoners-poster
We’ve seen the story here probably more than we care to: young girls are kidnapped, police except for one crusader are inept, one of the parents takes the law into their own hands. Yet even though the story seems familiar, the plot Guzikowski weaves through it goes into very deep, dark territory. It isn’t the same thing we see time and time again. There’s something in Prisoners that taps into our fears, and it does so easily.

Essentially this is a lot like other thrillers on the same subject. Where Prisoners excels is the acting, cinematography, and of course the writing. The script is tight. Honestly, it kept me guessing until late in the game. What really gets me here is Roger Deakins. If you don’t know the Deak then what are you doing to yourself? I don’t even want to start listing the great films he has done as Director of Photography. Okay, okay, here’s a few: Sid and NancyHomicideBarton FinkThe Shawshank RedemptionThe Hudsucker ProxyFargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?House of Sand and Fog, JarheadNo Country for Old Men, and the film adaptation of Doubt, among many others. Deakins has an absolutely flawless eye for beauty on film. The way he does things is phenomenal. Prisoners has a very dark, gritty quality to it, but yet it is still pristine looking. The tone is absolutely set with the way Deakins shoots things. Villeneuve and Deakins must have had a grand time working together.
PrisonersAlthough Jackman is probably seen to be the star of the show, as his role is central to the plot, I think Gyllenhaal is the real star. Not that his performance is actually better than Jackman’s own, I just think his character is the most important.

Gyllenhaal plays Detective David Loki, although his first name can only be seen on his business card. Of course, a lot of people automatically pinned Loki as the eventual culprit in the kidnapping of the two girls; his surname is deceptive, and naturally many thought it was a key to some answers. First off, any screenwriter who would actually name the villain in their film Loki is way too ham fisted. It should be obvious, sooner than later, Detective Loki’s name is just a red herring. The character is far too interesting to write off with simple character nims. We get glimpses of Loki’s tattoos, as they’re all over his body. At one point, you can clearly tell Loki is wearing a Masonic ring implying he is most likely a member of the Masonic Lodge (for those conspiracy theorists out there this is just another herring – regular Masons, such as my father and grandfather and a ton of other people I know, are not taking over the world, they are meeting at lodges and doing community work such as fundraising and other things – but here it is meant, again, to throw you off from figuring out the real criminal). There are so many tiny eccentricities about Gyllnehaal’s portrayal of Detective Loki you could go on and on for days. It’s just one of the things, aside from Gyllnehaal’s excellent performance, that makes Loki work perfectly as a character in this film.
THE-PRISONERS9-1024x542Jackman, on the other hand, plays the simple character of Keller Dover. I only say simple because he doesn’t have any flair; there are no little mysterious bits about Dover. He is a man who has lost his daughter, and is willing to go to any lengths necessary needed to find her and bring her home. The intensity Jackman brings is no surprise. He strikes me as an intense actor once he gets going. What does surprise me are the quieter moments. And they are there. Some people pass the performance off as all brash, loud scenes with Jackman yelling, growling, et cetera.
What they neglect are the small moments. The few in the beginning with his son. Little moments in the middle. As well as some powerful, subtle scenes nearing the very end. It isn’t all outright intensity. There are some really small and touching bits we get out of Jackman. Although, my favourite scene is when Dover is interrogating a man he believes to be the kidnapper of his and his friend’s children, and there’s a hammer involved. I don’t want to ruin it – it’s not really violent in the sense someone gets hurt with the hammer – but it is totally worth it to see this part. I didn’t expect it. It was one of those scenes I actually paused and imagined how the other actors reacted to his performance. I can’t imagine there wasn’t at least ONE person who was genuinely frightened by Jackman after those takes. Apparently Villeneuve coaxed Jackman into being more vicious, and this take was the next one he did; of course, it made its way right into the film. Rightfully so.
p5I cannot find anything I don’t like about Prisoners. As a film, I can happily and confidently give it a 5 star rating. There will always be differing opinions, on any movie. I just don’t see how you can’t enjoy this one. The acting, even the supporting roles and smaller bits, was wonderful. The script, while centered on a topic often covered in film, is fresh, and doesn’t go down all the same roads other films tend to travel on; some may disagree again, but we’ll have to amiably agree to disagree. I think the plot here, the writing, the acting – it all works to create a really amazing, dark, and exciting film.

I especially love the end. Villeneuve could have went several ways on it, but the ending is beautiful. It is a quiet, subdued ending. It even gives an air of hope, even if things are grim. Even if they may still come out grim after all. But the finale gives a glimmer of hope, and I enjoy that. Though I do enjoy all things dark and gritty, this film really gave the ending the right touch with just enough hope while still leaving things on an ambiguous note.
prisoners-image02On the contrary, I can only give Prisoners a 3 out of 5 stars in regards to the Blu ray release. The picture itself? Absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography really jumps out at you on this release. I can’t complain whatsoever about the picture or the sound; it’s all perfect. Though there is a complete lack of any real interesting extras on the disc. There are two small featurettes which give you some interviews with the cast and crew, but other than that there isn’t anything. They aren’t particularly long either. So the release itself isn’t amazing, aside from the picture quality of course, and if that wasn’t perfect then there’d be no real reason to want the Blu ray anyways – quality is expected when it comes to the visuals. I just wish they had some more special features to dive into. Alas, no such thing.

I highly recommend this Blu ray. Even though the extras don’t really fill out the release, the picture is still absolutely worth it. What you’re coming for is the movie either way, and the movie definitely delivers. The running time is long, but it doesn’t feel long when you’re sitting there watching it. And the picture is really stellar, again – I can’t stress that enough. While I wanted more extras, I’m absolutely okay with the release simply on the basis that it looks incredible, sounds great, and the film is spot on.
What I’m rambling on about? Pay more attention to the rating I gave Prisoners as a film and less about the Blu ray release – and go get yourself a copy of this brilliant, thrilling masterpiece! It’s a real modern work of dark and thrilling art.