Heidi Yewman's gun violence documentary will devastate you— it also educates and illuminates, too.
50+ of Father Gore's favourite films directed by women, from the 1930s to current day.
As far as found footage goes, GHOSTWATCH sits up high, reigning supreme.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 6, Episode 2: “Chapter 2”
Directed by Michael Goi
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of Chapter 1, click here.
* For a review of Chapter 3, click here.
Last we left Matt and Shelby Miller (Cuba Gooding Jr. & Sarah Paulson in the “dramatic re–enactment“; André Holland & Lily Rabe in the documentary-style clips), things were bad. Shelby’s lost in the woods, finding a strange torch wielding cult (including Wes Bentley) and a man whose skull has been… partially removed. The strange woman Shelby thought she’d run over chants in the darkness (Kathy Bates), a group of people surround a man having a pigtail nailed to him. Terribly creepy little cuts.
After running and running, Shelby stops a moment. Only to find more madness. “I never thought about what could be in the wilderness, hiding in the dark,” the real Shelby recounts. We see Bates’ character lead a strange ceremony involving a man put up on a cross, a pig’s head stuck on his shoulders. Shelby takes off again until passing out in the middle of the road, where Matt’s sister Lee (Angela Bassett) finds her. Of course it all sounds mad to the police and everyone else. Poor Shelby. God damn. Ultimately she too believes it’s the “mountain men” trying to drive them out of the house.
A very bad, tragic misunderstanding.
We get to see more about Lee now, she and her ex-husband Mason (Charles Malik Whitfield) exchange their daughter Flora (Saniyya Sidney) for a while. Yeah, that’s a great fucking idea. Bring a little girl into a haunted house, or at the very least a house out in the country being laid siege to by hillbillies. Anyway, things kick off real quick once Lee finds Flora talking to somebody upstairs. Who? Oh, just somebody named Priscilla. Who isn’t there. A ghost? Or something more? Lee does the smart thing and pries a bit. “She said she‘s tired of all the blood,” Flora responds when questioned about Priscilla and her bonnet. When Lee literally finds one laying around, she gets spooked.
The great thing about any haunted house film or show is that part of everything is the human, psychological drama happening. There’s Lee and her girl, as well as Matt and Shelby, everyone with their own issues, taking things in differently.
That night more pig noises come from outside. Shelby takes action and insists on tracking them down, so Matt tags along. In the dark, out amongst the trees, they get separated. As one would expect from any horror. When they find each other, they come across a large stick figure with a pig’s head on top, roasting in fire; the skin and meat hanging below dripping into the flames. “This was beyond having a cross burned on your lawn. There was something demonic about it.” the real Matt speaks through voice-over.
With a bit more evidence this time, the police reluctantly look into what’s happening around the Miller’s place. Then a phone call comes through to Matt in the night. Except the phone’s disconnected. In the shadows, he finds an apparition: mean nurses tending to an old, frail and sickly woman named Margaret (Irene Roseen). They can’t hear Matt, but he watches on as one of the nurses tells their patient “You‘ve been warned” before blowing her brains out with a revolver. Now he’s seeing terrifying things, it isn’t only Shelby anymore.This incident sets things into a frenzy. The police, as suspected, can’t find anything to backup Matt’s story. He starts questioning the integrity of his brain, literally, after the incident in the city. Problem is the cops are gradually getting less interested in helping, which isn’t all that abnormal by real world standards.
When Mason shows up for Flora, they can’t find her. It used to be a game she played with them. This time, not finding her may have something to do with the house. They find Flora in a crawlspace talking to Priscilla, who disappears quickly. Apparently Flora tried to make a trade: a doll for their lives. Seems Priscilla is homicidal. And it’s not just her. Flora warns her parents: “They‘re going to kill us all. And save me for last.” Fuck. That’s eerie. Dad hauls his daughter off and things aren’t looking any better for Lee as a mother. Especially considering she started drinking afterwards, off the wagon again. She broke a few things. Shelby’s not happy to find knives in the ceiling, although we can guess that probably wasn’t Lee. Those nurses are creeping about, too. In her drunken state Lee sees a lot of things from pigtails to pig heads and it’s one bad hangover she’s headed for in the morning.
There’s a little girl hanging around outside to boot, which sends Matt and Shelby outside. They come to a trap door with a ladder leading below ground a ways; hmm. Inside are a number of things including tapes in a camcorder. On them is a man named Dr. Elias Cunningham (Denis O’Hare). He speaks frantically saying things like “I‘m not what I am” and generally in distress over “forces that will not let me sleep.” He speaks of the house and its forces wanting to kill him. He further assures the viewer he’s not crazy. Then Cunningham tells us of his book about two nurses – Miranda and Bridget Jane. Oh yes, you guessed which nurses. Twisted bitches. They killed people with specific names to spell out MURDER. Everything got even wilder as it went on turning into one of those epic, insane tales of true crime.More craziness to set the Millers off. Peeling away wallpaper, Matt finds the unfinished word MURDE written on the wall. Everything gets more real at this point. They keep on listening to Cunningham’s rambling tape. Doesn’t help any, except to frighten the shit out of them further. Scariest yet is when the tormented doctor heads inside the house with only his camcorder, night vision on, to guide him through the silent hallways. “Show yourself,” he yells to whatever’s in the dark. Before something, someone appears and startles him. And downstairs, a butcher’s knife with blood on it is stuck in the front door.
They just wanted to leave. Not so easy, though. No getting out of that mad house. Everything amps up a notch after Lee shows up with Flora again. When she’s clearly not supposed to have here there. More of that impulsive Lee behaviour already. Her brother tries to talk sense into her. Shelby tries talking the ex-husband down from calling the cops.
But can Mason get there to take his daughter away before anything worse happens? The little girl whom I assume to be Priscilla beckons Flora to come outside, out near the trap door in the field. Then she goes missing. The adults start to search frantically.
In a clearing, Lee finds her daughter’s yellow sweater at the top of a thin, ridiculously tall tree, its trunk looking almost stained with blood. They stand below, not sure what to do next.
And what can they do?Very pumped for “Chapter 3” next week. Some people keep complaining, and I have no idea why. I love the re-enactment stuff, it adds a fun twist to the show. I’m still feeling like there’s going to be an angle to all that. Just like My Amityville Horror had its drama, My Roanoke Nightmare is going to bring something with that faux-documentary posing as a real documentary. Mark my words.
Also, did you catch Lady Gaga in her brief appearance? She shows up a couple times early on. Very unnerving look to her character. Can’t wait for more, of everything!
The Devil and Daniel Johnston. 2005. Directed & Written by Jeff Feuerzeig.
Starring Daniel Johnston, Laurie Allen, Brian Beattie, Louis Black, David Fair, Jad Fair, Don Goede, Matt Groening, Gibby Haynes, Sally Johnston Reid, Bill Johnston, Dick Johnston, Mabel Johnston, Margie Johnston, and Ken Lieck. Complex Corporation/This Is That Productions.
Rated PG-13. 110 minutes.
Documentaries are everywhere, on every sort of subject. Anything in the world you can think of, there’s probably a documentary on the subject. Certain documentary films interest me because of how I connect with them personally, others are just intriguing and interesting topics that will draw me in.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston is one of the former types. I’d never actually heard of Daniel Johnston before this movie. Other people I know had heard of him, but not me. Either way, I dove into this documentary because I knew that Johnston suffered from mental illness; that’s the single thing I knew of him. Identifying with him, as both a hopeful artist and a man trying to negotiate life with a severe form of depression, this film spoke to me. While I’m not a fan of all his songs, there are pieces of music here and there which really reach out to me. More than that, to see Johnston struggle through being an artist, growing up, living life, all the while battling manic depression desperately. There are moments you might find yourself grinding your teeth sitting there almost feeling the pain. Certain scenes are funny, lighthearted. A huge mixed bag here that collides into making one of the most personal, wrenching, devastatingly awesome documentaries about a musician you’re likely to ever see.
The most fascinating part about Daniel Johnston is the fact of his own rawness, his real and unabashed open qualities concerning his personality. At one point, on MTV no less during 1985, he tells the camera: “This is my album Hi, How Are You? and I was having a nervous breakdown when I recorded it.” He says it in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s hard not admire, or laugh, or smile. In just about every last scene where he’s talking, you find him divulging the most personal, inner secrets about the darkest corner of his life. And coupled with that, the way Daniel performs is different than anyone else I’ve ever seen. You can witness both the intensity of his musical ability, as well as his wildly nervous personality. He is visibly nervous each time a performance comes up, from his younger days to his later shows. Always there’s this fear inside him, which is actually endearing a lot of the time.
So it’s no surprise when, later, Daniel ends up having an actual serious breakdown. He becomes violent and crazy after experimenting with acid/LSD, which first began at a Butthole Surfers show. Slowly things deteriorate, as Daniel starts to get arrested, the police have altercations with him, he even causes disturbances in his family. Then there are various struggles. There were people who worked for him/with him, re: his career, who all tried their best to help him, whether that was committing him to a mental institution or getting him shows to play or whatever else could’ve been done. All the while throughout the history of Johnston, we’re seeing edits of him talking in various recordings (from dubbed tapes he did himself to video shot of him by others). It’s a strange conglomeration of things coming together to present his life to us. Best of all, even in the most intense, scariest moments of discussing Daniel and his condition, director Jeff Feuerzeig preserves a sense of respect and delicacy that shelters us from looking at Johnston like a freak. He isn’t, especially considering how mental illness is becoming less and less stigmatized today; this is a raw and honest look at someone’s struggle. But again, it doesn’t come off as “Look at how fucked up Daniel is“. There is a tenderness about the way Feuerzeig offers up glimpses of Daniel and his difficult life.
You’ll find it hard to deny the power of this documentary. No matter if you hate Johnston’s music, or if you think he’s a genius (I don’t think; I do find him an incredibly unique talent), if you have a heart beating in your chest and a soul deep down inside, this film will absolutely shake you. In the last 45 minutes or so, the devastating details come out. Such as the time Daniel thought he actually was Casper the Friendly Ghost, took the keys out of his father’s small plane in which they flying and tossed them out into the air, prompting his dad to make a crash landing. Luckily, they made it out of the situation with only minor injuries, but to think of what could’ve happened. It is a really frightening thought. That’s one of the turning points in the documentary, as not only do we realize the extent and depth of his illness, we also see a slight change in Daniel. Shortly afterwards, he starts to come down out of his religious fervor, his hallucinations and other similar delusions. He probably didn’t lose his faith. He just understood the gravity of his own condition. Today, he still struggles with issues of manic depression, but I feel after some of the more insane moments in his journey, there’s a part of him which accepts all of the ups and downs, in one big package. We go along that journey. Maybe in the end, the documentary’s biggest aspiration is to show people the mania inside music. Often people want the crazy, unstable musicians out there doing their thing and entertaining, but forget the human people inside these celebrities, inside the fame, deep down at the core. The humanity can’t ever be forgotten; this, if anything, is what Daniel Johnston and the film of his life has to teach.
This is a 5 star, flawless documentary. One of my favourites ever made. Because despite what you may feel concerning Daniel Johnston’s music, you cannot watch this without feeling something. To understand the mania and depression of others it’s necessary for people to be open, honest, willing to expose themselves to the world. It just so happens Johnston is one of the people willing to open himself up, like a living cadaver, and through this film he allows us a window into the damaged soul inside him. There are so many depressed and mentally ill people who could benefit from people coming out, talking of their own illnesses, their own struggles. We see so much of the devastation of unchecked mental illness in The Devil and Daniel Johnston, but in a roundabout way Daniel lets us understand how severe depression (or other similar mental afflictions) can be conquered: through love, honesty, openness, understanding, and yes, a dose of medication. There’s nothing ever glorious about this documentary, perhaps something which sets it apart from a lot of other biographical movies about musicians. Just remember – it isn’t all about the music, it is about the man. That is a point this film makes, over and over again. You may want all the madness that goes into the music, but don’t forget the men and women behind the music, their lives, what brings them to their talent and what gives us the unforgettable songs they’ve made.
The Seven Five. 2014. Directed by Tiller Russell.
Starring (as themselves) Michael Dowd, Ken Eurell, Walter Yurkiw, Chickie, Dori Eurell.
To start this review, I wanted to give a bit of personal insight into my view on police.
Firstly, I have two family members, close cousins, who are both officers here in St. John’s, Newfoundland – for those who don’t know, Newfoundland is a province on the far east coast of Canada. One of them is a new officer, the other now involved with Major Crimes from homicide to whatever else. So, I can’t say that all officers are bad. Anyone smart should know they are not.
However, second of all, I’ve had a couple experiences with police officers, as a younger man in my teen years, which now as a 30-year old I see in a different light. There is a high room for error in law enforcement, simply due to the fact that as an officer of the law you are dealing in the lives of human beings. What you do, or don’t do, can either negatively or positively affect the life of someone you take into custody/members of a perpetrator or victim’s family/et cetera. There are huge repercussions when it comes to an officer not doing their job correctly, and as we see so much today in the news coming out of America there are deadly effects when police override the law and surpass it because of their lust for power. An enormous responsibility rides on the shoulders of the police – many willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect us from the actual dangerous elements of society, then in opposition too many seem to also have no problem putting innocent/unarmed(etc) citizens in the way of harm or outright have no problem doing those same citizens harm themselves. When the responsibility is shirked, it is not the same as even an insurance agent messing up some forms and leaving a customer without proper coverage; incompetent and downright criminal police work comes with a hefty, fatal price in many situations.
The Seven Five, directed by Tiller Russell, is the epic tale of police corruption in the seventy-fifth precinct out of New York when Michael Dowd was in uniform there. An insanely criminal lawman, Dowd seemed to infect everyone around him, including the rookies and other naive cops coming into the job. It was as if, for a time, Dowd became the centre of corruption in the entirety of the NYPD.
Through a number of talking head interviews, including Dowd himself, Russell brings us through a bunch of stories that emphasize how deep and devious the corruption went.
What began as a bit of cash, then on to thousands upon thousands of dollars, soon became a devil’s deal with drugs, guns, and murder to boot. Dowd, as we see through the documentary’s runtime, evolves from a smalltime crooked cop on the beat to, essentially, a drug dealer as vicious as any other man selling drugs on the street. From a hindsight perspective, Tiller Russell takes us through the names, the faces, the situations which brought Michael Dowd down the dark roads he took and where everyone has ended up today.
Basically, Michael Dowd is the literal representation of the criminal cop. I mean, he is the epitome of the description, he makes the whole documentary feel like a Martin Scorsese film. Sometimes he says things that are darkly priceless, maybe similar to something Ray Liotta or Joe Pesci might spit out. At times, he actually strikes me more like Lester Diamond from Casino simply because he’s a god damn nutter. It’s sick, but the way in which he basically corralled an entire dirty ring of cops is villainously smart.
But naturally things didn’t last forever for Mike. If they did, he certainly wouldn’t have been on camera telling us his darkest confessions of the nasty business he got into while supposedly policing the streets.
One of my favourite pieces to The Seven Five is the stuff with Adam Diaz.
What can we say about Mr. Diaz? He loves Bryan Adams and sold tons of drugs. Best of all, he sold them out of a grocery store. His operation was supremely slick. With some tips from ole Officer Dowd, the store could have everything looking proper, no drugs on the premises, and nothing could be said – like Diaz himself relates, even if someone snitched and said they were there buying drugs the week before, what did it matter? Who cares where they were or went or who they saw, what they bought? Didn’t matter a pinch. Because as Diaz says, there were no drugs – “I sell groceries!”
In the year 1987, one kilo of cocaine was equal to about $34,000. Diaz, 20 years old, was selling 300 kilos a week, bringing in hundreds of millions a year.
The reason Michael Dowd and Adam Diaz became as close as they were was due to when Dowd gave Diaz a tip which saved the dealer half a million dollars. A raid was on the way, which Dowd headed off with the tip, and this proved to Diaz this was his man.
So we can see how it wasn’t simply a bunch of crooked cops, Dowd was involved with true criminal organizations, such as the Diaz Organization which had its own ties to further criminal entities. It’s amazing to watch how the corruption basically leaks out, like an oil spill milking thick out of a barrel and spreading over the entire city of New York. Sad that while so many people needed help, some criminals could’ve been taken off the streets, Dowd and Ken Eurell, his unfortunate partner that was near hypnotized by Dowd, and the other corrupt officers were just feeding their egos, their bank accounts, and sure, their families.
But it’s funny, nowadays in America, and back then certainly, we’re less willing to indict cops as a society overall than we are to shit all over people in unions. And basically, these officers, headed by the insanity of Michael Dowd, went into a union-like situation – the big argument for corruption is “They don’t pay me enough for the danger of the job I’m doing” – and instead of striking, instead of fighting for higher wages and trying to negotiate, they went above and beyond any normal reactions straight into using the leverage and power of their positions to commit criminal acts; acts they were arresting others for committing, all at the very same time.
Michael Dowd: “It wasn’t like you were hurtin’ people. You were hurtin’ fucking scumbag drug dealers.”
With every day that passes by in America, there seems to be another incident where unarmed people – most if not all are black – get murdered by the police. Straight up. So many news stories breaking, each week, where another black man or black woman is taken down, either by police in the field or in custody. It’s disturbing. Feels like nothing has really changed, as we watch Dowd during his interviews and the tapes of his testimonies – sure, this is not about racism, but it’s above all about the corruption of power. The same thing happens today. We see at various points throughout this documentary how a lot of the negative behaviour some police officers come to display is bred into them through senior ranking officers, detectives, et cetera, the rookies are working under. Much like hate and racism/sexism is learned behaviour often stemming from the family one grows up in, or the parent figures one is raised by, the same goes for this corrupt behaviour in police officers; much of that comes out of learned and encouraged behaviour.
I don’t want to say too much else about the documentary, much of it is information you need to hear firsthand.
For me, The Seven Five is a 5 out of 5 star documentary film. It outlines the corruption of the time in the NYPD so perfectly, examining one of the most corrupt police officers to have ever lived. Michael Dowd is a truly disturbing, bad dude when it comes down to it. The quote above shows that, infinitely. People like to think there’s a need for that blanket statement – that all drug dealers are human garbage, every one of them. Unfortunately, you just can’t say that. Especially if you’re an officer of the law, not simply because you should be objective at times as to avoid collaring the wrong suspects and leading yourself into trouble, but most of all it can lead to the detrimental thinking in police officers such as Dowd: it leads to the illusion of power. It leads people like this man to believing that they are truly above someone else on the evolutionary scale, as if they’re the perfect example of Charles Dawin and the idea of Survival of the Fittest – the dealers, the crackheads, all of them are weak and therefore ought to be weeded out. In a microcosm, this is the thinking which leads people to believe the ideologies of leaders like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and so on.
You should see this documentary. One of the better recent crime docs to come out. Especially if you’re interested in police corruption, civil rights, and other similar subjects. I highly recommend this. Not only interesting, The Seven Five is a smooth and flowing documentary that keeps the audience engaged, provides a ton of information, and even gives us a few truly dark and disturbing moments when it comes to the crime underworld and corrupt cops.
Check it out, let me know what you think in the comment section below!
The Pyramid. 2014. Directed by Grégory Levasseur. Screenplay by Daniel Meersand & Nick Simon.
Starring Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O’Hare, James Buckley, Christa Nicola, Amir K, and Faycal Attougui. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
There’s no way that I can honestly say The Pyramid is a great horror – most of the CGI alone warrants enough criticism to put it out of the running.
However, what I can say for my personal take on Grégory Levasseur’s film is that I enjoyed it simply because it’s fun.
A movie does not need to be perfect to be enjoyable. You don’t have to either love or hate a movie; not in the real world. It’s silly to think that movies have to be flawless in order to be enjoyed.
By the same token, you can both criticize a film for its flaws while simultaneously you’re still able enjoy what you’re watching.
The Pyramid is enjoyable for me because it’s fun. It isn’t the same old found footage movie of people going out into the woods, or a tv show presented and his crew get trapped inside a haunted building. At the very least, we’re treated to a location and situation that isn’t often touched on through found footage (the only similar film is another one I enjoyed though plenty seem to hate – As Above So Below).
The Pyramid takes place during 2013 as the protests in Egypt against President Mohamed Morsi were heating up big time.
Father-daughter archaeology team, Dr. Miles Holden (Denis O’Hare – of whom I was a big fan already but especially since his genius turns on FX’s American Horror Story) and Dr. Nora Holden (Ashley Hinshaw) are on a dig where a pyramid with only three sides, as opposed to the four contained on the pyramids in Giza. Once the structure is unearthed, a robot is sent in – as soon as the pyramid was opened, toxic air inside killed a man in a near instant. After the robot goes offline, the Holdens, as well as their team – along with Sunni Marsh (Christa Nicola), a documentary host, and her cameraman Terry “Fitzie” Fitzsimmons – all head inside, geared up, ready to discover what they can.
Unfortunately, the area is being cleared out due to the protesting in Giza and surrounding areas. Quickly the team enters the pyramid quickly as possible without alerting any of the authorities.
Inside there are dark and dangerous things lurking amongst the shadows, things that have spent centuries feeding, and waiting for the arrival of fresh meat.
“Stop being an archaeologist for a second and start being a human being” – I keep seeing people cite bad dialogue, using this as a source. I mean, why? What makes that such a bad line? Denis O’Hare’s character was just saying he didn’t want to destroy a wall because it had been put there, however long ago, by people who’d built that pyramid, so much historical hard work. Instead of wanting to get out of that place, he was more concerned with preserving things for historical and archaeological purposes. So I don’t understand how that line comes off as poorly written dialogue. Someone please explain to me why that line written on paper is bad because I don’t see it. Maybe the delivery isn’t perfect? Either way, this is not, to me, an example of bad writing. You don’t think someone would ever say those words? Try being trapped in an ancient, underground pyramid with a guy who’d rather just suffocate alive than bust up any of the old artifacts down there. Then perhaps the line might feel more ‘natural’.
Now, I’m not saying that The Pyramid avoids all the tropes of the found footage genre, or that it’s perfect – as I said starting out, it’s far from a perfect horror.
Typically there are always the arguments of “You lead us here”, et cetera. This moment comes, of course, after things start to get really hairy and one of the members, MIchael (Amir K) on the expedition is killed. Sunni flips on Miles and blames him for leading them down there, but as he points out she has to take responsibility because nobody forced her into the pyramid. I guess you can’t really avoid these types of arguments in found footage, as usually there is a ring leader. Most often, though, it’s usually the person insisting on keeping things filming – SO THAT THE WORLD WILL KNOW WHAT HAPPENED! If anything, at least they don’t go for that exact scenario. There’s a reason to keep filming here, as just being in the pyramid alone is a pretty amazing feat. I’m just glad there isn’t the same series of arguments over “Get that camera out of my face” and “Stop asking me questions – what is wrong with you?”, and so on. Might not be all fresh, but it does still avoid some of the familiar nonsense of the sub-genre.
There’s no part of me that will deny the CGI throughout The Pyramid is pretty bad. Almost all of it, honestly.
I guess when it comes to certain stories, characters, et cetera, in horror films there’s only so much you’ll be able to accomplish with practical effects beyond the blood and the murders. That being said, there’s no reason CGI has to look atrocious. I think, had the filmmakers somehow come up with a way to costume an actor instead of draping them in CGI, the Anubis creature could’ve been much more frightening.
Problem is that when bad CGI dominates the screen, there’s a real smack in the face for an audience. You go from seeing these big sets, this giant pyramid and all these hieroglyphics around, statues, to this hulking presence of bulbous CGI pushing through the frame. It’s too much of a contrast from the real look of everything else to the fake look of Anubis, as well as the other little creatures and things. I liken it to looking a nice painting then throwing a bunch of cartoon cutouts on top and acting out a scene. There’s already suspension of disbelief with a horror like this, but that doesn’t mean things need to look fake and silly looking. I’m sure it’s easier said than done to balance the budget of a huge film, especially when there are so many costs. However, with Alexandre Aja (director of such films as the fantastically gruesome High Tension, the stellar remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and another I enjoyed which others hated – adapted from Joe Hill’s novel, Horns starring Daniel Radcliffe) backing this project, you’d think there would be some way to make sure the CGI came out looking much better. Really dropped the ball on this aspect, which is one of the reasons so many people did not enjoy the film overall, I think.
SPOILER ALERT – HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!
One effect I did like, or at least the second half of it, is when Dr. Miles Holden gets his heart ripped out. The first part looked a bit cheese-filled, but when the hand is sticking out, Miles is staring wide-eyed at it, and then it pulls back out of him, I thought that piece of the effect went really well. Because it didn’t look completely CGI built, it had at least a fraction of practical effects. Another bit I liked was the first night vision bit with Fitzie where he sees Dr. Holden get his face melted off – Anubis is all CGI, but the face melting still looks pretty damn gnarly!
For me, I love the practical make-up effects instead of big nonsense computerized junk – any day of the week. Most horrors will at least get a star or two alone from me if there’s an effort on the part of practicality. If not, I find it hard to engage with. Some horror does have pretty good CGI, but the good ones in that arena are those that don’t overuse it either – they know when to employ it, sparse, and they recognize all the other times where there’s no need of it at all. So, if The Pyramid was able to include more effects of a practical nature there might have been a better visceral reaction to all the other.
I can’t recommend The Pyramid in that way I would recommend other horror movies I’ve enjoyed. Simply because I don’t think this is a great movie.
But like I said in the beginning – you don’t have to think a movie is perfect to have a good time watching. There are fun bits in The Pyramid. While the CGI is far from anything I thought worked, there’s adventure to this horror-thriller. We don’t have to watch a bunch of young people running around in the woods, constantly screaming – both in terror and at one another – there’s actually a different story here than the same old tripe with which we’re presented.
The Pyramid does not need to be perfect. Sure, I would’ve loved to see a lot of changes because this could’ve been an absolutely excellent horror movie if there were better practical effects and not so much reliance on the bad CGI. Especially the final 10 minutes – Anubis looked the worst when the red flare lighting was glowing and you could seem him terribly clear. Before, he skulked around in the dark, so there were times it didn’t look as glaringly bad.
So there is plenty of room for improvement. I don’t deny that at all.
What I’m saying is, just because a movie doesn’t work as a 5-star film does not mean it has to be without merits. There is at least some decent acting, a halfway sensible script (despite what others might say), and an intriguing location/plot to work around in. See this for a bit of fun – don’t expect something on the level of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, but don’t expect a complete piece of trash like some reviews might have you believe.
Enjoy – or don’t! That’s up to yourself.
Soaked in Bleach. 2015. Directed by Benjamin Statler. Written by Donnie Eichar, Richard Middleton, and Benjamin Statler.
Starring Tyler Bryan as Kurt Cobain, Sarah Scott as Courtney Love; featuring, as themselves, Tom Grant, Brett Ball, Max Wallace, and Norm Stamper. Daredevil Films.
Rated PG. 100 minutes.
Admittedly, even though I’ve always thought Courtney Love is bat shit crazy, I never believed she (or anyone else) might’ve been covering anything up or hiding information concerning Kurt Cobain’s suicide. As much as I loved Cobain, worshiped Nirvana as a young musician with a bad attitude and even worse fashion sense, I just took what the media fed me about his depression and how he’d always seemed suicidal, that he took his I.D out and put it on his wallet so that when he shot himself they’d be able to identify his body easily… and so much more.
After watching this, the other reviews and articles touting this documentary as a ‘conspiracy theory’ are way off base. There’s too much in this film to deny, from actual police documents, the tapes Private Investigator Tom Grant has with Courtney Love on it saying some downright incriminating things and even some with Rosemary Carroll (the Cobain/Love lawyer) saying things against Love. See for yourself. Judge on your own. But here’s my take..
The first thing we hear is a conversation between Tom Grant and Courtney. She hired him to investigate after Kurt went missing, this was only briefly before his alleged suicide. On this first tape, Grant questions Courtney about where she’d found some other letter, supposedly from Kurt, and she is telling him it was under the pillows on her bed. Grant, being there the night before Kurt was found dead, knew different; he’d tossed the bed and found Rohypnol, which Kurt had a prescription for. He knew the difference, and yet Courtney tried sticking to her guns even when Tom told her otherwise. So right off the bat, we get this very real, raw version of Courtney – outside of the media, outside of other celebrities and what they think of her or the general public and their view – right from a tape. It’s damning.
From there, we learn a little about Grant whose life story reads much like a lot of police/military officers. The thing I kept wondering is, for those who don’t believe the man or doubt he is credible – what does he have to gain from this? He’s pretty much haunted with what he sees as the facts. He’s not exactly a celebrity himself because of Kurt or Courtney; most people pass him off as just another conspiracy theorist. Yet, as he mentions later, Tom still gets letters, e-mails, all sorts of communication asking about Kurt, wondering why nothing has been done when there’s actually a lot of evidence suggesting he did not die by suicide. It isn’t only Tom who believes, but unfortunately the police seem to be the real roadblock.
It becomes very clear that police negligence really had a hand in what came to pass. On top of that, Courtney Love set the stage for this “suicide” – when she hired Tom Grant, filed a police report (and did so in fake fashion using Cobain’s own mother’s name – the media promptly reported his mom was worried he was suicidal and filed a Missing Persons), and then perpetuated the myth of Cobain being frequently suicidal. What really troubles me is this idea of the myth – that Kurt really wasn’t a suicidal person. Yes, he was depressed. Yes, he had killer stomach pains that put him in agony. But he was happy with his friends and people around him. After the stomach pains were cleared up and doctors put him on the correct medication after many stressful years, Cobain himself told an interviewer he felt the best he’d ever felt and he was plenty happy. Sure, no one knows what’s going on in the mind of someone behind closed doors – ultimately, we never know. I had a friend who killed himself and none of us in our circle of friends ever expected it. Yet so many close friends claim Kurt never ever talked about suicide once.
Furthermore, he’s not in the movie but Buzz Osborne knew Kurt, and the rest of Nirvana, from the beginning – he and Kurt went to high school together, he knew him before and after Nirvana hit the bigtime. Buzz claims Kurt was never suicidal, it was all a lie. He has harsh words for the other Cobain documentary that recently came out, Montage of Heck, because aside from the suicide myth it portrays other stories that are not actually true (the story that Kurt supposedly had sex with an overweight, mentally handicapped girl when he was young is a total fabrication, according to King Buzzo). So during Soaked in Bleach, we get a lot of other opinions from people very close with Cobain that jive with that of Osborne – that Kurt could be quiet, shy, but the idea that he was a suicide case is untrue.
What really drove this home is Courtney Love. When Cobain accidentally overdosed on his Rohypnol prescription after having a glass of champagne, the incident was not called a suicide at the time. At first people speculated it was an attempt, but it was confirmed as being accidental afterwards. Love did not, at the time, claim Kurt tried to kill himself. Nobody did. Then, after Kurt was found dead, immediately Courtney began telling the media how he tried it in Rome, he tried before, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. This is categorically untrue. Max Wallace brings up the fact they even talked with the doctor who attended to Kurt that night in Rome, and the doctor also denies to the bone it was a suicide attempt confirming it was most certainly an accidental overdose. It isn’t hard to see Love helped the media run with the image of Kurt as a suicidal persona.
Once things get to the real down and dirty faces, looks at the crime scene and all that, it’s even more of an affirmation that Tom Grant is not just some ‘conspiracy nut’. The tapes are one thing, hearing Courtney go on about how maybe Kurt disappearing and all that before his death would be good for publicity on Hole’s next album and hearing her just lie to Grant over and over, but the crime scene is a whole other beast. I don’t want to say too much more because the evidence is some of the real knock-out stuff in this film.
I did like the little drama recreations they did with actors playing Love, Grant, Cobain, and others involved. Some of it was pretty decent. Not that she doesn’t deserve it after seeing this movie, but they really went hard at Love with their portrayal. However, I don’t see it as being that far off base. If you didn’t think Love was crazy before, you absolutely will after watching this. It’s hard not to. A lot of the evidence presented makes you wonder how this case isn’t being re-opened and investigated again. Truly. This was an eye-opener of a documentary. Even worse, it’s coming out that apparently Courtney Love has bought Twitter followers, et cetera, to help tank ratings on websites for the film; IMDB is usually bad for ratings, but the skewed low rating for this was ridiculous as about 1,000 ratings of 1 before the release drove it down. Suspicious? Make up your own mind.
This is absolutely a 5 star documentary. I love Cobain, his music, all of it, but to see this was truly fascinating. I can’t get over it, honestly. I want to watch it again several times just to take in all the information. The whole thing is spooky. I’ll say no more other than – the directing is great, this whole film is put together well, and Tom Grant is a saint for offering himself up all these years as “that conspiracy guy” who has actually been fighting the fight for real justice.
One thing resonated with me deeply. Tom brought up how there have been tons of suicides that have been copycats of Kurt – either they did what he did exactly, or their suicide notes quoted Nirvana and related to the late rockstar – and he just wants the truth out there. Because it’s a shame for any kid to kill themselves, but if it’s partly due to the fact Kurt supposedly did, when he might not have, then there is a real need to have the truth known. Not only for all those kids, future kids possibly, but also for Kurt, for Frances Bean, and for all the people of a generation who related to him through his music.
The Houses October Built. 2014. Dir. Bobby Roe. Written by Roe, Zack Andrews & Jason Zada.
Starring Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, Jeff Larson, and Tansy Alexander. Room 101.
Unrated. 91 minutes.
Any horror movie, regardless of how its end product is perceived, always benefits from some decent performances. Whether it’s a central lead, or an ensemble cast of competent actors, horror can be really effective if you have natural performances to help grip the audience. In this respect The Houses October Built benefits from the fact that its main cast including Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, and Jeff Larson all did what their characters here (essentially themselves) do in this film except in real life – The Houses October Built was also previously a 2011 documentary by Bobby Roe, featuring the same cast, and documenting the various haunts of America. The documentary was simply an exploration for the purpose of taking a real look into these worlds where people from all walks of life come to join together, and scare the living shit out of others.
In 2014, Bobby Roe directs a dramatised version of their journey. This time, things go further.
Bobby and the crew set out on the road looking to find the absolute scariest haunt in America. Bobby claims he’s out seeking the haunts with “no rules” and “no regulations”; those little places off the main track, far beyond the beaten path. His brother Mikey thinks he’s foolish, but is well-enough along for the ride it seems. The rest, too.
At first, the haunts are a little creepy – lots of strange make-up, killer clowns, jump scares around every corner, oddities and weird horror in dimly lit rooms, the offering of a real life experience laying in a closed coffin.
After a little bit of time, though, the gang begins to encounter more nefarious characters. A brief interview with a man in clown paint outside a haunted house has him confirming “shady shit” most likely goes down in such places. At one haunt Bobby and a couple of the crew get up onto what looks to be a roof – one very devilish-looking clown is not pleased. Afterwards, he shows up in the headlights in front of their R.V. The gang’s clown trouble does not end here. Later, another clown seems pretty intent on harassing Mikey and Brandy; they were told not to film inside a particular haunt and yet, of course, Bobby did indeed film. The clown is insistent they need to get out of there, or else things might get worse. Events continue to spiral downwards. Bobby and his friends have a strange encounter with a girl from one of the earlier haunts, who somehow ends up miles upon miles away from where they’d first seen her – she shows up by their R.V out in the bush. After being invited in, she makes a few creepy noises, unsettling everybody, and then takes off into the night.
These are just a few of the things which happen to Bobby and his friends while wandering down a scary highway of strange roadside attractions and backwoods roads searching for the perfect haunt. Eventually, they find what promises to be the worst, most horrifying experience of their lives, let alone for a Halloween night.
And as Bobby’s brother Mikey questions him at one point – there’s only so far it can go before someone actually gets hurt.
Some people complained about too many jump scare-type gags. I understand that in other films, however, this one is about haunted houses. You should go into this expecting at least a certain degree of those scares right off the bat. Secondly, a lot of them paid off because it’s done in found footage style. They go for a much more natural found footage feel because everything really terrible is saved for the end. There’s a tense build-up towards the truly awful moments. So, unlike a regular film where you’d probably have a bunch of jump scares involving people getting killed off, or something equally intense, in The Houses October Built we see a lot more jumps where it’s only the world of the haunted houses working on us.
Later, the scares get less about making us jump and concern themselves more with grating on our nerves, making us uneasy, taking us away from those comfortable areas where we think “here comes another jumpy one”, and instead shows us a more relentless and disturbing conclusion. There’s a drawn out nature – we start the entire film seeing Brandy being, what appears to be, abducted. So we know there is a build to something sinister. However, I don’t think it’s drawn out in the sense it becomes boring. As I said before, there’s a tension built up by Roe here. There comes a point where the viewer feels safe in the knowledge we know where this is going, how it’s going to play out, but Roe toys with those expectations.
One of my favourite things is Bobby Roe uses found footage very well. There are countless found footage horror films out there, to the point of exhaustion. I mean, how many different possession movies came out after Paranormal Activity hit the market? Tons. Even before that, after the success of Blair Witch filmmakers started coming out of the woodwork to capitalize on the newfound popularity of these techniques (a lot of people harp on about Cannibal Holocaust as really making the found footage genre ‘a thing’ yet also forget to mention the fantastic and unique 84C MoPic from 1989 that does not get the credit it deserves for making good use of the sub-genre while also making a great film overall). Yet a lot of these movies tend to fall by the wayside opting to forget the ‘rules’ of found footage – most times we’re left ending up wondering how the footage really ever was found. At times, the ways certain scenes end up being filmed start to defy the movie’s internal logic. The Houses October Built, on the other hand, really sticks to the found footage aspect, and even at a few points when you do find yourself wondering exactly how something is being filmed there is a perfectly good explanation. The plot itself allows for a number of different possibilities; this is proved by a scene a little over halfway through the movie’s running time where Bobby and his friends wake up to find they’ve been filmed during the night, and it’s been posted online. This is one of the best parts about the entire movie because it really makes us feel like we’re still watching a documentary.
The performances are fairly natural, which is aided by the fact these people are obviously friends in real life. They’ve already gone on this journey before just for real instead of following a script and shooting a dramatic feature. I really like the chemistry between the characters because we feel their history, they don’t seem like this is the first or second time they’ve all talked together as it often does in low budget found footage outings. The found footage sub-genre is littered with terribly acted films. It helps that The Houses October Built boasts some, at times, tense, and natural performances. I felt for these people, as opposed to loathing their every second on camera and hoping soon to see their fictional death – as is the case with way too many horrors in general, let alone found footage.
There were times the pacing of the film was a bit slow. I enjoy a slow and tense ride through a film, but at a certain point I just wanted The Houses October Built to really kick into gear. The running time isn’t long, but they could have actually trimmed even another 10 minutes or so out of the movie without hurting the overall finished film.
That being said, once things start to get really creepy (cue: Jeff walks down a dark alley & is then confronted by some of the horrible people they encountered earlier in their trip) everything spins out of control, wonderfully, for everyone involved. The pacing totally ruins anything. Although, there could be a bit better of a flow to the entire film had they eliminated a few bits of fat here and there.
I feel safe giving this movie a 3.5 out of 5 star rating. It isn’t perfect. The pacing slows down some of the effect simply by not building the tension appropriately. nstead of a slow burn to the terror in the finale, it muddles things a bit to the point where you sort of want the movie to really pick up and get a move on. Other than that, I love the premise, I love the characters and the performances of the actors involved, and there were some genuinely creepy, unsettling moments throughout: from the strange and balding trans-looking masked girl, to a few moments in the various haunts, to even just a few more subdued scenes involving the interviews Bobby conducted on the trip. All in all, this makes for a great found footage film, as well as a decently spooky horror. Check this out for a nice little scare, and keep it on your list for Halloween!
Ever watch a documentary that pissed you off? Well, here's another one.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil. 2008. Dir. Sacha Gervasi.
Starring Anvil. Abramorama.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
Documentary – Biography/Music.
Before this film, I had only briefly heard of Anvil by thumbing through old metal records in my search for bands that had escaped mainstream eyes. I never much gave them a listen, and it wasn’t until a few years ago when I saw Anvil: The Story of Anvil that I went back after viewing the documentary, so I could listen to their tunes. Have I been sleeping! As a metal fan, it’s a shame I had never discovered Lips and the crew before because they are true, old school, tongue licking, brain rocking heavy metal.
Since the late 1970s, Anvil have influenced many other great metal bands, some who reminisce on the band’s early performances, their edgy sound, and the dirty, saucy songs they wrote throughout this documentary. For whatever the final reason, Anvil never became commercially successful the way people like Slash, or bands such as Metallica, Anthrax, and Twisted Sister did; they spiraled into years of making monetarily unsuccessful albums on their own, and playing whatever gigs they could manage to get. All the while, many of the bands they influenced with their stage performances and gritty tunes were out touring all over the globe and back again.
However, Lips (real name- Steve Kudlow) and Robb (Reiner) never ever gave up on their dream, and continued to rock on as the only solid members of Anvil to stay the entire course.
This documentary picks up as the boys get contacted by a European fan who basically offers to be their manager, and wants to help arrange a tour of shows in Europe for somewhere around 1500 Euros a night (or so she says). What follows is a very disheartening tour where they are late for gigs, delayed here and there, and generally followed by an air of discontent; at one point, Reiner even refuses to play and says he will quit the band, but Lips convinces his oldest best friend to stick it out. These guys have taken time off work for five weeks, and make little-to-no money whatsoever.
It almost feels like Anvil is doomed. Lips, though, still feels the passion, and so does Reiner. Lips sends Chris “CT” Tsangarides (a producer they had previously worked with many years ago) a demo tape of their new album called This is Thirteen; CT calls Lips back, and says it has potential, but they still need funds to make it all happen.
Lips tries to do telemarketing with the help of a very enthusiastic lifetime fan of Anvil, but cannot even produce one sale; this part was especially sad, as even though Lips holds another job, we get a glimpse at how rockers feel when not on the stage, and forced to go to work just like the rest of us (Lips is a man who knows only music; it feels to me he is compromising himself by working a regular job, and that’s why this scene is particularly depressing). An emotional visit with his sister yields a great opportunity for Lips and his band: she gives him what I understood to be around $10,000 to help him make the album.
This is where we see the true spirit of Anvil begin to shine, and even though there are still arguments, fights, scraps- the band pushes to achieve their dream.
In the end, Lips and Reiner travel with Anvil back to Japan where the film began in 1984 at the Super Rock Festival. Now, they find they are booked for 11:30am to play, and Lips immediately begins wondering how they came so far to simply be booked for a morning show. With all routes looking to lead towards more disaster for Anvil, they take the stage in front of a massive crowd of people DYING to see them, and proceed to rock their fans from beginning to end of their set. You can almost see the fire return to Lips and Reiner, as they finally have made it back to the huge stage in Japan where they once played with the Scorpions, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, and many other big names.
I give this film a full and fat, rocking 5 out of 5 stars because not only is it a well-documented film about the trials and tribulations of Anvil as a band, but also it showcases what the human spirit is all about: never giving in. The ability to get knocked down before getting back up each and every time they fall is something Lips and Reiner are both masters at; they falter, but never do they fall flat on their face. Every moment is just another moment for redemption. Highly recommended.
Just a note- whenever I feel down, or like life isn’t giving me a fair shake, I throw on The Story of Anvil, and I’m reminded just who the real heroes are. Those are the times I’m reminded that determination really is everything; it’s not just some tired cliché. It’s truth.
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.
★★★★★ (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.
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.
The 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.
As 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.
The 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.