Tagged Effects

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Wes Craven, Torturer of Dreams

A Nightmare on Elm Street. 1984. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Johnny Depp, Charles Fleischer, Joseph Whipp, Robert Englund, Joe Unger, & Lin Shaye. New Line Cinema/Media Home Entertainment/Smart Egg Pictures/The Elm Street Venture.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★
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All those who love horror, truly, are bound to miss Wes Craven. He’s firmly planted amongst the masters of the modern horror genre. His film The Last House on the Left completely rocked and shocked viewers, though, even behind that brutal picture are bigger things than merely a rape-revenge horror. Some people pass over a later effort of his, The People Under the Stairs, yet that attacks everything from racism to Regan.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a different story. Craven completely hit the mark in every way imaginable, both on a subtle level and the more obvious ones. Freddy Krueger became synonymous with nightmares, the bad dreams which shake you from your sleep. Little kids weren’t afraid of a faceless boogeyman anymore after 1984 – from then on, it was Freddy. Because he was different than the other popular slashers, being a totally mind-based killer; he comes for you through dreams, and that means rules change. The unconscious is our most vulnerable place. He gets there, invading the private spaces of our inner mind. It’s a delicate subject when you boil this slasher-horror down to its basic parts. Craven does his best job crafting a masterpiece of horrific dreams on the back of Freddy, along with the appropriately impressive and inventive effects to boot. This is a classic of horror if there ever were one.
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We all know the plot. Let’s skip that part this time around.
Part of my love for this movie is the innovation of Craven and his team. Everything from the blood bed to the simplest practical effects. Such care goes into the movie to make it look so excellent.
Love the effect of Freddy pushing through the wall, then Nancy wakes up with the cross knocked off on her, and the wall’s back to normal. Always thought it was creepy, subtle. Then not long afterwards Freddy comes down the alley with those long arms, so surreal and dreamlike. Everything is warped and weird. And it is terrifying. Plus, once we finally get the few looks at his face, all scarred and burned up, it’s hideous.
Freddy’s the pure mercury liquid of nightmares. At first he doesn’t even respond to Nancy when she asks “who are you?”, but simply cuts his chest open to reveal ooze and maggots.
And that’s the most terrifying part about Freddy. He’s a dream, a nightmare figure. He gets you if you fall asleep, which time and time again tests the characters of the film. There’s an unfathomable aspect to Krueger and his entrance through the unconscious mind. Almost as if your fears will literally eat you alive when he’s around. Plus, there’s also the angle of the buried secrets in a tight-knit community. Once the truth of Krueger, who he was and what happened to him comes out, then we start to see what the past does to the present. It invades and infects the next generation. You could make a case that Craven is talking about generational trauma, in a sense. Either way, the fact Freddy worms his way into the minds of the young people on Elm Street is a creepy sort folktale, a modern era Pied Piper leading the kids to their deaths. Sort of the death of youth, bringing adolescence to an end in horrific ways. Freddy is ultra creepy, as he’s already a child murderer, but the injustice portion of things comes into play; questions of morality, and what exactly is justice, so on. You can dive deep into Craven, I’ve been saying that for ages.

Apart from being the big screen debut of Johnny Depp, there are a couple good performances. Heather Langenkamp as Nancy is a perfect choice. She’s likeable, as well as sweet. Yet she’s strong and independent, she wants to track Freddy down, no matter how she has to go about it; whether by force, or by dream. As opposed to the typical “Final Girl”, Nancy is much more than just that. She’s an antagonistic protagonist, if I can mix and match. I say that because she’s able to turn the tables on Freddy and get the upperhand by going at him on his own turf. So, Nancy comes off as a decently strong, resilient female character in a genre with a dearth of those types of characters.
Of course we can’t talk about this Craven masterpiece without mentioning the talent of Robert Englund. Nobody else can ever fill his shoes. Sure, you can remake it. And Jackie Earle Haley is actually a great actor. But certain roles are not meant to be played over and over like in the theatre. In stage acting, nobody is recording you (or at least they never were before these days), and so the performances are not cemented; many people can grace the role. Someone like Freddy Krueger can never be anyone else but Englund. He put the stamp on that role, giving it the performance of a lifetime. His character remains ever creepy, both slightly perverted and terrifyingly mad. The makeup effects involved with him, just his appearance alone, are insane. They remain with you, after years and years. You could be on a desert island for a decade and still remember who Freddy was if they showed you a picture. It’s an iconic piece of horror, of cinematic history itself.
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Craven’s Nightmare is a 5-star horror. It defined what a supernatural horror could be without the need for the same old ghosts and spooky things in the dark. Freddy branded himself onto the brain of genre fans forever. Not only that, he marked the world. He’s a phenomenon, still is really. Even kids knew who he was back in the ’80s when they couldn’t see the movies. They just knew. I knew who Freddy was before I’d actually seen the movie myself. So Craven not only gave people a good scare, he contributed to pop culture in a hugely significant way during the ’80s, and then later in the ’90s with Scream. This one always creeps me out, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Never a boring watch, always good for that solid, enjoyable scare I crave.

Southbound is a Darker Twilight Zone for 2016

Southbound. 2015. Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath & Radio Silence. Screenplay by Roxanne Benjamin, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Susan Burke, Dallas Richard Hallam & Patrick Horvath.
Starring Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Kristina Pesic, Fabianne Therese, Nathalie Love, Hannah Marks, Dana Gould, Anessa Ramsey, Susan Burke, Davey Johnson, Mather Zickel, Karla Droege, Zoe Cooper, Justin Welborn, David Yow, Tipper Newton, Matt Peters, Maria Olsen, Tyler Tuione, & Kate Beahan. Willowbrook Regent Films.
Rated 18A. 89 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★1/2
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Anthology films, especially those of the horror variety, can either end up being extraordinary, or very mediocre. The V/H/S films (sharing several of the same producers as this film), in my opinion, are pretty damn good; for the most part. Some thought they were a mixed bag. I actually loved the third one, Viral, most of all, even though so many thought it was terrible. Either way, there’s always a gamble inherent in putting different stories, no matter their genre, together into one whole anthology. You can divide people easily that way.
But fans of The Twilight Zone and other similar horror/science fiction might appreciate Southbound in the same sense I did. There really is something for everyone. That is, for everyone interested in the dark, macabre corners of the imagination. I’ve seen reviews dubbing this as a mixed bag. Not sure how they felt that way, but it’s all subjective. Me? I found myself dropping jaw several times, loving each scene and simultaneously wanting the current segment to end just so I could see what would happen next. As a lover of both horror and science fiction, the cross between the two genres is subtle, though, it is clearly evident. Maybe it’s not even science fiction, but rather a supernatural aspect. Either way it’s got that Twilight Zone vibe, as I said, and in a way that does not come off as a copy of anything from the series or movie. I’m not even sure if the filmmakers even intended to make this feel that way. Yet it has an amazing sense of homage without ever really trying to reference The Twilight Zone or any other films in particular. Mostly, the directors and writers come together to present us with one of the best anthology movies out there. Period.
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Instead of attempting to briefly describe any plots, I’ll forego the usual format. Instead I want to focus on the impressive elements of each segment, without spoiling anything too much, or if possible at all.
“The Way Out” has an excellent monster, or whatever you want to call it. Super neat! Unique, too. Not saying there’s never been a drawing like it before, probably there has been. But as far as horror movies, even science fiction go, I’ve not seen a creepy creature like this in a long time. It’s part skeleton, part demon-ghost, part smog. Definitely a fun addition, and one that looks unsettling, especially when it stands (floats?) off in the distance like some supernatural Michael Myers waiting at the end of the street.
Overall, I dig the opener. It is an eerie sci-fi romp with bits of horror. Plus, I like that we’re not given a ton of exposition here to try and explain all we’re seeing. It fits and works perfectly for an anthology film with a bunch of shorts together, as you get just enough then walk away wondering: what sort of place is this? Added to that, it’s a killer way to start off an anthology. Really throws you off balance, in a proper way.
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Second short – “Siren” – isn’t overly unique, nor are there any impressive effects really. That being said, I dig the relationship between the female characters at the center of the plot. And I also think less is more, in certain cases. Again, like how the first introduced some interesting things then left them fairly open, this one gives us a taste of the main characters and their lives, who they are, but it’s only a slice. We don’t get everything, and it’s one of the big reasons why I thought, despite its shortcomings, this segment works so well. There is a lot of creepiness happening and the build up to the reveal of what’s going on is definitely tense, at times darkly comic, as well as the fact we get Dana Gould playing a super weird dude.
Then there’s the connection between each short. Everything happens out on the highway, a desolate stretch of road where it seems nothing but terror happens. I especially like how the second and third connect, as it involves one of the women from the second in an absolutely mortifying sense. The writing in most of these segments is pretty fun and dark as hell.
In this third one, “The Accident”, there is some truly gory, gruesome work in the practical effects department, and I am ALWAYS a sucker for well executed blood in a horror. Although I found the second segment lacking in awesome effects, going more for lackluster work, this one makes up for that big time. “The Accident”, for me, is most similar to the vein of many great Twilight Zone episodes, and the movie, as well. It has a truly unsettling vibe from beginning to end. And who doesn’t find abandoned hospitals a creep-out?
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“Jailbreak” gets really out there, too. If the point of being in Hell hasn’t come across strong enough yet, boy, oh boy – does director Patrick Horvath ever hammer it home in this short! Horvath and Dallas Hallam wrote this, and they directed/wrote the fascinating slow burn Entrance from 2011; a movie that, to this day, has not yet washed off me. Here, though, there’s a much more wild, supernatural, nasty angle to the story they tell. I won’t spoil it because there are a couple truly WTF moments you need to see going in blind. On top of everything else, the practical effects in this segment are outrageous; in the best fucking way.
My favourite out of this anthology is the final segment, “The Way In”. Above all else, the way this connects to the other segments is absolutely spectacular. Truly, it is wonderful and dark and weird. I wasn’t expecting this finisher to connect everything so perfectly, as if cauterizing the plot and its various threads. The build up in this segment I enjoyed incredibly, which then devolves into madness after everything breaks. Finally, it’s the very last few moments that reconnect the beginning and end of the entire anthology. I can’t say too much about this one, for fear of spoilers. I will say this – the beginning of this short lulls us into a real everyday type of crime feel, as if we’re about to see a typical thriller that we’ve seen a hundred times, and from there propels us through a vicious, quick and adrenaline-fueled segment which caps things off with the right touch.
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Absolutely a 4.5 star film. Like I said: a favourite anthology of mine. This will be going up on the Blu ray shelf once it’s out, but for now you can snatch it up via iTunes. There’s really a lot of good stuff here and anybody who says it’s uneven may just not be into the style of this entire movie. Everything connects so well, as if a tiny thread runs through every segment to tie it all up, sewn nicely and stitched at the seams. Hopefully the team behind Southbound and V/H/S continue to do these anthologies, as I feel they’re really getting better at them all the time. Plus, different directors and writers come in, so the blood is fresh. This one contains a good deal of talent, heaps of the damn stuff.
Southbound, and movies like it, are the reason why I adore genre films.

Paranormal Activity’s Modern Hauntings

Paranormal Activity. 2007. Directed & Written by Oren Peli.
Starring Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Amber Armstrong, and Ashley Palmer. Solana Films/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 86 minutes.
Horror

★★★★
paranormalactivity_posterWhen done correctly, I am a huge fan of found footage. Whether it’s using the thriller style, as I recently enjoyed in the film 419, or horror (The Blair Witch Project, Cannibal HolocaustHome Movie, and many more), I believe that if a director uses the sub-genre appropriately then it can be extremely effective. Particularly, horror movies using found footage can end up having a huge impact if it isn’t simply a gimmick, or a wasted tool in the director’s arsenal.
Even further than that, a writer (or writers) needs to know the limitations of the sub-genre, as well as where it can go. Too many writers seem to let the screenplay of a found footage film fall by the wayside, like it isn’t an important aspect so much as the visuals prove to be. Very bad way to look at ANY genre or sub-genre; you always need a good script, or at least an impressive idea to work from.
There are things I do love about Paranormal Activity, while I’ve got a gripe or two, as well. Mostly, I think Oren Peli really did an excellent job as director in cultivating an impressive piece of modern horror. He singlehandedly changed the found footage game, in my mind, after the originals left their highly impressive (and better) mark – like The Blair Witch Project and the infamous, controversial Cannibal Holocaust. Now there are plenty of others, since this film’s release in 2007, trying to work off the simple yet excellent format Peli landmarked.
This is not a perfect horror, nor is it my favourite found footage film. However, I’ve got to say that when I first saw Paranormal Activity – and to this day – there were elements and scenes which really unsettled me greatly and left a lasting impression on me. I don’t think, as a veteran in watching films and TONS of horror, that I’m easily frightened. But genuinely, at times, I found myself clenching up. Not to say I wept in terror or curled into a ball. Though, I can readily admit my muscles tightened and my heart rate pumped fast in several scenes, which is all due to the acting of the two leads and the good work of writer-director Oren Peli.
paranormalactivity1I won’t waste time relating the plot. This is one of those movies we ALL know about; if not, head over to IMDB or Wikipedia and it’s laid out pretty well. I’d like to just move into the things I liked/disliked about the movie.
An aspect of the screenplay I truly do love is how the character of Micah antagonizes the presence in their home. Starting early on, within the first fifteen minutes even, Micah begins to make fun of the whole concept of some spirit (or whatever) in the house; he plays creepy music, saying he’d like to make the presence feel at home. I always like when a story incorporates scepticism in an interesting way; Micah is a part of that, as he pretty much riles up the thing in their house.
Otherwise, one of the greatest parts in my mind about Peli’s Paranormal Activity is that the effects really started to push the envelope for found footage. Since 2007 there have been plenty more found footage films which used effects to a greater degree, but at the time this came as sort of revolutionary for the sub-genre. Before this movie, and those which followed it (both sequels and other films imitating this style), most found footage horror tended to go for the lost in the woods scenario, adding in tons of shaky cam and screaming and blood/gore here or there. Peli came along and decided to keep the camera stationary almost all of the time, which really helped, and on top of that he tried as best he could to do as much practically as possible, as well as the great majority of the film is centred so much on the relationship between Katie and Micah.
Keeping the camera in one place the way he does, Peli is able to let us relax a bit and get more into the characters and the story/plot than other found footage allows us. As I said, the shaky cam is prevalent in many other films similar to this. Even the amazing Blair Witch Project, there are a couple nearly nausea inducing sequences where the characters are running, screaming, and the camera is jostling around along with their movements; to the point where it’s tough to follow anything. Luckily, that was one of the first real found footage horror movies where shaky cam became a thing, so at the time it wasn’t really overdone.
Paranormal-Activity-3Nowadays with so many less exciting films than that trying to read in its huge footsteps, we get too many horrors using found footage and throwing in the shaky cam as a legitimate portion of the film when in fact it only detracts from the end product; we’re tired and sick of the shakiness, it’s not simply low budget and realistic it makes things look lazy. In Paranormal Activity, Peli foregoes that nonsense and allows us to get into the relationship between Katie and Micah, watching their lives unfold instead of constantly having one of them manipulate the camera, moving it around, and so on. Though Micah absolutely holds the camera at times, it’s not him running around and catching nothing except blurs. Whenever he does move it, the moment is brief, or at the least Micah is usually standing in one place. I think, albeit probably an obvious touch, Peli does his film a great service by allowing the camera to stay still a lot of the time. That way, his story comes out further, the characters are more interesting, and the plot is able to move along without the audience becoming totally unnerved (not in the right way) by the camera movement constantly shaking us out of touch with what’s happening in the film.
For this reason, as well as the fact effects are incorporated in a fresh way (not saying they’re spectacular; merely they were slightly new to this sub-genre), I truly feel Peli broke new, interesting ground with his found footage horror movie. Not only did it spawn a series of sequels, a whole franchise, Paranormal Activity – in a different way from its predecessors – had other filmmakers looking to do a low-budget horror almost copycatting everything about it.
They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery; in this case, I think it’s mostly about cashing in.
still-of-katie-featherston-in-paranormal-activity-(2007)-large-pictureFinally, it’s the acting from Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston which truly got to me. I think Sloat did a good enough job, especially in terms of being the sceptical and doubting boyfriend; he isn’t completely ignorant and arrogant in his speech, mostly he brings this aspect across through his coy, annoyingly playful demeanour. He certainly acts like a bit of a douchebag, but I think that’s almost definitely the right way for Micah to seem, as a character – it brings out that doubt very clearly for all to see.
Above all else, it’s Featherston who sells this film from start to finish. I like the character herself; she’s been followed all her life, basically, by some kind of spirit, an entity. Not that it’s a new idea. It’s how Featherston plays the character, the innocence she always seems to display and this naive but concerned nature in her. While Katie is the one who believes in it all, there’s still this naivety about her in that she’s holding onto the innocent part of herself, even while this demon/spirit/entity has latched onto her and won’t leave her, or Micah, alone. The way Featherston performs is incredible, unbelievably actually in the final half hour. Once things start getting very intense and claustrophobic in their little house, Featherston does a perfect job portraying all the terror Katie is feeling; there’s one moment where she tells Micah she feels something in the hallway, and I honestly got a fright just out of the urgency in her voice, the look in her eyes. Amazing job and makes Paranormal Activity all the better for it; anyone else would probably not have been enough. Featherston pushed this film above a ton of other found footage out there with subpar acting and lazy characters.
Paranormal-ActivityWith an undeniably horrifying final 15 minutes, I can definitely say this is a 4 out of 5 star film. There could’ve been a little more in certain parts, but overall this is an excellent modern horror. I’m not saying this will send you to bed cowering under the covers like when we were children. What I am saying is that Oren Peli did a good job directing this, as opposed to so many shaky useless found footage efforts, and he tried to instil the film with as much practicality (from plot to effects) as possible.
This is a slow burn type of horror film, in my opinion. It does well building up tension, in part that’s due to excellent actors, and in the end there’s a massively satisfying and creepy conclusion. Love the end and watching this for the first time since its release 8 years ago, I must admit I like the film more than I’d originally thought.

Fear the Walking Dead – Season 1, Episode 3: “The Dog”

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 3
: “The Dog”
Directed by Adam Davidson (Hell on WheelsThe FollowingLow Winter Sun)
Written by Jack LoGiudice (Sons of AnarchyThe Walking Dead)

* For a review of the next episode, “Not Fade Away” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode “So Close, Yet So Far” – click here
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.05.51 PMAt the beginning of the latest episode, “The Dog”, we see the big family still divided across the city.
While Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), his son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), his ex-wife Liza Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez), and the Salazars – Ofelia (Mercedes Mason), Daniel (Rubén Blades), and Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) – are all holed up in the little barber shop owned by Daniel, a riot is going down fiercely in the streets. After a few minutes they’re forced out of the shop and into the street, as a fire next door begins to make the wall literally bubble.
Not just riots are happening; the apocalypse is nigh!
Chris witnesses a person zombified, biting into the neck of another person; in fact, they’re police officers, most likely SWAT Team members. The whole city of Los Angeles, at least that area anyways, looks to be in total panic mode, full-on mayhem.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.06.34 PMMeanwhile, back at home, safe and sound, Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) is taking care of her junkie son Nick (Frank Dillane). The two of them, plus Madison’s daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), play a board game.
Great juxtaposition of the two family units, each in their own space – one fighting to survive in the streets, the other in a nice, quaint little living room playing a board game. I also feel like there’s a larger statement in this segment. For instance, the Clarks are all white, and then there’s Travis, his ex-wife, and the Salazars who are all of different ethnicities. While the white people are all cozy in their houses, it’s everyone else left in the streets – at the mercy of police and zombies. I don’t know, perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, or a pile of lint, but I honestly think there’s a bit of George A. Romero political zombietary dropped in amongst it all. That’s the great part about art in any form: we’re all able to draw out what we want from the themes and events within it. I’m probably way off base from the writing, it’s still fun to theorize.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.09.23 PMAn amazing sequence is in this first 10-12 minutes. When Travis leads his group out of the downtown area riots in the truck. The way it’s filmed is heavy, man. The score, the shots themselves, they all amount to a feeling of great unease. Travis and his son Chris look out the window of their truck, as the Salazars and Liza sit in the pan: chaos is erupting, the hospital is overrun with police and at least ONE zombie – no doubt lots more – and an excellent slow motion shot sees an officer running with an automatic rifle in hand. There’s just a real sense of gravitas to everything happening. Even Travis knows it’s more than simply riots; we, the audience, know far more. So in both ways this scene cuts deep, in an immediate sense because we’re watching society begin to breakdown as the zombie outbreak begins so quickly.
Furthermore, once they get out of the populated area up on this hill, Travis and Chris watch through the truck’s windows and we can see in the reflection of the glass city lights are beginning to shut down, one section at a time, Los Angeles descending into a soon to be perpetual darkness.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.10.46 PMOnce Travis and his group arrive back to find Madison and the kids, there’s trouble.
A zombified neighbour wanders into the Clark house, killing and eating the family dog. Out looking for a shotgun at another neighbour’s house, Madison isn’t able to warn Travis before he heads inside. ZOMBIE ATTACK! Finally we’re seeing another zombie on human sequence. This time it’s more intense than Madison’s encounter with her co-worker.
Daniel Salazar intervenes on Travis’ behalf by shotgunning the zombie neighbour in the face. SUCH GNARLY EFFECTS! The first shotgun blast is savage. Then Daniel takes another pop shot and the head goes BAM; nevermore. Really wild makeup effects which I loved.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.12.26 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.12.43 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.12.49 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.12.56 PMThere’s some family drama happening with everyone now housed temporarily under the Clark roof. First it starts with Chris trying to help Alicia, but getting a hard elbow in the nose. This puts Chris and his father in a room together for a few moments, as they talk a little about the infection; mostly, Travis tries to reassure his son that everything will be all right. Moreover, Travis has obviously got things a bit rough with two wives in one place, which – regardless of the circumstances it being the end of the world outside and all – cannot be easy, it’s obviously a wound still partly open for some of them.
The Salazars are also at odds. Daniel doesn’t want to be in someone else’s debt at a time such as it is in Los Angeles. But clearly it’s also not a time to be alone, cast away from society or people of any kind. Everybody needs somebody (some time). The Salazar women feel a little differently, however, I get the impression Daniel is only looking out for his loved ones; he strikes me as a very family centric man and he’s not about to make anything worse than it is for his own family by siding with the wrong people. I’m sure as time goes by, he and Travis might find a bit of common ground, a mutual understanding on which they might stand together. Eventually.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.14.07 PMDaniel and Travis still have a way to go. The old guy is only trying to keep everyone safe, but Travis has a problem with Daniel showing Chris how to use a shotgun. Mainly, I think ol’ Mr. Salazar is a realist. He knows something is wrong, he’s seen some things in his life, and the guy just wants to be prepared; he wants, needs, everyone else to do the same. It’s telling when he sees Travis and Madison at the fence – Travis talks Madison out of killing her zombie neighbour-friend Susan Tran (Cici Lau), Daniel only says to himself “Weak” as they walk away. So it’s obvious he has got the realism hat on while others are having a harder time adjusting.
Even further than that, the Salazars opt not to go with the Clark-Manawa-Ortiz brigade, as Daniel tells his daughter “good people are the first to die“.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.13.11 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.13.57 PMThe most intense sequence of “The Dog”, though, has got to be when Patrick Tran (Jim Lau) comes home to his wife Susan. Just as he’s about to grab her in a hug, as she shuffles zombi-ly towards her husband, some National Guardsmen blow a little hole right through dead Susan’s head. I thought for sure there’d be a big zombie chase sequence or simply a blood and gore fest maybe, with a couple deaths. Instead, “The Dog” sets up the next episode with the National Guard moving in on the whole neighbourhood and, at least for the time being, the Clarks, Salazars, and the Manawa-Ortiz clan are safe. Or are they? Who knows exactly what will happen.
As Travis says “It’s gonna get better now” and the episode fades out with a slightly optimistic yet haunting score overtop, it’s hard to tell exactly how things will go immediately. Of course, we know how they’ll start to go on down the line.
But just before the cut to black happens, Daniel says to his wife, while watching the National Guard move through a house next door: “It’s already too late
Very foreboding finish!
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.14.30 PMCan’t wait for the next episode, “Not Fade Away”. People keep saying the shows is boring, but it isn’t to me. Others expected full-on mayhem and madness. It’s not that type of series! Not yet anyways. The world of Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, and yes Dave Erickson, has sprung to life in a new, unexpected way in this series which leads us into where original show The Walking Dead has already taken us. So for those who don’t enjoy, here’s a tip: stop watching. The series will do just fine without you.
Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.14.58 PMFor the rest, stay tuned! I’ll be back again next week with another review. Hope to see more and more craziness, now with the National Guard in the mix and the government bearing down on Los Angeles I know there’s going to be something intense and exciting happening in “Not Fade Away”. That episode, by the way, is directed by Kari Skogland whose television work includes Vikings, a 6th season episode of The Walking Dead, the fifth episode of Kurt Sutter’s new series The Bastard Executioner, The KillingThe BorgiasBoardwalk Empire; Skogland’s film credits include the excellent Fifty Dead Men Walking and an adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel, among others. Looking forward to her at the helm of this next episode, should be fun.

Avengers: Age of Ultron & Style Over Substance

Avengers: Age of Ultron. 2015. Directed & Written by Joss Whedon; based on the Marvel comics by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Linda Cardellini, Stellan Skarsgård, Claudia Kim, Thomas Kretschmann, Andy Serkis, Julie Delpy, and Stan Lee. Marvel Studios. Rated PG. 141 minutes. Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

★★
Avengers_AOU_PosterI’ll start off by saying, for those might doubt my allegiance, when I was growing up I absolutely loved comics. For me, I was always a huge X-Men fan, not particularly a lover of The Avengers. But still, I’ve always been into comics and lots of the characters. Even Thor himself I’ve enjoyed, just never been big on Iron Man/Tony Stark or The Avengers team. Separately from the group, as individuals I do like a lot of the characters. For instance, I think the concepts behind both Hulk and Captain American SO INTERESTING – for Hulk it’s this incredible duality between man and the beast within, ever since Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde this has been explored and I think in the comics this pans out to something even more fun; in Cap’s case, I think that idea of the “perfect American”, that ultimate patriot, is another compelling idea because it entails everything we want to believe in soldiers, that we want them to be this perfect warrior and patriot yet underneath they are STILL human, just like Steve Rogers underneath all the Captain America experimentation.
So when I say that I’m not really huge on either of The Avengers films, maybe you can chalk that up to me not being a fan of them in general. However, I can absolutely admit when there’s a good film, whether or not I’m into the source material.
For me, I just don’t get enough heart. Not saying there’s no emotion, not at all; there is plenty. What I mean is that there feels like, beneath the CGI and the star powered cast, there is ultimately nothing much going on. While the action sequences are wild, the inner headspace of some characters get explored, but in the end there’s nothing hugely impressive to me which puts this above any other blockbuster in the summertime.
maxresdefaultAvengers: Age of Ultron has a lot going on. This is one of my first real problems with the film. When I first sat down to see this, I knew it would be long, but when I learned it was near two and a half hours the urge to leave struck. But I’m not afraid of a long movie, there are plenty of films I enjoy that run well past two hours (The Deer HunterApocalypse Now, & those are just the classic ones). It’s just that, personally I can’t see how a near two and a half hour movie is necessary. Sure, there are lots of characters in here – The Avengers alone are too many to flesh out in a regular length film – but is there really any need for such length?
There’s a great part to this movie, which is that we get to see more of who The Avengers themselves are, as individuals. That’s something I do love because like I said in the beginning, it’s most the characters individually I like rather than the team as a whole.
And still, I think there could’ve been about 20 minutes yanked out of this screenplay without really hurting any of the character development, or the plot for that matter. I get it – there’s tension between the team, between certain members, even within themselves. There’s just no world in which I can see myself agreeing with the need for a two and a half hour Marvel movie. The complexity is there to work with, no doubt. Not enough to justify the length, though.
avengers-age-of-ultron-3-1940x809My other big beef with these Marvel movies, this one especially seeing as how I’ve watched it recently, is the fact everything is so drenched in CGI. I absolutely understand that a lot of what happens in these comic book stories WILL NEED CGI. Totally understandable. In opposition, even if you don’t like Christopher Nolan’s Batman BeginsThe Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises, you have to at least give Nolan the benefit of agreeing that he attempted to use practical effects wherever possible. Even with The Dark Knight, you actually get to see Bale as Batman on the edge of an insanely tall building, and other shots such as this; of course it’s not ALL practical, not even close, but there’s still effort to try and ground SOME of the movie in a tangible world.
With Age of Ultron, there’s scene after scene of CGI madness, over and over. In between there are wonderful little scenes between actors, just straight up good writing/dialogue and story. Most of the time, however, Joss Whedon is just giving us a CGI show, everything is green-screened and any real, visceral emotion simply gets taken out of it. I think there’s definitely enough on the brainy sides of things – love the plot of this story Whedon gives us out of the comics – but to go with that there’s nothing here drawing me in, making me feel those emotions Whedon injects into his script, nothing hooking me other than “Wow that looked cool” or “Robot James Spader is wild”, or “LOOK AT ALL THOSE BUILDINGS AND CARS AND OTHER THINGS GETTING SMASHED”, or “Ooh pretty laser… ooh pretty laser… ooh pretty laser.”
I’m not saying I want the quote-unquote gritty version that everyone seems to crave after Nolan’s Batman. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of it all. Because in the end, so much of it is ultimately superheroes just flying around, beating each other up, with the tiniest bits of human drama and emotion peppered in for a scant flavour. That’s AWESOME if you’re a kid, or maybe if that’s your style – I don’t mean to knock you. For me, I need something more than Whedon and his Avengers seem capable of serving up.
maxresdefault avengers-age-of-ultron-hulkbusterWhile I don’t like this movie, not in the slightest really other than a casual admiration for the technical work and some of Joss Whedon’s screenplay, I’ll give it 2 out of 5 stars on those aspects alone. I cannot deny AT ALL that Age of Ultron is a technical marvel (see what I did there?). There’s a great deal of effort in so many areas which went into the making of this huge blockbuster film. I bet there are plenty, millions, of people out there who downright loved this! No doubt in my mind.
For me, and for others I’m sure, the amount of CGI smashing together and flashing all over the screen during most scenes throughout the enormously bloated runtime isn’t all that exciting. Visually there’s a feast of things to look at, but not a feast I’m starving for really. I like to see some interesting set pieces, costumes, effects as much as the next filmgoer. On the contrary, I like to see practical effects, and above all I like an emotional story that can entertain you with a bit of thoughtfulness while also sucking you into its intensity. Age of Ultron is, for me, too big and bright and it has no solid core. There are a TON of amazing actors here – I’m particularly a big fan of Mark Ruffalo and Paul Bettany – I just don’t think there’s enough time individually for any of them to make a real impressive impact.
age-of-ultronSee it and judge for yourself. I’m no one to listen to, surely. Objectively, I can’t agree that this is a great film. It’s mediocre at best, served up as near to the lowest common denominator of movies – a mindless bit of action. But whereas some action films get into you viscerally, put you right in the seat of the heroes matching up against the villains, there’s none of that here, in my opinion. Joss Whedon is a good writer and director, I’d rather see him take something else on other than his childhood love for comics. Might be great for some. Me? I’m worn out. As a lover of comics when I grew up, it’s still too saturated a market for me nowadays when it comes to superheroes, and it’s all the same as this: big, loud, flashing bright, but only to mask there’s nothing other than that to offer. Even further there’s the fact the Marvel movies always end the same way – heroes win, bad guys lose, another day they’ll find more bad guys to fight. You know from the get everyone will be alive at the end, no lives will be lost. Starting to get tedious, if you ask me. Maybe if the next Marvel film opts to kill off a big character, not for novelty but for a well-written reason in Whedon’s screenplay, then I’d be more inclined to take it in (this one doesn’t count because the ‘big’ character who dies in this one isn’t around long enough for me to or anyone to really care about).
Otherwise, it’s the same routine, over and over, where you don’t really have to ever worry because your favourites will ALL BE SAFE AND SOUND. No tears.

Pod: Backwoods Indie Alien Horror with Teeth

Pod. 2015. Directed & Written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Larry Fessenden, Lauren Ashley Carter, Brian Morvant, Dean Cates, John Weselcouch, and Forrest McClain. High Window Films.
Rated R. 76 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★1/2
podv3-681x1024If any of you may have read my reviews before, you might know that I’m a big fan of films which are of a specific genre and still they have the ability to cross over genres. The classic example is Alfred Hitchock’s adaptation of Psycho by Robert Bloch – the way we think the story is all about Marion Crane, but then Norman Bates shows up and the story takes on a different air. Same goes for Proxy, a viscerally intense horror thriller from Zack Parker, which I believe took much inspiration from Hitchcock and his classic horror film and seems to move between genres in a similar fashion.
So, for all its faults, I do like the way Pod starts out with an opening scene that’s very horror-ish, or at least highly suspenseful, then moves for a while into an extremely serious, often dour family drama before coming back to its horror elements.

Pod tells the story of Ed (Dean Cates) and his sister Lyla (Laurence Ashley Carter) who are heading up to a cabin in the winter in order to retrieve their out of control brother Martin (Brian Morvant). He needs an intervention of some sort. When they arrive, though, things are far worse than they’d ever anticipated. Ed is already worried, having received a frantic and terrifying call from Martin.
Once there, Martin tells his siblings he has something trapped in the basement, that there is a “pod”. He reveals scratches all over his body, infected and sore.
But after the worst happens, Ed and Lyla must confront what really is down in the basement. It most certainly is not of this world. Suddenly everything their crazy brother Martin had told them seems to be horrifying true.
IMG_1848I’ve been a huge fan of Larry Fessenden now for a good 14 years probably. I remember I saw his film Wendigo, an eerily low budget psychological horror, on some television channel late at night. Totally floored by it, I sought out anything he’d done before then kept my eyes on him afterwards.
What’s great about Larry is that he’s a fun horror director, while also popping up in the films of others as an actor. I think he likes to take on roles with young filmmakers he finds interesting, or just any filmmakers in general, young or old, he thinks has some talent. So to see him in this film is pretty great. He was in Mickey Keating’s previous directorial effort Ritual, which I’m planning to see soon, so I gather Fessenden must enjoy Keating and his filmmaking to have signed on for another of his films. He isn’t in this one much at all, though, to see him show up a little is enough for me most times.
IMG_1846Then there’s also the talented Lauren Ashley Carter who I’d first seen in The Woman and enjoyed. Then I caught her on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in a decent role. However, it wasn’t until the film Jug Face, which I own and love, that I saw what Carter is really made of. She has great range, as is evidenced by watching her across a couple films.
Here she plays a young woman whose family clearly has issues. She’s an alcoholic, her brother Martin (Brian Morvant) is most obviously a man with drug problems and all sorts of other compounded issues. It’s intriguing to watch her here, as opposed to Jug Face in particular, because this character is even more complex.
I really found the chemistry between Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter) and her brother Ed (Dean Cates) worked very well. The beginning of the film for the first 10-15 minutes is a lot of them, alone together as they travel to give Martin a sort of impromptu intervention. It’s definitely a rocky relationship, though, we’re able to glean a sense of their family, their past, and it doesn’t require a huge amount of expository dialogue. There’s definitely some of it, but we get tons simply from how Ed and Lyla interact with one another. Once Martin actually comes into the picture, there’s plenty more family tension and further dynamics at work.
We get bunches of history about the family, especially Martin. Turns out he did something pretty terrible to a woman named Edith – flashes of a couple Polaroids with a VICIOUS BLOODY injury to her face come up really quick – he thought she was feeding him arsenic, that she was a spy of some sort. So it’s obvious why Ed, and to a lesser extent Lyla, is reluctant to initially believe anything Martin is saying. No matter what horror may come later, at the time it’s certainly relatable and understandable; Martin’s got psychological issues, plus the fact he was in the military and who knows what he truly saw, but it’s affected him in some highly real ways due to delusional thought.
A while later, Ed reveals to Lyla that the woman named Edith was a nurse. Martin tried to essentially rip her face off and escape from the hospital. So again, we see more of why the siblings – mostly Ed as Lyla seems to believe Martin slightly – have a tough time trying to trust anything Martin might say.
This all sets up the drama of the family, but what that serves to do is make all the thriller and horror aspects of the script come out even more intensely, as we’re sort of riding alongside Ed and Lyla listening to the insanity of Martin before – BAM! – everything kicks in.
IMG_1847Loved the style of how the film was shot. Not only that, the sound design and the score helps the suspense and tension of so many scenes. One awesome bit is just before the 30 minute mark, as Martin retells the story of waking up in a government lab; he’s a soldier who’s clearly seen some SHIT. But what I love is the score, the sound design with its crackling fuzzy noises slamming loud with the music at the right intervals, and all the while we’re closing in on the door of the cabin Martin has locked. There are scratches around the door, near the locks, it’s clear something is in there whether brother Ed wants to believe it or not. Definitely creepy style.
This sets up a really great atmosphere, another aspect of what I love about good horrors and thrillers; any films really. If a nice atmosphere and tone can keep up throughout a movie, then there’s a good chance no matter what I’ll walk away with something positive to think and feel about it, even if not every aspect is great. What Pod absolutely has going for it is a tense atmosphere throughout, a dark and sketchy tone.
One amazing, brief shot is after Ed pulls Lyla off to talk in private. There’s an excellent slow motion style shot, as Lyla stares wide-eyed at Martin while heading upstairs; she sees her brother grabbing his head, like a million voices are pounding his brain, and he looks so tortured you can almost feel his pain.
IMG_1845There’s a genuinely shocking moment near the 50 minute mark. I knew Martin was pretty crazy, despite the obvious weird happenings at the cabin, however I couldn’t see what he did coming. Not by a long shot. I don’t want to spoil anything too much, so I won’t say exactly what it was, but be prepared! It’s not vicious, definitely gory though. Mostly it’s just a good, solid shock that puts the final half hour into a really thrilling frame.
Once Ed and Lyla open up the padlocked door in the cabin, I thought the room itself was superbly creepy. It’s cast in this reddish light, there are drawings and doodles everywhere, writing on pages just tacked to every open space on the wall – the set design and anyone who worked on the room sure spent a nice bit of time making the place look like the stronghold of an insane man. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, but the way Keating directs these scenes it’s definitely tense and has a spooky air of mystery.
My most exciting moment, personally, during the film is when we get the first bits in the basement. Ed is walking around with a flashlight, and at first it seems like we’re simply watching an angled shot of him, when in reality it’s a view from the eye of the pod, or whatever it is hiding down there. VERY VERY EFFECTIVE! I loved this moment because it was a nice touch, unexpected and a little unnerving at the same time, too.
IMG_1844I’m not saying that Pod is a perfect movie, not at all. My problem is that when I went online to see what people were saying, so many moviegoers – likely many of whom pirated the film instead of paying for the pleasure – seem to say “Oh it’s like an hour of arguing and screaming”. There is plenty of arguing, definitely some screaming at points, but what did you expect? This is a riveting family drama for the first quarter or so, then it plunges into a mystery thriller before hitting the horror stride full-on within the last half hour. I mean, there’s no real doubt Ed and Martin would be yelling at one another. First of all, Martin’s psychologically damaged, he’s probably taking some drugs, Ed is completely fed up with his brother. Naturally there will be some fighting. So I just can’t agree with anybody saying this is ALL arguing and yelling. It’s not. Plus, this is a horror film and there are intense scenes of – you guessed it – horror. So I don’t see it as totally unrealistic that maybe people would be yelling at certain points. You don’t think you’d be frightened? Not even when a hideous, terrifying creature of some sort is coming up the stairs out of the dark after you? I call bullshit.
IMG_1842 IMG_1843With one whopper of a final 20 minutes, I can’t say that Pod is a bad film. Honestly when I go on IMDB and I see that a good indie horror film, with sci-fi elements, has a low rating like 4.5 (which would equate to about a 2 out of 5 star rating by my site’s terms), I’m consistently amazed at how lame a lot of people rating online have become. What’s so bad about this movie you’ve got to rate it THAT low? The acting isn’t bad. Lauren Ashley Carter does a great job as Lyla, Dean Cates is solid in his role as the caring and serious brother Ed, but can you really deny that Brian Morvant did a terrific job with the character of Martin? If you say he’s no good, I just feel you’re kidding yourself. It was a frenetic performance and it came off well.
I did love the inclusion of Fessenden, at the same time his character and how quick that aspect lurches into the film is one of my only big problems with Pod. I’m fine with the whole angle of someone protecting the pod, or having a part in the pod being there – whatever. The part I cannot abide is how swift that part came on, there’s no real buildup to this scene. I’m not asking to have things spelled out for me, though, there’s no way I can jive with how suddenly Fessenden’s character showed up and what he’s done (I won’t spoil it fully).
Ultimately, I’ve got to say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star film. There’s an intensely horrific final 30 minutes, beginning with a gory throat cut then introducing the alien/pod in the basement, which all ramps up to the creepy and messy finale as Ed faces off against whatever the thing is Martin had been warning him of all along. The effects are KILLER here and I thought the pod/alien design all around was so perfect! The sounds it makes at the end while fighting with Ed are outrageous, I loved it. Unsettling piece of horror with that small sci-fi twist.
See this and absolutely DO NOT pay attention to all the slagging going on over at IMDB and other online sources. People who probably don’t appreciate film are the ones commenting, I see many of them brag they’ve not paid for it in any way and downloaded it for free, so honestly I don’t take people that seriously if they’re not willing to pay for films. Just sours my view on someone’s perspective when they’re robbing filmmakers then shitting all over their movies.
So get a copy legally, watch it, then tell me how you feel. I’m not saying everyone will love it, merely I believe this deserves more attention than the people online are giving it. They’ve clearly not paid attention to the worthy aspects of Mickey Keating’s film because there are likeable elements which I enjoyed a great deal. Nice little indie horror film for a rainy day when you want to get creeped out.