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Cooties: It’s Okay to Kill the Children

Cooties. 2015. Directed by Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell & Ian Brennan.
Starring Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Ian Brennan, Jorge Garcia, Cooper Roth, Miles Elliot, Morgan Lily, Sunny May Allison, and Armani Jackson. Glacier Films/SpectreVision.
Rated R. 88 minutes.
Action/Comedy/Horror

★★★★
2490326_bigOfficially out now on iTunes, Cooties was announced a little over two years ago. I remember seeing the premise alone and thinking this would be, at the very least, a bit of a good laugh. Admittedly, I’m not actually huge on horror-comedies. Funny that I love comedy and I am way in love with horror, yet the combination of both isn’t something that immediately appeals to me.
That being said, there are definitely instances of horror-comedy I’ve loved. Like Shaun of the Dead, which is almost the pinnacle to me of the sub-genre. There’s also Dead Alive, Gremlins, pieces of An American Werewolf in London are definitely full of comedy, Return of the Living Dead, House (a favourite of mine), and many more.
Cooties isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the best horror-comedy films to come out in awhile. There are lots of good laughs, solidly executed horror, and a pretty excellent script. This movie never takes itself too seriously; not to a fault, but enough to make it feel genuine. Some good performances help the whole film succeed, even in its slower moments. Rainn Wilson, of whom I’m not a fan, actually is pretty awesome. Not just him: Elijah Wood is great, Alison Pill cracked me up almost constantly, Nasim Pedrad played such an amazingly satirical character and proves she’s a real good comedian, and even the other much smaller roles had me in stitches.
But it’s the horror I love – the sweet, sweet horror.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.25.24 PMThe opening sequence of the film is pretty spooky, as well as nasty. Like churn your stomach nasty. Tainted nuggets… need I say more?
After this opener, Cooties shifts into comedy/dark comedy mode for a little portion. Which works extremely well. From a screenplay by Ian Brennan and Leigh Whannell, the comedy is genuine. It’s not awkward comedy, as some might expect seeing Rainn Wilson, however, it isn’t at all. There are some hilarious moments, especially from Elijah Wood whose character has a boyish charm while carrying the weight of the adult world on his shoulders; a writer trying hard to be whats he wants, stuck teaching when he’d rather be writing a novel as he says he is.
Still, things get intense fairly quick once the horror rears its fierce head. What I love is that the movie is only an hour and a half, not even, so the plot kicks in and runs wild without enough preamble to numb you. For a horror-comedy, this is an efficient technique and certainly made me enjoy Cooties even more than I might normally enjoy other movies in the sub-genre.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.17 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.35 PMKiller kid movies always freak me out. Something about the innocence of children combined with evil – and in this case an illness/virus – really just gets to me, in an awfully heavy way.
The kids in Cooties are creepy. Plain and simple. One of the first intense scenes is when Wade Johnson (Rainn Wilson) finds himself trapped on the basketball court, surrounded by a bunch of the kids; they’re hissing, snarling, growls and blood and pus come out of them.
Something I enjoy about the killer kid sub-genre is how it subverts how we feel about children. You don’t feel any fear from them. When you see a kid, as an adult, there’s nothing threatening about them. Even when it comes to really messed up kids who might talk a good tough game, worst comes to worst you can pick a kid up and throw them if necessary. However, when the evil aspect comes into play – in film – there’s something in that subversion, something about how the children suddenly become threatening, which unsettles me at the core. It’s the innocence coming back into play, in a very sinister sense.
Even more so, Cooties pits school teachers against the kids they’re meant to be teaching, caring for, moulding into responsible young adults. There’s something even more wrenching about seeing these educators forced to kill the ones they’ve protected so long, similar to zombie films where we see parents have to kill their children or children forced to kill their parents. Something about this whole idea eats away at me. And even though there’s plenty of comedy peppered in throughout, I think there’s an absolutely relentless sense of dread happening from start to finish which never ever lets go.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.47 PMWhat I enjoy so much about this movie is the fact it balances so well the aspects of horror and comedy. This is the strength of any solid horror-comedy, if they can find a balance somehow that ultimately works equally on both fronts. What I found worked, for me, is that Cooties teeters back and forth between riotous moments and nasty horror. I mean, there’s a genuine dose of R-rated horror here a lot of other filmmakers would be too afraid to include in their own films.
When Johnson (Wilson) kills the first kid with a fire extinguisher, I knew it was coming but there’s still an effective scare in that moment. Particularly I love the makeup special effects, the blood spray all over Johnson and the wall behind him, speckled red dots everywhere. A true horror scene. Often times there’s a comedic aspect to kills in horror-comedy; this is not one of those kills. In the midst of the comedy comes a brutal, vicious scene. Not only that, the weight is evident on the character of Wade Johnson, as he sorts of loses his fun loving attitude afterwards and takes a bit of time alone.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.27.03 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.00 PMThe cinematography all around is pretty awesome. There’s a genuine atmosphere from start to finish, which sort of evolves from section to section. Lyle Vincent is the one responsible for the camerawork here – he also did 2012’s Devoured, a decent little indie horror with some teeth, and also the downright fantastic A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (you can see a marquee poster for this movie at around the 1 hour 17 minute mark, or a little after, as the survivors pass a theatre). So knowing those two pieces – liking the latter more than the former – it’s no surprise Vincent is able to give Cooties an interesting look and feel. At the start, even in the creepy/nauseating opening sequence, there’s this real bright, shiny type of aesthetic happening – this leads through a bit to when the darkness comes into play. Following the “turn” of the children, a more gritty yet still colourful scheme begins. The vividness of colour persists, only darker now, along with the shadowy halls of the school, lit here and there with neon Exit signs, and the dull, sickly makeup of the kids, bloody and diseased looking. Tons of great visual stuff happening in terms of how the cinematography is both bright and gritty.
Also, there’s a rocking score from Kreng (Pepijn Caudron) – lots of cool electronic stuff happening. Unlike many modern horror movies trying to evoke a retro 1980s style soundtrack, I found this goes for the electronic sound while not necessarily trying to riff off the ’80s particularly. It might have that type of vibe, but for me it’s not the typical modern horror score. Helps the different aspects of Cooties become more intense, along with Vincent’s cinematography, whether it be the action-horror scenes near the end or the plain creepy horror moments throughout. A great horror score, definitely a bit different than some of the other stuff as of late from the indie horror scene.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.24 PMI have to mention one of my favourite scenes. It’s very close to the end, so without spoiling anything, the group of teachers trying to fend off all the infected/zombie children wander into a sort of McDonalds PlayPlace type of building. They find the PlayPlace itself, a massive jungle gym full of infected kids, frothing at the mouth, hissing and screaming, laughing like maniacs. The part I love is the lead-up, where first the group comes inside and the dark closes everything in, the flashlights give us enough to see bright party decorations, half eaten cake and nuggets; there’s this eerie quality to the scene I found incredible. Then when the lights go up, a neon multicoloured disco light ball turns, there’s this WHOA second where you can’t get over how wildly creepy the scene has become.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.47 PMWith a decent ending, that doesn’t try to wrap things up cleanly and to a precise point, I think Cooties overall gets a 4 out of 5 star rating. I loved the excellent mix of horror (good dose of blood/gore) and comedy. Plenty of good laughs, but horror wins out above anything else. There’s a lot of great intense kid-centric horror. This doesn’t shy away from showing any kids infected, bleeding, or straight up being killed. Though it isn’t malicious in the sense of useless violence. Mostly, as I said before, the subversion of the roles of the teachers in this film really makes things interesting, and horrific at various times for both the audience and the characters.
This is out now via iTunes, so get a copy! Maybe not everyone will love it like I did, but as someone not often drawn into horror-comedies, I’d at least suggest you give it a try.

Turbo Kid: Blood, Nostalgia, Video Games, & a Whole Lot of Fun

Turbo Kid. 2015. Directed/Written by François Simard, Anouk Whissell, & Yoann-Karl Whissell.
Starring Munro Chambers, Laurence Leboeuf, Michael Ironside, Edwin Wright, Aaron Jeffery, and Romano Orzari. Epic Pictures Group/Timpson Films.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Action/Sci-Fi


★★★★★
new-turbo-kid-poster-unveiled
Always interesting to see the different 1980s (& further) throwbacks coming out now over the past 8 years or so since Grindhouse brought the whole concept back. Ever since Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive especially, there’s been a want for the retro 80s style soundtracks, or the entire aesthetic. Even before that with stuff like Ti West’s The House of the Devil, film fans have gotten a taste for the homage films being made by directors and writers who grew up watching movies in the 1980s and that’s where they cut their teeth in terms of influence. What’s even cooler is a lot of these retro homages are coming from indie filmmakers, bonafide genre filmmakers, and so it’s exceptionally cool that these are being made outside of the Hollywood system mostly. Furthermore, even with the heavy dose of homage in films like these, the concepts and premises are often innovative and fresh compared to so much of the recycled, rehashed, rebooted, remade material we’re being fed in theatres nowadays.
While some of these movies opting to go for a throwback retro aesthetic don’t actually do a period piece, or particularly set things in the 1970s or 1980s, Turbo Kid is straight out of both the ’80s and ’90s. At the same time, it’s futuristic. Set in 1997, it’s as if things stopped in the 1980s and everyone’s stuck.
Probably what excites me most about Turbo Kid is the fact this is a film spun off from the short segment “T is for Turbo” that was meant to be in The ABCs of Death. Though the segment did not make it into the film, I’m super happy it ended up being made into a film. Now out on iTunes and other VOD platforms, this is a new indie film that deserves much attention. Not simply because of its origins from the horror anthology in which it was hoped to be included, Turbo Kid is also an example of how neat, interesting movies can get made with the support of film fans. Paying a few dollars to see an awesomely original, independent film ought to be a privilege, and this is one of the latest new films that will hopefully remind people how indie filmmakers are still thinking outside of the box, not following all the latest trends to the letter and still thinking for themselves. Because like I said, while this is pure retro homage filmmaking, there’s a highly original quality to Turbo Kid which evokes equal parts hope and nostalgia.
IMG_1849Turbo Kid takes place in the year 1997, in a post-apocalyptic vision of the world. The Kid (Munro Chambers) wanders around in the wasteland, fending for himself, reading salvaged comic books of Turbo Rider. Along the way he meets the chipper, upbeat Apple (Laurence Leboeuf). She attaches herself to him immediately and tags along for the ride. The Kid is reluctant at first, however, he warms to her quickly.
Meanwhile in other parts, an arm wrestler named Frederic (Aaron Jeffery) is also fending for himself across the barren lands plagued by drought and acid rains. He’s trying to find his brother, fighting against a one-eyed man named Zeus (Michael Ironside), Skeletron (Edwin Wright) and a band of other insane henchman. Zeus kills people, feeding them to a contraption built for extracting water from human remains.
After The Kid saves Frederic and Apple from Zeus, captured in his savage fighting arena, the fight and the chase are on. Across the wasteland Apple and The Kid venture, Zeus on the warpath, and there’s no telling what might happen in the unstable post-apocalyptic world amongst the dirt, the blood, and the acid rains.
IMG_1859Naturally one of the greatest parts about Turbo Kid is the incredibly authentic retro ’80s score. With original music from Jean-Philippe Bernier, Jean-Nicolas Leupi, and Le Matos, there’s an incredible part of the aesthetic in this film that’s built up through the music. Particularly during some of the small intense sequences, like when The Kid (Chambers) is pedalling fast as he can away from a villain on his bike, there’s this amazing synth chase piece that blew me away. I expected lots of this, however, to hear it composed so well and fit so perfectly with the scenes and sequences is a damn treat!
The score’s individual pieces are so fitting when it comes to the ’80s homage because we get a bunch of great little montages, typical of that era of filmmaking. So not only is the score awesome, it plays into the film in so many ways I think work directly towards cultivating that super cool throwback feeling. You’d swear this was done back in the ’80s, all around.
My favourite part of the score is during a massive fight involving Frederic and The Kid versus Skeletron and the rest of Zeus’ henchman crew. It’s just PUMPING the whole time and it makes you want to kick some ass. Coupled with the incredible practical effects, all the blood and gore we’re treated to, the music makes this section full of adrenaline and a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
IMG_1851The apocalyptic angle of the film comes off really well. Particularly I love their use of locations and the sets; not sure how much of this is on location and how much, if any, was done on a set/soundstage. Either way, the post-apocalyptic feeling comes across excellently simply through virtue of how they use their locations. We get the post-apocalyptic settings and sense from everything together, as well as the very palpable sense on top of all that of when the apocalypse happened through the ’80s costuming.
Not only is there a science fiction-ish aspect to Turbo Kid with the apocalypse’s destruction of civilization, this movie has BUCKETS OF BLOOD and PLENTY OF GORE. I thought there’d definitely be a fair share, but man was I pleasantly surprised! Not only that, the practical special makeup effects were out of this world. Just absolutely something to behold. The gory moments get even better once The Kid discovers the Turbo Rider’s gear in a crashed plane; he picks up the glove and begins to blast away at the villains threatening him and his friend Apple.
IMG_1854 IMG_1856Inarguably, one of the best gory scenes is when a friend of The Kid, Bagu (Romano Orzari), is captured by Skeletron and Zeus. They tie a hook into his guts, which are ripped slightly out of his abdomen, attached to a bicycle then Skeletron proceeds to pedal hard and haul a big string of intestine out. It’s an awesome practical effect that’s pretty savage and awesomely gnarly. Hard to say the ULTIMATE BEST, because there are just so many unreal gory, bloodletting moments.
We get a bunch of real awesome bloody shots when The Kid blasts people with the Turbo Rider glove. It’s so video game-like that I can’t help love it. Even the glove itself sort of reminds me of the Nintendo Power Glove, as well as how Apple’s little heart monitor is pretty much (wonderfully) torn out of The Legend of Zelda. But the head shots and the torso blow-ups from the glove look perfectly like something you’d see in a video game, it adds tons of flavour to the retro ’80s feeling. Brings me right back to childhood.
IMG_1850 IMG_1853 IMG_1857Almost all the performances in this movie are spot on. Incredible talent, especially in the younger actors.
Munro Chambers plays The Kid and I found him both charming and funny. He’s got a likeable quality to him instantly, but seeing him rock out to a Walkman and painting his helmet, just hopping about the post-apocalyptic wasteland, it’s a lot of fun. The charm he brings to the role of The Kid helps because there are moments in the script which are purposely cheesy, and he sells these scenes and little brief bits. The performance he gives is awesome. The best thing, though? He actually seems to be having a ton of fun, while still playing his character.
I’ve loved Laurence Leboeuf ever since her turn on the wickedly dark Canadian show, alongside Hugh Dillon playing her father, Durham County. Here she is quite different than that character, which is fun to see. She has a lot of range. Here, Leboeuf plays a beyond quirky, hyper young lady named Apple who turns out to be a synthetic human being, or a robot; whatever you prefer. I cannot count how many times she made me laugh out loud, over and over. There’s energy in her performance unparalleled in this film, maybe unparalleled in most of the roles out of 2015. Honestly, she’s a joy to watch here, as a character who is slightly familiar but plenty innovative. Well cast in this role, there’s no doubt about it, and Lebouef – like Chambers – seems to revel in a chance to do something different, fun, and a bit wild.
Along the edges there’s Aaron Jeffery, whose character Frederic is the typical badass yet with his own square jawed charm and intensity, on top of a rough machismo so familiar from the films of the 1980s. Plus, legendary actor Michael Ironside shows up here as the villainous Zeus, controlling the water sources amongst the desert-like lands of the post-apocalyptic landscape; as usual, Ironside gives a solid performance with the right material and this is one sci-fi/horror I hope he’ll be known for in these later portions of his career. Even the eternally silent Edwin Wright as Skeletron does a fantastic job with a fun, video game/cartoon-ish character who is also a solidly creepy villain alongside Ironside’s Zeus.
IMG_1852 IMG_1858This is a 5 star film. I know some may roll their eyes, but whatever. Fuck those eye rollers. This is an incredibly retro 1980s throwback, which is not simply full of homage and an attempt at capturing a nostalgic feel but a very fun, innovative movie in its own right. Part of what works in its favour is absolutely nostalgia. However, this is not all that works for it. The performances are worth a good deal of enjoyment, the blood and gore are ABSOLUTELY PERFECT with the practical effects to make everything worthwhile, and the original music for the score is something I can’t truly describe that’s how much I love it to the core.
So PAY for this because it is one amazing example of how the dreams of filmmakers can come alive when a bunch of people work towards a collective and unique vision; there’s so much effort behind every bit of this film, I was impressed. Watch it and support indie film. Maybe you won’t love it as much as I did, but I guarantee you’ll walk away with at least some degree of respect for how well all its retro elements work together to make an outstanding homage to a simpler time in filmmaking, as well as it makes for a super enjoyable to spend 90 odd minutes. Kudos to the filmmakers for giving it their best effort and pulling out ALL the stops.
Check it out – available on iTunes (not sure if it’s out on VOD anywhere else yet) – and tell me what YOU think! I dig it so hard that it’s not even sensible. You may or may not. Either way, I’d love to hear your opinion, too.

Stretch Tries But Stretches Too Thin

Stretch. 2014.  Dir. Joe Carnahan. Screenplay by Carnahan from a story by himself, Jerry Corley & Rob Rose.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Chris Pine, Brooklyn Decker, Ed Helms, Jessica Alba, and James Badge Dale. Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Action/Comedy/Thriller

★★★

When Stretch opens up, you see Patrick Wilson, playing the titular character Stretch (get it? – he drives a limo), come flying out of a car window. He does a bit of a flip and comes skidding down the pavement. When he rolls upright Stretch is still smoking a cigarette. He gets up, has a puff, and walks away. Right off the bat, Joe Carnahan is letting you know this is another adrenaline fest already with a similar feel to his 2006 bad ass action flick Smokin’ Aces. That’s nothing bad because I personally loved that film.

And things only get wilder from that opening moment on.

stretch-posterStretch isn’t having a particularly great day. After he catches us up on life as he knows it, a bad year or two really, we see him try to carry on and get through the day.
See, Stretch gambles. He owes about $6,000 to some fairly tough looking dudes. And he owes it by midnight. Luckily, a friend at the limo agency where he drives for a living, Charlie (Alba), agrees to send big business his way to help him seal off the debt. A big fish lands in his lap: Roger Karos (played hilariously and wildly by Chris Pine). This is where things really get interesting.

Stretch feels similar to Smokin’ Aces mainly in how it has a lot of interesting characters. Not only that, the characters are outrageous. For instance, the first time we meet Karos he lands on top of Stretch’s car. Then he slides down onto the hood. For those who’d like to be prepared, you get a nice view of Pine’s scrotum. I laughed so damn hard. Karos continues to entertain – over and over.
Then, of course, there’s Ed Helms who plays Karl (with a K), another limo driver. He literally haunts Stretch, after previously having taken his own life. He shows up at just the right time, every time. My favourite is at one point when Stretch’s limo gets commandeered for a quick little joyride; Karl shows up just to have a nice hearty laugh at his still-living buddy. Dig it.
stretchThere is a lot to enjoy about Stretch as a film. The action, no surprise as this is a Carnahan joint, is really exciting. A lot of it feels really spontaneous, which I love. And the same thing goes for the comedy. There were times I wasn’t expecting it, then all of a sudden a string of great joke comes out of the woodwork, and I’m killing myself laughing. Even just some great little throwaway lines end up coming off as real comedy gold. Wilson alone has about a baker’s dozen worth of one-off lines that really did me in. Absolutely hilarious writing, and great delivery on the part of several of the actors.

Another little bit about Carnahan’s style in this film I really enjoyed were the onscreen visuals he added in like the timer on the watch, the massive Arab’s (if he isn’t Arab I apologize – I’m only guessing) speech while he screams at Stretch, the text conversation between Stretch and the woman he met trying out online dating. These tiny pieces just add a lot of flavour to Stretch, making it something really fun.
75All in all, I have to say Stretch is a fantastic and thrilling ride of a film. It isn’t often an action comedy-style film really gets me. I’m more a horror-thriller type, though I enjoy all style and genres. But it’s not regularly I see something in the same category as Stretch that really prompts me to get excited, laugh out loud, and enjoy myself thoroughly.
That being said, the ending stinks in this one. I was actually crossing my fingers, praying out loud, that the end wouldn’t finish on the note I’d been predicting. Then the last few minutes played out, it was exactly what I’d predicted, and it automatically took things down a notch. Really, really did not like that ending. Totally shifts gears and breaks the tone of the film. Things go from crazy to feeling like a sappy romantic comedy in the final moments.

For that reason, I’m only giving this 3 out of 5 stars. I really wanted to give it about 4, maybe even 4.5, but the ending plants it firmly at 3. If Carnahan opted for another way to finish it off, I would’ve really been happy. However, this end took the wind out of a truly solid action thriller with tons of comedy and a really unique, adrenaline-filled tone. Regardless, I say check it out! The ending doesn’t totally ruin the film or anything, I’m just not a fan. The rest of the film? Absolutely worth seeing.
Patrick-Wilson-in-STRETCH-e1412723988173Stretch is now available on VOD, as well as through iTunes & Amazon, and now on Blu ray/DVD. Get a copy and have some fun.