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About me

I am an unrepentant cinephile. Never too haughty to indulge in the sleaziest but always pleased to partake of legitimate art, I give everything a fair shot and strive to remove personal preference from the viewing experience. Though I indulge in all genres, I tend to gravitate most toward the horror, cult, drama, and musical genres.

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Terror Blurbs! (An Ever-Expanding List) (100 items)
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Comic Book Movies I've Seen (147 items)
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My Favorite Directors (20 items)
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My Favorite Lovecraftian/Cosmic Horror Movies (20 items)
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My Top 30 Foreign Horror Films (Non-USA) (30 items)
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Morbius
An experimental cure for a rare blood disease turns Dr. Michael Morbius into a "living vampire". Though not the unmitigated disaster that many made it out to be, "Morbius" still falls short of the mark by bringing nothing relatively new or interesting to the table of comic book movies despite horror elements being in play. With a setup that plays like "The Fly" only without any of its teeth (pun intended), it starts off fine enough but doesn't take long to feel utterly discombobulated. Plot holes, somewhat shallow characters, questionable story choices, some really corny acknowledgements to its ties to an existing universe, and uneven plot development take the wind out from beneath the wings of what could of been a familiar but serviceable flick. As it stands, it's not memorable as either horror or a comic book movie despite having the bones to be something. Better luck next time.
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Morbius
 Morbius 4/10
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Nine Lives
 Nine Lives 2/10
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The Mummy
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Theater of Blood

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The Birdcage

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Nine Lives (Blu-ray + DVD)

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 Moonfall 2/10
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Sacrifice
A man returns to his ancestral home which exacts an inexplicable desire in him to remain much to the woe of his increasingly alienated wife. "Sacrifice" is a movie that makes a proud claim of its Lovecraftian influences out the gate. Unfortunately, it feels more like a checklist of tropes being marked off with an utter lack of nuance. Lacking atmosphere or subtlety, stocked with actors of questionable quality, and packing weak, exposition heavy dialogue, the film will grossly underwhelm fans of Lovecraftiana. Worse, it terribly misrepresents the very sub-genre it tries to honor to any casual viewers. "Sacrifice" ultimately comes off like a poor man's version of Shadows Over Innsmouth.
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Sacrifice
 Sacrifice 2/10
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The Exorcism of God (2022) review

Posted : 3 weeks, 6 days ago on 21 April 2022 12:10 (A review of The Exorcism of God (2022))

Plot: A highly revered priest carrying a decades old burden of sin is called to face an evil linked to his past, even as mysterious ailments afflict the children of his parish and unholy terrors haunt his dreams.

"The Exorcism of God" is not a movie anyone will ever call great. In fact, it lives and breathes the aura of its direct-to-video fate. Coupled with the fact that, historically, exorcism flicks have largely been tripe, this might be a death knell to most. However, it is also not an overtly bad movie and, shockingly, it manages to achieve what a lot of imitators in the wake of "The Exorcist" failed to.

After "The Exorcist" terrified audiences, there was a proliferation of imitators. Films like "Beyond the Door" and "The Manitou" often made the mistake of focusing on the more visceral, strange, and gruesome elements while neglecting the spiritual/human drama that was at the core of Blatty and Friedkin's classic. When efforts were made to address dramatic elements they were largely laughable.

It's very clear that "The Exorcist" will remain the gold standard of the genre for many more years to come. It is almost futile to attempt to topple it but it is also rather shocking that the more direct copycats never resulted in something that was, at the very least, entertaining and a bit enterprising.

Enter: "The Exorcism of God" which openly acknowledges that it is cribbing the story beats of "The Exorcist" (several homages will either delight or induce groans) but it also amusingly flips the formula on its head a few times and, better yet, offers up some substance in the mix.

Instead of Father Karras' faltering faith from "The Exorcist", we get Father Peter Williams, a man virtually revered as a saint for his many good deeds and his exorcism of an afflicted nun, and the burden of unworthiness he carries. You see, the exorcism that put him on the map is shrouded in a shameful act of sexual deviance that the Church largely overlooked in favor of the outcome. He has since then gone on to be a shining example of holiness but his inability to face the full consequences of his sin linger like a Sword of Damocles. And that's when the entity that he encountered before re-enters his life and it is made clear that all this was part of its sinister plan.

And therein might lie the greatest issue. When it comes to the entity and the possessed the movie tends to overindulge in gaudiness with its horror set pieces. There are some nice effects and sufficiently passable ones, don't get me wrong, and there is some imagery that will incite discomfort in the religious and maybe laughter in the more agnostic but all this mostly contrasts the more dramatic (and interesting) elements. Still, it's admirable that they do reign back these sequences to allow for the story and themes to never stray too far.

And this is how this Exorcist imitator offers up something more than its ilk. The movie injects intriguing themes about the nature of sin, self-doubt, and forgiveness while also taking some jabs at the Catholic Churches mishandling of sexual deviance and even hints at the idea that repression is a gateway to evil. Not to imply this is a fine tuned work of art that deftly handles these themes throughout but, it is an amusing balance of the excesses of exploitation and a legit effort to tell a story. Though nothing is ever fully developed and explored as in "The Exorcist", you have to tip your hat to them for trying to give us both and not being boring about it.

By the end, the more garish elements overwhelm and you'll see other influences (most notably the undeniable one to "The Omen") rear up) but it does pay off in a way that very knowingly inverts the way these types of films usually go and reenforces some of those aforementioned jabs at the Church's obfuscation of evil. It doesn't necessarily break new ground but, rather, takes the mirror-world route to get to where it's going. And you know what? That's okay.

Make no mistake, the movie is seedy and prone to theatrics but it's also admirably ambitious at times. Yes, this is a direct-to-video offering that actually feels like you snagged it up at the mom and pop video store for weekend viewing on your own (because the 'rents would disapprove). You're not proud you enjoyed parts of it, you know it's not amazing, but it just does something for you. Maybe it's that sometimes you need an alternative to the weighty affairs in the film it's brazenly ripping off or maybe it's just a gas.


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Rendel (2017) review

Posted : 4 weeks ago on 20 April 2022 10:35 (A review of Rendel (2017))

"Rendel" boasts that it's the first full length superhero from Finland and, sadly, that ends up feeling like the only questionable accolade it truly deserves. The story centers around a vengeful vigilante taking down a corrupt pharmaceutical company run by cartoonishly over-the-top thugs that, naturally, have wronged him in the past. Simple, a bit "been there, done that", but who doesn't love a good revenge flick, right?

Apparently, the creative team behind this doesn't because the movie seems hellbent on crowding the goings-on with a panoply of characters and subplots that are not only thinly developed but serve only unnecessarily complicate the proceedings. Worse, they employ a poorly executed flashback narrative to unveil the origins of the titular character which effectively deflates any of his presence or the audiences desire to see him do his thing. In fact, it raises far too many questions about how his skill set/powers work and, by the end, leaves plenty of them unsatisfactorily unanswered. As for the answers that are provided...well, get ready to roll your eyes at those. 

What "Rendel" seems to want to do the most is ooze "edgy coolness" with its dark hero, extreme characters, and violence that, though brutal, also comes off oddly flat and unimpressive.  Characters behave like caricatures of their inherently larger than life comic book cousins. Twists, stakes, and tension (and I do use those words loosely) are all played up for response but they too feel so flaccid that they border on laughable. This isn't helped by the dour cinematography or the forgettable soundtrack. 

All that said, as a long time comic book reader, I couldn't deny that "Rendel, in all its daftness, evokes the feeling of those late 80's-90's era anti-hero comics from publishers of lesser renown (down to their glaring faults). I suppose if you have a nostalgic hunger for that largely long-gone ilk of comics this might slake your thirst. However, like those comics, "Rendel" proves to be poorly constructed, rife with tired tropes, overly serious, and over-reliant on violence or an outdated aura of "cool". Moreover, like those comics, it was best looked through once and then relegated to faint memory. 




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The Jesus Rolls review

Posted : 2 months ago on 14 March 2022 01:40 (A review of The Jesus Rolls)

The Big Lebowski is a minted comedy classic renown for its insanely quotable dialogue, slew of hilarious situations bound together by a neo-noir template, and, of course, its cast of eclectic characters. One of those characters was  the iconic purple-clad pederast, Jesus Quintana (played by John Turturro). To say he was a standout in a movie bursting at the seams with memorable characters is an understatement. This was made all the more impressive by the relatively short amount of time he's actually on screen. Despite this, he seemed prime material for a vehicle of his own, should anybody get the urge to expound. And so someone did. The Jesus himself, in fact.

With Turturro himself at the wheel as writer, director, and, naturally, lead actor, The Jesus Rolls screamed of passion project and instant classic. Alas, when the film finally dropped, critics and audiences alike agreed that they shouldn't have fucked with The Jesus. And so it came and went with none too eager to champion it and most ready to forget it. Being a huge Lebowski fan (an "achiever", to those uninformed in such matters), I was in a constant tug of war about watching this. The woeful reception didn't bode well but, of course, I wanted to see what came of it anyway. Well, it took a while, but I finally indulged. 

There comes a certain burden when following up a movie that is universally loved but that burden multiplies exponentially when the film in question is the subject of slavish cult loyalty. The Jesus Rolls was not in an enviable position from the get-go on that front alone. Add to that the fact that the Coen Brothers were not involved with it (though they gave Turturro their blessing to elaborate on the character) and the passage of time and you have a surefire recipe for disaster. Disclaimer: Anyone going into this expecting something to the level of The Big Lebowski will be horribly disappointed. Hell, barring a few superficial similarities, this one is a different kind of beast. 

The film follows Jesus Quintana being released from prison after one of his repeated offenses. Not long after, the delightfully careless but destructive nature of his unscrupulous outlook drags a friend and a disaffected hairdresser into a mounting whirlwind of chaotic situations that, much like in The Big Lebowski, end up feeding into each other. Humor is drawn as much from seeing him being reckless and quick to return to his baser qualities as it is from the irony of his abject fear of returning to prison. Unlike The Big Lebowski, though, humor doesn't take the front seat. Instead, we have a quirky (at times downright bizarre), surprisingly sweet drama of a man inadvertently finding purpose and a form of appreciation for what he has through the course of his misadventures. 

The movie also has a very distinct European aura to it courtesy of it basically being a remake of the French movie Going Places (itself an adaptation of the book Les Valseuses). It actually sticks to the beats of Going Places pretty closely, only recontextualizing and reinterpreting them to fit Jesus' personality and story arc. Going Places, however,  was a notoriously sexual story and, given what we knew about Jesus from The Big Lebowski, you could see that going some uncomfortable places. However, The Jesus Rolls retcons The Big Lebowski's claims about Jesus' deviances in an amusing way early on. Instead, we get a pleasantly open-minded view of the often complex relationships between men and men, men and women, polyamorous relationships, etc. Not only does this supply ample opportunities for whimsy but it also proves to be the primary means through which Jesus most begins to redefine the meaning of his life and objectifying outlook. This is especially true after a particularly jarring experience that is best experienced than spoiled here. 

Some will find the film meandering and I've read a few reviews that even call it plotless but I beg to differ. Sure, Jesus seems to go from one strange encounter to the next without rhyme or reason but each situation pulls back the curtains on his character. He proves oddly charming  with his strange mix of amoral and moral qualities but soon encounters unshakeable revelations and concepts about life that take him to newer depths. There is much purpose to The Jesus Rolls and, to the right audience, it will be a very satisfying experience. Pre-loading this movie with a character like Jesus Quintana had the downside of turning off Lebowski fans that didn't get more of that world they love so much but it also had the benefit of forcing the creative mind behind it to create a more nuanced growth arc for such a defined and obstinate character. This is largely told through those that surround him, either by the way he views them or how they affect his worldview. 

You won't find the fine-tuned dialogue of The Big Lebowski here but that is more the result of Jesus and those in his sphere aren't exactly the pinnacles of eloquence. An affably goofy ex-felon, an apathetic French woman, ex-cons with little concern for change, and, more tragically, those with a cold realization of the fleeting nature of stability and happiness in a post-prison life are the types of people that Jesus encounters and, if you let them, you'll see exactly what Jesus takes from meeting them or how he learns to embrace those he already knew. 

Make no mistake, this is not a movie whose themes pound the humor out of everything. There is much humor throughout, it is just of a very different ilk from The Big Lebowski. Lest we forget, Lebowski's humor itself is not the status quo. The Big Lebowski was not a box office hit and critics were largely confused by it when they first came across it. In the wake of Fargo, a lot of them saw it as a step down for the Coen Brothers. It didn't take long for a cult to form and for opinions to change. Now it is one of the most well-regarded comedies of all time, deservedly so.

The Jesus Rolls will probably never have that type of turnaround BUT I hope it does begin to see at least a bit of appreciation because it deserves far better than the one it got. Put aside expectation if you're a Lebowski fan and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. It is, at the very least, something different than the mainstream but, dare I say, it is also a fantastic and greatly fulfilling watch. I might be going against the grain here but I give The Jesus Rolls a 7 out of 10. I suspect that grade will appreciate as time passes, too. 




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Gaia review

Posted : 10 months, 3 weeks ago on 27 June 2021 09:36 (A review of Gaia)

Part eco-horror, part body horror, part surrealist mindfuck, and all Lovecraftian nightmare, Gaia is an intense atmospheric offering from South Africa that proves you can offer terror on a cosmic scale without a Hollywood budget.

The film follows a park ranger who stumbles across a father and son duo of survivalists with an unsettlingly slavish devotion to nature. The lines between normalcy and something far more ominous become immediately blurred and it soon is evident to our hapless protagonist that the men's motives are far from those of civilized people. Both her body and mind begin to succumb to the will of something darker...something older...something with a plan.

Gaia begins with a foreboding shot of the grandeur of the wilderness that serves as a harbinger of things to come. Indeed, the creeping omnipresence of something bigger (and, worse, darker) lies behind the veneer of nature only amplifies as the film moves along. At times ambiguous, but always ambitious, Gaia drip feeds you information until you, like the main character, come to the realization that you're trapped in the inevitable. This is the essence of cosmic horror.

Cosmic horror, the idea of our comparative insignificance to something so vast, ageless, and unknowable, is a difficult concept to communicate onscreen but recent entries into the genre have shown that delving into the more intangible aspects of this dread of greater powers can indeed be realized. Most of these entries have found a balance between what need be spoken and what can be suggested with sheer visuals. Gaia is one such entry.

Early on, we are introduced to the undeniable fact that the world the survivalists believe in is, at the very least, partially rooted in reality. They worship "her", a vast system of ancient fungi rooted in the depths of the earth since time immemorial, since long before humans trod the earth. To say the the film never lets up on making their faith an increasingly undeniable concrete fact is an understatement. In fact, the human threat is promptly dispelled and a progressive unease sets in, not long after which we realize that the humans are but tools in a grander scheme that has been millions of years in the working.

This is not a movie reliant on a masked stalker or bloodshed to elicit fear. No, this is a story that taps into something primal to wrench hope from your mind. There is no demon or supernatural entity to run from, there is only the zealous ravening of insane devotees and the subsequent understanding that they might not be insane at all.

Gaia is also not traditionally built, as far as genre films go. What begins as a tropey endeavor off the beaten path (aka, random person goes down a road they know they shouldn't) quickly becomes an entirely different experience. There is even a line that winks at the audience as if telling us "hang on, we know this might seem familiar but it's not" and, boy howdy, are they not kidding. The bulk of the running time you are basically in the shoes of the protagonist, scraping together clues and, eventually, trying to cling onto hope.

If the idea of a witness to something unspeakable doesn't speak Lovecraftian to you then maybe the following will: Cults, ancient beings that men can only comprehend if they refer to them as gods, fatalist dread, and fungi. All these abound in the flick. Gaia is the movie H.P. Lovecraft would of made if he were our contemporary. And, really, that is all the high praise this needs.

Gaia is not for everyone. At times it is vague but only in a way that increases a desire to know it all (it practically begs to be rewatched right after you watched it the first time). At other times it is luridly clear and all the more terrifying for it. There are moments that are surreal and others that parallel the madness of biblical prophets. Mostly though, it is a movie dripping with an undercurrent of unrelenting dread. For those who know and love Lovecraft, this will be a treat. For those that don't, it can serve as an alluring introduction.

I give Gaia 9/10. Highly recommended.


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Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) review

Posted : 10 months, 3 weeks ago on 27 June 2021 09:35 (A review of Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) )

Let's be honest. Historically, Godzilla movies are pretty awful cheesefests that are mostly beloved by people that grew up on them. I get it. Me? I prefer my Godzilla to be ominous which is why I've always leaned on the original, the 1985 "remake", and, recently, Shin Godzilla. They took the material seriously and still provided monstrous antics.

That being said, the Monsterverse that started with the American 2014 version of Godzilla (then followed through with Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of Monsters) was a series that provided a nice balance between the serious and the over the top monster madness of old. I dug them all, though at diminishing levels, respectively. Nevertheless, any that enjoyed them (or didn't) knew that it was all coming to a head as the two iconic titans would clash in this year's Godzilla vs Kong.

The movie has a group of humans tapping Kong to lead them to a source of energy in the Hollow Earth that will assist in the fight against a rampaging Godzilla.

Was it worth the wait? Did they strike gold?

This series was never perfect. The response toward Godzilla (2014) was divided by those that bemoaned the focus on the humans and the small amount of time spent on the monster. Personally, it still stands as my favorite of the bunch. The divisiveness continued with Kong: Skull Island (which I greatly enjoyed) and Godzilla: King of Monsters (which I found fun, albeit with some issues). It seemed that for many the humans were always going to be a problematic angle in these movies.

Fair enough. For the most part, Godzilla movies have been loaded with horrid character work even before the Monsterverse started. "Let them fight!" the audience demanded and this movie promised to do just that. Well...

For all the crying people did about uninteresting characters in the other Monsterverse movies, this one really takes the cake by making them not only thin and uninteresting but by also making them terribly annoying and then having them hog up a massive amount of screen time. Worse, they're feel disposable.

The fighting they promised? You'll get a few battles (two between Godzilla and Kong) and I'm sorry to say that they struck me as vastly unimpressive, even ugly to look at. The effects, though top notch, are inundated in other effects which just become this brew of numbing visuals because, you don't really care about the world these creatures inhabit. The camera work tries to liven things up but it all proves an exercise in futility.

There are so many moments of deus ex machina in this movie and they all point toward getting the monsters to battle. You'd think that would expedite the affair but instead it bogs it down with heaps of incredulous nonsense SO far-fetched that it makes you question things in a movie about a damn lizard and an ape fighting.

The crap they expect you to believe without proper development is uncanny. The questions that arise from the things you see or are "revealed" are so mind-bogglingly stupid. You think it was cool that Kong had an axe in the trailer? Sure, me too but I didn't expect that they'd have me go from believing monster apes could build rudimentary weapons to insinuating that their race built large structures and archaic technology that tapped into the earth. The whole damn movie just reads like Alex Jones and David Icke co-wrote a novel as teenagers.

The series flirted with a lot of these elements before but it didn't torpedo you with a constant barrage of mounting stupidity to the point where you just lose hope in anything being remotely credible, fun, or engaging. The series had paid homage to the sillier aspects of old Godzilla movies a number of times without ever becoming dimwitted farce. Well, any of that restraint is gone here. They just went head first into the most ridiculous aspects and the results are stupefying.

In short, this movie is stupid, meaningless, uninteresting, and boring, even. I found myself in a daze while watching the bulk of it. There were actual moments where I rolled my eyes and yelled at my TV as they laid another slab of idiocy before me.

Though I liked the other Monsterverse movies I found each a step or two below the previous one. This movie? It certainly doesn't rise above what came before it. No, this is no step down in quality, this is a plunge off the cliff of quality. I give this movie 3/10


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A Christmas Carol review

Posted : 1 year, 5 months ago on 27 November 2020 11:27 (A review of A Christmas Carol)

Appropriately enough, to explain the plot of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to someone is tantamount to taking them on a journey of their own past. It is a story woven into the foundation of our modern traditions. It's become synonymous with the holiday (not to mention general human morals) ever since its release, and rightfully so. Now, imagine all you knew about it confoundingly gutted from it and the quivering, steaming remains covered in resplendent clothing to simulate the idea of life. Now you begin to understand what Robert Zemeckis' adaptation of the tale for Disney feels like.

Zemeckis had made much ado about his, at the time, dedication to motion capture technology and its potential applications to liberating the mind and capabilities of the director. With both "The Polar Express" and "Beowulf" he seemed to begin to scratch at the surface of justifying these claims, despite struggling with issues surmounting the uncanny valley. "A Christmas Carol" might have been the piece to bring his point home, with its use of a familiar and beloved story that had imagery ripe to explore. Alas, it might be the piece that soundly put his desire to make motion capture animation the next big thing to rest (the next time he would use it would be in a much more subdued manner in the disastrous failure "Welcome To Marwen").

Of course, Zemeckis has brought us much wonder and awe in his lifetime with classics like the "Back to the Future" trilogy, "Forrest Gump", "Contact", and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". His adventurousness with the art is admirable and he's certainly more than earned his respect but one wonders exactly what he sought to earn by taking all the meaning and character out of such a well known story.

"A Christmas Carol" could have been well regarded (as are several of the previous adaptations) rather than best forgotten if he had balanced his obvious want for something visually lush with something with a semblance of a heart and humanity. In short, his take relies heavily on spectacle rather than story. You are bounced around from scene to scene in tiresomely long, overly effects-laden (even for a movie that is purely made of effects) sequences that could have better been used to spend time getting to know characters and situations.

Indeed, why should we care about the life-changing journey of the curmudgeonly and rapacious Scrooge if we are shown so little context to his life? Worse, what little we do see is so bereft of life and gravitas that you wonder why anyone would make any of the decision Scrooge would make. We get but the briefest of glimpses into his past, present, for future in a breakneck mad scramble of scenes that come and go so quickly that they almost seem confusing, but surely feel horribly unimportant, in the long run. None of these feelings should crop up while watching something so familiar to western culture.

Make no mistake, either. This is not the result of a new vision for the material. Sure, there is a darker air to things here but style over substance is all it amounts to. The source material certainly lends itself to a little creative exploration with its darker elements and Zemeckis plays with these (albeit like a furtive child that played with his food rather than eaten it) but to no substantial avail.

Scrooge has always been at the core of the story but those around him make his journey meaningful. Well, strap on for a soulless ride, boys and girls. You'll only get to know the people around him for the briefest and most insignificant amounts of time. A character piece this is not.

If this movie had one saving grace it's Jim Carrey's dedication to portraying the lead role. You could easily see his take transplanted into a better adaptation and finding a home there just fine. However, you mostly wonder how much more he could have done had the script not limited him so much with its overreliance on being an effects extravaganza.

This film was intended to be shown in 3D and, while we don't get an uncanny amount of objects flying at the screen, we do begin to understand why some scenes play more like a showcase rather than a performance. The sad part is that this movie doesn't even impress on an effects level. The character designs are hideous (Bob Cractchit is a monstrosity) or downright laughable (that copy-pasted face on the Ghost of Christmas Past) and the descent into the uncanny valley turns into a full-throttle plummet.

The ending and the beginning feel like they are a completely different movie. The longer middle, on the other hand, feels overstuffed with superficialities and anemic in validity or meaning. You think you'll care about it as it begins, then you realize you're in a roller coaster of images that numbs you into apathy, and then the end comes and you kind of feel angry that they try to make it seem like something cathartic truly happened here.

"A Christmas Carol" is an abomination. It is godawful as an adaptation, it is godawful as something that tries to be new, it is godawful as a feast for the eyes, and it is lacking in everything that it should not be lacking. I give this film 1/10.


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Django review

Posted : 1 year, 6 months ago on 14 November 2020 08:47 (A review of Django)

It was the sixties and Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone had just unleashed two thirds of his legendary Man With No Name trilogy, making an immediate impression on an international level and single-handedly reviving the dying Western genre. As was often the case in the Italian film industry, a slew of imitators soon flooded marquees in an attempt to cash in to the craze. Amidst them was the story of a mysterious stranger dragging a coffin into a town torn apart by a war between a rogue group of ex-rebel soldiers and Mexican outlaws. The formula was every bit a knock off of "A Fistful of Dollars" but Sergio Corbucci's "Django", seemingly destined to live in the shadow of Leone's classic, would manage to carve itself a place in the hearts of cinephiles and go on to inspire many imitators of its own.

Django, played by the handsome and menacing looking Franco Nero, is an engaging figure from the get-go. It almost seems effortless how the image of this ominous stranger captures the imagination so promptly, with his mud-spattered Union outfit peeking from underneath a black overcoat. Then there's that coffin dragging behind him, a solid guarantee that the viewer will be drawn into the story. Cue the iconic theme (since reused in Quentin Tarantino's ode to Spaghetti westerns, Django Unchained) and you begin to understand why this movie stood the test of time.

"Django" is a product of its time and those not familiar with the trappings of Italian exploitation cinema might find it jarring to hear the lackluster dubbing that was par the course for these types of films. Persevere, I insist, for here is a film that has been mined for inspiration many a time while rarely being recognized by the mainstream.

Problematic dubbing aside (and truly this film should be redubbed by more capable voice actors and given the luxury of new sound work), the film is gorgeously photographed. You can't help but marvel at the rich blacks, the vibrant reds that flower when violence erupts, and that particular way that the Italians had of making the most deplorable of visuals look stunning and picturesque. Muddy, rundown frontier towns, barren cemeteries, and stretches of desert never looked so good. Truly, gorgeous photography aside, the film has shots that are just outright beautiful.

There are, however, issues that can't be ignored. For example, some of Django's machinations would of best been carried out in less troublesome ways. In this manner some of the film's set pieces seem more in service of spectacle than reason BUT that was part of the point of exploitation films of this nature. At the end of the day the film begs you to see Django do what Django does and to hell with some logic.

One feels the story behind Django's grudge with the film's major protagonist could have been more fleshed out as it feels rather anemic in the long run. Surprising, given that fare like this usually reveled in making the villain as loathsome as possible. Also, there is the issue of the love interest, a whore named Maria that Django saves and, subsequently, seems to largely be indifferent too. While the dialogue communicates Django's damaged psyche not allowing him to form meaningful relationships, what we see on screen makes the declarations of love from one party and the sudden need to care from the other rather unfulfilling.

Entering some spoiler territory we have the infamous coffin, so skip this paragraph if you wish to not know. What lies therein (a Gatling gun of the most curious design) is pivotal to Django's plans throughout and part of why he is such an efficient killer but you do begin to wonder why the filmmaker's didn't bother to at the very least explain the endless font of bullets from what appears to be the tiniest feed strips imaginable. It's an oversight that certainly deflates some of the scenes if you notice it.

With these aforementioned issues in mind, "Django" is a movie that might not play well to modern audiences but is an essential piece for any cinephile to watch at least once. In fact, by today's standards its approach to violence, sexuality, or the antihero mold will be mild if not downright tame. Nevertheless, some will seek it out for its eponymous connection with Tarantino's "Django Unchained" which takes inspiration from it (among others) but reframes the context entirely and creates something entirely different.

Instead, interested parties will maybe notice that the film has more in common with Tarantino pal Robert Rodriguez's Mariachi movies, namely the first two. Both of these have a mysterious stranger carrying a case that they claim defines them into a town held under the gun of some villainous party, a love interest that gets him involved in the affairs of said offending parties, bullet riddled confrontations, ghastly damage to the protagonist's hand(s), etc. Long ago, Tarantino told Rodriguez that his Mariachi films were like Rodriguez's own Man With No Name trilogy. I'd say he was close by default of imitation.

I recommend "Django" for those interested in cinematic history. Whether it be to see a pivotal entry in the Western/Spaghetti Western genre, an exploitation classic, an influential piece of work, a time capsule of a long gone era of filmmaking, or just a beautifully shot movie. Put aside any reservations to its faults and you'll see why it's beloved by many in cinematic circles. I give "Django" a 7/10.


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The Eyes of My Mother review

Posted : 1 year, 6 months ago on 20 October 2020 02:31 (A review of The Eyes of My Mother)

Francisca, a young girl at the height of her most curious and formative years, is robbed of the nurturing of her mother who is killed by a psychopath. Her father, left distant and deeply affected by his wife's death bestows vengeance on the killer but leaves the bulk of the work to Francisca. Left with only vague memories of her mother's warmth and the clinical knowledge of surgery she bestowed on her, Francisca faces a life in a microcosm of loneliness. She pines for a connection with her sole living relative but is met with silence. Soon, she finds solace in the strangest of places and her freefall into psychosis reaches terminal velocity.

Francisca (wonderfully portrayed by Kika Magalhaes) proves to be a deeply sympathetic character even at her most macabre. She is a walking tragedy, desperately trying to make a connection in a world that never gave her a chance to make one. In fact, the film's eerie nature stems almost entirely from its unnerving psychological roots. One wonders what would of become of Francisca if even the slightest detail of her youth would of changed. Simultaneously, the viewer is left horrifyingly agog as she seeks comfort in the darkest of places and ways.

"The Eyes of My Mother" is presented in three chapters, each one dropping in at a different time in Francisca's life and providing a terrifying glimpse at how far she's gone and how much the echoes of her parent's impressions on her resonate in her attempts at normalcy. It is a bleak life and a hopeless future she trudges through. This almost fatalistic air stains the film from the the get go. We, like Francisca, cling to hope but know in our heart of hearts that nothing of what we see can end well.

Many have called this a gory film and that just goes to show you how impacting it can be. There is very little blood ever shown onscreen and never in a exploitative fashion. The gore is more often than not cut away from or tastefully left out of frame. Still, the disturbing nature of Francisca's deeds leave a haunting stain on you that might leave you remembering more than you saw. This is a skill that is woefully not employed by many nowadays but it is here in spades.

"Eyes" is also a gorgeously framed and shot film. The director's choice to shoot the bulk of it at a distance helps communicate not only the passage of time but that impersonal void that Francisca finds herself trapped in. The photography is in gorgeously photographed black and white which, as you can imagine, also lends a bit to the the dreary affair.

"The Eyes of My Mother" is a riveting piece of psychological horror. From its breathtaking look, meticulous pace, engaging acting, and to its vast array of macabre overtures, this film is hard to ignore. I'm loathe to call it art house horror, though I suppose in this current landscape many would rush to call it that, because it has not a single drop of pretension. It is an unflinching look into the making of a psychopath, made by a person with a careful eye for things. More fascinating, is that it is director Nicolas Pesce's debut piece. With such a strong initial outing one wonders what is in store for the future.

I could not keep MY eyes off of "The Eyes of My Mother". Highly recommended. 


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You Cannot Kill David Arquette review

Posted : 1 year, 8 months ago on 13 September 2020 07:58 (A review of You Cannot Kill David Arquette)

David Arquette is a man who has gone from the heights of popularity to a Hollywood afterthought but, unbeknownst to most, he's also a man that earned the hatred of an entire subculture and was deemed one of its most destructive elements. Yes, for millions of people David is not only that guy that used to be in movies but he's the downfall of a prized illusion. It was his role in that catastrophe, and his dedication to it, that damaged his professional career and made him go from red carpet darling to industry joke. Add to that chemical dependence, a bad heart, and a slew of psychological issues and you have a man fighting against a tide to try to keep his head over water. This is where "You Cannot Kill David Arquette" finds the affable actor and, in all honesty, makes its initial master stroke by giving us the ultimate underdog to cheer for.

The documentary follows David as he sets out on a journey to redeem the one moment that changed his entire life...the moment he became WCW Heavyweight Champion and essentially insulted an entire business. Any wrestling fan knows this watershed moment as one of the key turning points in the industry but to the average Joe this hardly registered. For an untrained outsider to win something that was the linchpin of an entire form of storytelling and mythology was a spit in the face of everyone that valued that form of entertainment. What is amazing about this doc is how it makes the non-fan understand the gravity of David's unintentional faux pas and, in turn, its effects on him as a person. Better yet, it makes you root for him as he struggles to shake off the aftermath. The David Arquette of this film is a man in utter need to claim something as a victory and so he sets off to right the wrong that set his life in disarray by attempting to earn his place in wrestling history as a beloved figure instead as an absolute pariah.

And so, an unfit and deeply damaged individual sets on a path that takes him from backyard wrestling bouts, to locker rooms full of amateurs and professionals out for his blood, to the land of lucha libre, and more. Along the way David's love for the very industry that reviles him becomes your love for it (even if you're not a wrestling fan) and his desire to earn respect is not only something you root for but something you absolutely want for him as it seems to the be sole thing keeping him out of the darkest places in his life. The ups are highs that elate the viewer and the downs will come with a grim shadow of realization that even a movie can't paint over the realities of life. By the end of the movie, you'll love David Arquette and want only the best for him. I promise you.

If you've never understood why people are so passionate about wrestling this documentary will probably finally enlighten you. Not only does it provide a peak behind the curtain of the industry but the movie as a whole is much like a wrestling show part work and part shoot. That is to say, storytelling and narratives are in play as much as reality. The movie works you like a storyline in wrestling would. It plays with your emotions by mixing reality with fabrication to create a result. In a way, the documentary is a love letter to the art of wrestling. You'll see moments created for camera pay off in reality. You'll see an illusion created and then revealed. If you're a fan of wrestling, this will please you to no end. If you're new to it, it will fascinate you about an entire business and art.

"You Cannot Kill David Arquette" is not only a great documentary about wrestling...it might just be the best one I've seen on it. Both an homage to what makes wrestling work and an ode to the burning passion that fans and wrestlers both have for the pastime. Better yet, the doc is the tale of the ultimate underdog trying to come out on top against all odds. Arquette lays bare his soul, warts and all and he is, like any good wrestling character, the only thing you'll want to cheer for. It's an emotional ride. Funny at times, tragic at others, and always fascinating. I cannot recommend this one enough. I give this documentary 10/10.


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A Nightmare on Elm Street review

Posted : 1 year, 9 months ago on 15 August 2020 04:06 (A review of A Nightmare on Elm Street)

You can't even fairly call the 2010 remake of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" a divisive film. It is, in fact, largely hated or just outright purposely forgotten about in the horror community. When it does crop up in conversation it is mostly referred to with tones of derision or dismissiveness before the subject is promptly changed but are things really all as bad as everyone would have you think? As usual, no. Don't get me wrong, the remake is far from a perfect film. It is hobbled by a variety of issues that are worthy of criticism. More often than not these are hyperfocused on in reviews and much of its strengths are cast aside.

Nostalgia is a son of a bitch, I've found and, in the case of a Freddy movie, any self-respecting horror fan will tell you that no one can be Freddy save the wonderful Robert Englund. With his distinctive body language, spot on delivery of gallows humor, and unique facial features, he very much defined the character in a way that may never be surpassed. He is so good, in fact, that many a fan conveniently forgets how truly abysmal some Nightmare movies truly are. It's easy to forget when the guy can entertain, after all. Ironically, it is Freddy's character that proves the saving grace of the remake. Given what we know about people's inclination to stick by Englund (and rightfully so) this made it an uphill battle for the remake to remain memorable. At the end of the day, however, the elements surrounding the nightmare dwelling Freddy Krueger are its strongest elements and a reason it might merit a rewatch for some.

First the problems, and there are many. The film is plagued by a strange languid detachment to its atmosphere. Everything seems to exist in a world apart from our own. If this was purposely (and effectively) done, this could of serviced the idea of a nightmare creature's reality affecting people or even those guilty for his death feeling "set apart" from their fellow townspeople. Alas, it just gives the film a distinct lack of realism. These don't feel like real people or events for the bulk of the film. Contributing to the widening chasm between reality and fiction is the cinematography which seems both too polished for a horror film while, simultaneously, looking too monotone and bereft of vibrancy.

Gratefully, extensive CGI is not used but the few times it is it proves underwhelming. Most notable is the callback to the original Nightmare movie where Freddy stretches through the wall to menace our protagonist. What looked stunning then looks outright bad in this version. In fact, a lot of the callback kills prove largely ineffectual in comparison to their original counterparts. Whether this has to do with the front half being somewhat of a limp effort to create suspense or just outright lack of creativity, I'll leave up to you.

The film is also populated by fairly capable actors, at least as we normally see them in other movies. In this movie they all seem barely there, the possible exception being Clancy Brown as a parent and school principal (though he has little screen time). Again, i'm at a loss whether the director intentionally instructed everyone to behave like they're drifting through scenes (as one would in a dream) or if everyone was just checked out for what they were doing. I am not counting Jackie Earle Haley in this criticism, he will be discussed later on.

One of the most egregious mistakes the movie makes is depending on a bevy of jump scare tactics throughout. Mind you, I'm not in the foolish camp that dismisses all jump scares, there is rarely a horror film without them, but it's all in the execution. At this point in our pop culture we are so used to jump scares that they must truly be built up and earned to not become fodder for eye-rolling. Well, they don't bother to build any of them up here. Some are fine because the moment didn't require much buildup other than expectation (two mirror gags come to mind) but most are just awfully unwarranted. If they'd taken those out and just let the scene unsettle by its very nature it would of done much to improve the final product.

So, by now you're thinking I've planted this bad boy straight in the garbage bin and then chucked that off a cliff. Well...

Here's the thing. The movie handles Freddy pretty well. I know, I know, Robert is Freddy. I'm not saying he's not. What I am saying is Jackie Earle Haley is a surprisingly disturbing version of Freddy that makes his own way and almost single-handedly saves this film from being absolutely forgettable.

A lot of hubbub was made about how Freddy's burned look was too strange or "cat-like" by many folks but, personally, it doesn't bug me one bit. Well, except in the way it's supposed to. The fused skin, the large raw skin patches, the taut skin, slit eyes, and virtually non-existent lips are all pretty much what a real burn victim would look like. In all honesty, it's pretty uncomfortable to look at.

Also, this Freddy doesn't revel is constant jokes or dark humor as we had grown accustomed to but rather hearkens back to the original Freddy with his morbid glee in the pursuit of the kill. If a joke or two slip out they're coupled with a devilish mirth we can hardly get behind. You see, this movie knew we come pre-loaded with expectations on Freddy's motivations but the film throws us a minor curveball by going back to something even Wes Craven ended up taking out of the script before he shot his original version. This proves to be the most distressing element about this portrayal...Freddy here is unarguably a child molester. Who you gonna cheer for now?

It always fascinated me to see crowds of fans cheering Freddy on as he eviscerated and tortured youths onscreen. It was what arguably destroyed the franchise as it opened the door for humor far wider than one might expect as it would serve as a balancing factor. Well, we all know that got way out of control in the original series. This movie has absolutely no sense of humor to begin with (which comes to its detriment, initially) but when it turns the screw on us that lack of humor suddenly becomes justifiable. These are damaged kids burdened by psychological trauma since childhood. Then the film tells you what you never wanted to know (but should of), Freddy wasn't just a child murderer (or innocent as a brief red herring path would suggest), he was a lecherous pervert. So perverse, in fact, that even beyond death his interest is not revenge but to continue the cycle of abuse.

THIS is what makes the movie stand out. Freddy is a monster, through and through, both in the traditional sense and in that fantastical world. The reveal of his ultimate intent and the implications of it are truly unsettling as they are exactly what you'd imagine someone of that ilk conjuring up if they were given some form of unbridled power.

Jackie Earle Haley himself gives Freddy not only a distinctive look and delivery but the way he leans into the suggestive nature of Freddy's inclinations can't help but make your skin crawl. The moments between him and Nancy reek of filth best left unspoken. Coincidentally, that is why Freddy as a pervert doesn't become too much to handle (a scene with pictures shows particularly admirable restraint). The way Haley plays the part (and it is written) skirts close enough to the fire to make it possible to hold on, if only to see him get his. And that in itself is an achievement of its own. For the first time in a long time, you want Freddy to get his just desserts. Point to the remake. What's interesting about this dynamic is that you are kind of coerced into cheering for characters you previously thought were kinda "just there" because the film lets you suddenly see them through a vastly different lens than just people out to be killed.

We are all familiar with the Freddy backstory and this movie makes minor changes to it that not only feed into the heightened villainy of the character but give the viewer a sudden renewed interest in what's going on. One wonders what kind of movie this would of been if they'd moved these reveals up a bit earlier in the running time and shown Freddy really work his way up the roster of kids to his ultimate goal.

The "A Nightmare On Elm Street" remake will never be loved but it kinda doesn't want to be loved. Our heroine is a listless and traumatized survivor of child abuse and or villain is the lewd, dirty old man that relentlessly pursues the same goals even from beyond the wall of death. Though its flaws are impossible to ignore, I can't help but look at the strange strengths in the movie as well. Somewhere in here was a good film. As it stands, its weaknesses outweigh it but, if you can put aside nostalgia, you'll see the strengths that crop up in it's latter half with that specter we all know as Freddy.

I can truly say I don't hate this remake. Though I do not love it, I do love some of what it does and can say it doesn't deserve the reputation it has. I give "A Nightmare on Elm Street" a 5 out 10.




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