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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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A Christmas Carol review

Posted : 4 months, 2 weeks 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 : 5 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 : 5 months, 3 weeks 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.ย 


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You Cannot Kill David Arquette review

Posted : 7 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 : 8 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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Highwaymen review

Posted : 9 months, 1 week ago on 9 July 2020 11:32 (A review of Highwaymen)

In "Highwaymen" a different kind of serial killer (Colm Feore) get his thrills by orchestrating disaster on the roads of America with a vehicle he's almost become a part of himself. On his tail, a man (James Caviezel) craving vengeance and dangerously close to becoming the very thing he hates because of it. A woman (Rhona Mitra) will become both the focus of one's rage and a tool for revenge for the other as their inevitable final face off looms in the horizon.

Director Robert Harmon had made quite the impact on the genre with the fantastic road thriller "The Hitcher" back in 1986 and, though he had not managed to make significant waves since, a return to familiar ground seemed like a ripe opportunity to come back swinging. With a cast full of solid talent and a compelling premise, it seemed that the cards had lined up. Alas, despite being far from awful "Highwaymen" feels more like a letdown than a revelation. From its languid pacing, its perplexing lack of desire to plumb the rich psychological blueprint of its characters, and to its bare bones approach to much everything else, "Highwaymen" shows that maybe Harmon's "The Hitcher" was more a demonstration of the strengths of its writer rather than Harmon's as a director.

Indeed, watching the film makes you wonder how sparse the script was. From minimal dialogue to scenes that stretch out too thin over the shockingly short running time the movie feels almost palpably "hollow" and for that reason longer than it really is. The entire time I kept thinking when are we going to sink our teeth into these characters? The answer was a resounding "never". More often than not we are told what to know about these characters rather than experiencing it (at one point our protagonist is privy to a confounding amount of knowledge about the villain that he had no way of knowing). Given what would of been done instead of this lazy approach, it's a real shame to see things go down as they do.

James Caviezel is a fairly talented actor but he barely feels present in the movie. He comes off as more of a vague idea that the production wants you to feel. Rhona Mitra's character feels like a plot necessity that the writer's clumsily fit into the screenplayfor the sake of giving you an impression about someone else. A cop supporting character (Will Macklin) is about as unfulfilling and unnecessary as they could of made it, especially given that legal repercussions seem to barely exist in this cinematic world. Even Colm Feore's villain Fargo is neutered of menace by barely being onscreen and never fully allowed to play with the character when he is. Fargo could of been one of the most intriguing serial killers on film with a unique M.O. and motivation, look, and a great actor behind the threat but he falls way too short of the goal.

The best I can say is that it never devolves into utter ineptitude, it's fairly well shot but that's far from praise and that the concept/idea is so strong and full of promise that you keep watching in hopes that the production will take advantage of it. They never do.

Conceptually "Highwaymen" shows a lot of potential and, indeed, inklings of that remain in the final product but, alas, the film mostly feels like a missed opportunity which is an absolute shame. I give this film a 4/10.


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Cherry Falls review

Posted : 9 months, 1 week ago on 8 July 2020 12:28 (A review of Cherry Falls)

The young virginal innocents of Cherry Falls are falling victim to the knife of a mysterious killer with ties to the town's past in this ridiculously stupefying post-Scream slasher. One red herring after another, a contrived plot, and tons of improbable situations later and you'll sit there agog knowing you've seen something undeniably bad but also hilariously watchable, if only for how much nonsense posing as subversiveness is lobbed at the screen.

Perhaps that is the biggest issue with "Cherry Falls", its transparent attempt to defy the genre constraints only to fall face first into them and devolve into nothing short of a clusterfuck. Here we have our virginal final girl Jody (Brittany Murphy), daughter of the town Sheriff (a defeated looking Michael Biehn), thrown into the crosshairs of a comically overdressed killer linked to a town scandal. If you've seen it once, you've seen it a million times but maybe not quite like this. Where Scream cleverly dissected the slasher sub-genre playing with its conventions with a wink and smirk but never losing a semblance of realism or respect for the subgenre, "Cherry Falls" decides that the way to subvert something is to just pull random crap out of a hat every now or "do the opposite" and then and call it a day. To its credit, these maneuvers prove to be the only reason to watch this befuddling picture.

You will be subjected to all of the following; Teens so flagrantly old that you'll begin to appreciate previous offenders of this genre trope, red herrings so heavy handed that they become burdensome to put up with as you wait for the final reveal, dialogue so unbelievable that you'll wonder not only how anyone thought teens talked that way but that ANY human talked that way, scenes so unfathomably stupid that they incite laughter (a father telling his daughter to lose her virginity to remain safe comes to mind as does a schoolwide orgy for the same purpose), a "subversion" of the evil boyfriend trope so out of left field that it will have you in stitches, and a final reveal so camp, unearned, and shoehorned in that it is not only groan-inducing but also evokes a genuine "what the fuck" moment. Also, strap in for an ending that has to be one of the most impotent in slasher cinema.

As "Cherry Falls" slips and tumbles before you in all its clumsy swipes at turning tropes on their head, it becomes sillier and sillier. I'll admit to having a big, dopey grin on my face the whole time but it was more so one of disbelief than one of ironic glee. This is not a competent example of the genre but it's also not a good example of a film defying that structure. I'm sorry, but just doing the opposite of the expected becomes a tired joke in itself. In short, "Cherry Falls" is just a stupid movie rife with mind-mindbogglingly dumb characters that spit out annoying nonsense dialogue and do even more incredulous things. For a slasher movie to have these complaints lobbed at it is no new thing but for one trying to hard to cleverly defy tropes it's a death knell. By the end you'll wonder if this was an attempt at intentional humor that tried so hard that it just ended up being a pure camp film or the results of someone who thought they were making something legitimately good. I honestly don't know anymore.

I will say that "Cherry Falls" ends up being entertaining as a curiosity more than as a movie. You'll be relentlessly amused that anyone thought any of this crap would pass as entertainment, much less clever entertainment. It borders on satire with its relentless need to make things so absurd but it also simultaneously makes you wonder if that's intentional at all. It defies its out intentions. The movie is an implosion on celluloid.

Are there positives? Sure. You will be genuinely interested in who the killer is if only because it's so obviously not all the suggested ones (alas, the answer is so godawful you'll laugh). It's also nice to see Brittany Murphy (RIP) onscreen. She is genuinely affable and a delight and it makes you wish she'd been in more stuff (and better stuff at that). There is a legit clever moment at the end where (SPOILER) our main characters become complicit to the goings on and essentially perpetuate the very behavior that begin the whole rigmarole. (END SPOILER)

"Cherry Falls" never saw theatrical release because it kept getting an x-rating for scenes of a sexual nature. Though no intact copy of the full cut is available there does remain descriptions of what was cut out and it basically boils down to nudity and some gore. I highly doubt adding that back in to the current product would change much. The movie ended up being showed on the USA network and has since garnered a cult following. I, for one, will not be in their ranks. I give "Cherry Falls" a 3 out of 10.


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Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh review

Posted : 1 year ago on 11 April 2020 07:37 (A review of Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh)

A woman seeks the truth behind the accusations of murder lobbed at her brother and finds herself plunging deeper into her past. As her investigation unfolds she finds disturbing connections between her family and the legends of the Candyman, a mythic figure that the lower income denizens of New Orleans speak of only in whispers.

It would of seemed almost ironic, given the thematics of the film, if the continuity of the original "Candyman" would of served as the true basis for a sequel. Maybe even "sacrilegious", given that the titular boogeyman had died and a white woman had taken his place. Though there was no true need for a follow-up it was inevitable given the critical (and financial) response the original garnered. Three years after the exceptional first came the anti-climax that was "Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh".

No longer attached were director Bernard Rose, whose reimagining of the source material resulted in a transcendent horror experience that demanded the respect of both haughty critics and the hoi polloi with its audacious social commentary weaved seamlessly into the fundamental beauty of a monster flick. Instead, the reins were handed off to one Bill Condon whose career is far from a disaster but not an especially remarkable one either. Clive Barker, the producer and writer of the short story that inspired the original film, returned to his production duties and even had his hand in the conceptual foundation. The beloved Tony Todd would reprise his role as Candyman, after all none could truly replace him. Finally, Philip Glass' score form the first movie is recycled (less effectively) and a few new cues are in play. In short, the film's grasp to its predecessor is tenuous at best.

Indeed, "Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh" is best described as a vastly inferior retelling of the same concept. And believe me, when I say inferior, I mean it. Everything in this movie struggles to function at levels below the benchmark of quality that similar elements worked without a hitch in the first. The narrative is overly convoluted and bloated, the actors are abominably shoddy, the effects go from unimpressive to embarrassing, the direction is an abomination, and, worse of all, they reduce Candyman to a stock horror villain. The affair as a whole feels more like a poor direct-to-video effort than a legit picture.

A "whodunnit" setup sends events in the movie into motion and overstays its welcome with a ridiculously prolonged search for the truth that, unfortunately, any viewer with an iota of sense has figured out in the first few minutes. It's irritatingly interminable and then some. The movie also attempts to further pad this out by introducing a menagerie of sublplots and supporting characters that seem to come and go at a moment's whim only to reappear just when they've been completely forgotten about. I wish I could say they return due to some ingenious plotting mechanism but they usually crop up out of convenience to the shambles of a story.

Oh, and don't get me started on a startling overreliance on the cheapest of jump scares. Cats hopping out of cupboards, hands on shoulders, mysterious hobos popping into frame...we've seen them a million times if we've seen them once. It's almost as if the studio or director were not confident enough in the material so they just riddle the picture with these undeserving "scares". Some are so incompetently set up that they actually show you the thing that is supposed to startle you before the scare happens.

Most egregious is how they utterly destroy the mystique and almost regal aura of the Candyman. In the first he is a mystery, a legend born of belief and looking not only to recover all he once lost in life but to reinstate his presence by exercising his will. He is like a romanticized haint of gothic literature, doomed to walk the mortal coil. His appearances are sparse but meaningful, his plight sympathetic despite his methods being ghastly, and there is method to his madness. In the sequel he is reduced to a slasher, often killing without rhyme or reason or for the sake of splatter and thus obfuscating the empathy we as viewers felt for him in the first. Not that the filmmakers didn't try to exploit that too. Indeed, here we get an unflinching look at the gruesome lynching that made him the Candyman but it falls flat, looks cheap, and, most offensively, further humiliates the character by retconning his history to be that of a slave rather than a freeman.

Gone also are the stinging overtones of social commentary about privilege, racial and social divisions, perceptions based on class or color, and the power of belief. We are expected to find the location (a wasted opportunity since it was New Orleans) and fleeting glances at its populace sufficient "commentary". They didn't need to make a particularly elevated film to make a good sequel (the first walks a fine line and manages to still be as much a monster movie as a piece of social commentary) but here they don't even bother to give Candyman the honorary of "monster", he is just a poor man's slasher. They even introduce an "out of the blue" mcguffin that can defeat him that is as cheap as the jump scares given there was no previous mention of it. Tony Todd does his best with the role but the material is poor, the dialogue weak, and the director has no idea how to shoot him in the effective way Bernard Rose did. Often times he is over exposed or framed in such a way as to look downright silly or pedestrian.

The sound design too can't even replicate the Candyman's omnipresent, breathy vocals. He sounds as average as you and I. The music feels ill fit and uninspired. Glass' repurposed themes don't match the material and the new compositions add very little. Effects? Physical ones are lacking and there is a woeful use of mid-90's CGI that goes over as well as you think.

"Canydman: Farewell to the Flesh" was an unnecessary follow-up but its worst crime is that it doesn't even bother to be that. It trods over the material that spawned it and spits on its memory. It is cheap, ugly to look at, poorly constructed, badly acted, and terribly written. It is a sequel best forgotten. There are a few moments, here and there, were you get glimpses of a decent idea or two, but they come an go so fast that you'll forget they were ever there. I give "Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh" a 1/10.

There was another sequel that followed this that is somehow worse. In the near future we will be getting a reboot to the franchise that directly follows the first and ignores this one and part three. Hopefully it will not fall into the same abyss that this one did.


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Vox Lux review

Posted : 1 year ago on 10 April 2020 01:34 (A review of Vox Lux)

"Vox Lux" is a very interesting experience more than an interesting film. Not to insinuate I'm trashing it out the gate. On the contrary, I much admire its dedication to a style so divergent from the Hollywood standard that it beckoned me to continue watching even when you feel like I'd lost grasp of the film's intentions. Naturally, this approach is enough to alienate a large portion of any potential audience if they are not inclined to consume a structure that almost seems purposely pretentious at times and genuinely, intensely philosophical at others. The film truly manages to walk a tightrope that gives it both scale and scope and the feeling of an art house film. I wish I could say that it's a brilliant piece of work on either end but, though it keep me fascinated in its own special way, it remains more of a curious piece than an outright masterpiece.

The story follows the rise of a teenager named Celeste (played by Raffey Cassidy for the first half) who, in the wake of a school shooting, is cast into a spotlight and soon finds herself in a whirlwind of celebrity as she is groomed to become a pop star. Divided into several acts which give us a peek into different portions of her life (Celeste is played by Natalie Portman in the film's latter half), we begin to see the disastrous effect of celebrity on her innocence. As she was affected by tragedy, tragedy and the surrounding world begin to affect her life and art and, as the film progresses, they affect the world around her.

"Vox Lux" is a visually alluring picture. If you're a fan of cinema, the filmmaker's approach to this movie will grab you and not let go. From its lighting, to its aspect ratio, to its eclectic structure, to its use of a narrator the vague nature the film inherently hooks you in, dangerously skirting the precipice of feeling like an overt effort to stand out. Narratively, the film is something of an obtuse beast, at times seemingly dead set on defying expectations and at others leaning so hard into a concept that you begin to question its intentions.

In line with this, our main character is not a particularly likable one. This is yet another angle that can potentially drive away an audience. I've always been intrigued by stories that dare to challenge the viewer with a detestable protagonist and, admittedly, this was part of the fascination I had with the picture. Too boot, she lives in a world that is as ugly as she is. Given the idea that she is catalyzed by events and in turn affects others, this fits in perfectly with the tone but does not necessarily make for a comfortable viewing experience.

In short, "Vox Lux" is not for everyone. It is a very brazenly unfriendly film but for that reason it is a very fascinating film. What made it work for me, beyond the morbid interest in its defiant approach and its unique presentation, WAS how it unflinchingly it holds a mirror up to the flaws in its characters and the world they populate. The film finds its beauty in presentation but definitely not in its narrative building blocks and, shockingly, that feels very intentional. This makes for a dissonant but intriguing watch, if you're not immediately turned off by it.

"Vox Lux" is a somewhat enigmatic piece but it does eventually come together as a harsh character piece. Its cryptic finale suggests a far colder ambition in Celeste that makes you reevaluate all the moments in her life in a new light. Par the course of the film, this only makes her even more unlikable than you previously thought. Almost as if the movie's rebelliousness is punctuated by a character arc opposite that of the status quo.

Indeed, "Vox Lux" defies expectations constantly. Sometimes to its benefit and sometimes to the bafflement of the audience but it never lost my rapt attention. It is not a perfect film and it is most definitely not a film that many will take to. That being said, it is a film that can most definitely be called unique. If your interested in something that is completely against the grain, then it might be for you. Upon first viewing I give it a 7/10 but I have a feeling that will improve upon repeated viewings as it is most definitely a film that begs to be revisited.



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Halloween review

Posted : 1 year ago on 5 April 2020 01:31 (A review of Halloween)

I kept putting off watching 2018's "Halloween" because every single Halloween movie with Michael Myers in it has disappointed and not once lived up the original. Though he is one of the most persistently popular characters in horror history, Michael Myers is also one so grossly misunderstood and misused that it has rendered every attempt at a sequel flawed or downright awful with Myers himself a pale imitation of the version we saw in the original.

As time passed it became a downright chore to watch a new installment or attempt to remake or reboot the series. When it was announced that there would be yet another attempt to correct the past mistakes and make a direct sequel to the first, I was not particularly excited. Not even when John Carpenter (writer/director/composer of the original) gave it his seal of approval did I warm up to the idea. As much as I love the man's work he'd also been partially responsible for the tragically flawed original follow up "Halloween II" (1981). In short, his approval meant nothing and I was burnt on the whole franchise. That being said, as a card-carrying horror fan it was inevitable that I'd have to see it and so I did just that, Years late perhaps but I did my duty.

The results? Well, after the chills subsided, I had to slap myself out of my delighted daze and admit that I was as shocked as anyone that at long last a "Halloween" sequel would at long last live up the standard set in the first film. THIS is the "Halloween" follow-up that I always craved.

Picking up four decades after the events of the first movie, we find ourselves facing Michael Myers as emotionally blank, disturbingly patient, and mysterious as he was when we first saw met him. He is set to be moved from one institution to another, a choice that deeply rattles the very woman he victimized that fateful night long ago, Laurie Strode (a returning Jamie Lee Curtis). Strode's trauma has rendered her a paranoid survivor but also as single-minded as MIchael in her goal to obliterate him. It has also alienated her from her daughter and her family and made her something of conundrum to many in the public eye, where views on Michael even show signs of softening. But Halloween night approaches and nothing can stop two old enemies from meeting yet again.

Such is our setup and what a riveting one it is. Michael, long stripped of his mystique and menace by a series of garbage sequels, is adamantly set in stone as an object of fear from the goosebump-inducing intro and the air of ominousness around him only increases as the movie moves along. This flick truly GETS Michael. This is no simple superficial emotionless killer. This Michael is the blank totem of unstoppable, inevitable fate with a motive so mysterious to all but him that there is no choice but to truly call him a boogeyman. Previous attempts at sequelizing the series cheapened the character, reducing him to just a series of kills, character quirks, and, worse, trying to explain the driving force behind him. This movie makes none of those mistakes. This movie brings that MIchael from the original roaring back into the lives of the denizens of Haddonfield.

The most important of those denizens is, of course, Laurie Strode who here has become something of the antithesis of Michael. Nay, a negative reflection of him. She too is single-minded, she too is deranged in her own special way, and she too is capable of inflicting tremendous damage. The theme of unavoidable fate permeates the original movie, here fate drives Michael and Laurie to their ultimate confrontation.

More than that, however, we have a theme of cause and effect binding this particular film together. Michael's actions caused Laurie to become the "anti-Michael". In turn, her drive to defeat him drives her daughter to estrangement and to purposefully be the "anti-Laurie" in every way possible (which naturally puts her in some dangerous cross-hairs). Interestingly, Dr. Sartain, who has been treating Michael in the interim, becomes something of the anti-thesis of his mentor Dr. Loomis. Where Loomis feared Michael and held him as a representation of true evil in the original movie, Dr. Sartain is drawn into the mystery of Michael's motive to the point of near adulation. (One of the most chilling scenes is an imitated voice cameo of Donald Pleasance as Loomis talking about the need to destroy Michael that does wonders for the flick). It's this cocktail of character work in conjunction with the theme that constantly kept me hooked in and teeming with anticipation for that final act.

In the end, this is Laurie's movie. It is her security and survival we root for. It is her opportunity to finally shake off the psychological trauma she's been burdened with for years that we want most. By God, we want her to kick Michael Myers' ass! This is yet another reason this movie stands head and shoulders above the slew of inferior attempts at sequels. It does not stoop into turning Myers into the killer we cheer for. it keeps him cold, blank, and ruthless...a true villain to fear and despise. The kills aren't something we crave to see but rather sit and watch agog or in shock. He is truly the villain and Laurie, in turn, is truly the heroine.

That is not to say that the movie doesn't acknowledge what came after the original. There are plenty of odes to the slew of sequels that were attempted previously (most notably "Halloween II"). Even the underappreciated (and non-Myers' related) "Halloween III: Season of the WItch" gets a nice tip of the hat. You'll see shots, sets, and setups that hearken to other movies and, in all honesty, do it better. Despite this, the movie never derails and becomes a lesser form of entertainment. It does not want to be those movies, it merely says to fans of them "we see you", a truly wise choice. When Michael begins his rampage those looking for their fill of blood will be sated, sure, but here it doesn't come off as exploitative and only serves to cement the truly fearsome shadow that Michael casts.

John Carpenter, his son Cody, and Daniel Davies compose one of the most stunningly beautiful scores in horror. Yes, the iconic theme returns but, more importantly, the new material is an absolute gold mine. Gorgeous work in that department. Additionally, horror set pieces are tense, effects are top of the line, cinematography is gorgeous, the acting is superb across the board, call backs are welcome and never overwrought, and, yes, Michael's mask doesn't look like shit like it did in the majority of the previous sequel attempts. In short, I found it impossible to find fault with the movie.

"Halloween" shares the exact name of the movie is is a direct follow up to. No numbers, no added words to designate it as a sequel. This choice kind of baffled me a bit when I first heard that but, having seen it, I feel it is so appropriate. "Halloween" IS "Halloween" in spirit and in form. "Halloween" is on par with the original material. "Halloween" is a truly amazing sequel that walks in lock step with its predecessor. A rare achievement indeed.

I never saw the day where I'd be happy at a sequel to Carpenter's classic, much less a day where I'd fall in love with one. There is no true sequel to the first other than this one, in my eyes. If the original classic gets a 10/10 then this one does too. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


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