Thursday, October 19, 2017

Movie Review: "The Frighteners" (1996)

Director: Peter Jackson
Year: 1996
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

A spiritual medium/paranormal investigator/scam artist is thrown into a real investigation when he discovers that a ghost is killing from beyond the grave.

Before Peter Jackson became known for making big-budget fantasy epics like "The Lord of the Rings," "King Kong," and "The Hobbit," he spent much of his early filmmaking career making horror comedies like "Bad Taste," "Dead Alive," and, of course, "The Frighteners." This film stars Michael J. Fox as Frank Bannister, a paranormal investigator, and spiritual medium. A tragic experience many years prior gave Frank the ability to see and speak to the dead. He uses this power in a shady way by having his ghost friends haunt houses so he can be paid to clear them. He seems to be running a decent racket, though he lives in a shabby, unfinished house. All of this changes when he comes face to face with a spirit that is actually killing people from beyond the grave. Now, he has to actually do what he has only been pretending to do up until this point. Joining Fox are Chi McBride, Jim Fyfe, and Jon Astin, who play Frank's ghostly pals, as well as Trini Alvarado, who plays love interest named Lucy Lynskey. For fans of cult classic horror films, Jeffery Combs from the "Re-Animator" series stars here as well, alongside Dee Wallace, who is a horror icon and has appeared in numerous films in the genre.

This movie starts off very fun and light in tone, then takes a dark turn part of the way through. "The Frighteners" is rated R, but watching the first half, we started to wonder why. It almost feels like a goofy ghost comedy that would be fun for the whole family. It is silly and filled with CGI ghosts doing ridiculous stuff, then suddenly, it gets a more horror-focused. By the second half, the mood has totally changed. That's not to say the comedy element is completely gone, but the story becomes far less silly by the latter half and contains much more violent imagery.

Michael J. Fox does a great job in his part. It helps that he was a comedy staple in the 80's. He has a pretty solid story to work with that keeps us engaged almost entirely. Jeffery Combs' character, FBI agent Milton Dammers, also offers a lot of funny moments and is a real highlight of the film. Apart from the acting, the CGI is extremely dated. The technology was very new at the time, and it appears, like most children with a new toy, Peter Jackson just wanted to see what he could do with it. Much of what happens here winds up looking super fake and really cheesy in retrospect, especially considering much of what was done could have likely been made more convincingly with practical effects. We are sure "The Frighteners" was groundbreaking at the time, but there is something to be said for knowing your limits and the limits of the technology you are working with. This is a mistake Jackson still makes even today. Just because something can be done with CGI, doesn't mean it necessarily should be, especially if the alternative will look better.

Despite its dated visuals, "The Frighteners" is a fairly entertaining ghost feature. It's got a lot of laughs and some good performances. The shift from super silly comedy to downright violent horror midway through its runtime will keep the audience guessing what's yet to come.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 62%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Movie Review: "Halloween: Resurrection" (2002)

Director: Rick Rosenthal
Year: 2002
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

When a group of college kids joins a reality internet show being filmed at the childhood home of Michael Myers, the infamous killer comes out of hiding to go on another Halloween murdering spree. 

So here we are, yet again, on another Halloween with another group of young adults just waiting to get murdered. You may be thinking, hey, wait a minute, didn't Michael Myers have his head chopped off at the end of "Halloween: H20"? Don't worry, the writers of this movie have an easy solution for that whole situation to allow for Myers to return and kill again.

"Halloween: Resurrection" is directed by Rick Rosenthal, who is best known for directing "Halloween 2." One would hope Rosenthal's return would signal a return to form for the series. It had been over twenty years since the last installment, and at this point, the series is just too stale and unimaginative to be resuscitated properly. Enter "Halloween: Resurrection," just when we thought it couldn't get any worse.

Jamie Lee Curtis once again reprises her role as Laurie Strode, though her appearance is brief and apparently done out of a contractual obligation according to Curtis herself. Once Strode is out of the picture, Michael Myers finds new targets that have nothing to do with familial ties and have everything to do with the group's proximity to his childhood home. A group of college kids has signed up to be part of an online reality-style show where they investigate the old Myers house to discover why Michael went bat-shit crazy and started murdering people. The cast includes Bianca Kajlich, Sean Patrick Thomas, Katee Sackhoff, Luke Kirby, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Daisy McCrackin, Tyra Banks, and Busta Rhymes, yes, that Busta Rhymes.

What we have here, as you may have guessed by our disdain thus far, is a recycled slasher story trying to squeeze whatever money is left out of a floundering franchise. This is a horror film filled with meaningless fake-out jump scares and tons upon tons of bad acting. There is an added little twist as this movie is partially filmed in the found-footage style as the would-be Myers victims all wear body cameras... as if what was missing from the franchise was shaky, poor quality camera work. "The Blair Witch Project" had come out a few years earlier, and our guess is the filmmaker must have figured found-footage was all the rage... it must be what the public wants nowadays! They couldn't have been more wrong. Sure, there is a bit of blood and guts and some gore here and there, but since we don't give a shit about any of the characters, we don't care if any of them survive. We actually get a little mad when some of them do live to tell their tale.

If we had to sum up this entry into the "Halloween" series in one word, that word would be pointless, which probably applies to every Halloween entry since 1988. "Halloween: Resurrection" is useless, irrelevant, and dull, a tired has-been that only wishes it was as good as the worst installment in this franchise.

My Rating: 2/10
BigJ's Rating: 2/10
IMDB's Rating: 4.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 12%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Movie Review: "Blade Runner 2049" (2017)

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Year: 2017
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 43 minutes

Blade Runner 'K' is sent on a special mission to ensure that certain information, including details which would bring down society, never comes to light.

When the original "Blade Runner" was released 35 years ago, it was a box office flop and was not very well received by audiences. Over the years and through multiple incarnations of the material, it has come to be recognized as a sci-fi masterpiece and has developed quite the devout following. It has gone on to influence countless other films in the genre. Now, more than three decades later, fans have finally gotten a sequel, "Blade Runner 2049," with a story by Hampton Francher, a writer on the original "Blade Runner." It is directed by Denis Villeneuve, who is known for films like "Sicario," "Arrival," and "Prisoners." Harrison Ford does return to reprise his role as Deckard, though he is no longer the focus of the feature. That honor falls to Ryan Gosling, who plays a young Blade Runner named 'K.' Much like previous people in his position, K's job is to retire replicants, or artificial humans, particularly older model replicants that were not as compliant as the newer models. While on a mission to retire one of these older models, K makes a discovery that will change their entire society should this information be brought to light. From there, he is sent on a mission by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Joshi, played by Robin Wright, to round up all of the evidence and to make sure that no one will ever be able to discover the truth.

It's really hard to talk about this film without spoiling things. If you have seen the trailer/s for "Blade Runner 2049," you will know they keep most plot details fairly vague. We will try our best to do the same. What we can talk about is the visuals, which are absolutely stunning. Cinematographer Roger Deakins has really shot a tremendously gorgeous movie. In fact, we don't think we've seen a more beautiful looking film this year. Deakins has yet to win an Oscar for his colossal body of work, so we hope the Academy will rectify this come next year's awards ceremony. His use of color and light, the art direction, and costumes are all downright amazing and beautiful. They really make the film as effective as it is. The acting is excellent from everyone involved. Ryan Gosling is great in just about everything he has done lately, and he and Harrison Ford have some wonderful moments when they do finally meet up in the film. Another standout is Sylvia Hoeks, who plays Luv. Hoeks is a scene stealer, and though we don't want to spoil anything about her character, be on the lookout for her. We hope to see her in more movies from here on out.

That being said, this feature is quite long, clocking in at 2 hours and 44 minutes. The pacing is deliberately methodical with its long establishing shots, which allow the audience to take in the film's beauty and memorizing visuals. This also means the story doesn't exactly move along quickly. The story also is a pretty straightforward neo-noir detective movie. The narrative explores the same themes as the original without expanding on them too terribly much, and the entire story is far less ambiguous, especially in its climax. Though Denis Villeneuve does a stellar job in making this sequel really feel like a "Blade Runner" movie that nestles itself right alongside the original and expands the "Blade Runner" universe, its overarching themes are a little too "been there, done that" for us. "Blade Runner 2049" will definitely benefit from multiple viewings on the biggest screen possible, so we look forward to watching it again in the future.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 89%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

Movie Review: "The Cell" (2000)

Director: Tarsem Singh
Year: 2000
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

A psychologist goes into the mind of a serial killer in order to find out where he has imprisoned his latest victim.

Is"The Cell" a well thought out psychological mind-bending sci-fi horror crime thriller or is it just an excuse to get Jennifer Lopez and Vincent D'Onofrio into cool looking outfits and makeup? Lopez plays Catherine Deane, a psychologist who must literally go into the twisted mind of serial killer Carl Stargher, played by D'Onofrio, to help Agent Peter Novak, played by Vince Vaughn, and the FBI find his latest abductee before it's too late. Inside Stargher's mind, we see a surreal landscape, an S&M and art-inspired world controlled by an idealized version of himself, who is often wearing outfits that are creepy but colorful and lavish when he isn't simply a monochromatic demon. The makeup work, costuming, and set designs in the world inside his mind are spectacular looking.

This movie is the feature film directorial debut Tarsem Singh, who prior to this had mainly directed music videos. You can clearly see the influence of this experience in the final product of "The Cell" if you look at the aforementioned art inspired design. This project also serves as the debut of writer Mark Protosevich, who would go on to write screenplays for "Poseidon" and "I Am Legend," though the writing is probably the weakest part of this particular film.

Behind all of the gorgeous costumes, makeup, and the surreal dream world of the mind, at its core, "The Cell" is a fairly basic crime thriller. An abducted girl is trapped in a cell and there's a ticking time clock to her death via some sort of inefficient killing method designed by a wannabe James Bond villain. Though much of it takes place in the mind of a serial killer, it doesn't really add anything to the overall plot. Catherine is hired to find where this woman is being held captive, but nothing she does seems to work. By the end of the second act, it's Catherine herself that needs to be rescued from the situation. It's a bit of a spoiler, but there's no evidence in the mind of the killer that didn't exist outside of it.

We would hope there would be some greater meaning to all the weird visuals, but there really isn't. The isn't much depth or metaphor in play. It all seems to be about what Singh thought would look cool and having an "outside of reality" dream world act only exists as a place where all these visuals could become a reality. There is no greater purpose to these sequences, they just look really bitchin' on film. That being said, despite not adding much but filler to the overall story, it is those visuals that make "The Cell" worth watching. Without them, this movie is handicapped by its derivative nature.

My Rating: 5.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 46%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Movie Review: "Happy Death Day" (2017)

Director: Christopher Landon
Year: 2017
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

A college student is forced to live the day she gets murdered over and over again until she can survive the night long enough to discover who is killing her.

It's "Groundhog Day," folks! No wait, it's 2017's "Before I Fall"! No, that's not it, it's 2017's "Naked"! Wait... hold up... they made another live/die/repeat movie this year?!? Yup! This is a new movie called "Happy Death Day," the third "Groundhog Day" ripoff of 2017. It stars Jessica Rothe as Tree Gelbman, a not-so-nice college student who is murdered on her birthday and is then forced to live the day over and over again. At the end of the day, she will be killed each time. In order to break the cycle, she must discover who her killer is and survive the night long enough to figure out who is the culprit. This feature is directed Christopher Landon, who also directed such films as "Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse" and "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones."
If you hate your birthday, this must be your worst nightmare, even before the whole murder thing. (Image Source)
This is a self-aware horror film with a comedic undertone, though we personally think this is better described as a comedy with a little bit of a horror thrown in for good measure. Much like its admitted inspiration "Groundhog Day," the story itself deals with an unpleasant person learning to be a decent human being by living the same day multiple times The difference is main character Tree is also trying to solve her own murder along the way.
Tree has been rude to so many people, it's tough to say who killed her. (Image Source)
Apart from this small deviation, "Happy Death Day" is an extremely formulaic movie that's not really scary enough to be a horror and is not really funny enough to be a comedy. Don't get us wrong, it does have a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, but they are too few and far between. The movie is rated PG-13, so it has hardly any gore and has no real frights. The jump scares aren't that effective. Hardcore horror fans may wind up displeased with the final product. The dialogue is pretty poorly written and the plot is completely by the numbers. Tree runs through the initial scenario, followed by a confused second and third redo of her day. She then goes through several more cycles of being murdered as she finally starts to figure it out and attempts to right her wrongs.
Tree may be realizing she has to start being nice to people so, you know, she doesn't get murdered. (Image Source)
Despite its derivative nature, there are still moments of entertainment and this movie isn't totally intolerable to sit and watch. The way things are written will sometimes elicit a laugh because of the downright dumb nature of the dialogue. Some of the characters can get annoying at first but become sort of endearing as time goes on. Once Tree starts to come to her senses, she gets more tolerable and you may even want to root for her towards the end of it all. Jessica Rothe does a good job with what she's given and has fun with the script and the movie. We found her to be mostly charming despite her stereotypical bitchy nature at first. Rothe also has excellent chemistry with Israel Broussard, who plays Carter, who Tree partied with during her birthday and eventually becomes an ally in her murder investigation.
This baby mask makes the villain uber-terrifying. (Image Source)
"Happy Death Day" might be overly formulaic and an extremely tropey, mediocre affair, but it made us laugh a couple of times and managed to make us say, "hey, we don't completely hate ourselves for having experienced this in the theater." If you sat through "Rings," "The Bye Bye Man," "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter," "Flatliners," or "Wish Upon" this year, you'll know we count this as a victory. This will most likely be a massive crowd pleaser.

Oh, and by the way, if you're an annoying teenager who wants to talk at full volume with your friends and keep checking your phone like petulant children and you happen to be right behind two people who are aspiring movie critics,  you might want to shut your big, giant, annoying mouth-breathing yappers or you'll wind up in a movie review. kthx.

My Rating: 5/10
BigJ's Rating: 4.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~66%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

Movie Review: "Sleepaway Camp" (1983)

Director: Robert Hiltzik
Year: 1983
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 24 minutes

An introverted teenage girl and her protective cousin head to camp for the summer. A short time after arriving, a string of murders breaks out, threatening to end their summer early, if they make it out alive at all.

With the success of "Friday the 13th" back in 1980, horror filmmakers would spawn numerous summer camp slasher flicks in the years that followed. "Sleepaway Camp" is one of those films. This movie is written and directed Robert Hiltzik and it is his feature film debut. In fact, it would be the only feature he would write or direct until the release of the series' only official sequel: the direct-to-video "Return to Sleepaway Camp," which came out in 2008. The film stars Felissa Rose and Jonathan Tierston as Angela and Ricky, two cousins who are spending their summer at Camp Arawak. Angela is very introverted and doesn't talk much, which makes her a target for the numerous camp bullies. Her cousin Ricky is very protective and lashes out violently at anyone who messes with her. One might think he would even kill to protect her. When campers and counselors start turning up dead, the camp's head honcho Mel, played by Mike Kellen, tries to write them off as accidents, as one would do because money is clearly more important than the lives of a few camper kids. In order to save his camp, not necessarily the lives of the campers, just his camp, he is now determined to catch the killer.

The 80's were certainly a different, wild time. There are some scenes in "Sleepaway Camp" that are pretty off-putting, but hey, this is a horror film and it was the 80's, so that makes it okay, right?? The camp's head chef openly refers to many of the young female campers as "baldies" as his co-workers laugh off the comments like he is just a joker. He attempts to assault the film's female protagonist in a refrigerator, and despite being caught just short of having his pants down, he is never close to being reprimanded. It's abhorrent and disgusting to watch. ***SPOILER ALERT*** Needless to say, he becomes the killer's first victim (and rightfully so) ***end spoiler.***

This is a little bit of a whodunit-style mystery, though it doesn't really do a great job at creating a whole heck of a lot of suspects. The possible list of suspects is at max three people deep and really, there are only two solid suspects if we are truly looking at motives. Though the mystery aspect of "Sleepaway Camp" is weak, there are some cool looking death scenes with a lot of creative makeup work on the corpses. Boiling water and bees make for neat, gross looking gore effects. The film does capture summer camp life pretty well, mainly the fact that kids can be total dicks to each other when given a lot of free time and little supervision. The ending of this feature is probably the most well-known part of it. It is shocking and jaw-dropping, only because of how out of left field it is and how far away it was from the conventional norms of the time. BigJ had seen this movie before, but I certainly had no clue where it was going.

Despite some mediocre acting, the worst of 80's fashion, some extremely questionable plot points which are super dated and unbearably creepy to watch, and heaps of cheesy dialogue, "Sleepaway Camp" is still a decent horror flick, especially if you don't know the ending.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 83%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Movie Review: "House by the Lake" (2017)

Image provided by Random Media
Movie"House by the Lake"
Director: Adam Gierasch
Year: 2017
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 17 minutes

A couple brings their autistic daughter named Emma to their family lake house for a change of scenery. Unfortunately, the sudden move seems to have brought old habits back for Emma, who sleepwalks. She also speaks to what her parents believe is an imaginary friend, who may not be as imaginary as they think.
It's the house. By the lake. (Image provided by Random Media)
Arguments, autism, an Australian au pair, and a Fishman all come together in Adam Gierasch's "House by the Lake." The film stars James Callis and Anne Dudek as Scott and Karen, a couple with an autistic 10-year-old daughter named Emma, played by "War for the Planet of the Apes" star Amiah Miller. Karen and Scott are in a rocky place in their marriage. On top of this, they are having trouble with their daughter. They believe spending time at the family lake house will do them all some much needed good. They hire a nanny named Gwen, played by Natasha Bassett, who seems to be a lot younger and prettier than they initially thought she would be. They hoped these changes would help their family, their daughter, and their marriage stay intact, but this move and change of scenery seem to have made Emma fall into old habits like sleepwalking and talking to an imaginary friend she calls 'Fishman.' Karen's jealousy and Scott's interactions with Gwen start to put even more strain on their already turbulent relationship. Now, they are questioning if going to the lake house was a mistake, but it may already be too late.
Emma's sleepwalking returns at the house by the lake. (Image provided by Random Media)
We believe the goal of Josh Burnell and Mike De Trana's script was to create a slow-burning, tension-filled horror/thriller complete with an exploration of what it's like to be the parents of an autistic child. Unfortunately, none of that tension or social commentary comes through on screen as the majority of the film is mainly focused on Scott and Karen butting heads regarding what to do about Emma. Karen is a little too overprotective as a mother and Scott is a little too laissez-faire about being a father. If you think about it, a movie that's comprised of 92% domestic squabbles *might* be considered a horror movie to some, but to us, it's grating and incessant. Neither of the two leads is able to convincingly pull us into the story or get us invested in the narrative. The story lacks depth and the characters are almost entirely one-note. Scott and Karen regularly fight about sex, they argue about their daughter, their daughter does something regressive with her sleepwalking and/or talking to her imaginary friend, they argue some more, rinse, lather repeat for an hour and 17 minutes.
Karen and Scott are always fighting. (Image provided by Random Media)
From a technical standpoint, "House by the Lake" isn't great. Much of the lighting in this picture is way too overexposed, and we only feel the need to mention it because it was that distracting. The picture is so brightly lit that it looks like a sitcom pilot rather than a feature-length movie. Most slow-burning thrillers use light and shadow and darkness to their advantage. There isn't much variation used to set up an eerie atmosphere or tone during the daytime scenes, and these techniques are only sporadically used during the nighttime ones to sell the horror elements of the story. It's all sort of one big blob of non-changing light.
Shadows in the night. (Image provided by Random Media)
The overall concept for "House by the Lake" could have been fine, but it feels like those behind the scenes hastily approved and shot the very first draft of the script, which was in desperate need of more development. The climax of the film left us very, very underwhelmed, and the payoff is nowhere near good enough to justify the slowly paced buildup to nothing. We weren't huge fans of the acting or the dialogue, and in the end, we felt extremely let down by this movie. It doesn't feel like a finished product, and only in the last ten minutes does anything worthwhile happen.

"House by the Lake" is available now on VOD and DVD from Random Media.

My Rating: 3/10
BigJ's Rating: 3/10
IMDB's Rating: 4.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ---%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!