Thursday, March 23, 2017

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

I can't believe after all the years doing this blog, I'm still reviewing Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. I know what you're thinking – couldn't you just, like, stop reviewing them, then? The answer is yes, yes I could. But that would be so much less fun in that sweet schadenfraude way. I have to do this. It's just how it is.

Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: R. Lee Ermey, Jordana Brewster

Co-written with Nathan.

This is a prequel to the 2003 remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is a real feat of confidence, as the gall it must take to assume anyone cared about that piece of shit movie and wanted to know more is far greater than anything I've ever felt.

This one starts off with a woman giving birth in the middle of a meat packing plant, which as everyone knows is exactly how you birth a serial killer. I'm glad they showed us this because I never would have known how Leatherface was born if they didn't and that was always the worst thing about the original movie. The way humans are born is just a total mystery to me so I'm glad this movie is setting the record straight on that!


Then we flash forward like 20 years to the same meat packing plant, now closing down, I assume, to become a vegetarian meat packing plant. Damn new trends... actually it's because of financial woes, I guess. For some reason, Leatherface is working there right as it's closing down – he's working in the exact same place he was born. I wonder what that's like... must be weird.

Then we learn by watching the manager that it's a bad idea to insult a mentally handicapped giant with a hammer in his hand while you're all alone in close proximity in the dark – it doesn't turn out well for him, to say the least.


And we see how he gets his infamous chainsaw – he just picks it up off the table at the meat factory as he's leaving. What an Earth shattering revelation. I am amazed how these writers were able to tie together the rich history of that chainsaw throughout multiple movies.

The main characters this time around are totally different from the last movie. Instead of a bunch of really attractive people, it's a bunch of really attractive people who have a few lines in the movie about going to Vietnam to fight a war. What a change! I guess these two guys are brothers and one of them doesn't want to go back to the war. Yeah, this is awesome. I watch slasher horror movies for serious plots about Vietnam war draft dodgers. I'm weird like that!

I do like the one scene of the brother tied up about to have sex with his girlfriend, and then he can't do it at the last minute because he's thinking about his brother too much. An every day occurrence I'm sure. Maybe producer Michael Bay is working some stuff out with scenes like this.

This is the time for deep thinking...

So I guess the Leatherface family, helmed again by R. Lee Ermey's Sheriff Hoyt character, are upset that the meat factory closed down because, I guess, this will mean the town is taken over by hippies and bikers? What a weird correlation. Except then we see that they're right – bikers just magically appear in town. Right on cue!

Did they sprout from the ground like mutated weeds? What the hell?

What follows is an incredibly strange scene in which this one woman biker chases the heroes on a motorcycle on the road with a giant gun to rob them – because I guess the movie forgot that this is TCM and not fucking Mad Max. But to be fair, a Mad Max sequel would be way better than this movie.

I liked her better when her name was Sarah Connor.

There's also an insane car crash that flips the car over and shatters several windows, yet the people inside don't break any bones or show much injury at all save for some blood on their heads! Man is that gonna be a mess! Damn car crashes.

It'll take hours to wash this off and put makeup back on! Fucking car crashes!

Hoyt shows up and kills the biker girl though, kidnapping three of the main characters – both brothers and the blonde chick. The other girl is not kidnapped because she was instead thrown out of the car in that crash earlier, yet she's perfectly fine and without a scratch on her! Because, I guess they can't have anything that ruins her hotness at all, lest they lose the interest of the people they delusionally think are watching.

The next forty minutes of this movie is all a bunch of torture porn nonsense. Really nothing scary at all – just gore and torture crap, which is almost always awful no matter what. A few highlights:

There's a needless scene where Hoyt makes the one brother do push-ups and then keeps hitting him while he's down. It goes on waaaay too long and has no point – Ermey's character just isn't well written enough to make it work as a tense scene. It's kinda gross and weird, but not scary or tense in the least. Plus being in broad daylight makes it kind of lame.

He's in the military and can barely do any push ups. Weird.

The main girl teams up with this lone biker guy to go save everyone, and their brilliant plan is of course to go do it alone. No point in even trying to get help, because what would THAT accomplish? You know, except for an awesome scene where a bunch of badass bikers fight Leatherface? That would actually be a cool scene, but what do we get? Just more of the same boring crap.

Instead, the biker shoots this old man in the family and then is butchered by Leatherface in an extremely predictable manner – it is always amazing to me how horror movie scripts do these tired, predictable scenes over and over like this. Do they think we all just have amnesia and really don't know what's going to happen at every fucking turn? I really want to meet the ideal person they think is going to watch this: “Holy fuck, I never expected him to jump out at that extremely obvious moment! What avant garde film technique!”

It's gory, but is it scary? No. No it isn't. That would require actual suspense and stuff we haven't seen a hundred times over.

Then Hoyt decides to make Leatherface cut off the old guy's legs, both of them, because he was shot in one of them. Even the other family members seem baffled by this, which is the real Litmus test for what a piece of shit you are, if the Leatherface family thinks you've gone too far.

So while the 2003 remake skipped out on the dinner scene so infamous in the original film, THIS one decided to put it in for no logical reason at all! Better late than never I guess, even when it makes no sense. Except I guess to establish that... the family is crazy and has always been crazy, since they apparently do this constantly? What an astute judgment of their characters. Why aren't the writers working in the field of clinical psychology?

"We could just kill you now, but that would make no sense for our plan of making no sense. We're just crazy! So we do nonsensical things!"

Hoyt gets beaten up with his head smashed against the floor several times, which looks pretty bad. It was mentioned at some point that he was in the Korean war – so can this just be a Jacob's Ladder scenario where none of this movie happened and it's all in his head as he's dying? Both of those things would be the best case scenario for me.

Then the main girl escapes and goes running through another meat factory, exactly like in the end of the 2003 remake. I wonder if the Leatherface family feels weird about their lives repeating all these moments over and over again, verbatim, like they're trapped in a Hellish loop.

Perhaps the silliest part of all is when she finds this car and gets in, only for Leatherface to suddenly pop up in the back seat after several minutes of driving and kill her. How did she NOT see him back there? He's a seven foot tall fucking giant with a chainsaw. That car isn't that big – it's not like he had a lot of room. So what the fuck, right? I don't feel bad at all about her dying because of this.

"I am very quiet and flexible enough to fit into small places. Isn't that cool?" 

I turned to Nathan before this happened, as she was getting in the car, and was like, wouldn't it be funny if he just popped up in the car behind her like Michael Myers? We laughed about it. Then it happened. That's pretty bad. How dare this movie appease the ridiculous whims of my imagination?

Then Leatherface gets out of the car and walks away into the complete black darkness on the other side of the road. Why is it like that? Can't they put in some fucking street lights over there?

She crashes her car into a state trooper and kills him - some street light could've prevented this tragedy.

Seriously, though, what's the point of anything in this? It's supposedly a prequel to show what happened before the Texas Chainsaw story, but it doesn't do anything but give us a rehash of the same shit we already know about. Oh, but there's a two-second scene of him being born and then finding a chainsaw! The audience was really too dumb to piece THOSE things together!

The rest of it is just boring. The original was good because the violence felt real and they didn't just shove blood and guts in your face from people tied to tables. This one is a bunch of torture porn gore garbage. Fuck this.

Images copyright of their original owners, we own none of them.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Logan (2017) and the Value of Quitting While Ahead

Here's the Cinema Freaks podcast (featuring myself and Tony) for the new movie Logan, in theaters now:


(SPOILERS in the video!)

By now you've likely seen Logan or at least heard about it and have plans to see it, so here's my take. This is one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. I don't think that's too hard a bar to clear – what else would make the cut? Superman from the 70s. The 1989 Burton Batman. The Dark Knight. Maybe a few others based on your personal taste, but I think this is pretty close to a prime cut for the genre that has grown out of being a niche and into a full-blown phenomenon as you can get.

People love superheroes, and this movie is basically for the people who were kids in the 80s and 90s and have now grown up – but still love their old favorite characters. Superheroes, like it or not, aren't just for kids anymore – geek culture has gone mainstream and those who liked this stuff when they were younger aren't letting it go, entranced as they are by the timeless stories and the iconoclastic characters. Logan the film is a dark, gritty, brutal and ultimately emotional and somber picture, and it's made from something that, in the 90s, was marked by pastel colored cartoon characters and colorful costumes fighting giant robots.

And yeah, I know that old show and the X-Men as a whole could be quite great at times before – I'm not saying it was just kiddie stuff. But Logan is another level – it's a superhero action film made with the class, artistry and style of an A-list drama. While it hits all the tropes you're familiar with, from a cross-country road trip chased by bad guys to a superpowered little girl and a reluctant hero, plus boatloads of cool action sequences fueled by superpowers, it does these things with a very serious temperament and a care for great cinematography and atmosphere more befitting of a No Country for Old Men-style dirge.

It's just really well done from a directing point of view, made whole by powerful performances from leads Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. We've seen this kind of stuff before – old men reckoning the ends of their lives, regrets buried deep coming to the surface, an obligation to do what's right even in the face of the desire to just crawl into a dark bar and stay there. But Jackman and Stewart, framed by a vague story of horrible happenings years ago in which most other mutants like them died apparently, make the story visceral and intense. The story is tried and true, but what's new about it is how well it is done.

I like that you get so little of the backstory behind this – the film takes place in 2029 and follows, as I said, an apparent tragedy that killed off most of the other mutants in the world. I like how vague that all is. Please, filmmakers, if you read my blog – don't make any prequels to this, nothing explaining how this came to pass. Also, if you read my blog, I'm sorry if I bashed any movie you made and you're now considering making prequels to Logan in spite of that.

But seriously – that also goes for the fact that Stewart and Jackman will reportedly not return for any more X-Men movies after this. I hope they stick to that as close as they can. I think there is a virtue in going out on top and not over-extending your welcome. Personally, I hate it when a series just drags on forever and loses the quality it once had, and I usually value a concise, beginning-and-ending story contained in one film over a never-ending sprawl of them. The story should end whenever it needs to, and if that takes three good films or only one, I personally like to see it end at that point – not just milked afterwards for money.

In this case, both Stewart and Jackman are going out on fucking top. There's nowhere else to really go from here. Logan is a wonderfully made, dark, harrowing and sad epic, but it's also a testament to the power of quitting while you're ahead. Here's to that.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Get Out (2017)

So after the rousing success of Get Out, including a 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, director and comedian Jordan Peele is set to direct a handful of other horror movies about 'social demons' over the next 10 years.

I think that's fucking great news.


We need more horror movies about stuff like this – about the current issues of the day, about social ills. 

In Get Out, Peele talks about race relations and prejudice and turns those things into a bizarro-funhouse horror/comedy flick. The film, about a black guy named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) who goes home for the holidays to his white girlfriend Rose's (Allison Williams) parents' huge mansion and begins to notice things askew, is a breath of fresh air for the nuance and intelligence with which it talks about its subject matter.

SPOILERS henceforth... is henceforth even the right word? I don't know.

The basic concept is that he starts to notice that the family's black servants, and the other few black people he meets in the area, are all acting really strange, like robots or aliens – to the point where things start to get disconcerting. At first, you think it's a pretty obvious and heavy handed thing – oh, it's about slavery, they hate black people, et cetera. And I thought so too. But as it went on, you see it's different than that. These old people are actually using the black peoples' bodies as a kind of body-swap thing, brainwashing them and then putting other peoples' dying brains inside them and becoming them. But still, also, leaving a part of the original person inside, too. Pretty cruel stuff.

I love the humor in this too. Like Rose's dad has a line about thinking Barack Obama is the greatest president of his lifetime. So how could HE ever be racist, right? I love it. Pretty soon, all the conversations turn into stuff like that. It's crazy to me – but hell, to a lot of people, this kind of stuff is likely routine and depressing in how often it happens. We don't know how to talk to one another well enough.

And I like that this is a film about race, made by and starring black men, that isn't just a period piece retelling the horrors of slavery or something like that. I think some more modernized takes are welcome now – there's more to talk about then that. Between this and Moonlight, I'm enjoying the takes on subsets of American culture we haven't seen enough raw, real takes on in mainstream movies. That's a good thing, to see more diversity and culture than just that of the standard middle class white guy protagonist we've seen over and over for decades. It's a step forward.

It's the mutation of racism into the modern day coded words, the 'oh, we don't hate black people, we enjoy conversations with those rare specimens under microscopes and in controlled environments.' It's all the bullshit racism still prevalent in our society that dumb people pretend doesn't exist anymore because slavery was outlawed and Civil Rights happened in the 60s, and that's all there was to worry about, right? God bless the U.S. education system whitewashing everything else that happened.

And we should have more movies like this – so, good that Peele is making more. We live in some weird, crazy times right now, very polarized politically, and social issues are increasingly in the spotlight as we continue to fight over them in the USA. Movies can be mirrors of these social issues. They can have a meaning behind them. Horror, too, maybe more than some other genres, can be used in an allegorical manner – fears run wide and far of so many different things in our society and that's why we created monsters like the Wolfman and Frankenstein to talk about them. Modern horror can do that, too. Movies like Get Out are an important step in that direction, again – I'm glad this was so visible and so well-reviewed.

“The best and scariest monsters in the world are human beings and what we are capable of especially when we get together. I've been working on these premises about these different social demons, these innately human monsters that are woven into the fabric of how we think and how we interact, and each one of my movies is going to be about a different one of these social demons.”
--Jordan Peele, in the article I linked earlier.

Spot fucking on, man.

For that matter, it's just an entertaining film. It's a horror comedy that exists as a tense, creepy thriller, but also injects a fair amount of humor into the whole thing. This is a funny movie, both in awkward, subtle ways as Chris navigates his girlfriend's family's weird, creepy neighborhood and in overt ways with the character Rod (LilRel Howery), a TSA agent friend of Chris's who helps get to the bottom of what's going on. It's just good to have a horror film that's also funny WITHOUT parodying the genre's tropes – we've seen enough of that shit. This is just funny while also being scary. It is possible.

So this is a great, smart horror movie that manages to be creepy, funny and socially aware all at the same time. Go see this. I can't wait to see more of Peele's films.

Image copyright of its original owner, I don't own it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Cure for Wellness (2017)

This is Gore Verbinski's new weird as fuck horror/thriller type movie about a crazy mental hospital and also eels. I went into this expecting something dark and creepy, and, uh, I got it.

There are SPOILERS ahead for the film. Be warned.

Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth

This thing starts off with Dane DeHaan playing Lockhart, an American businessman who does nothing but eat junk food, work 24/7 and be rude to people, like all Americans and all businessmen. His bosses catch him doing something wrong and are going to fire him if he doesn't go to this weird asylum hospital place in Europe and bring back this top official of theirs who seems to have lost his mind there.

"We are business people, and so we have no regard for human life or safety! We'll blackmail you forever!"

Naturally, the place is weird right off the bat, with nurses who look too long at you and speak solely in cryptically threatening messages for the movie's trailer. The head of the place is played by Jason Isaacs, who seems to have drunk heavily from the goblet of Evil Villain Movie Potion and comes out with creepy music following him, a sinister serpentine smile and everything he says comes off as threatening. Gee, I wonder if HE'S gonna be the bad guy?! I bet this guy even comes off as creepy to the employees at the bank or the grocery store.

“I'll check out now with this gallon of milk, these bananas and these eggs... mwa ha ha ha...” (evil music)

“Uh, sir, you're just at the grocery check out counter, calm down. Do you want your receipt or not?”


There's also the mysterious girl who Lockhart sees doing a balancing act on top of the castle – we learn later that this is Hannah, a girl who has lived there her whole life and who the director guy wants to keep safe. So I guess that's why he just lets her stand on thin ledges where she could easily fall to her death.


Then on the way back, the driver guy and Lockhart get into a horrible car crash when a deer runs onto the road and crashes into them, sending the car into a Nascar-style multiple flip into the woods that should have killed them both. But then Lockhart wakes up without a scratch on him anywhere except for one broken leg he is apparently well enough to start walking on crutches with immediately. I guess the crash just looked worse than it was...

No cars were harmed in the making of this movie. Probably.

Things just keep getting weirder and weirder as Lockhart begins to suspect there's something wrong – something he'll CONTINUE to suspect for the next hour and a half of the movie, yet stays there anyway just waiting for worse shit to happen. He finds some weird microbe thing in the water, continually sees odd visions and has characters just act plain strange and ominous – yet he remains DEDICATED to staying there until he can find Pembroke, the guy who his company sent him there to find. I guess it's a commentary on how much Americans are obsessed with work? Or maybe he is just a fucking moron.


Then he does talk to Pembroke, not very long into the film, even persuading him to come back home with him. But then the next day he's told Pembroke's “condition” has worsened, and so now he's not available anymore, and Lockhart is blamed for stressing him out! Lockhart, naturally, sees nothing too wrong with this, and just sticks around waiting for him to come back I guess. This would already be the point where I personally would just leave and tell my bosses things have gotten fucked up. But not for Lockhart – he just sticks around.

Then, the leader of the place tells Lockhart HE is sick and should stay around and receive the same treatment everyone else there has gotten. Bizarrely, with no real logic behind it, he agrees to this. In one bizarre sequence, he is submerged in a tank of water and told to remain there for 30 minutes to simulate birth – okay, well, whatever works for you, man. The guy watching him, however, is distracted when a nurse randomly enters the room and flashes him her boobs, and he just sits there and jacks off to that instead of paying attention.

Unfortunately, that is also precisely the time when the tank fills up with a bunch of eels that really freak Lockhart out. He nearly drowns and is saved by the two guards, which, I guess is good that they prioritize drowning over boobs. This is never mentioned again – you'd think an American businessman, as high strung as they are, would sue the fuck out of the place for this. But nope. Never mentioned again!

Instead it's just more of the movie's elongated storytelling – he never tries to leave or do anything but confront the leaders of this place, which is pointless, because they're the ones who have the power to lock him up and never tell him anything. Just go! Run! I don't get what the hell is so difficult about that. But he stays and just tries to keep discovering the weird shit there. He doesn't have enough evidence yet that this place is weird!

He goes underground and discovers a network full of famished-looking elderly people trapped in tanks full of science-y looking liquid... his course of action is to stay there and shout at the people running the place. Christ. I bet if he witnessed a murder, he would just stick around and try to reason with the murderer; figure out WHY he's doing the things he does. Just go!

"Woah, I better not actually take any drastic measures now that I found this. I'm sure just confronting the owners of the hospital angrily will be good enough! They probably have an explanation!"

He even has a chance to leave, as he and Hannah ride down to town to figure out what's going on. In a very bizarre scene, they stop at a bar and end up getting in a fight with a bunch of kids that look like a schizophrenic's interpretation of the 80s, all mohawks and black leather. Luckily, the hospital people show up and break up the fight, taking Hannah back with them. Lockhart, for some reason, goes too. We know there's a train in this area that could take him out of here - why the fuck he's still staying there is so utterly bizarre to me.

Then his tooth falls out and he's taken to this crazy dentist guy. Just a word of warning – if you go to a dentist and he has a giant jar full of human teeth on his desk, like the guy does in this movie, then leave that dentist and run far away. Lockhart, though, sticks around long enough for them to rip out one of his teeth for no other reason than punishment, and frankly I think he deserves it for being so dumb as to stick around this long.

What a good dentist he must be. Look at all those teeth!

In between all these scenes, there are more weird scenes with eels in them. Just eels. Lots and lots of eels. Why, I have no earthly clue. I think Hollywood just had a surplus of eels that weren't being used in any other movies, and Verbinski just went "I'll use all of them!"

This is the cover for the next issue of the niche fetish mag "Girls and Eels" coming out this month.

Eventually, he figures out that his leg isn't even really broken! You know, just an easy mistake to make. I assume this is to speed along the plot as we're already two hours in and we need him to run faster. He rips off his cast and then goes about finding out even more of this place's secrets – because the rest of the shit he's seen just hasn't really convinced him yet, I guess. He finds out that the guards take dead bodies into this cave area and feed them to a bunch of eels in the water. Because why not?

Then they manage to get him again and stick him in this full-body tank with only his head sticking out, where they put a tube in his mouth and then flush a bunch of water with eels into his body. Because, again, why not? If you can think of a weird thing to do, just do it! That's the motto of this place.

You'd think this – with Lockhart now being brainwashed and part of the place – would be the end. But nope! We have a bizarre final 20 minutes where it's revealed that all of this weird stuff has been going on to sustain the head doctor played by Isaacs, who is actually a 200 year old baron in disguise who wants to fuck Hannah, who is actually his daughter. I guess this makes as much sense as anything else, sure. Isaacs' real form looks like a Marvel Comics villain complete with scaly green skin and super strength. Sure! Why not!

So I guess Lockhart kills him and he and Hannah burn the hospital down and then escape. The end!

Honestly, I kind of enjoyed this whole thing. It's frustrating as hell the way Lockhart continually makes the worst choices just to elongate the movie and keep him in the hospital. And a lot of these plot twists have been done before. But the whole thing is just so brazenly crazy, not giving a fuck what anyone thinks of it, that it's almost impossible not to be entertained by it. It's a ridiculous film, totally ludicrous, but it takes itself just the right kind of seriously that it becomes a gloriously bizarre freak show ride of a movie.

In summary, I learned two things from this:

1. Americans work too hard and are stressed out, but that's still better than what goes on in weird healing therapy hospitals in the backwoods of Europe by far.

2. Eels are terrifying and should be feared in the way that evangelicals fear God.


I guess that's as good of a lesson as any. Review over.

Images copyright of their original owners, I own none of them.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Top 13 Movies of 2016

Well, you knew this list was coming, especially since I did the worst of list a few days ago. And who am I to be overly negative on this blog? Here are the best movies I saw in 2016. I'm sure I missed a couple, and there may be choices you don't agree with, but hey, them's the breaks, right? This is a better list than the Oscars. Yeah, I fucking went there. Read 'em and weep!

In all seriousness, this was a super great year for movies. I had a hard time narrowing this list down. I hope you enjoy it.

13. A Monster Calls


A unique and atmospheric film about grief through the eyes of a child. This would have been an almost claustrophobically sad movie if not for the vivid, imaginative and colorful scenes from the monster voiced by Liam Neeson telling the kid a series of parable-like stories relating to his real life. This is a layered and somber film that explores human emotions in a nuanced manner – that's what I liked about this and why it's on this list.

12. Jackie


Striking, unflinching period piece on Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of JFK's assassination. Natalie Portman acts her ass off, and the story about power at that level and how humans emotionally deal with it is dizzying, especially in this polarizing time. Great soundtrack and visuals add a huge atmosphere and weight to everything that happens here. This was a hypnotic, entrancing and gripping piece.

11. Captain Fantastic


Kick ass family drama/comedy about an unorthodox family led by Viggo Mortensen living out in nature and then they have to come back to civilization for a personal tragedy. This had a lot of fun scenes, some great drama and a lot to say about parenting, nature versus nurture and the ways family affects children. Lots of good acting in this and an overall fun, propulsive pace that made it a joy to behold.

10. Imperium


Really important film in our current political climate, for how it talks about white supremacy and terror groups and how one is radicalized. Daniel Radcliffe does a great job in this, but the real meat of it is the complex morals of the film – the way it portrays some of these young neo-Nazis as lost, disenfranchised, angry kids in need of a group to join is a lot more insight than most films approaching these subjects ever get. I found this exciting and provocative and timely.

9. Don't Think Twice


This is a really fun, enjoyable film, with great character dialogues that are funny and heartwarming. But it's also a thoughtful work about art and ambition, and what pursuing those things can do to friendships. This movie asks some hard questions about things and isn't afraid to tackle a story that so easily could've been cliché with levity and realism. Director Mike Birbiglia did a great job here and it lends credence to the idea that comedians are the modern philosophers.

8. The Witch


This is how you do a fucking horror movie. This has to be one of the most evil movies I've ever seen, with its story of a complete perversion of the Puritanical religious values. But it's also an empowering feminist tale of a young girl finding her way in that wretched, oppressive time. This has a lot of great visuals, tension thick enough to cut with a knife and building suspense. One of the best horror films of recent years.

7. Arrival


Denis Villenueve is my favorite modern director, and this movie is just more of why – his feel for gripping, epic, slow-burning stories of a multitude of genres is unmatched. This one is a great alien flick with twists abound and a good sense for epic cinematography and scenery. A visual pleasure and also a striking, individual story.

6. The Killing Joke


I've loved Batman since I was a kid, especially the old 90s Animated Series, so this was a treat – pairing Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill with the old creators of that series for an adaptation of one of the most audacious Batman comics ever made. This is a bizarre, provocative and polarizing story, but it's told with a visual artistry that makes it endlessly captivating. I liked the stuff they added that wasn't in the comics, too, adding shading and depth to these characters.

5. Moonlight


A lyrical, poetic film about a young gay black guy growing up in Florida. It's got a lot to say about masculinity and homosexuality, and how our culture views those things – especially through the lens of a black guy. This was just a feast on all senses. The scenery and cinematography were gorgeous and the story was raw and simple but layered at the same time. It's snappy, smart and powerful filmmaking – addictive and entrancing stuff.

4. Hell Or High Water


I haven't had this much fun at the cinema in ages. This is a neo-Western crime flick that just seems to go down the list of what makes a good film and check them all off with ease. Great characters, fun dialogue, a fast pace, great action and a lot of cool, gritty violence. It's a pure joy. I can't get enough.

3. Nocturnal Animals


I didn't see anything else this weird, unique or opaque all year. This is a strikingly individual film unique not in what it says but what it doesn't say, playing with your expectations of action in film by having most everything that happens be a fantasy, a flashback or something else. Yet, through that, it creates a layered, complex and dark story of lost love and missed chances. I was totally enthralled by this movie.

2. Swiss Army Man


This is maybe one of the weirdest movies I've ever seen, but it's also one of the best of the year. A deeply funny and strange film that becomes touching through really clever writing. This is full of a lot of juvenile (but funny) fart and dick jokes, and Daniel Radcliffe hams it up as a talking corpse leading Paul Dano through the woods. But through those things, it tells a wonderful sort of coming-of-age tale. It's a bizarre way to go about that, but you can't argue with results, right?

1. The Family Fang


I thought long and hard about this one, but frankly, nothing else I saw this year captivated me like The Family Fang did. This is a soulful and personal movie that weaves a tale of what havoc parents can wreak on their children and also asks some open-ended, thought provoking questions about art and its purity and what it can be used for. Layered performances from director-star Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman and a funny, down-to-Earth script make this an accessible film with a lot more under the surface. It's a great flick and I hope people see it. The best I saw this year.

Runners-Up

Here are some other movies I really liked but thought it would be a bit too long to put in the main list. So I am putting them here.

Manchester By the Sea
A tragic drama, but with enough humor and levity that it doesn't become grotesque. Casey Affleck really delivers here.

Edge of Seventeen
A fun, funny and insightful teenage dramedy with a great performance by lead girl Hailee Steinfield. Pretty much all of this was compulsively watchable and entertaining.

Green Room
Savage, punk-rock horror/action from up-and-comer director Jeremy Saulnier. This is a nonstop blitzkrieg ride of violence and fuck-you's to Naziism. Great music, too.

Doctor Strange
Marvel Studios' best film in a couple of years now. Visually fun and action packed with a surprisingly emotive performance from Benedict Cumberbatch.

The Nice Guys
A fun detective comedy with great performances from Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling – and the '70s aesthetic does a lot to give this its own flavor. Very enjoyable.

Images copyright their original owners, we own none of them.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Most Disappointing and Worst Movies of 2016

Here we are yet again, on the internet talking about movies. 2016, I thought, was a great year for film – though, honestly, every year has some great stuff. But every year also has some seriously fucked up, weird, terrible stuff, and that's where this post comes in.

Here's the Most Disappointing and Worst of 2016 in movies, at least according to one guy on a blog. I know I said this was a great year for movies, and we'll get to that. First we have to slog through these, though!

MOST DISAPPOINTING

These are the ones which I was looking forward to seeing, but they let me down when I actually watched them. They aren't horrible films, but I just didn't like them as much as I had hoped.

10 Cloverfield Lane


We didn't really need another Cloverfield movie so long after the first one – was there anyone really waiting anymore? I think even the biggest fans of the first one have long sinced moved on. This had some good thriller parts, but ultimately just felt tonally confused and silly, and never seemed to know where it was going, with a really bizarre about-face ending twist. Even performances by John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead couldn't save this one.

Don't Breathe


I was looking forward to this from the trailer, and it wasn't bad, with some cool twists and turns and some exciting chase scenes. But it was too long and bogged down with generic main characters, some filler in the first act and an overly dragged-out climax. This is pretty bog standard for the horror/thriller genre, but I think we've reached a point where we can expect more than just 'eh, it's okay.'

La La Land


This year's Oscar darling just didn't resonate much with me as it did with some audiences. It was pleasant eye and ear candy, and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone deliver good performances. But I didn't gel with the musical aspects much, and the whole thing just came off as substanceless fluff. That's fine – it is what it is. But it didn't strike a chord with me much at all beyond 'that's nice.'

THE WORST MOVIES OF 2016

How much of an explanation could you possibly want for this?

5. Batman v Superman – Dawn Of Justice


What a mess this was. In DC's quest to outdo Marvel they've really just stumbled over both feet and tripped and fell. Ben Affleck and some of the others like Michael Ironside give good performances in this, and there are certain visual sights that are quite haunting and beautiful – both of which give this movie a leg up from most other Zack Snyder movies. But the story is incoherent and made it hard for anything to stick with the viewer after the credits rolled. The characters were indistinguished and for a movie about two iconic heroes fighting over different values, that's pretty lame. The action, which is the main draw, could be nice, but man am I tired of bad CGI being used to create these over the top supervillains for the climaxes – it just looks more silly than cool at this point.

4. Suicide Squad


Another DC movie, this one the victim of a severely schizophrenic editing job that basically renders it unwatchable. The fact that actors like Margot Robbie give good performances is a miracle considering how jumbled the story is and how ridiculous the plot – you'd be hard pressed to really make sense of what is going on at any point of this, or explain the logic behind these character's decisions to unleash this team of supervillains to solve their problems. It's cool to try for an offbeat, anti-hero team of characters, but why did this one have to come off like a bad high school fanfiction?

3. Hardcore Henry


There was no real story, plot or character to this – it was nothing but action, fighting and explosions the whole time. Which, I get it, sounds lame to complain about. Until you watch this movie and see how tired, boring and dead-horse-beating that can be if you stretch it out for an hour and a half with no nuance to it save for a POV camera gimmick that actually makes it even more one-dimensional. Just excruciating to sit through.

2. Passengers


A ridiculous film that I was astounded turned out as bad as it was. This had no tonal consistency at all, jumping around from a lost-in-space sci fi thriller to a romance and finally to an over the top explosion-fest action story and doing none of them very well. The central twist is that Bradley Cooper's lead character actually manipulated Jennifer Lawrence's character by waking her up from her cryo-sleep 50 years too early before they arrived on the far-away world they're traveling to, effectively ruining her life and imprisoning her on the ship with him, and lying to her about that. It should be played as a horror movie, but when she forgives him and they get back together, it would be offensively bad, were it not so plainly ludicrous and incompetent.

1. The Purge: Election Year


The thing with the Purge is that it is the most hackneyed, dull, lazy kind of social satire – it's an overblown dystopian world where in the future, we decided as a country to make all crime legal once a year due to manipulation from scheming politicians. But where it fails is that it doesn't have a realistic portrayal of human beings at its core, which I find unforgivable. This series basically says we're all just dumb sheep who have no desire or organization to fight back against corruption, which is fundamentally false in any era of real-world history. It's not a believable fiction, and at worst it's actively gross and offensive.

If this was just supposed to be a fun, campy action ride, I'd forgive that, but the condescending tone and 'look how smart we are for saying this' vibe just don't gel with me. Not to mention the action, characters, writing, directing and everything else are subpar, too. This movie sucks and it's the worst I saw all year.

Images copyright of their original owners, we own none of them.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Chopping Mall (1986)

With the decline of malls on the horizon, it makes sense to go back and check out either the greatest monument to malls or the reason for their decline – Chopping Mall.

Director: Jim Wynorski
Starring: Allison Parks, Tony O'Dell

Co-written with Tony.

This was a 1986 movie, which means it was likely made after the director took a huge hit of cocaine, brushed back his mullet and then let a ripping guitar solo play on the electric guitar he keeps in his office at all times. That, I believe, is pretty much how all 80s movies were made. And if you think it's exaggerated or stereotypical to say that, well, just watch this actual fucking movie.

The whole premise of this is that this mall has upgraded its security system to an army of robots that can shoot lasers and electrifying cords out of them as an attempt to stop burglars. Who is trying to rob this mall? James Bond villains? The X-Men? I think if you're getting to the point that you need killer robots to stop a couple of delinquent kids from taking a few things from RadioShack and JCPenney, you need to re-evaluate just how bad your actual human security is.

You know there's probably real people you could hire who could just grab them by the arm and throw them out of the mall – you don't need to electrocute them with fucking robots, you psychopath.

Oh, is it over already? Wow. Shortest horror flick ever...

Being an 80s movie, this is of course full of a bunch of teenagers who want to have sex – that's the entire cast of main characters. Do you need to know their names? I could just refer to them as 'amorphous blob of hormonally crazed 80s teens' and you'd get the gist well enough. Of course they all have names, but even so, is anyone going to remember them? I think not.

"My eyes are up here!" 

There's also the clich̩ guy and girl who are shy virgins and who need the guidance of these de facto Cupids to guide them to the sweet, sweet fields of bliss Рfor how could they ever do so on their own, as two-left-foot bumbling no-social-skills freaks as they are? They NEEDED the help of these generous philanthropists of love to steer them in the right direction. What modern day Saints these other kids are! Truly, they're the most generous people ever to walk the Earth.

Eh, actually it's probably a nice thing to do.

Meanwhile, the scientist guy charged with sitting alone in a lab all night by himself for God knows what reason looks at porn! And I guess that was the last straw for these killer robots, who I guess got imbued with Jason Voorhees DNA and now want to kill anyone that indulges in sexuality. What a cool trick. Anyway, they kill the scientist guy, which I'm sure was part of their protocol – once you're completed, kill your master. The cover-up is complete. No one will ever know! Bwahahaha!

If this guy was smart, he would have invented the internet to look at porn, instead of inventing killer robots that killed him while he looked at porn. What a doofus.

They also kill a second scientist who comes in and also gets killed immediately, and I'm honestly not sure why this was put in the movie. Was killing the one guy just not enough? Would the audience not GET IT if the robot didn't kill two scientists instead of just the one?

Then the robots are unleashed on the mall, where the teenagers have forgone having sex and are instead having meaningful philosophical conversations about the state of the world. Just kidding, they're actually having sex. Man, really had you going there for a second, huh?

Honestly, it goes about how you'd expect – right down to the nerdy guy and girl just sitting there watching old 50s monster movies while everyone else has sex. What a couple of fucking dorks.

Does this hit too close to home for me? Shut up.

The trouble starts when a sassy janitor is cleaning the floors, by dipping his mop in the dirty water he's already used – real good strategy there, bucko. But then a robot knocks over the chemicals all over the tile floor, making a huge mess. When the janitor gets mad, the robot responds by doing what I am sure it was programmed to do when those lowly janitors step out of line – it electrocutes the guy to death.

Yeaaaaahhhhh! Put that fucking janitor back in HIS PLACE!

Then it goes after a girl who just had sex and is walking around the mall alone – clearly, the prime target these robots were made for. It chases her through the dark mall a bit and then, right when her friends are watching from the window, it blows up her head in what I'm sure it thought was a beautiful, dazzling fireworks display, and was subsequently sad when the kids just screamed in horror and didn't appreciate it.

B+.

That's probably why the robots keep chasing them for the rest of the movie. They have feelings too, ya know.

Then the movie subsequently turns into a Rambo-style action movie with the kids grabbing a bunch of guns and fighting robots. They sell guns in the fucking mall? Now I am starting to see why they needed killer robots in there.


Also, I love how the guys tell the girls to just escape while they fight the robots, as if fighting robots is something drawn down by gender lines. Pfft! Women can do anything men can do! That's why the girls double back and join the guys fighting the robots and---


Oh. Well, never mind. I take it back – there IS a reason only the men were fighting.

Also, gotta love how no one stepped in to try and help that girl as she was burning alive. Couldn't have at least thrown a blanket on her and put the fire out, huh? Were they just thinking beauty was the only thing she was good for and now that her body would be covered in burn scars, she might as well just die? That's pretty cold.

And the robots didn't kill anyone else while she was burning or do anything except sit there and watch – how fucking considerate of them. That COULD HAVE been a great opportunity for the others to get the drop on them, but oh well, you live and learn.

The robots continue to chase the surviving kids through the mall, killing them one by one, and somehow they don't use the lasers they have at all when that could easily kill off all the kids in a few seconds. Instead they just sort of chase them and prolong things for no reason. I really expected better writing and logic from a movie called Chopping Mall, so this is hugely disappointing.

They have a bit of downtime in this restaurant portion of the mall, where one of the kids – the boyfriend of that girl who got set on fire – is now super cynical and says he wants to die. The robots grant him that wish. See, they aren't that bad after all.

"Heh heh heh... I want to die."

In a truly epic battle, the nerdy guy faces off against one robot and shoots at it several times with a gun. When that doesn't work, he tries throwing the gun at the robot, I suppose thinking that throwing a gun would just be the thing's weakness and somehow cripple it. Or maybe that's just fucking dumb. The robot thinks so, too, and so it throws a trash can at him which hits him in the gut, knocking him off his feet. It's one of the funniest parts of the movie.

"I really wish I had the gun back now, even if only for the illusion of safety!"

I was really, honestly hoping he died from this – that would make it even funnier to my fucked up mind. But nope, he's back later and actually OK in the end. Damn it.

Meanwhile, though, the final surviving girl is chased into a pet store where snakes and spiders crawl all over her. She ends up killing the final robot by pouring paint on the floor so the robot gets stuck, and then throwing a road flare at it and exploding it in a blaze of fire. You know, the usual plan for killing robots.


I am almost positive the robot was trying to communicate with her the whole time that it was just trying to be her friend and that it meant no harm. Maybe its lasers were malfunctioning and it thought they were tools used to shake hands and hug. Maybe the robots were sentient and loving creatures trying to be our friends, and we ruined that opportunity forever.

But eh, probably not! Woohoo, we won! The humans have conquered that which is inhuman! The mall is safe again!

I assume after the movie ends, the final girl is arrested for destruction of property and breaking and entering into the mall after hours, and the guys who green-lit the robots are thrown into jail for the rest of their lives for making a bunch of killing machines. Then every year on the anniversary of the massacre, the country has a day of silence and mourns the victims by lighting candles and sending them down the river, bemoaning those young teens lost in the prime of their lives who were actually 27-year-olds miscast in an 80s movie.

But even so. They will live on in our memory.

Yeah, I think that's about accurate. This was Chopping Mall! See you next time.

Images copyright of their original owners; we own none of them.