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Monday, February 28, 2011

Scream Blacula Scream (1973) - Horror Blaxsploitation

Scream Blacula Scream (1973) - Mamuwalde is back in the second Blacula movie. Joan Torres, Raymond Koenig and Maurice Jules penned the screenplay in which Blacula is returned to the world through voodoo. It seems it was to be the height of the careers in writing for all three. Director Bob Kelljan keeps the story moving as he works to try to break the curse, before he has too many minions to deal with. One of the good things about this particular vampire set of films is every time someone feeds on a human that human then becomes a vampire. Unlike the modern myths where an exchange of blood or some such thing more intentional is required. Here the very act of feeding can quickly create a mass of vamps that will soon get out of control. They also hold true to the myth that the vampire that created you has power over you but if he is not paying attention then you can run amok. Ah such a simpler time.
This story focuses around a voodoo group and Willis (Richard Lawson) who expects to become leader when the matriarch dies. Unfortunately for him she fails to name him leader and the arrogant bastard storms off looking for a way to get back a them. Lisa (Pam Grier in a very cardboard performance) becomes the new keeper of the lore and this sits poorly with Willis. He seeks out another witch doctor who gives him the bones of Blacula (William Marshall) saying they are very powerful. Willis takes them and performs a ritual which mistakenly raises the blood sucker from the beyond. As these things go naturally Blacula does not just do what Willis wants instead turning him into a vampire and starting to way towards the earlier mentioned group of vampires.
Back in the modern world Blacula goes to check out some African artwork at a party Willis's girlfriend is holding and there he meets Lisa. He learns about voodoo and scopes the next woman he is going to bite. There are a lot of vampire feeding scenes in this movie and I am not sure that this is so much better than the endless cop procedural in the first Blacula film. Some very effective scenes though like Lisa's friend Gloria (Janee Michelle) returning hoping to prey on her. "Lisa, I won't hurt you I'm your friend" luckily Blacula arrives to control her and then we get the bulk of the plot for the vampire. He wants to end his curse, live his life out and to do this he wants Lisa to use voodoo.
At the same time Lisa's boyfriend Justin Carter (Don Mitchell) is playing the role as the guy figuring out who Mamuwalde is and he like the Dr. Gordon Thomas in the earlier film determines it is a vampire that is causing the mysterious deaths in the area. His role is not as compelling as Gordon but he does have a scene where he and Blacula verbally spar. So when Lisa vanishes he is there to go searching for her. Unlike the earlier film when the police chase the vampires and have little luck using there gun, in this film they are armed with stakes for the raid on Blaucala's lair. They fair a lot better and considering there is upwards of 10 vampires in the place it is a good thing.
Lisa tries her best to break the spell put on Mamuwalde as the police roam through the house getting closer and closer to them. The voodoo seems to be working with five minutes left in the film as the battle in the house between good and evil reaches a climax. The music of drums and strings works to build the drama. When the spell is interrupted Blacula grabs her and says they must leave so they will have a chance to try again. Justin and the cops are no match for the vampire but the voodoo doll used for the ritual now becomes key in Lisa protecting her man. In all there are a lot of things that work in this movie. Is it a great movie no but the nice way it mixes voodoo and vampires really works.
Rating (5.8) 5.0 and up are recommended In the Zombiegrrlz system Rent It!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Zombie Holocaust by David Flint

Zombie Holocaust : How the Living Dead Devoured Pop Culture, by David Flint - I have never done a book review on this blog but with several books as gifts this year I will give it a shot. This book is really a survey of the history of zombies in pop culture. It is by no means a comprehensive rendering of the history but there is enough meat to at least make it interesting. David Flint goes through the myriad of Zombie movies, shows, games, books etc and gives his opinion about how they fit into the culture. Unfortunately he does not seem to have been an insider and anyone who is a fan of this sub genre will probably be aware of most that is relayed in this quick read. Only 224 pages filled with images the book blasts through pop culture and zombies barely taking the time to let you digest the titles before zipping on to the next chapter. It is more of a freshman 101 class than a Zombies advanced class. If you are not a great fan of Zombies but wanted to get caught up to date in a week then this is the book for you. If like me you are steeped in the genre already than you will probably be doing what I did and disagreeing with the authors opinions of zombie classics and not so classics. Either way this is a "no harm, no foul" book. It will not be nutritious for those who devour this content but it is a great snack if you want something light.
Rating (3.8 for fans) 5.0 and up are recommended Rating two: 5.0 if you are a newby looking for a quick read.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance (1974) Action

Lady Snowblood:Love Song of Vengeance (1974) - The second in the Snowblood series and another lesson in Japanese history in the film extras. Continuing the story after the original Lady Snowblood film, Yuki (Meiko Kaji) is relentlessly pursued by authorities for the crimes she had committed earlier. A promising start as we open with her visiting the grave of her parents and Master at the now relic of a temple. She is attacked in a very cool walking and fighting sequence as she leaves the area. She is wounded but manages to flee her pursuit led by Inspector Maruyama (Rin'ichi Yamamoto). Collapsing on the beach she is found and cared for by a local fisherman and her wounds heal. At this point the film is very promising with the action of the first some nice editing and a good pace. Then the opening credits and everything changes.
Yuki is eventually captured and the film slows to a crawl with her trial and imprisonment. She is offer a chance to be free again by the secret police. It seems there has been a bit of anarchist activity and they would like to see it end by using her as an assassin. She is sent pretending to be a maid to the home of the Tokunagas, Ransui (Juzo Itami) is a opposition leader and his wife Aya (Kazuko Yoshiyuki). They are a happy couple who do not seem particularly harmful. Yuki is to spy and when she has evidence of their plotting rebellion she will strike. Unfortunately for us director Toshiya Fujita and the many writers let the story stagnate. As if more interested in having the history lesson of the times, than the plot of the story the film slows to a crawl. Worst there are no fights or any action at all just much dialog that eventual convinces Yuki she can not go through with the assassination.
On top of this the story itself become complicated and only clears up when tragedy become the focus, with Ransui being captured and left for dead with the black plague. His wife in grief getting herself killed confronting the secret police, the brother (Yoshio Harada)( I may have the actors mixed up here) storyline where he does not like Ransui because of personal history but the allows himself to also catch the plague in caring for his stricken brother. The slum he lives in is burned down by the secret police and just about every major character dies. Only in the last ten minutes do we get any more of the good action we got in the original Lady Snowblood. Great if you want a historical drama about Japan in the early 1900s but awful if looking for an action packed Samurai movie.
This second film was just really disappointing after the passable first outing. It happens in what should be somewhere around 1904 but the first film supposedly took place in about 1891 and Yuki has not change a bit, besides that the emotion she showed while seeking vengeance in the first film is completely empty here, and is not at all supported by the plot, there is no vengeance. They seem to have made the film on the same sets as the first and I bet if you played the films side by side you would see that. So I guess they were going for the quick score with another film a year after the first so be it.
Rating (3.5) 5.0 and up are recommended, in the Zombiegrrlz system Skip It!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

La posesion de Emma Evans (2010) - Horror Exorcism

La posesion de Emma Evans (2010) - I saw this movie as Exorcismus on the On Demand feature of my cable box, as part of the IFC at Midnight series. It is a lower budget exorcism tale with a twist. Writer David Munoz and Director Manuel Carballo have put together a very competent film on the devil possession theme with a compelling young protagonist and a surprising antagonist. The first twenty minutes of the film are a standard disturbed teen drama where the filmmaker leaves you wondering if the increasingly disturbing events happening to the main character Emma Evans (Sophie Vavasseur) are real or imagined. The events at first seem like a troubled girl possible having seizures, maybe doing too many drugs, but not a demon possession. Looking at the trailer on IMDB I see that the whole plot is given away on this one. It is a shame that this is the case since seeing the film before seeing the trailer I was pleasantly surprised by the plot twists. After her parents have her checked out medically it seems that thing go from bad to worse. The next couple times she has attacks Emma is more violent and when a apparent collapse turns into a freaky levitation from the floor the film shifts gears. It is no longer about a disturbed teen and much more about the possibility of a demonic possession. Now the Mom, Lucy (Jo-Anne Stockham) and father John (Richard Felix) bring into play the priest uncle Christopher (Stephen Billington) to do an exorcism. Lucy is a skeptical atheist and really feel helpless to do anything and thus goes along while John wants at least an attempt made. This is where the story sort of become the film The Exorcist. There is a back story about how Father Christopher failed at a former attempt to exorcise someone and thus was removed from his position. The girl he was working with died after the exorcism was interrupted. So you think the film is about Emma being saved and Christopher being redeemed in saving her. Since he had had so much trouble he asks and is granted permission to tape the entire event on video. Christopher's motivation seems to be also to want to prove that the exorcism is a real thing and that the first time it was because of the interruption and not his work against the devil that the girl died. There are some nice low budget effects during the multiple exorcism scenes. There is nothing really new in any of this and a horror fan will be underwhelmed at the lack of tension that we get during this part of the movie.
This film relies on the final 20 minutes to make it different from the other films that have come out in recent years. The twist surprising to me would have been pretty mundane if I had watched that trailer prior to seeing the film. Maybe not totally as there are a couple very significant revelations. It shows there is a real line between building a trailer to sell a film and building a trailer that can ruin a film by giving too much away. I would suggest NOT viewing the trailer prior to watching this film. The twist is subtle but cutting and changed the film in my mind from ho-hum to passable. No explanation here since I would say wait until you can rent this one on the cheap but do check it out.
Rating (5.5) 5.0 and up are recommended In the Zombiegrrlz system I say Rent it!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Blacula (1972) Horror Blaxsploitation

Blacula (1972) - Its 1780 and Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) and his princess visit the castle of Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) to try to get him to stop the slave trade, it is harming his African nation and he is looking for allies to stop people being poached from his country. Dracula is a total racist and instead of assisting Mamuwalde his insinuates, yeah no he says it right out, that the princess would make a fine addition to his household slave collection. Of course this failure to negotiate insults the prince and he tells Dracula they are leaving. Dracula tells him that the prince to take it as a compliment that he would even consider having his black wife as a slave. After a tussle with Dracula's henchmen Mamuwalde is subdued and Dracula decides to teach him a lesson. Dracula turns him into a Vampire by biting him. He then locks Mamuwalde in a coffin and entombs his Princess with him. So the now Blacula can not feed and has to listen to his love as she dies of thirst in the tomb. The Vampire wives of Dracula have the worst makeup possible in a vampire movie which was silly to say the least. Here is an example of crying blood as for some reason Dracula cries blood.
Modern day and a couple of gay interior decorators, Bobby (Ted Harris) and Billy (Rick Metzler) are buy all the items in Count Dracula's castle. They sign the papers and the coffin is transported across the ocean to a warehouse I believe in NYC. Now I would not mention their sexual orientation except for the extreme stereotypes they were in the film. In fact a few times during the movie characters refer to them with a particularly offensive slur I remember from my youth in the 70's. The couple comes and pries open the coffin lock. When unfortunately on of them is cut in the process and before you know it Dracula was all over them. At Bobby's funeral we meet the cast of characters, Tina (Vonetta McGee, who also played the princess), Michelle (Denise Nicholas), Tina's sister and girlfriend of Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) who is investigating Bobby's death. Gordon talks to the undertaker guy about the bite on Bobby's neck. He can't believe the coroner has put it down as a rat bite. Also there does not seem to be much blood in him even though he has yet to be embalmed. He sees it as a slight because Bobby is black and if it was a white guy there would be cops investigating it.
Blacula is watching from the other room and sees Tina, his princess in the present day. He follows Tina walking home, but she senses someone following her and run dropping her purse. She is worried that some weirdo now has her information and at the local club she tells Gordon and Michelle this. After missing his chance to talk to Tina, Blacula is almost hit by a cabbie, Juanita (Ketty Lester) so she gets to be his next meal.
Gordon is going to check out the why the coroner Sam (Elisha Cook Jr.) is not properly investigating the killings and while there he gets to see the body of the cabbie and her neck bite. Gordon is starting to get suspicious. He talks to his police buddy Lt. Peters (Gordon Pinsent) about why the investigation is going nowhere. Although Peters doesn't have all the answers he questions whether it could be a Black Panthers problem. Yeah right blame the Black Panthers that's gotta be the solution.
That night at Michelle's birthday party at the club we get to see Blacula return Tina's purse to her and he is nice and charming. She invites him to join the party where there is small talk but you can feel the connection between Tina and Blacula. Two things break up this party, one is that Nancy a waitress comes over and takes a picture of Blacula and Tina, he hates this because even though he has been dead for 200 year somehow he knows about Vampires not showing up on film. How could that be? The other thing is Gordon gets word that Bobby's body has vanished so we know that the bitten become vampires. Blacula says to Tina. "You bear a remarkable resemblance to my wife." That line is sure to get you in her pants.
When Nancy goes home to develop the film from the party, Blacula follows her to off her after she notices that he failed to appear in any of the photos she took. In the mean time Gordon and Michelle are investigating the vampire angle, having exhausted all the logical reasons for the dead people vanishing. Oh wait they never thought that out or even brainstormed any reasons other than the vampire thingy. hmmm...
There is a hold that Blacula has on Tina that seems to be some kind of mind control. He wants her to join him but we learn he can't do it with this control that she has to want it using her free will. He wants to turn her into his vampire bride. Since when Blacula was created he was not told the rules you have to wonder how he knows the whole free will angle.
Michelle and Gordon confirm the vampirism idea by digging up the body of Billy and as soon as they have the coffin open Billy attacks. Gordon prepared as always stakes him. Gordon warns Sam the morgue guy about the cabbie body but Sam is busy and after forgetting and leaving the body to thaw Jaunita come running down the hall at him in a bit reminiscent of Count Yorga. I like the scariness of the scene and wish more of the film was about horror. There really is very little tension in this film and the scares are few and far between. When Gordon and Michelle see first hand the bat crazy vampires they still don't seem to try to get the cops to get Blacula. Okay maybe they are not sure so instead lets go listen to some more soul music at the club with Blacula and Tina and ask him about vampires.
The final quarter of the film come as a chase film. Gordon having discovered the images Nancy took have no Blacula in them gets the entire police force looking for the master vampire. They chase until they have him cornered in Chemical Plant #2 at the corner of 6th and Church St. Probably now the Steven Alan Showroom :) When Blacula is finally gets it that he and Tina are not going to be lovers forever he makes his final decision as the sun rises.
This is not a great film but it is not without merit either. Gordon is a diligent and serious character who works through the story against all odds. Blacula tells the basic Dracula in love story and has a fine bitter sweet conclusion. The music by Conductor Gene Page and Coordinator is great, just enough background for the scenes with a mix of funk tracks for the more exciting scenes. Then on top of it we get a mini concert in the club scenes. Director William Crain does a very good job weaving us through the story and the acting is not as stale as some of the films I have seen in this genre. Certainly the film could have used a more fluid story and particularly the action scenes were unfocused and weakly thought out. Still this is an enjoyable go round on the vampire myth.
Rating (5.7) 5.0 and up are recommended Zombiegrrlz rating Rent It!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Vanishing on 7th Street (2010) Horror

Vanishing on 7th Street (2010) - When the film opens with movie projectionist Paul (John Leguizamo) reading a book on the Roanoke Colony, an early settlement in the "New World" where the entire group vanished and all the returning boat crew found was the word "Croatoan" carved in a tree, I knew what this film was about, of course one would have to be pretty dense, NOT knowing with a name like "Vanishing on 7th Street". Paul is in the film room when the lights go out, luckily for him he is wearing his handy head lamp, an essential tool for his job. Still he finds it strange and he goes to check it out, leaving the film room. Well an awful lot of people seemed to have left there clothes all over the place, yep that's right like Night of the Comet there are empty clothes all around, minus the red dust of the eighties flick. Paul naturally is freaked out as he walks around the connected mall. There is a security guy with a flashlight and the two get together. The film wastes not time setting its parameters, with the security guy hearing something off in the darkness, he goes to check it out, but when his flashlight goes out, dark shadows surround him and poof in an instant his empty clothes fall to the floor. Needless to say Paul is totally weirded out by this. So already we know, people who are still around had lights that did not go out in the initial black out and that if you loose your light you are going to vanish taken by shadows.
The next scenes are well done discovery scenes with the main characters being introduced and defined. They are scary enough, building a good amount of dread. Rosemary (Thandie Newton) works in a hospital and has lost her 9 month old child, she has a great operating room scene even though it makes no sense that the patient would be there but not the doctors. Then there is Luke (Hayden Christensen) a news reporter who wakes from a night of candlelight to find the world deserted. At one point he sees the little girl, Briana (Taylor Groothuis) running around on her own that we see a few times during the film. Luke eventually makes his way to the one lit up building in town as does Rosemary. When Luke arrives at the bar a 12 year old boy named James (Jacob Latimore) he is less than trusting but eventually we get things worked out and the three are all at the bar. The building has power only because it has a generator that James's Mom had rigged to the building panel. Thing is that whatever is going on it is draining away the power from everything, batteries, the sluggish running generator, car batteries, so at some point all the lights will go out. Now at this point the little girl is not in the group, she never does and we only see her running off every now and again. She is surviving on her own and although we never get her back story we see her again. Paul wakes in the street after a knock on the head, don't really remember seeing how that happened, but he makes his way to a solar powered bus stop that is still lit up. He has a pretty good concussion and lays there calling for help. This is when the group in the bar decide they have to go get him thus making our group complete.
The rest of the film is about how the group survives, after some exposition about the Roanoke Colony by Paul we get the counter of End of Days by Rosemary. What if every now and again the world reboots, starts over and this is the end of the old world? Well that would not be what happened on Roanoke but it at least fits into the whole End of Days thing. The ideas don't totally fit what we see happening but these are people stressed with the threat of disappearing themselves. We see when they are near the dark, the shadow people waiting to get them. They are throwing out ideas about what is going on so it doesn't have to totally match. We know that on top of energy sources failing the days are getting short a few as two hours of light when everyone is in the bar. There are flashbacks to fill in some of the details of how the people here survived and to add a bit more information about the dark but they felt a bit out of place. We do learn that this is not a local phenomena though that at least in Chicago it is happening too. The group starts to think that getting out of the city might be a good idea since it is just a matter of time until the lights go out. Now why they think that it is any different anywhere else is a mystery. Still the drive to survive is strong in humans so they come up with a plan. It involves pushing a pickup that has a weak but working battery a few blocks to the bar where they will then use the generator to jump start it and drive to "freedom".
When the truck is obtained the story really goes off the rails with the final two driving away but then one of them has to wander off to find a lost love one. The final person drives the truck poorly away only to see the word Croatoan on the side of a bridge I had to laugh out loud. Then the finish is so disappointing.
I really enjoyed the film for the most part, the atmosphere was creepy and the ideas okay. The idea of how these people would survive was solid each figuring out how to keep lights on around them. Why survive was discussed in the film as it needed to be. If this was the end of the world and God wanted humans to end, although he picked a 'mysterious' way of ending it who are we as humans to fight it? Free will I guess trumps all. Since the end of days theory does not really fit, but the idea of just a mass disappearance doesn't fit well either, I think I will go with the idea that this was some sort of alien invasion. Feel free to comment with your feelings on this one when you finally get to see it. I watched it on Same day as theaters on the Comcast On Demand so it may not get a big release.
Rating (5.2) 5.0 and up are recommended in the Zombiegrrlz system, Rent it!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Vampiyaz (2004) - Horror Vampire

Vampiyaz (2004) -The lives of a couple of thugs is forever changed when a B & E goes wrong in this supernatural urban drama. Jakeem (Richard Carroll Jr.) is convinced to crack a safe for his friend and fellow criminal Khalil (Malik Burke). They end up shooting the owner of the home after stealing his amulet of power. Jakeem can't believe that Khalil even brought a gun on the job, he hates guns and as they argue about it in there car they hit poor Tracie (Lila Blake Palmer) as she walked home. Now the bad guy Khalil wants to leave her while Jakeem thinks they should take her to the hospital. The arguement ends when Khalil shoots Jakeem leaving him to the cops and prison. Khalil leaves and in the most inexplicable scene is bitten by a vampire. What? bad luck?
Eight years later when Jakkem gets out of the "joint" he is immediately on the prowl for revenge. First though he checks up on the girl they hit. Stacie is in a wheelchair and does not really remember the night she got hit. She does not then recognized Jakeem as the guy who hit her. Now it is important to note a couple logical errors in the script. 1. What did Jakeem end up in prison for? Hitting the girl and getting shot? For the murder of the home owner? Never really explained. 2. How did the girl not hear from someone what happened to her? Wouldn't she have heard about Jakeem, seen him on the news or been questioned by the police at some point? So using some other name he starts to get to know the girl. Apparently Khalil has been watching out for him too because there is this guy Ray (Randy Clarke) to talk to Jakeem about coming to see his rival. Ray is like Renfield from the Dracula story. Khalil is a vampire and has lost the amulet and wants to get it back, so of course he waits eight fucking years for the former friend who he shot and left in the road to get out of prison, find him and then force him to crack another safe and re-steal the piece. What there were no other safe crackers good enough to do it?
Off Ray and Jakeem go to get to the safe and in a poorly designed sequence they fight their way up to is and Jakeem goes to work. They do a nice job establishing a motivation for him. He is going to get money out of the deal and will use it to make amends with Stacie by paying off her medical bills. What is not real thought out is the whole logistics of the job. They basically are stealing the amulet from a group of vampire hunters and Ray after being told not to bring a gun he does and shoots anyone he sees. At one point shooting from behind Jakeem and deafening him. How Jakeem ever got the safe open without being able to hear the clicking is not explained but apparently he is a pretty good safe cracker. They get the amulet and he gets the drop on Ray so now he has the gun. So the two go back to Khalil to get paid. In the best scene of the entire movie, he and Khalil do the exchange for the amulet but since he can not hear, the communication is totally broken down and really very funny. Writer/Director John Bacchus gets props for this scene.
We learn that the amulet will make a vampire invincible and when Jakeem learns this he manages to get it back from Khalil and make a break for it. Now though both Ray and the vampire hunters are both looking for it. The group wins and they get it back, Jakeem goes with them for the assault on Khalil's house, he has a couple of Vamp women in the house so some carnage is sure to follow. The assault goes badly for the professional vampire hunters, which leads one to think just how professional they were. There comes a point in the assault where Jakeem finds Stacie strapped with explosive and a safe to crack in a minute in order to save her. Wonderfully stupid is the best way to describe the scene. In the end things go badly for Khalil and his vixen vamps and the film ends with Jakeem getting a new job. There are way too many problems with this film to remotely consider recommending it. I liked the hip hop sound track and the NYC locations but there are too many script problems to save this one. A bonus for this is that the lovely Debbie Rochon makes an appearance as a prostitute.
Rating (1.2) 5.0 and up are recommended

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Galaxy of the Dinosaurs (1992) Science Fiction

Galaxy of the Dinosaurs (1992) - This is an early film featuring James Black, the director of the also reviewed film The Vault. Here he is Captain Kronick, the leader of a group of astronauts from another planet who crash land on a planet full of dinosaurs. The group is up looking for some fast food on earth, McDonalds to be exact, when the navigator Graft (James L. Edwards) realizes they are no where near earth and in fact things are going bad on the ship. The crew already on the way to the surface in the shuttle can't do anything to help Graft with the ship, and it does not make it. Now the crew has to land on the strange planet without a ship to go back too.
Now explaining the plot here is pretty easy, but ultimately unfair. You readers may think this is a film you should check out but you would be wrong. The production values are incredibly poor in this mess. When the crew get to the surface most of the time I think they just used natural lighting. The plot is weak to comical, with most of the film the group reacting to public domain film clips from old claymation dinosaur sequences spliced into the story they are telling. Now the credit this film should get is that it was made for $2500 and actually has a plot that is more than just walking and running around the woods. The crew are wonderful cardboard, Kronick by James Black, Morda (Christine Morrison), Tom Hoover as Benj the repeated and annoying comic relief for the film, Prof Geting (Bill Morrison), Scott Emerman as Doctor Foreband, and Joseph A Daw as Bob the Caveman who appears only in manufactured clothes so caveman may not be the appropriate term for his character.
So back to not talking about the plot... Most of the film is dinosaur clips and reaction shots but at the end a long and complicated plot is laid out in a two and a half minute monologue by one of the characters, since nothing of any of this plot was ever included in the film it is utterly useless to us as an audience. Note also, a bit unrelated but we should never get to see a boom mic in the film as we did in this one. When all is said and done the writers Jon Killough and Todd Brown and the director J.R. Bookwalter should be ashamed. On the other hand this kind of low budget, make it on the fly movie is how many people break into the field. Certainly James Black has gone on to do some excellent work in TV. So if you are high and want to laugh your ass off or you are not and are into punishing yourself you can check out Galaxy of the Dinosaurs but you should probably just pass.
Rating (0.9) 5.0 and up are recommended

The Vault (2000) - Horror

The Vault (2000) - A teacher takes a group of detention serving students to an abandon high school to document its history before it is torn down. The story is that the school was originally used as a depot for slave being brought into the country. Horrible treatment of the slaved marked this period of the building. Then after the civil war it was converted into a school for former slaves to teach them to read. After this the building became part of the school system until age finally made it necessary to close it down. So with only a few days before demolition a teacher Mr. B. (Ted Lyde) brings Kyle (Michael Cory Davis), Desaray (Shani Pride), Willy (Austin Priester) and Zipper (Kyle Walker) to the building.
After seeing a mural on the wall with nondescript figures they are warned by a security guard, "I don't think having these kids in here is a good idea." What? High school age kids wandering around a dilapidated building, what could go wrong? On top of this Desaray is having a bad feeling about being there. Several scenes allow the audience to get to know the kids. Kyle tough on the outside but struggling to keep himself together dispite his drug using parents. Desaray the pretty girl who can't see past peoples exteriors. Willy the jock everyone loves and Zipper the nerd who can't stop himself from putting his foot in his mouth. Then there is Mr. B. who has recently lost his wife and surprisingly came to the school to walk down memory lane. The school is where he graduated high school and met his wife. None of the characters get much more developed than that but honestly Kyle seemed to draw the most emotional connection of the kids.
When things get weird it happens a little at first before going full tilt. When Mr. B. is talking to the security guard there is this point where he recognizes him as a janitor during the time he was a student at the school. He also has not aged a day, I wonder why that is? Later Desaray and Willie are walking down this nicely (cheaply) lit corridor of red and blue light, they don't notice that each door they pass closes. Finally after being warned not to go in the cellar, the two are in the cellar and find the titular door. Naturally Willy just has to know what is in that locked door but there is no key. Lucky for the story that Desaray is possessed by some sounds in her headphones and punches a wall revealing a the the vault...of course.
When the lock is off a horrible banging on the door starts up and then breaks out, Willy and Des see inside the room are shackles on the walls. You see in the past slaves were kept in these rooms. In fact there is at a later time a story shared that a witchdoctor was put into one of the rooms back in slave days but her killed the other five slaves in the room as part of a ritual of power, the ritual was incomplete though and his soul was trapped in the room. The kids have now released it and he will try to complete the spell by killing a new six people.
The first is the van driver who did not even come in the building. The kids do notice though that his face is now on the mural they saw earlier. In fact each of the group that is killed appears in the painting, so the kids must try to find a way to get the spirit back in the room and lock it before they are all killed. This is not a horrible plot. It is a shame that the budget for this film was so small because I think the idea can work. There are some very nice CGI and practical effects including a pipe through a chest, a head cut in half, and some glowing red eyes. The pace picks up as the film goes on but the early scenes really dragged this film down with its less than effective character development. The negative of the are a drawback but I think director James Black did a decent job on this film not really going to recommend it because the production value is not up to par, the characters are too cardboard and there is way too much just following people as they walk around to make the compelling story compelling enough.
Rating (4.2) 5.0 and up are recommended.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Town (2010) Crime Thriller

The Town (2010) - The fourth of the Best Picture nominees reviewed here at Soresport Movies, the others being, True Grit, Inception, and The Fighter. It is a tale of loyalty, love, deception striving for something more from life, all wrapped in a crime thriller. Marked by excellent performances, good screen writing tight direction the two hour running time flies by when you watch this one.
An effective voice over lays the groundwork in this bank robbing drama. Ben Affleck is Doug MacRay a Charlestown Thug and bank robber. The opening to the movie has him and his crew robbing a bank in Harvard Square Cambridge MA. Locals are pulling their hair out at this point knowing how impossible this would be, but lets suspend disbelief. It is a long way from Charlestown but hey its a movie, whatda want? They are seen as professionals who really know what they are doing, precise and on top of everything that can happen they get the vault and the drawers before taking the banks assistant manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage in case they have any trouble since she set off the silent alarm. They get away and don't hurt her. They leave her at the beach blindfolded and made to walk out until she felt water on her toes. It is a frightening experience we learn from her later.
Another of the four robbers, James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) is easily displayed as a hot head in the group. He is a guy who will kill someone if need be. In the opening robbery he is very recognizable even in the identical reaper masks the crew wear. He will be the antagonist to Ben Affleck's protagonist. They are lifetime friends and much water has passed under their relationship bridge. The film does a great job not only establishing their connection but also dribbling out the more significant pieces of the their friendship allowing the audience to build an understanding of why they are so tight. It is really a fine job of screenwriting they way the interpersonal information is constructed. Later when the Renner character comes across Doug and Claire on a date there is a great scene of how silence can be used to create tension. They have another well written conversation where Doug, Claire and James are chit chatting outwardly while behind the conversation Renner and Affleck are dueling. I am getting ahead of myself here though back to the early part of the story.
Doug is the father of a child with James' sister Krista. She is a local girl dealing drugs and using but really would like it if Doug showed more interest in her. Blake Lively's portrayal of Krista was a bit heavy on accent but fairly well done.
Doug keeps Claire's license and the group is worried because she is living just blocks from their neighborhood. She is not a "Townie" but now lives there. So Doug follows her to try to see if she is a threat. Claire definitely could be a problem too, she is indeed talking to the FBI. The coincidence of her residence naturally has the feds concerned. Doug tries to meet her and then starts dating her so he can learn what she knows. At the same time the head investigator shows an interest in her personally. It is a very interesting duel storyline they play at here and if the FBI agent Adam Frawley's (Jon Hamm) side of it was a bit stronger it would have been even better.
The relationship between Doug and Claire is the main feature outside the heist storyline. They get to know each other and share their lives, it is well defined and shows their growing connection. A great scene is when Doug and Claire are talking about Claire's experience in the robbery. She talks about how she had to walk to the water and that it was such a terrible frightening experience, Doug gets to say he is sorry with different meaning for him than the meaning Claire takes it for. Again really well done. He does learn though that she saw a tattoo which makes her a witness if they are caught. So there is a growing dilemma for him, does he continue to protect her as his personal feelings grow. There is a big risk in doing that but he is having feelings for her.
So the guys start setting up another job, James is pushing for things to happen more quickly, and Doug is trying to slow him down. More careful planning is needed before the next job. The relationship card is played by James, at this card we don't know why Doug pushes the planning even though he knows things are too risky but he does just that.
Things could have gone very smoothly but the FBI are not sitting on their asses either. They have figured out that the casing of the bank jobs is being done by a townie working for the electric company. So they are starting to close in and when the job on a armored car goes somewhat wrong with James shooting one of the guards the feds are nearby to make it a really close call. Again in a fine piece of writing we are lead to believe that the guys are going to be caught but at the last moment we learn that Doug has planned for the chance of a chase. It is a tight action sequence in the narrow streets of the North End of Boston. The execution is just wonderful and the editing excellent.
Everyone who reads this should finish this review and then head out to the theater to see this film. So with that in mine let me give just the briefest of story outlines. Doug and his crew are building towards one final job. At which point Doug is moving out. The older boss Fergie Colm (the excellent Pete Postlethwaite) who will set up the job has been receiving payments from the crew after each of the smaller jobs. By the time this job is ready though Doug is ready to be out. We get some excellent revelatory dialog between Doug and James. We learn about connection in Doug's personal life that we had not known and we get to see the FBI building towards catching the crew and why James served 9 years in prision. The final job at the most beloved Boston location is an excellent sequence that climaxes in ways you could not expect. The happy ending is a bit much but I think most members in the audience loved it.
In the end the story is just a fine example of tight, effective screenwriting. Affleck does an exceptional job directing and the acting is great with Renner shining through. Go see this film so far the highest rated of the nominees reviewed here.
Rating (8.7) 5.0 and up are recommended.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Shiver (2008) - Horror

Shiver (2008) - Eskalofrío in Spain, is a strange film that misleads you into scares but is ultimately not what it seems. The film starts with a misleading scene, a teen boy Santi is running to stay ahead of the rising sun. He is in the shadows of the trees with his house just a hundred yards away but there is no shade to stay in from here. He runs out hood up towards the house. He struggles more and more as he gets closer only to burst into flames as he nears the door and safety. He wakes with a start from the dream. So I am thinking looks like a vampire flick. His Mom, Julia is waking him at sunset and he goes off to night school. Yep alternate universe with a vampire protagonist.
Some things are standard though, he like main characters who happen to be in their teen years is an outcast. He is picked on by the larger boys at school, they meanly put his light sensitive face on the copy machine. He has a friend, Leo who stands up for him. After such an episode he and his friend are playing a video game shooting monsters and he reaffirms my belief about the world he lives in by saying 'When I kill monsters I forget that I am one myself.' Not a bad start but then the film does not leave you out there dangling. It quickly pulls you back in another direction. He is not a vampire as we learn with a visit to the doctors but has a skin condition. Extra sensitive to light he needs to avoid direct contact or risks cancer. Mom is apparently finally going to listen to the doctor and move north where the days are shorter and the mountains will further reduce the sunlight Santi has to be exposed to.
A new start for an outcast in his current situation, things are looking up for our young man. They rent a house in a steeply mountainous area, but the music lets us know this is not the happier place the Mom and Son are looking for. The landlord is friendly enough showing interest in Julia. Since she has moved away from her slot machine addicted husband why not a really new start. Of course that music is saying something very different. In their first night in the house, we shift to what turns out to be a neighbors house and he gets up after hearing his nervous sheep. He goes out in a creepy scene to find a ewe slaughter and partly devoured. He sees something off in the distance he can not make out, Wolf? Santi? who knows right now is just the set up anyway. Later we learn this was the third sheep to go down this way. He yells at the locals like they are all supposed to jump up and run out looking for a wolf. Can't be Santi since he was not there for the other two kills.
Santi makes a friend at school, his love interest Angela. She is the daughter of the local police inspector. He also meet Tito a younger boy on the way home from school. The pacing on this part of the film really picks up and I have to say it does well for the story. Tito sees the creature but not well enough to identify it. Santi hears something on his roof in the night and is frightened, and an ominous warning from Dimas' father saying to Julia that this is not a place for her all combine to make a mood of apprehension.
Still good as far as plot. We have the boys at school talking about hunting for the creature Tito saw and Santi goes along. When things go horribly wrong and on of the kids dies at the hands on the little demon looking thing Santi ends up falling on the body. Scared he stumbles onto the road where he is seen by a car, blood covered and frazzled. This is a very well done set up. The new kid who appears outwardly different from everyone is found with the victims blood all over him. hmm I wonder if he will become the topic of rumors? Inspector Cifuetos certainly wants to talk to him.
So there you have the basic plot, there is a creature, a kid to blame for bad things happening and a police inspector trying to get down to the bottom of it. Like I said earlier this movie is not quite what it seems though. Even the stuff we are guessing and are lead towards shifts into something different and unexpected. Like many movie from Spain after the reveal of what is going on we get some sort of exposition scenes showing how the surprise was possible. In the case of this film there is indeed a feral child creature loose in the area. Santi even finds a picture of her in his house. She indeed once lived in the house he and his Mother rent. The trick to the film is how she ended up prowling the woods and eating sheep. I will not spoil it here because I want all of you to get a copy of this film and see for yourselves. There are an ample supply of tense moments and the turn is well done. Now this film could be taken as rediculous by some and the abilities of the feral child are a bit to well developed. It is strange but that is what this movie is all about so enjoy.
Rating (6.8) 5.0 and up are recommended

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lady Snowblood (1973) - Action

Lady Snowblood (1973) - The extras explain a bit of history to help understand the time that this story takes place. From the beginning of the 17th century until the late 19th century Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa Shoogunate which attempted to keep it isolated and resisted new ideas or change to tradition. In the late 1860s things changed and the restoration of Emperor Meiji brought with it an influx of western ideas. To modernize the country Meiji create a large conscripted army, but a misinterpretation of the law's wording, that "one protects his country with blood," was thought by peasants to mean that the conscripts were being drained of blood that was then sold to the western world. Rumors circulated about Blood tax men who all dressed in white and came to villages looking for conscripts.
We begin with the birth of Yuki (Meiko Kaji), and her mother says of her, "You were born for vengeance such a poor child, a child of the netherworld." Her story is broken up in the four chapters of the movie. Her family was killed by bandits. Her father a new teacher arrives at the village he was going to teach and is killed by the bandits because he is wearing a white suit. The bandits then swindle the villagers saying they have saved there sons from being conscripted into the army and taking money for the service of killing the blood tax man. They take Yuki's mother and rape and enslave her. One bandit keeps her with him for three days. She gets an opportunity and harms him ending up in prison for her efforts. There without hope she does all she can to become pregnant to create the weapon of vengeance Yuki will be. It is a sad and sorry tale and Yuki feels the need to complete the quest to rid the world of those who killed her family.
Yuki now grown is seen stepping out in front of a rickshaw. The guards for the passenger challenge her. doesn't she know this is Shibayama Genzo the Asakura Senryo Gang leader? He is also the first of the bandits who was responsible for her families deaths. Quickly she dispatches the gaurds and stands to face the leader When his attack fails and he is dying "who are you? he begs. Revenge she replies "All those helpless people that have suffered thanks to you." A good start with some funny blood spurting gore, and then the opening credits.
Lady Snowblood is on a mission of vengeance, for her family who were killed by bandits before she was born. It is a sad tale and we get parts a bit at a time. We see her being trained by a older man rather harshly and thus know she is a well trained fighter.
Then in the current time of the film she is closing in on the second of the bandits who killed her family. He has become a drunk in a small fishing village and has a daughter close to the age of Lady Snowblood. She follows him to the beach after he has a night of gambling and confronts him. Banzo (Noboru Nakaya) is his name. After denying that he was one of the bandits he begs for his life, what will happen to his daughter Kobie (Yoshiko Nakada)? Lady Snowblood slices him saying "an eye for an eye". The daughter of Banzo has no life now that her father is dead. Already a prostitute she has few options and heads to the same town as her fathers assassin.
The third bandit pisses her off because all she finds is his grave. She can't believe that the vengeance she envisioned can not be given. She storms back to town. She is followed by a journalist and comes up with the idea of him writing about her quest in order to draw out the other bandits. When Banzo's daughter reads the story she confronts the journalist and she swears her own vengeance oath.
The fourth bandit is female and has a private police force protecting her. This causes considerable bloodshed when they attempt to stop Lady Snowblood. Although it is a more difficult task you can guess house things go for the police and the bandit woman. When she finally thinks she has her cornered she comes into a room to find the woman has hanged herself. Then she must question the nature of her vengeance. Little does she know that the third bandit has faked his death and returns. We learn a secret about one of the characters and when Lady Snowblood who has been trying to assimilate into life with out vengeance learns all the old pain come boiling back to the forefront. She tracks the man to a ball, it is a very western styled ball and she is easily spotted by the bandit in her traditional Japanese garb. She fights him in a back room but finds when the man is dead it is an impostor wearing a mask. Her and the journalist do find him though and chase him in the mansion. The story comes to an exciting end with Yuki getting her vengeance on the last man.
As she stumbles from the party the final twist is revealed if you have not already guessed it. This is a revenge movie where the whole time the protagonist is questioning her mission. With each kill her anger lessens and when the final deed is done she is spent. Unlike recently reviewed True Grit this film has consequences for the violence the lead executes and she is required to come to terms with her actions.
Rating (5.6) 5.0 and up are recommended