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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Scourge (2008) - Horror Demon

Scourge (2008) - In the 1800s in a small town the church and people dealt with a demon that entered into citizens through their belly buttons or some other orifice, like the thing they put in Neo in The Matrix. It then within hours used up there bodies and then moved to the next victim, when I say use up, basically the upset stomach that comes from the demon in your stomach becomes a violent stream of vomiting blood and then your death. So in the 1800s they learned how to capture this critter they called The Scourge and stored it in the floorboards of the community's church. Now in the present a fire at the church has released the creature and it is back out in the world.
Our main character Scott Miller (Nic Rhind) has just served a couple years in prison and is out and checking out his old stomping grounds including exgirlfriend Jesse (Robyn Ledoux). Now this movie seemed really familiar, with The Hidden (1987) first coming to mind, in that it is an alien hiding in humans but totally using them up. Recently there was the supermarket thriller Alien Raiders (2008), I am sure there are others I am forgetting, in this one though we will take the writer at his word and call the alien, a demon. Unfortunately for Scott his current girlfriend Lydia (Marina Pasqua) is screwing around with the newly infected firefighter Josh (Mensah Iruoje) so when the critter uses him up, she gets it. Scott looks like the angry boyfriend and possible murderer, as he follows Lydia around to confront her on her affair , but is a bit too late when she is finished with by the demon. She is transfering the critter to another guy and stupid Scott thinks she is so slutting herself out, she bleeds out and dies in his arms and instead of dealing with it and the police he runs out after having been seen by a couple girls who walk in. So starts the process of him trying to clear his name and at the same time figure out what the fuck is going on. He will need help and that is where an exgirlfriend can come in handy. They obviously still like each other but of course she is the niece of the local sheriff so probably not the smartest person for Scott to team up with.

What is wrong with this film? Well...

1. The filming is static, the camera is placed and the scene is shot and almost never does the focus change or the camera move. It is filmed like a TV show which does not help the need for it to be more action oriented. Looking at Cinematographer Corey Robson imdb entry I see that he has worked a lot in television and it really shows here. Director Jonas Quastel will also have to take some blame for not planning it any differently.
2. The acting is really flat and unappealing, besides veteran Russell Ferrier who plays Sheriff Durst the cast is sooooooo flat in their delivery of every line. It was so bad at one point that when the Skater Girl, Frankie Nash powered out her line, I was just happy some emotion was being expressed. Leads Ledoux and Rhind had no chemistry at all because neither could emit anything through their acting.
3. It does not help when the script by Quastel is so full of holes that the story doesn't at time make sense. So this critter gets out and people start dying but at first there is really no connection to Scott at all. You could not tell by how he reacted, sculking and hiding like he actually did something wrong. Then there are times when the creature in full view of people transfers from one body to the next but still the police are after Scott?
In the end this film failed to pull off the simplest of stories and the outcome you can guess by the little that I have relayed here. There is a minor personal plot point at the end between Sheriff Durst and Scott that is reasonable if too late, I like Ferrier in the role as he was spot on. Deputy Sam (Jason Harder)was also great as the nervous cop who never fired his gun. He kept it controlled enough not to become Barney Fife and really was a plus in a bleak pallet of actors.
Rating (3.1) 5.0 and up are recommended on the Zombiegrrlz scale I say Skip It!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Source Code (2011) - Action Thriller

Source Code (2011) - SPOILER ALERT!!! Through the magic of quantum mechanics scientists have made it possible for a personality (entity, soul, consciousness) to travel from the current time back in time to the body of another person's last eight minutes of life. Really that is the science fiction of this new film by the director Duncan Jones and writer Ben Ripley. In case you are not as into science fiction as I am, Jones made the wonderful and thoughtful Moon (2009) which asked a lot of good question about the meaning of life and what it means to be human. If you have not seen it you may want to find it. Ripley gets his first big gig in this script that has kicked around Hollywood for many years. What they create is a decent science fiction effort with the usual holes left by the time travel theme. You would be hard pressed to find a film involving time travel that has not been picked apart b y the fandom, it is just the nature of the beast and so with that in mind the rating of this film will only slightly reflect the issues around time travel. As the film begins we see sweeping vista as a commuter train rolls towards Chicago. The music in these opening credits is definitely thriller suspense in mood and as the credits end Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes on the train confused. He is greeted by the lovely Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) is such a familiar way that he is totally freaked out. Colter is a soldier who has been flying sorties over Afghanistan not some commuter on the C train. WTF is going on! When he gets to the bathroom and see another mans face staring back at him in the mirror his mind is blown, but since right at this time the train also is blown, up that is, it does not get to sink in. He comes alert in the cockpit or some such place and is being spoken to by a firm by kindhearted officer Collen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) about his mission. Stevens is part of a secret military program, even though he does not remember volunteering that uses the "source code" and quantum equations to place his consciousness into the body of Sean Fentress (only seen in reflection Frederick De Grandpre) at a time eight minutes before Sean bit the big one in the train explosion. That train explosion happen earlier in the day of this film and the military is asking Stevens to try to figure out who the bomber was. They have information that he will strike again later in the day and wish to head off the second attack. So the good soldier begins his quest and through many "Groundhog Day" cycles attempts to track down the bomber while at the same time seeming to fall for the girl across from him on the train. At first there is a lot of adjustment and he does not yet know why he is looking for the bomber, a necessary plot device for the audience but a serious flaw in the script. If Stevens does not know that the bomber is going to attack again later in the day then he can go through several cycles of picking out suspects. Each time the train blows up and he is reset he has a bit more knowledge of those on the train. Problem with this is the awkward excuse making Goodwin has to make while prepping him for another cycle. If they just tell him that the bomber is going to strike again then he would know the bomber has to be someone who got off the train and can narrow his search.

After leading us through several cycles where he gets it wrong he eventually figures out who the killer is but has some failed attempts in getting the name. Then there is the whole thing that he wants to go back in and save the people in the train. Even though he was told that he really is not effecting the outcome of the events, that they are just shadows of a past that will come to pass anyway and nothing will change that. Still the unfocused and confused Colter wastes valuable time personalizing everyone around him instead of concisely seeking the bomber. Unlike Groundhog Day though he is not there enough cycles to learn the piano and memorize entire movements of everyone in the town. No he finds the bomb and gets the name of the bomber and then his mission is over.

Or is it? He begs Goodwin for one more go at it since nothing actually will change he wants the satisfaction of stopping the train bombing even if it is in this memory world. Against the wishes of her boss Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) she allows the final time. During this time you can guess what happens. Yes that's right he saves the day captures the bad guy and gets the girl. Things are not so smooth back in the office as Goodwin has to physically lock herself in the room with the partial body of Stevens to keep the evil Dr. Rutledge from prematurely rebooting him. We get to see at this point the horrible real life condition of Stevens, pretty much he is a torso and a partially active brain. You can see why fellow soldier Goodwin wants to give Stevens his final wish. Just out of shear respect for the service he has performed. So she guards the room while his eight minutes runs.

Then the film give us the ending where we learn that since Stevens has stopped the bomber and gotten the girl that when the eight minutes are up in the memory world the train does not blow up. His personality is still in the teacher and he can spend the rest of his life with the beautiful Christina. Happily ever after. Except for the wonderfully dirty left overs for us in the audience. Stevens has created a new version of the universe, there is this tripe in Science Fiction writing where we pretend there is basically a new universe created every time a decision is made. An infinite number of universes existing all at once through space time allowing everything to be possible. It is a really horrible theory and an easy out for the science fiction writing like in this film to manipulate for a happy Stevens ending. In this case the consciousness of Steven is now in that universe where he saved the day and got to keep the bod of the teacher and now can start a life with the woman he now is getting to know. In this reality the teacher Sean Fentress is dead, not by being blown to bits but by being displaced by Stevens. I am sure when the glow wears off Stevens is going to see the myriad of problems he now has being in Fentresses body. Then the ending also shows up that the memory world was much more, as we learn not only did Stevens change things on the train, back in what supposedly is the real world he contacts Goodwin and we learn that he actually changed reality for her also. In her day the train never blew up and the entire movie from her perspective never happened. She knows about his body in the the tank and can guess that the program they are running has amazing implications for changing the course of human events. BUT it also means there are two versions of Stevens in this reality, one that is in Fentress's body and the torso in the tank. Just not a very clean ending.

Feelings about this film overall are pretty good. It was a fairly tight action thriller that kept the tension twisted up aenough to entertain. Although there are problems with some of the logic in the movie so be it. That is a common sciencefiction time travel issue and I can let it go. In fact I sort of like that it leaves the reality flawed, if everything was solve I may have been more critical. There are many films besides groundhog day that this takes ideas from, 12 Monkeys, Quantum Leap (the TV show) and Deja Vu to name a few. It is certainly most like the last of this list and even could be seen as remaking that idea.

Rating (6.2) 5.0 and up are recommended In the Zombiegrrlz system I would say rent it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Red Riding Hood (2011) Horror Werewolf

Red Riding Hood (2011) - Taking on a classic tale is a difficult task. Everyone who knows the story comes in with preconceived ideas about the meaning of the tale. In the Grimm tale Little Red Riding Hood is a moral tale about following your Mother's directions, but not this new film by writer David Johnson which is about love, trust and family secrets. In this case Red Riding Hood is Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) a beautiful villager in a small wooded community. She is a pretty but tough girl and has a man in her life named Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). As children they were best friends and as twenty somethings playing teens they are in love. Unfortunately for Valerie her family has promised her hand in marriage to Henry (Max Irons). It would be a marriage that financially would benefit Valerie and why her Mother Suzette (Virginia Madsen) arranged it. Suzette does not want Valerie to end up like her, married to Drunkard Cesaire (Billy Burke who scratches out a living cutting wood. Finishing out the family is the Grandmother (Julie Christie) who live out in the woods away from the walled village and her soon to be dead sister. The town itself is set in a middle ages type setting without all the nasty dirt and disease of the actual time period.
For years the village has held a precarious appeasement relationship of a wolf that in the past has killed, by each month putting out a living sacrifice for it to eat they keep their children from going missing. This go horribly wrong when the sister is found dead in the strange haystack field. Strange not because of how she died, it was a wolf attack but because of the strange blue flowers that were all over the haystacks. It was distracting and I found myself thinking I would have to do some Googling to find out what appeared as a decoration. It turns out I could not find anything on blue flowers in haystacks and it appears to just be a set design choice. Like in my viewing of the film let me pull myself back into the story.
At its core the film is a "who done it", with the knowledge that there is the wolf, or in this case a werewolf, but we the audience having to guess which villager is the culprit. To spur the story along the village priest Father Auguste (Lukas Haas, who gets bonus points for having appeared in the cult sci-fi film Solarbabies) calls in a werewolf hunter named Soloman (Gary Oldman) to deal with the wolf. Soloman is a damaged soul who had the horror of finding out his wife was a werewolf and is a driven hunter because of the experience. When he arrives at the village with the cast iron elephant and introduces his distrust to everyone he gets the entire village on edge. What is that elephant?
The story lead by this madman works to drive the wolf out of hiding, and to put distrust into everyone. The werewolf could be anyone and director Catherine Hardwicke and writer Johnson creates a web of deception to lead the audience in the direction of various suspects. I say they lead us because through tricks of the script and basically failing to show the audience anything important to solving the mystery push us to thinking the werewolf could be anyone. Is it the boyfriend Henry? Maybe the grandmother? The blatant manipulation is very off putting in this film. In fact every time the film pushed a new suspect at me I figured I could eliminate that character from consideration, and felt a bit cheated that the filmmakers treated me so disrespectfully. Then because of the amazingly over the top plot manipulation the they had to create a scene that showed you all the things they purposefully kept from you. That way they could reveal the killer and show how they fooled you. Grrrrr!
The film is also so incredibly clean, the people, the village the forest are all wonderfully perfect sets, but I let that go because if you take it as a fantasy story you can have lovely sets. Overall I just came away feeling a bit cheated though because the realism was missing from the design. The best actress of the group Julie Christie was under utilized and instead the overacting Gary Oldman put forth as the main antagonist. The film to me. treated me as a stooge to be fooled and then pats itself on the back at how smartly it deceived me. So I don't think this is going to get a recommendation from this blog.
Rating (4.5) 5.0 and up are recommended, in the Zombiegrrlz system Skip It!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ricco the Mean Machine (1973) Action Gangster

Ricco the Mean Machine (1973) - Ricco (Christopher Mitchum) has spent two years in prison and now he is out and looking for the guys who killed his father. The opening scene is the Father being ambushed, he is a crime family head and kills a lot of bad guys before he is finished off. We never see who does it but get a great gory effect of a bullet in the head. In fact it is a point made when Ricco is talking about his father that the killer made it so he could not have an open casket funeral. Even though the guy was sitting bleeding out the killer made the point of ruining his face. Through the opening credits we see Ricco walking on the highway until the cops come by and stop him. They give him a ride and talk to him about what he was in prison for. He is too cool for school though and only half answers. What a mystery man, the long blond locks the fir rimmed coat this guy is a tough John Denver, I wonder if he can sing.
His sister and her husband spend their days having sex instead of serving the many cars that come to the gas station they own. When Ricco arrives they are so excited that they literally tackle him and shower him with kisses. So ridiculous and very quickly we have the story connecting the first scene to the theme of the film. Ricco's Dad (Luis Induni) has been killed and Ricco is going to get to the bottom of who did it. Then in a flashback we see how Ricco's father tried to toughen up Ricco by having his factory guys fight with the son he thinks is weak. We get to see that Ricco can really handle himself, with some amazing karate chopping action Ricco turns quickly into the Mean Machine of the title. His Mom is a women confined to a wheelchair, who pushes her son as he pusher her along to get revenge for her husband's death. She lets him know the disrespect of the way they killed him, that it was a family disrespect. He says he will do it but that it has to be on his own terms. He is a free spirit of the seventies and not an old time Mafia thug. That really is the kicker in this film, it is a Mafia movie, with the "Godfather" soundtrack but the protagonist is a hippie kind of guy, but not the peace out hippie you would first think of, no he is a bad ass mother fucker with a karate chop and a cool exterior.
The new leader of the family business is Don Vito (Arthur Kennedy), so he must be the guy who offed his father. They are not too quick to show this but the idea has to be floating in your head early on. His old friend and counterfeiter Guiseppe Calogero and his niece Scilla (Barbara Bouchet) helps him getting his revenge. Scilla is a hot little number who scams guys with the counterfeit cash can get him into Don Vito's estate but wants to help in return. Complicating matters is that Ricco's old flame Rosa (Melisa Longo) is now controlled by Don Vito because he likes beautiful things and boy is she a pleasure to look at.
Since this is a revenge movie I think it is safe to say the title character gets satisfaction, But before that there has to be a squeezing of Don Vito that will get him out in the open. He steals the cash from his collections with an excellent striptease by Scilla. I really have to hand it to this film for having such incredibly beautiful women in their films. Barbara Bouchet is a Czechoslovakian lovely who continues to work in film to this day. She has 88 titles to her resume and get bonus points for appearing as Kelinda in the Star Trek episode "By any Other Name" in 1966. Malisa Longo who still looks good after all these years is an Italian actress who gets her bonus points for appearing in "The way of the Dragon" with the incredible Bruce Lee. After a string of exploitation films and a group of horror low budget flicks she seems to have stopped working by 1997.
Ricco ends up captured by one of Don Vito's friends and is going to be killed but right as he is about to pull the trigger Scilla shoots at him. She although stunning to look at misses but it is enough of a surprise for Ricco to get the drop on the guy. Saved by his new girl he can continue his plan to get Vito. Don Vito has a great way of doing away with problems or those who fail him. In his factory he has a vat of acid. When Vito finds Rosa fucking his best assassin Don Vito tosses him in the vat and then gives the order to end her life the same way. So sad as the music plays and he walks away, she is screaming in the background, "I want to Live, Vito! Please, I want to live."
Since this is a revenge movie you can guess the final bit of the film, but be warned Vito is a mean man and to get Ricco to come out in the open he pulls some cruel crimes. Overall this film has a lot going for it. The fighting is horrible so that really has to take points of, but the plot is a simple revenge flick with a bit more depth. Ricco is an antihero and also reluctant before finally being moved into the Mean Machine of the title. The film gets to make up some points by having Christopher Mitchum, the son of the excellent Robert Mitchum as the protagonist.

Rating (5.5) 5.0 and up are recommended. In the Zombiegrrlz rating system Netflix it!