1.30.2015

Midnight Confessions Ep. 46: "Wild West Winter Part 2: Cannibal Edition"


This week the MC Crew take on two tasty old west cinematic morals; CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL (1993/6) and RAVENOUS (1999). Plus the Top 5 Cannibal themed movies of all time. Shpadoinkle!











 


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1.23.2015

Midnight Confessions Ep. 45: "Wild West Winter Part 1"


This week the MC Crew review 2 bloody, bleak and depressing westerns, THE GREAT SILENCE (1968) and CUT-THROATS NINE (1972). Plus we countdown the Top 5 Westerns from 1964 to present day. Yippie ki yay, motherfuckers.











 


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1.16.2015

Midnight Confessions Ep. 44: "A Trilogy of Cheesy Winter Badness"


This week Rev. Phantom, Moronic Mark and I tackle 3 winter-themed turkeys--and Wednesday Addams in ICED (1988), SNOWBEAST (1977) and BLOOD TRACKS (1985). Watch out for the yellow snow, kids.











 


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1.10.2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

DIRECTED BY
Jonathan Liebesman

STARRING
Megan Fox - April O'Neil
Will Arnett - Vern Fenrick
William Fichtner - Eric Sacks
Alan Ritchson - Raphael
Noel Fisher - Michelangelo
Pete Ploszek/Johnny Knoxville - Leonardo
Jeremy Howard - Donatello
Danny Woodburn/Tony Shalhoub - Splinter
Tohoru Masamune - Shredder
Whoopi Goldberg - Bernadette Thompson
Minae Noji - Karai


Genre - Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Martial Arts/Comic Books

Running Time - 101 Minutes


It's mind boggling to realize that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been around for 31 years now. What started out as an underground comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird would become such a phenomenon for three decades now. Successful multiple cartoon series, toys and merchandising, and even films of various quality have managed to ingrain these characters into the pop culture lexicon.

It was no surprise that someone would come along to reboot a new live-action film for the franchise after TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III in 1993. When it was revealed that "beloved director" Michael Bay would produce a new adaptation under his Platinum Dunes company, boy did the you-know-what hit the fan. It also didn't help when he hired Jonathan Liebesman to direct - the man who brought us DARKNESS FALLS, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING, as well as BATTLE LOS ANGELES and WRATH OF THE TITANS. Then we heard stories that the Turtles weren't going to be mutants at all, but aliens. We also heard that Shredder would be Caucasian instead of Japanese. The casting of Megan Fox as April O'Neil and weird looking CGI Turtles [that looked realistic, mind you] didn't help things either. People had already bashed the film months before the film was released last August. It didn't really matter though, since 2014's TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES made a good amount of money worldwide, securing an eventual sequel in 2016.

The real question is - is this new version of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES as bad as many say? It ended up on multiple Worst of 2014 lists, with critics thinking it was an insult to the original concept and calling it "brainless" and a "waste of mutagen". And although there are some who enjoyed the film, they were pretty much in the minority from what I gathered. I will admit - the negative reviews did scare me away a bit from watching this in theaters. I didn't want that feeling of negativity cloud my judgment of the film, in case it was a good one. So I waited until it hit home video to check it out. And after finally sitting down to judge the film for myself, I can see both sides of the coin. It's not the worst TURTLES film ever. That still belongs to III. But as an origin story to a new adaptation of the characters, there was a whole lot to be desired for me to really like it.

PLOT
The Foot Clan is terrorizing New York City. Channel 6 News Reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) is tired of fluff pieces and wants to get the lead on this current crime wave. While investigating the Foot, she encounters them fighting off huge mysterious figures whom she believes are vigilantes. However, this idea makes her the laughing stock at her job.

April eventually follows another lead, causing her to be a hostage of the Foot in a subway station. However, she's saved by her mysterious vigilantes - who just happen to be six feet tall Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When they reveal their names and take her to their sensei, Splinter, April realizes these giant animals were her pets fifteen years prior - given life by a mutagen her father and Dr. Eric Sachs (
William Fichtner) had created. When Sachs learns about his experiments being a success, he contacts the Foot Clan's leader Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). Shredder, wanting to control NYC and the rest of the world, wants to release this mutagen throughout the city to make Sachs look like a hero when he saves them with an antidote [for financial reasons, of course]. Unfortunately, the Ninja Turtles aren't pleased by this and decide to fight back.

REVIEW


Good Things: I think the best thing TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES has going for it is the visual presentation. I honestly never thought Jonathan Liebesman was a bad director. He just worked on films that relied on style over substance. TURTLES is one of those films, as there isn't really much to say about the narrative. But looking at the film is great eye candy. And I think Liebesman eye for the material elevates this film to a higher degree than it probably deserves.

I thought the film was well-paced, nicely framed, and even edited well. It never felt longer than the running time, thanks to great action sequences were a lot of fun to watch. The snow mountain sequence [although the geography was a bit iffy - that close to a warmer New York City?] was the highlight for me. It's just over-the-top silliness that kept be mesmerized from beginning to end. And while the final act harkened a bit too much to THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN than necessary - hell, it looked almost shot-for-shot at times - I thought the Turtles vs. Shredder was some cool stuff. I just wish there was more of it. But the visuals are pretty damn neat here.

As for the CGI, it's fantastic. Yes, I would prefer the Jim Henson automatons over any computer generation Ninja Turtles. But damn, the effects were so good, you'd actually believe these mutant characters were really there interacting with the human characters. Yes, the Turtles look a bit strange with their snouts at first. But after a while, I sort of forgot about that and just went along with their new looks. I thought the Turtles looked badass! And Splinter looked cool too. As for Shredder, I loved the nod to his look from the 2003 cartoon series. The villain has never looked better on screen. The motion capture for the CGI characters was close to perfect, and I thought the actors standing in for the characters delivered a ton of personality and amusement. They acted and spoke like what the Ninja Turtles should [although listening to Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo was a bit strange at times]. I appreciated that, as it helped soften the blow to other things I had major issues with.

And I might get hate for this, but I didn't think Megan Fox was that bad as April O'Neil. She's definitely not the best actress in the world, and not my choice to play the character in any adaptation. But for the first time, Megan Fox felt alive on-screen. She's usually in films as eye candy, usually staring blankly while her body does all the talking. Here, you can tell she's excited to be in this film and seems motivated in giving a decent performance for once. It doesn't surprise me, since Fox has claimed multiple times about her obsession with the franchise and how much she loves the Ninja Turtles. She's not the best live-action April O'Neil [my vote still goes to Judith Hoag], but I thought she was very likeable in the role and was a pleasant surprise overall.

And while I had major issues with the film's narrative, I will say that it works just fine for this film and its target audience. It's cliche and recently been done in other comic book origin stories, but kids and teens will probably eat it up since it's simple to follow and to the point. I'm not a fan of the changes to the origin story, but I can respect the screenwriters for wanting to take the franchise into a different direction to separate itself from what's been previously done. It's not for me personally, but I can see why it appealed to so many others since its release.


Bad Things: Like I mentioned earlier, the film's narrative really bugged me. I honestly couldn't feel a connection to TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES because of the changes made to the established story. I respect something different in a new adaptation. But when the changes made subtract to what made the franchise so great to begin with, I begin to have issues with what's done.

It really all starts from the origin story. In the original comics, we all know that the franchise is based around the personal hatred between Splinter and Shredder. Splinter watched Shredder murder his Master Yoshi as a pre-mutated rat, with Shredder scratching Shredder's face in revenge. There was a personal vendetta between the two parties, which would later add the Turtles, who were Splinter's "sons" and would do anything to protect their "father". April O'Neil was their human guide as the Turtles couldn't be out in public without people freaking out, and because that's not the Ninja way either. You felt connected to everything because you understood both the hero and villain side to things, and where all the supporting characters fit in.

Unfortunately, there's no personal connection in this film at all. The story is not about Splinter and Shredder anymore. It's about April and scientist Eric Sachs, who worked with April's father and may have led to Mr. O'Neil's death. The Turtles and Splinter were April's pets in the laboratory, where they were experiments for the mutagen that made them who they are today. Shredder was a mentor to Sachs in Japan, and Sachs wants to return the favor to Shredder by helping him take over New York City for financial reasons. It feels like I'm watching THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN with Peter Parker being connected to everything through his own father, who is connected to Norman Osborn, who is connected to Oscorp, who is connected to all the villains Spider-Man has to face eventually. Make changes to the story all you want, as long as it allows the audience to become invested in it. At least when it happened in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, the main character was still the focus. Here, it's April who seems to be the main character, with the Turtles being supporting characters in their own movie. If April was a more fleshed out character, which she isn't, it would be okay. It's a shame, because there was nothing wrong with the original origin and it allowed the focus to be where it was supposed to be - on the Turtles, Splinter, and Shredder. Instead, I'm watching the April and Sachs Show - not as interesting.

Speaking of Shredder, what a waste he was here. He looks great and fights like a bad-ass. But he has no personality here and seems more like a henchman to Sachs rather than some crime lord wanting to take over NYC. It's a shame because Shredder is a cool villain with a lot to offer in a Turtles story, as we've seen countless times before. He was just there for me, and Shredder should never be just there in any film with the words NINJA TURTLES in it. At least in the sequel, Shredder will now have a justified personal vendetta against the heroes, which could make the second part of this reboot a much better viewing experience. So maybe everyone involved just wanted to get the set up out of the way in order to tell more fulfilling stories in the next couple of installments. The problem is that you need to make the first part of your story feel just as fulfilling. There's a ton of potential, but we can't really judge and live on potential.

As for the actors besides the motion-capture performers and Megan Fox, they display really uninspiring performances. Will Arnett tries as Vernon, but he didn't do much for me as the comic relief who has a crush on April. Honestly, he came across more creepy than anything. I don't blame Arnett for that. I blame the material really. William Fichtner can play the bad guy role in his sleep, but he didn't do much for me either as Eric Sachs. I appreciate that he played it subtle rather than over-the-top, but it felt bland to me. And Whoopi Goldberg didn't add anything as April's boss. At least she got a good check out of it. And Tohoru Masamune underperformed as Shredder. Then again, he doesn't get much to do outside of action sequences. Hopefully a better script in the second installment will allow these actors to do more and give memorable performances.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE LEARNING NINJITSU FROM A BOOK

- Instead of hard hitting news like the rise of the Foot Clan, April O'Neil is stuck bouncing on a trampoline with a fitness instructor for a news segment. At least Channel 6 News realizes what her best assets are! ...In journalism, that is.

- After seeing the Foot Clan stopped by a vigilante, April sees this as her new story, as she's tired of "froth and foam". Well you had to get your job somehow, April!

- Bernadette doesn't believe April's stones about the Turtles, finding it crazy and hilarious. This is the same lady who encountered aliens on the Enterprise, spoke with Patrick Swayze's ghost, survived both Rosie O'Donnell and Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and dated a black face Ted Danson. Fuck off, Whoopi!

- The Ninja Turtles are fans of Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl". I thought I was supposed to like the heroes of the story? Total B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

- The Turtles enjoy creating their own music while riding in an elevator. Kenny G is suddenly in the mood for some turtle soup...


THE FINAL HOWL
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES was a middle-of-the-road film for me. I thought the film had great visual presence, the motion capture and CGI were done really well, and I didn't mind Megan Fox here too much like I was expecting to. And while the changes in the origin may work for this version of the film, I didn't quite feel a strong connection to it like I did for the original Splinter vs. Shredder origin that most people know and understand. The narrative really bogged down the experience for me due to how cliche and dumbed down it was. And some of the acting and use of characters [especially Shredder] felt uninspired. While I can understand the hate for it, I still thought it was way better than TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III from 1993. But unfortunately, it didn't leave me shell-shocked either.



SCORE
2 Howls Outta 4



1.09.2015

Midnight Confessions Ep. 43: "The Winter of Our Discontent Begins"


Rev. Phantom, Moronic Mark and I return with our 1st podcast of 2015 with two wintery horror flicks: DEMONS 5: THE DEVIL'S VEIL and NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST [aka WEREWOLF AND THE YETI]. Plus the Top 5 Winter Themed (non-Xmas) movies. A Werewolf, a Yeti and a sexually aggressive witches....yup, this is Midnight Confessions. Good to be back!











 


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1.03.2015

The WTF? Worst Films Extravaganza Presents: Night of the Living Dead: Re-Animation (2012)

DIRECTED BY
Jeff Broadstreet

STARRING
Andrew Divoff - Gerald Tovar, Jr.
Jeffrey Combs - Harold Tovar
Sarah Lieving - Cristie Forrest
Robin Sydney - DyeAnne
Adam Chambers - Russell
Denice Duff - Sister Sara
Melissa Jo Bailey - Aunt Lou


Genre - Horror/Zombies

Running Time - 88 Minutes


PLOT
In the town of Hinzmanville, Pennsylvania, Gerald Tovar Jr. (Andrew Divoff) has inherited his late father's mortuary practice, Tovar & Son. Not pleased with his goth assistant, DyeAnne (Robin Sydney), and her work on the recent corpses, Gerald and his secretary Aunt Lou (Melissa Jo Bailey) hire a more qualified assistant in straight-laced Cristie (Sarah Lieving) to replace DyeAnne. While dealing with personnel changes, Gerarld's brother Harold (Jeffrey Combs) makes a visit in need of a lot of money. As the two bicker about this and other subjects, Gerald reveals to Harold that the mortuary is really a cover for the U.S. Government to hide corpses injected with some chemical that brings them back to life. Harold is skeptical at first until zombies begin to crash the mortuary.

REVIEW
I have three words for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION:

WHAT THE FUCK!?

1968's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is a horror classic that not only changed how audiences looked at zombies, but it changed how horror films were conceived at the time. It allowed director/writer George A. Romero to become an icon in the genre, as it allowed him to direct other high-profile projects as well as five other DEAD films to varying success. Unfortunately, Romero didn't put a copyright on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD [some legal snafu or something], allowing the film to be put in the public domain to be remade by anyone with a camera who wants to use the title whether it reflects the subject matter or not. There are so many other NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD films out there [the best being the 1990 Tom Savini remake that Romero collaborated on], that you lose track which one is which these days.

In 2006, director Jeff Broadstreet remade his own version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, starring Sid Haig and using 3-D technology. Unfortunately, not only was it a bad remake, but one of the worst horror films I've seen in the last 10 years. The idea that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION was intended to be a prequel to that remake is boggling to me. Did anyone really care how the events of that film came to pass? Was the 3D technology, which isn't the version I watched, necessary again? And why are genre actors Andrew Divoff and Jeffrey Combs starring in this? Oh... I get it now. RE-ANIMATION as in RE-ANIMATOR! Oh, how clever.

Surprisingly though, I actually liked this "prequel" more than I did the remake it's connected to. Not by much, mind you. But hey, it was an improvement and you gotta give credit where credit's is due. Still a piece of crap, but it's still an upgrade!

 
Good Things: The only real reason anyone should watch NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION is for the two leads - Andrew Divoff and Jeffrey Combs. Divoff, of WISHMASTER and Lost fame, plays the main role of Gerald Tovar, Jr. - the same role that Sid Haig played in the 2006 remake. And thankfully we follow his story the most in this film because Divoff is the best part of this so-called prequel. There's a subtle edge in his performance - playing a character you want to sympathize with somewhat, yet his actions and behavior towards the last half convince you otherwise. Divoff makes Gerald a much deeper character than probably what the script had intended, coming across as Norman Bates-ish in some ways - normal on the outside, but really messed up internally. I really enjoyed him here. As for Jeffrey Combs of RE-ANIMATOR fame, as well as multiple Star Trek roles and other horror/sci-fi ventures, he's good but doesn't have enough material to really pull off a great performance. He plays your typical greedy, conceited younger brother who has no problem selling out his brother's secrets to get easy money. Combs plays the role as well as he can, although I'm sure the paycheck was the real incentive. But at least he has very good chemistry with Divoff, and their banter and dialogue whenever they're onscreen together is entertaining - only because they're the two actors performing them.

The rest of the acting isn't great, but it's not the worst either. The characters they play are just archetypes. Robin Sydney played the Goth Girl who liked to smoke pot and bang corpses, since that's what Goth Girls do I guess? She was alright. Sarah Lieving was okay as Cristie, although her character really didn't add anything to the story at all. Plus, she does have more than one emotion besides stoic, right? Adam Chambers as Russell was the stereotypical pothead. And Melissa Jo Bailey was good as Aunt Lou, although her best moments are when she's a zombie. Plus you have Denice Duff looking and acting like a Sarah Palin wannabe. Pretty middle-of-the-road stuff, but I'll put it on the good side since the acting didn't bother me all that much.

I also thought the make-up job was actually very good in this film. The zombies did look dead, with some nice detailing in their faces and corroded bodies. I was expecting less actually, and was pleasantly surprised by the work done. The CGI blood splatter was a different story, as it looked ridiculously fake. But it barely happens, so not a total eye sore.

And while the script itself will be discussed on the Bad side, I did enjoy a bit of dialogue between Gerald and Harold after Gerald explains what the crematorium is really being used for:

Harold: "Are they slow? Are they shamblers or sprinters?"
Gerald: "They're slow, Harold. They're dead."
Harold: "Ah, Romero Zombies. This has happened before back in '68, again in '78, in Louisville, Kentucky in '85, and again in '90. I heard that one was a bit gorier."

I don't care how pointlessly meta it is. I found that bit of dialogue quite amusing. Plus, the characters live in Hinzmanville, PA - in honor of the first Romero zombie, the late Bill Hinzman. When the story gets things right, it gets them quite right.



Bad Things: Unfortunately, when the script gets things wrong, it really gets them wrong. And that's mainly the issue with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION - the narrative doesn't add much to anything by its conclusion. Like a Romero Zombie, it meanders around until it finds a schmoe like me to prey on.

For a supposed prequel, it didn't really connect itself to what it was trying to explain in the 2006 remake. The only connections are that Gerald Tovar, Jr. and zombies appear in both. I guess it also explains, without doing much explaining, how the zombie outbreak came to be. Pretty much the evil government was behind it all. Yeah, that's original. And not much is done with that aspect either. So why bother?

There's also some commentary on politics with the Sister "I'm a Sarah Palin lookalike" Sara character, who works for Fix News. There's some dialogue bashing the Tea Party, calling them "crackpots" for being too conservative when it comes to societal issues. I get that George A. Romero used these zombie films as a way to convey some sort of language. NIGHT was about the Vietnam War and civil rights. DAWN was about mass consumerism. DAY was about the social ills during the Reagan Era, especially towards women and outsiders [zombies] in general. LAND was about a class divide between rich and poor. And so on. But what these filmmakers failed to realize and that all the social commentary stuff was only the subtext. Romero was getting his points across through the story, which at the end still looked and felt about a zombie apocalypse with interesting enough characters we can relate to and follow as they deal with it. Here, the political subtext is anything but subtle. And what's worse is that it doesn't add anything to the narrative, or go anywhere besides having an actress look like Sarah Palin. If you don't know how to do subtext, why do it at all?

I think the biggest issue about NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION is I'm not even sure what this film is even really about. What is the film's purpose for existing? Is it about Gerald? If it was, I felt his arc finished before it even got started. The guy was obviously descending into madness due to the whole "Life's Blood" chemical that raised the dead, and his moral ambiguity about it. I wish the film focused more on that as a character study, because Gerald was the most interesting thing about this film. Is it a zombie film? Because if it was, you couldn't really tell. Besides a random attack in the beginning, some shots of them [including a zombie baby in a fridge that never appears again] in the middle, and the zombie invasion at the end, it's just scenes of characters talking and/or smoking pot. The Walking Dead this ain't! And if it was trying to be a prequel, it failed big time. I would have had no clue this took place before that 2006 remake besides the fact that one of the characters appears in both movies. The only thing this did was make that remake look worse, because this was a better film than that one. And why would Gerald be surprised by zombies existing in a later film, but know quite a lot about it in this film? Confused much?

Plus, I felt Jeff Broadstreet didn't do justice to the narrative with his visuals. I understand it's a low budget film, and I respect how much he got out of that to make a feature. But when you're shots are framed in an odd way, your composition is uninteresting, and your pacing [especially that dull middle section that had me playing with my phone for some of it] is uneven, I gotta call it like I see it. The actors also seem without much direction, which is a shame. Like I've always said, if the script isn't that great, at least compensate with interesting visuals. The flashback black-and-white and saturated red coloring was cool and added life to the film for a short bit. But other than that, I was bored with how the film looked. And I only really noticed the intended 3D stuff in the final act, when things were popping towards the screen. I can't say if it worked or not though as a 2D film.




THE FINAL HOWL
While it was slightly better than what I was expecting, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION still manages to be a dull time overall. Besides Andrew Divoff's and Jeffrey Combs' performances, and good zombie make-up effects, there is really no reason to force yourself to watch this supposed "prequel" to a terrible remake from 2006. Unless you like boring and inconsistent narratives, bland direction, and political subtext that doesn't add anything to the rest of the film. And with only a few scenes with the undead, it can barely call itself a zombie film. For a movie called NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION, it's ironic how lifeless it is.




SCORE
1 Howl Outta 4



1.01.2015

The Woman In Black (2012)

DIRECTED BY
James Watkins

STARRING
Daniel Radcliffe - Arthur Kipps
Ciaran Hinds - Samuel Daily
Janet McTeer - Elizabeth Daily
Shaun Dooley - Mr. Fisher
Mary Stockley - Mrs. Fisher
Misha Handley - Joseph Kipps
Jessica Raine - Nanny
Sophie Stuckey - Stella Kipps


Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Ghosts

Running Time - 95 Minutes


PLOT
During the turn of the 20th Century in England, a widower named Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) hasn't been able to cope over the death of his wife who died during childbirth years ago. Due to his depression, he's been neglecting his real estate practice. His superiors, tired of Arthur's behavior, gives him one last chance to sell the Eel Marsh House - a Gothic estate that seems to have a dark, mysterious, and violent history. For some reason, Arthur's presence near the estate has upset the locals, as well as the spirits that seemingly haunt the place - in particular a certain woman in black...

REVIEW

It's been a while since I've reviewed a Hammer Film - one of my favorite horror studios from England. In fact, I have yet to review any of the modern Hammer horror films that have been released since Dutch TV producer, Jon de Mol, purchased the company and revived it in 2007 after the studio closed its doors in the early 1980s. The revival has been a mixed bag of sorts. 2010's remake, LET ME IN, was great. 2011's WAKE WOOD was above average. And from what I hear, 2011's THE RESIDENT and 2014's THE QUIET ONES were pretty lackluster for the most part. One of these days, I'll review each one of these new Hammer Films. But right now, let's talk about 2012's THE WOMAN IN BLACK before the sequel is released this weekend.




Good Things: I think what I really liked about THE WOMAN IN BLACK is the look and feel of the film. It's been a while since I've watched a ghost story in a Gothic setting that actually felt like what it was advertising. Director James Watkins creates a ton of atmosphere, mood, and a slow pace that keeps you invested even when the film loses itself in some aspects. The dull and bleak cinematography by Tim Maurice-Jones really enhanced the mood of the film, with Watkins investing in wide shots, mise-en-scene, and dolly shots to give the viewer a creepy ride throughout this town and Eel Marsh House. Seeing spirits rush through the frame, or stick out in the background, are things every good ghost story needs. The film, even though it had people in it, felt like an island - giving a sense of isolation throughout. Even the CGI that was used didn't bother me all that much. I thought for the most part, the visuals set the tone right making THE WOMAN IN BLACK feel more old school than modern.

I also thought the acting was pretty damn good here as well. THE WOMAN IN BLACK was Daniel Radcliffe's first post-HARRY POTTER film, and I thought he did a good job playing a wounded husband/father who was in a situation beyond his control. You kind of felt sympathy for Radcliffe's character, Arthur Kipps, as he dealt with his personal strife while also dealing with supernatural forces. To be honest with you, I think Radcliffe was more of an acteur in those HARRY POTTER films - only because he had eight films to evolve the character and make it his own - and show more emotion and depth in those films. But his subtle performance here gave you all you needed to know about the guy. He was probably way too young to play this role, but I thought he was pretty solid. The only other actors who stuck out were Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer, who had nice chemistry with Radcliffe and were given more scenery to chew on. The acting was one of the bright spots in the film.

And while predictable and cliche at times, I did enjoy the mystery aspect of the Woman in Black and what the supernatural deal was. Even though the film was adapted from a Susan Hill novel published in 1983, the adaptation seems to take certain aspects of other ghost films to tell its visual narration. But you're interested in why children are killing themselves. You wonder why the town believes in a curse and sort of blames Arthur for unleashing it again with his presence. And you're curious as to how it'll all be revealed towards its conclusion. The tragedy of this town is intriguing. And while the storytelling surrounding this plot point isn't near perfect, at least you're willing to sit through it to figure out what the hell is going on. Most modern horror films these days want to explain everything without much depth or substance behind them. At least THE WOMAN IN BLACK tries to do that, and I appreciated it. It's an old-school philosophy that I think most modern filmmakers and studios have lost along the way. Nice to see a recent film stick with what made horror so memorable and timeless, even if it doesn't work all the time for it.

And I felt THE WOMAN IN BLACK relied too heavily on jump scares. That's not too say that all of them failed to work. The one with the crow made me jump, mainly due to the loud sound design during these moments. Some others made me jump due to the sound as well. But it felt like there was a jump scare every 5 minutes, which made the next one feel less effective than the previous one. The atmosphere was creepy enough. These scares felt cheap by the fifth time. I did dig the sound design though. And that hanging scene - creepy...




Bad Things: THE WOMAN IN BLACK felt like an unfinished narrative at times. This mainly applies to the Arthur Kipps character, who actually has an interesting backstory that isn't exploited enough within the investigative portion of the film. His entire character is based around the fact that he hasn't gotten over the death of his wife and how that transitioned into a distant relationship with his son. As the film goes on, you tend to forget about this subplot because the narrative is too focused on the Eels Marsh House and the Woman in Black. The film never really focuses on the fact that Arthur's grief is what is feeding this spirit her power, as they share certain ghosts in their past that connect them in a mysterious way. And with all the children dying within the town, wouldn't that make Arthur more fearful about the situation since he's a father? He sees strange things, but never really questions them until it's too late. The townspeople dislike him, but he never asks why that is. Arthur has no urgency until it's convenient - a.k.a. flashbacks of his late wife - and never really worries for his son while all this goes on. Yeah, Arthur is distant with him, but he obviously thinks about him and loves him. The narrative felt really disjointed when it came to the two subplots. Arthur's misery should have made the Woman in Black stuff more effective because he can relate and feel the ghosts of his own past are haunting him. Arthur has a character arc that could have taken the film to places, but the script never allows that to fully happen. It's sad because I felt both subplots were interesting. They just needed to work together better.

Speaking of the script, the ending is something I'm on the fence on. Is it the worst conclusion to a ghost story ever? No, not really. But it lacked oomph and felt somewhat unsatisfying in a way. I understand why the climax occurs and what it represents in terms of Arthur's character. But it felt way too easy, too cliche, and kinda lame as the film just ends quietly. I actually asked myself, "That was it?" I've seen worse endings in horror films [at least this one didn't have a one last scare deal with annoys me by this point], but I felt the way the narrative was treated before it didn't justify a feeling of satisfaction during its conclusion. I think if the Arthur stuff was handled better within the main plot of the movie, the ending would have come across better. But it felt like a deflating balloon to me, honestly.

Like I said, the film relied on too many jump scares. It also didn't help that these took place during a long and sort of redundant second act where Arthur was investigating the mystery of the house. This portion wasn't terrible, but could have been handled in a much shorter amount of time. If more things happened during this portion, it would have come across better. Otherwise, 30 percent of it felt like filler.




THE FINAL HOWL
While it's not a perfect horror film in the slightest, I still liked THE WOMAN IN BLACK for the most part. The acting, especially by Daniel Radcliffe, was pretty solid. I loved the atmosphere and mood of the Gothic setting. And felt the visual presentation was top notch for this modern Hammer Films entry. The narrative could have been tighter, the ending a bit more satisfying, and less jump scares would have been appreciated. But overall, I thought this was a cool throwback ghost film that knew what it was and went for it. It was a stylish and elegant horror film - something that can't really be said for most modern horror. Not sure if the sequel will continue that trend, but we can only hope.



SCORE
3 Howls Outta 4




12.20.2014

Double Feature: American Mary (2012) & See No Evil 2 (2014)


Jen and Sylvia Soska have quickly gained popularity within the horror genre scene in their short amount of time as filmmakers. The Soska Twins gained noticed in 2010 for their indie flick, DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, which was a rough looking film but showed that the two ladies were capable of something more with the right budget. The sisters also happened to be charismatic figures and knew how to promote their work, garnering them fans that looked forward to their next releases. 2012's AMERICAN MARY and 2014's WWE produced SEE NO EVIL 2 showed that the Soska Twins' stocks were rising within the genre. While both films are very different in many ways, they each show that Jen and Sylvia have something to say in terms of narrative, the use of their stars, and how they visualize the story they want to tell.



STARRING
Katharine Isabelle - Mary Mason
Antonio Cupo - Billy Barker
Tristan Risk - Beatress Johnson
David Lovgren - Dr. Alan Grant
Twan Holliday - Lance Delgreggio
Paula Lindberg - Ruby Realgirl
Clay St. Thomas - Dr. Walsh
John Emmet Tracy - Detective Dolor


Genre - Horror/Drama/Rape-Revenge

Running Time - 102 Minutes


PLOT
Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) is a smart, but very broke, medical student who plans on becoming a successful surgeon. In order to pay her bills, Mary answers an online ad for a masseuse at a strip club. When she meets the club owner, Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo), and tells her why she needs the money, Billy feels Mary is more serviceable for her medical skills when she has to perform surgery on one of his foes.

After Mary successfully performs a nasty surgery on Billy's enemy, word gets around about her talents - especially within the underground body modification community, who want Mary to perform unconventional operations that most doctors would refuse to do. As she builds her resume, Mary is invited to a party where she is drugged and raped by her sketchy professor, Dr. Alan Grant (
David Lovgren). When she learns what happened to her, Mary changes her outlook on the medical field, wanting to use what she learned to get revenge on those who wronged her.


REVIEW

Good Things: I think AMERICAN MARY is more hit than miss, as it has a few flaws even with its interesting premise that keeps your attention for most of the runtime. The film, in a lot of ways, reminded me of FX's Nip/Tuck - a show about plastic surgery and how it not affects the patients, but the doctors performing these surgeries. In this case, Mary Mason is an intelligent med student who wants to be a surgeon. But due to circumstances out of her control, she gets deep into the body mod field - which leads to both highs and lows for Mary personally and professionally. It's an interesting look at a trend that doesn't get much spotlight, probably due to how conservative the world has become in the last decade. But watching Mary perform certain surgeries that aren't considered normal, like removing limbs and splitting tongues, is fascinating. The characters who want to change their looks aren't really treated as freaks or anything offensive either. They're treated as ordinary people who just to want to change themselves to express who they are as individuals. Yes, the body mod stuff is meant to be shocking, and probably horrific, which might offend some. But I liked that AMERICAN MARY brought something different compared to the same-ol', same ol'.

The acting was also very good. Katharine Isabelle, in particular, is very good as Mary Mason. Looking very sexy, Isabelle carries a calm, yet cold demeanor that creates an interesting vibe in contrast to the crazier world around her. She never bats an eye when people ask her to perform body modifications. Even when she's raped, she doesn't grieve for too long, before quickly deciding on getting revenge. Isabelle plays it off perfectly, displaying a level of control and nonchalance that makes her mesmerizing to watch. The charming and likeable Antonio Cupo, as the sleazy potential love interest Billy, is great - as well as Tristan Risk as the annoyingly Betty Boop-ish Beatress. We also get a cool cameo by the Soska Sisters themselves, in which they look great and even bite a stripper's lip until she bleeds, before succumbing to limb exchange surgery. The fake Russian accents are more funny than believable, but I think that was the point. I thought all the actors play their roles really well.

I also felt the direction was solid for the most part. The film had a low budget, but it looks nicely polished. The colors are a bit soft and dim, reflecting Mary's demeanor, in a nice touch. The film looks cold and feels cold, but there's a subtle warmth dying to break through underneath, especially in how the Soska Sisters handle the treatment of those who enjoy body modification. The fact that they're never treated like freaks or something disturbing is visually [and in terms of narrative] refreshing. The special effects are pretty damn great too, considering this film wasn't made with Hollywood money. There's no CGI that I could see in this film, with the practical effects definitely making things look realistic as possible. I can see some inspiration from David Cronenberg and even Takashi Miike in this film. The editing and the framing of certain shots are extremely effective. It's a very stylish film that really impressed me. The potential from DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK is fulfilled here in AMERICAN MARY.

I think the best part of AMERICAN MARY is the treatment of the characters. The film is labeled as rape-revenge, only because it can't really be labeled anything else. But the film is not THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. It's really a character study of a med student who becomes changed due to many hardships in her life, which eventually lead her into the body modification world. Yes, she gets raped. But it's never exploitative. Yes, she gets revenge on the rapist. Again, it's never exploitative, even though what's implied creates that in our heads. You understand Mary - her struggle to pay bills and finding a job that many would see as immoral, her justification for wanting revenge on a man who belittled her in front of her peers only to rape her after he drugged her, and her embrace of this underground society that's treated her more like a human being than "normal" society has. The characters around Mary are quirky and could be seen as odd to some. But they're fleshed out with actual personalities and traits that make them all easy to relate to on some level. Billy is a pervert and sleaze, but he actually has feelings for Mary - not sure how to deal with them and tell her flat out. Beatress looks strange on the outside, but she's just a caring friend who wants to be accepted on the inside. The real freaks are Mary's professors, who have parties where they rape women and then videotape it. And they get what's coming to them. Other filmmakers would have made AMERICAN MARY to shock people. But the Soska Twins never go to that level, giving us a picture of a different world that not many filmmakers care to delve into, and giving it the respect it deserves. They may look different on the outside, but they're human just like the rest of us. Everything but the rape scene is treated as something beautiful - something that's not common in the horror genre. I think that's why I was so invested in AMERICAN MARY - it didn't insult me and I appreciated that.

Bad Things: AMERICAN MARY is not a perfect film, due to issues within its interesting narrative. For one, I feel we don't see enough of Mary's struggles with her financial situation, nor do we see her struggle with being a celebrity within this body mod world. Things happen way too quickly, or happen off-screen, not allowing the audience to really get the full picture of Mary's new career path. Even after she's raped, we only get glimpses of her turmoil in feeling violated by people she was supposed to trust - instead quickly going into the revenge portion with the help of Billy and his friends. I get the focus was on Mary doing these surgeries and becoming a star to many who want to change their physical appearance. But it loses something human when things like these aren't addressed with enough time to really resonate. Should the whole film have been about Mary dealing with the rape and slowly creating a plan to get revenge on her violator? No, absolutely not because the film isn't about that really. But a little more time to Mary's life and getting her sense of how she thinks and feels would have been nice. Things came together a bit too easily for me, which is a shame since I liked Mary's character a lot. Just more depth to certain situations would have been good.

What really ruins AMERICAN MARY for me is the film's final act. I won't spoil it for those who have not watched the film, but it left me numb and disappointed. It was as if the writer of the film had the first two acts mapped out well, with no idea on how to end the film. The last 30 minutes really go off the rails for me, losing what made things so effective and interesting prior to it. The film became generic and cliche, which didn't really match a film that was anything but. We get a suspicious detective who seems to know what Mary has been up to, that seems to want to go somewhere but is never allowed to. We get a subplot that was briefly mentioned in the first hour of the film [blink or you'll miss it] that leads into the film's ending. Even Billy's feelings for Mary aren't really explored, since it happens without much build up and ends once he does something stupid that disappoints Mary. Mary deserved a better send off than she gets, because her character is so compelling. But the narrative fails her, because she's put into situations that could be great, but end up not meaning much at all because a writer wanted her to do something after she got her stuff in order. I wasn't into this portion of the film at all, sorry.


STARRING
Glenn "Kane" Jacobs - Jacob Goodnight
Danielle Harris - Amy
Katharine Isabelle - Tamara
Chelan Simmons - Kayla
Kaj-Erik Eriksen - Seth
Greyston Holt - Will
Michael Eklund - Holden
Lee Majdoub - Carter


Genre - Horror/Slasher

Running Time - 90 Minutes


PLOT
During the same night as the events of the original SEE NO EVIL, Jacob Goodnight (Kane) is wheeled into the local morgue during a graveyard shift that birthday girl Amy (Danielle Harris) and Seth (Kaj-Erik Eriksen) are working. Amy doesn't mind working during her birthday, which pleases Seth who has taken a liking to his co-worker. However, their boss Holden (Michael Eklund) surprises Amy with a birthday party at the morgue with her friends.

One of Amy's friends, a flirty and slightly drunk Tamara (
Katharine Isabelle), learns that Goodnight is one of the corpses in the morgue. Excited and turned on, she takes her boyfriend Carter (Lee Majdoub) to see the body and begins having sex around him. Unfortunately, this fetish wakes up Goodnight, leading to a repeat of Goodnight's previous activities...

REVIEW
Good Things: Even though I wasn't the biggest fan of 2006's SEE NO EVIL, with it slightly growing on me when I recently watched it, I was still excited about the sequel due to who was directing it and who was starring in it. And fortunately, those two aspects didn't disappoint me much at all.

The cast is pretty great here, considering they're not really given much to do after the film's first half but be stereotypical slasher victims. But the cast shines in the first half of the film, where the script allows some character development to occur and gives the actors material to work with. Danielle Harris, who is always awesome, does great as lead girl Amy. She's extremely likeable in the role, has nice chemistry with Kaj-Erik Eriksen, and gets to do some real acting in certain scenes that allow her to flesh out her character. Speaking of Eriksen, I thought he was extremely likeable as well as Seth. He was the stereotypical Nice Guy role, but it takes the perception of the character on a different path, which I liked. Eriksen had great acting moments as well as he and Harris made for a great duo. As for Kane, the guy was always the best part of the original film. He's still as imposing and intimidating as ever, using his physicality to speak louder than words. I also dug his new murder outfit, which made him a bit less generic than his appearance the first time around. I wouldn't mind seeing him do another film, just murdering people for the hell of it.

However, the best actor was Katharine Isabelle, who gives a really funny and sexy performance as Tamara. Her character [she's obsessed with serial killers and is a bit of a necrophiliac] is wonderfully fresh and Isabelle has no trouble holding back in delivering how her character is described. Isabelle is great as a drunk, a flirt, and even a dry humper on Kane [lucky bastard]. It's the total opposite of her AMERICAN MARY role, which is probably why I enjoyed her so much here. She's so campy and over-the-top, that she gives the film the energy that it lacks at times, unfortunately. I honestly thought she was the highlight of this sequel.

We also get cameos from a certain pair of sisters as well, in a nice Hitchcockian moment. I thought it was pretty cool.

Speaking of the Soskas, I thought they did a good job visualizing as much of the story as they could. The hospital setting is always one of those locations that will always be creepy in the world of horror, and that's no different here. And I think the Soskas use the location well in terms of shots, framing, and even props for Kane to use. Unlike the first film, there's a feeling of cold and bleakness in the sequel. The first film had this dirty, grungy feeling about it. SEE NO EVIL 2 is more polished and cleaner looking, which I liked. It's a lot more subtle than the first film [which had a kinetic style going for it] and the photography is quite nice here. It's obvious the Soska Sisters were inspired by 1981's HALLOWEEN II, which is not a bad sequel template to emulate. I thought the ladies did a good job setting things up and shooting the mayhem that occurred throughout.

And while the script fails the film in a lot of ways, I did think the fact that we had likeable characters [for the most part] to follow and root for was a pleasant aspect of the film. These people felt pretty real, unlike the characters from the first film who you had no idea who they were as individuals. There's enough character development to raise it above the first film, creating a somewhat unpredictable final act where you're not sure who will live or die. And I enjoyed the throwbacks to the original film with Jacob Goodnight, as he's still struggling with how he was raised by his mother. And that scene where he sees his mom in the morgue is some great stuff too, as it really motivates Goodnight and gives him a new direction to follow. And with the first half of the film having some decent dialogue as well, I thought SEE NO EVIL 2 was a better film than the first on a visual and narrative level.

Bad Things: Unfortunately, the script happens to be extremely generic and bland. Once the murders begin to happen, the film takes its familiar road to its conclusion, making you wish the story had more twists and turns than it actually does. While the last 15 minutes does have a surprise I didn't expect, the rest of the film plays out like any 80's slasher. That's both a good and bad thing because I like slasher films, but it's been 3 decades and I expect something fresher at this point.

I also thought that while Jacob Goodnight is more of a vengeful monster this time around, wanting revenge for his mom's death, he also loses what made him so interesting in the first part. There's barely any eye gouging here. The religious aspects of the character are gone. He's now Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers - that superhuman killer who can't, or won't, be stopped. I felt the character had some personality in the first film that seemed to be lacking here.

What also was lacking were the kills. As much as I had issues with the first film, the murder sequences were pretty energetic and fun to watch. That cell phone through the mouth moment is still a great kill, as well as the final few minutes with Goodnight and that dog. In the sequel, you don't get any of that. Sure, people get stabbed and choked out. There's even some decent gore, like one of the victims being chained up to a door in a gruesome matter. But the murder stuff is extremely bland and standard, rather than presenting something somewhat creative and memorable. It's more surprising considering that the Soskas' love pushing things to the extreme, meaning WWE Studios must have put the kibosh to that. Sequels are supposed to be bigger and more over the top. SEE NO EVIL 2 doesn't fit the bill in that aspect.

THE FINAL HOWL
While they're not perfect films, the latest films from Jen & Sylvia Soska are pretty decent watches for the most part. 2012's AMERICAN MARY is a cool little flick dealing with a topic that not many filmmakers touch upon, and they do it with respect and class. Katharine Isabelle is great as Mary Mason, and I liked the polish look and storytelling within the first two acts. SEE NO EVIL 2, while nothing riveting or memorable, is a vast improvement over the first film. Thanks to fresh pairs of eyes, a great cast, and deeper-than-expected characters, this sequel manages to be a pretty fun time regardless of the many issues [especially how awfully generic it is] it has. The Soska Sisters are putting their mark on the current state of horror - and whether you're fans of not, you got to respect these ladies for their work. Look forward to seeing what they do next.



SCORE

AMERICAN MARY
3 Howls Outta 4


SEE NO EVIL 2
2.5 Howls Outta 4




AMERICAN MARY (2012) TRAILER



SEE NO EVIL 2 (2014) TRAILER

12.19.2014

Midnight Confessions Ep. 42: "It's a Wonderful Podcast"


Tis the season and the M.C. crew are feeling the Christmas spirit. This week we review [or re-review in my case] SANTA'S SLAY (2005) and THE DAY OF THE BEAST (1995). Plus the Top 5 Xmas movies [non-horror] of all time. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Part of ShitMas 2014 at Shit Movie Fest!











 


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12.12.2014

Midnight Confessions Ep. 41: "Santa Claus is coming to town...and he's pissed"


More holiday jeer this week as Rev. Phantom, Moronic Mark and I review TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980) and [in my case, give another look at] CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980). Plus a look at the Top 5 Xmas horror movies. Part of ShitMas 2014 at Shit Movie Fest!











 


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