7.27.2016

[Animal Summer '16] Alligator (1980)

DIRECTED BY
Lewis Teague

STARRING
Robert Forster - David Madison
Robin Riker - Marisa Kendall
Michael V. Gazzo - Chief Clark
Dean Jagger - Slade
Sydney Lassick - Luke Gutchel
Jack Carter - Mayor
Perry Lang - Officer Jim Kelly
Henry Silva - Col. Brock
Bart Braverman - Thomas Kemp

Genre - Horror/Slasher/B-Movie/Bad Animals

Running Time - 94 Minutes



I wonder if Steven Spielberg knew that so many movie studios and producers would take what he did with his 1975 blockbuster JAWS to create their own versions of the same story. Movies like 1976’s MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH, 1977’s ORCA, 1978’s PIRANHA, and even JAWS’ own three sequels “ripped offJAWS’ success to create their own fame/infamy for many audiences. Who knew a story by Peter Benchley would help create its own “animals-run-amok” horror sub-genre?

One of the many films considered to be a “rip-off” of JAWS is 1980’s ALLIGATOR. ALLIGATOR is a film that I hadn’t watched since I was a kid, liking it enough that I wanted to a reason to watch it again as an adult. Now with Animal Summer, I have my reason to see if ALLIGATOR is as good as I remembered. Fortunately for my adult eyes, ALLIGATOR ended up being better than my memory provided.


PLOT
During a vacation in Florida, Marisa’s family allows her to bring home a baby alligator as a pet. Once home in Chicago, her animal-phobic father gets rid of the alligator by flushing it down the toilet. Landing in the sewers, the alligator feeds upon lab-experimented cadavers to survive.

Twelve years later, random killings have plagued Chicago. Severed body parts are found through the sewer system, creating a panic amongst the city. To figure out what’s been going on, brooding detective David Madison (Robert Forster) is made in charge of the investigation. With the help of an older Marisa (Robin Riker), now a popular animal researcher, Madison figures out the killer is a giant alligator - who has decided the sewers aren’t enough, making it up to the surface to continue his rampage.

REVIEW
ALLIGATOR is one of the best “rip off” JAWS films ever filmed. Like PIRANHA, which is also quite good in its own right, ALLIGATOR is a smart, fun, and well-made movie that captures the spirit of why JAWS was so successful. It was obviously inspired by urban legends and news stories from the early 20th century, where tales of alligators appearing out of the sewers were big talking points about the dangers of alligators in big cities, while wondering how the alligators got into the sewer system to begin with. It’s a slasher film with an animal as the killer, while also providing a certain social commentary that makes you question whether the alligator is a villain, or a heroic victim of people’s ignorance.

It’s not surprising that ALLIGATOR’s script is so well done. The screenplay was written by PIRANHA scribe John Sayles, who was asked to change a script that involved a sewer alligator in Milwaukee who grew large in size after drinking large amounts of beer! I’m surprised SyFy hasn’t used this idea yet for their upcoming classic, BEER GATOR. Drunk alligators are dangerous, especially behind cars, yo! Seriously, Sayles classes up the original premise - turning a really silly premise and making it pretty serious and thrilling for its time [and even today, to be honest]. New World Pictures was known for their silly and funny [intentional or not] B-movies, but ALLIGATOR takes itself seriously as a creature feature that has a budget behind it to really capture the full extent of the terror.

The character development in ALLIGATOR is pretty solid. Detective David Madison is our hero - a disgruntled man who is haunted by the losses of his past, which affects his future relationships yet motivates him to solve this alligator case to protect the city he loves to make up for the past. He’s the only one who believes the gator threat from the start, having seen it for his own eyes, while the rest of the city, his co-workers, and reporters just think he’s losing it. He also makes the first connection to the local pharmaceutical company with the alligator, showing how smart and active he is. Marisa Kendall, an animal researcher, comes across as a strong, independent woman who, like David, is haunted by her past. Not only does she fall for David [maybe looking for a father figure that her own father wasn’t], but she’s an indirect reason for the alligator threat when she was a young girl. Then you get the rambunctious Chief Clark, who is torn between his loyalty and friendship with David and his professional ties to the city’s Mayor. Speaking of the Mayor, he suffers from JAWS-itis as he would rather make money than protect his citizens. Slade and his lackeys are the stereotypical evil scientists who have the government backing to protect them from any wrongdoing, even though they’re the reason why there’s trouble to begin with. And we have Thomas Kemp, your typical nosy reporter who ends up in trouble. And you even get a big-game hunter whose cockiness leads to more bad than good. These characters are all pretty similar to characters done in other animal-run-amok films, especially JAWS and PIRANHA. But they all work well here in ALLIGATOR, helping the flow the film when the title character doesn’t appear on screen to steal the spotlight.

Not only are the characters strong, but John Sayles doesn’t hide the fact that he wants his social commentary to be heard. In many ways, ALLIGATOR is a criticism on vivisection, the government when it comes to class and social issues, and the media’s twisting of true stories into more scandalous ones. All these institutions enable the murders that the alligator causes throughout the city. The experimentation on live animals with chemicals and tossing the cadavers away when the lab results aren’t positive leads to the growth of the alligator. The media would rather disapprove David rather than listen and take him seriously about the giant alligator, which would have saved more lives. And the Mayor would rather protect an upper-class wedding to support the pharmaceutical company in exchange for money rather than protect his citizens. The alligator is less of a serial killer, and more of an avenging angel - going after the evil people who made him the way he is while getting rid of people who stand in his way. Yes, the gator does kill some innocent people because that’s what gators do. But he’s pretty much focused on who Sayles considers the sinners of his story. It’s an interesting storytelling tactic, making the viewer sympathetic towards the alligator rather than most of the human beings in the story. I, personally, root for the gator to get rid of these bastards, which is probably what Sayles had intended. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to watch an animal kill bad and/or stupid people in movies. So for that, the script is a success.

The special effects in ALLIGATOR are very impressive, considering it was filmed around 1979 or 1980 and the budget the film had to use. Richard O. Helmer did a nice job alternating designs for a fake crocodile head seen from the side during chase scenes that looks pretty realistic, to a real-life giant crocodile design that breaks out from underneath the sewers to attack people. The gore is minimal, but the blood adds to the effect of this alligator murdering dumb folk. Nowadays, this would have all been done with CGI, making the attacks look really silly. With these practical effects, you’d really think there was a giant alligator terrorizing actors on a set. I really enjoyed it.

The direction by the awesome Lewis Teague really makes ALLIGATOR stand out from the rest of the JAWS imitators. Teague, while having fun with the script at times in terms of tone and pacing, still manages to take the visual presentation of the narrative seriously. Instead of a cheesy B-movie imitator, ALLIGATOR plays out mostly as a detective/police drama with a man hunting down a serial killer - in this case, an alligator. There are also obvious slasher elements at play here, with the alligator kept mainly in shadows and silhouettes for half the film - just shots of his eyes and mouth to give you a feel of the size of the animal. We also get first person point-of-view shots, in red tint, through the alligator’s perspective. The scene where the gator finally reveals itself out of the sewers is a memorable visual, as well as the fun and chaotic final act where the alligator pretty much destroys a wedding. It’s no wonder Stephen King would hire Teague to direct both CUJO and CAT’S EYE after this film. Teague knows how to balance fun, drama, and terror.

The acting is also pretty great here. Robert Forster is the real reason why ALLIGATOR is highly regarded by those who have seen this film. Any other actor would have treated the premise as a joke and winked at the audience, but not Forster. As David Madison, Forster plays a serious cop who is haunted by his past and is determined to eliminate the ghosts by saving the city that he loves, but doesn’t really love him. Forster constantly shows remorse and a social awkwardness in his character that makes us feel for him and want him to succeed. He’s the reason why the film is an easy watch, because our lead character is someone we are invested in. Robin Riker is also pretty great as Marisa. She plays a smart, independent woman who rushes into action rather than shy away from it. Her banter and relationship with Forster is believable and she makes a great sidekick for him. Character actors Michael V. Gazzo, Dean Jagger, and Sydney Lassick do well in their roles, especially Gazzo as the neurotic Chief. Henry Silva has fun as the big-game-hunter, Col. Brock. And Bart Braverman is wonderfully snarky and sarcastic as the nosy reporter. It’s just a nice cast of actors who play their roles seriously and all elevate what could have been a silly script.


THINGS I’VE LEARNED WHILE NEVER FLUSHING ANYTHING IN MY TOILET AGAIN

  • A young Marisa named her pet alligator Ramon. With its razor sharp teeth, say hello to the Bad Guy!
  • Ramon was flushed by Marisa’s animal-phobic dad, landing him in the sewers - where he’s been feeding on radioactive cadavers. And that’s how the Ninja Turtles’ nemesis, Leatherhead, was born.
  • After dumping dead animals that had been experimented on in a sewer, pet owner Gutchel was eaten by Ramon. That’s for making fun of Carrie White’s opinion of Tommy Ross’ poem, you jerk!
  • A suicidal bomber enters the police station, saying that the voices told him to do it. Randy Orton is a huge fan of this guy.
  • Ramon wouldn’t come out of the sewers when the police unit was banging metal to make noise. Probably would have helped if the noise was in the tune of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock”.
  • Two kids pushed another kid into a swimming pool, not seeing the clearly visible alligator in there with led to the kid’s death. And that’s how the Melendez Brothers got started.
  • Ramon crashed a wedding, killing and eating folks. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson would be proud.

THE FINAL HOWL
I honestly did not expect to love ALLIGATOR more as an adult as I had 25 years ago. For a JAWS imitator, Lewis Teague and John Sayles manage to craft a smart, fun, silly, and extremely watchable police drama/slasher film starring a giant fake alligator that terrorizes a city. The social commentary makes you question whether the alligator is a hero or a villain, the special effects are well done considering the budget, the visuals are more than solid, and the acting [especially Robert Forster] is just fantastic. It’s not as good as JAWS, but it still manages to stand out and be its own thing. ALLIGATOR is definitely one animal-run-amok movie you shouldn’t miss.


SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4


7.17.2016

Ghostbusters (2016)

DIRECTED BY
Paul Feig

STARRING
Kristen Wiig - Erin Gilbert
Melissa McCarthy - Abby Yates
Kate McKinnon - Jillian Holtzmann
Leslie Jones - Patty Tolan
Chris Hemsworth - Kevin Beckman
Cecily Strong - Jennifer Lynch
Andy Garcia - Mayor Bradley
Neil Casey - Rowan North

Genre - Comedy/Supernatural/Ghosts

Running Time - 116 Minutes


PLOT
Paranormal researcher Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) are trying to prove that ghosts exist in modern society. When strange apparitions appear in Manhattan, Gilbert and Yates turn to engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) for help. Also joining the team is Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a lifelong New Yorker who knows the city inside and out. Armed with proton packs and plenty of attitude, the four women prepare for an epic battle as more than 1,000 mischievous ghouls descend on Times Square.


REVIEW
Probably the most hated film of 2016 even before it was released, this reboot of 1984’s classic GHOSTBUSTERS had a lot going against it.

The original cast not returning to their roles, even though Harold Ramis passed away in 2014? Blasphemy!

You’re telling me that women, one being Melissa McCarthy, are going to be the stars of this reboot? Boycott this movie! 

Are you serious that Paul Feig, director of BRIDESMAIDS and THE HEAT, is going to make this film? Terrible!

Oh my God - those trailers make this look like the unfunniest movie ever! And that new Fall Out Boy & Missy Elliott theme song? God, what garbage! (Seriously, that song sucks.)

Many people on the internet had already judged the film before it was even released, giving it low ratings on multiple sites, and writing posts against watching it if you’re a true GHOSTBUSTERS fan. Once the film was closer to be released, you were either misogynistic if you were against watching it or paid by the studio if you praised its existence. Even my normal group of movie-going friends refused to see it because of the negative hype. But as someone who wants to be honest about films, I was curious enough about this reboot to check it out on my own. I knew it wouldn’t “rape my childhood” because the original films and The Real Ghostbusters animated series would still exist, and I knew there would be a possibility the reboot would surprise me and other people by actually being watchable.

And you know what? GHOSTBUSTERS 2016 won’t destroy your childhood memories. It doesn’t deserve the hate it has received the moment it was announced. This reboot actually exceeded my expectations somewhat, even if it is flawed in its screenplay and direction somewhat. It’s not anywhere as great as the original, but it’s probably on par as the second film - maybe even better than that film actually.

Let’s get the problems out of the way. The script for GHOSTBUSTERS isn’t a masterpiece. It’s more focused on punchlines than on actual storytelling, which is great for a Saturday Night Live skit but not for a reboot of a film many consider a pop culture institution. This is evident during the film’s second act, where the story begins to not exist for the sake of funny scenes that don’t always work rather than developing the villain or doing anything that would push the story forward. Luckily, the actors help make the most of the script, turning some negatives into positive. But it doesn’t really push the envelope, instead doing what worked in the original but in a more generic fashion.

Speaking of the villain, he really did nothing for me. Being bullied, leading to wanting to destroy the world with ghosts, is a bit cliche and nothing original is really added to make it stand out more. I know this franchise hasn’t had the most developed villains - seriously, Gozer and Vigo weren’t the most dynamic of folks - but there was time to really flesh out this person. Instead, it was used for jokes. Comedy has its place, but I would have preferred a stronger antagonist. It doesn’t really bug you all that much as you watch it, but it nags at you once the film ends.

I also felt the cameos were wasted opportunities. Yes, the main players of the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise return to make appearances [besides the retired Rick Moranis and the late Harold Ramis - although there is a shout-out towards the former Egon during the first act], and some work better than others. Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver were the best for me, as Potts brought a bit of Janine in her appearance and Weaver crafted a memorable cameo. But Bill Murray’s cameo felt bland, and Dan Akkroyd and Ernie Hudson were great to see but didn’t add all that much. Honestly, their appearances just make me realize how much better the original one and wishing the original cast had done another one [not in video game form] while the opportunity had still presented itself.

And that damn theme song is in the film, which made everyone in my theater [including myself] groan. I’m just happy it only played once, with versions of the original theme playing more instead. And I actually like Fall Out Boy! Just awful.

As for the good? The cast is the best thing about this reboot. The four ladies in the lead are really wonderful and have tremendous chemistry with each other. Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy play the “straight-women” of the group, portraying their characters a bit more seriously than the others. Wiig’s prude behavior creates several laughs, while McCarthy surprised me with how much she reined it in. I’m not a hater like some people are of McCarthy, but it was great to see her not overdo the comedy. She can be a bit much at times, but she worked perfectly fine here. Leslie Jones was great as the sassy member of the group, thankfully not going overboard with stereotypes and actually creating a character that’s actually funny and likable. Kate McKinnon, however - wow, she’s the best part of Saturday Night Live these days and she’s the best part of this film. Her role as Holtzman is one of the more memorable characters in the franchise’s history. Funny and off-the-wall, McKinnon stands out amongst her peers. I wish she had been used in the film more to her fullest potential, but she does get the best character moment near the end during one of the better action sequences in the film. I think I have a crush. And Chris Hemsworth was pretty hysterical as blonde himbo, Kevin. I can see why some were bothered by his acting, as he’s really hammy with the comedy. But his enthusiasm and overall joy of playing against type was pretty infectious. His job interview scene was one of the film’s highlights.


I also thought the CGI was used well. Look, GHOSTBUSTERS had cool effects for its time. But they just look really dated today, and the only way we’re going to get cool looking ghosts today is through computer generated effects. And honestly, I thought the ghosts looked great and all seemed to have different looks and personalities. Plus, we get to see some old favorites in the final act, which I appreciated. That female Slimer was a bit much, but everything else was great.

And I don’t think it was the most dynamic filmmaking ever, but Paul Feig did his best with directing this reboot. He still needs to work on his action sequences a bit, but the film looked great and was presented a lot better than I thought it’d be. Pacing was off a bit at times, and some of the editing could have been better. But the comedy stuff mostly worked. And the final battle, while goofy and cliche at times, still managed to be fun. Again, Feig would not have been my first choice to bring back the Ghostbusters. But he did a commendable job for his biggest budgeted flick.

THE FINAL HOWL
Like many people, I wasn’t excited for this GHOSTBUSTERS reboot. But I went in with an open mind and ended up enjoying it more than I had anticipated. The female cast is great, in particular both Leslie Jones and especially Kate McKinnon [she needs to be a movie star like now]. The CGI ghosts looked cool and stood out. The laughs were mostly there and the first & third acts worked for me. Yes, the film has script and pacing issues that are unfortunate. But overall, I laughed and I liked the nostalgic feeling I got from seeing Ghostbusters again. A fun movie and nothing more.


SCORE
3 Howls Outta 4



7.15.2016

Midnight Confessions Ep. 97: "June/July Gialli part 3: Full Tilt Fulci"


Our 3 part look at Gialli flicks comes to a end, but ends with a bang. This episode we take a look at 2 of Lucio Fulci's 'stabs' at the genre; THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982) and MURDER ROCK: DANCING DEATH (1984). Plus music by Murderock and Keith Emerson.











 




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7.11.2016

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)


Directed By: James DeMonaco

Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul, Justina Machado, Jack Conley, Michael K. Williams

Genre: Horror, Thriller, Action

Running Time: 103 Minutes


Plot From IMDB: A couple (Zach Gilford & Kiele Sanchez) are driving home when their car breaks down just as the Purge commences. Meanwhile, a police sergeant (Frank Grillo) goes out into the streets to get revenge on the man who killed his son, and a mother (Carmen Ejogo) and daughter (Zoe Soul) run from their home after assailants destroy it. The five people meet up as they attempt to survive the night in Los Angeles.


Review: 2013’s THE PURGE was an above-average film with a great premise, but the execution was a bit flawed. While the home invasion narrative worked for the most part, a lot of the social commentary and execution of how the Purge effects other people besides the one family we were focused on was lost. Thankfully, 2014’s THE PURGE: ANARCHY goes beyond that, allowing the audience to see how this “holiday” effects a larger population, while really putting the social commentary on the forefront to really relay the message behind the Purge.

Unlike the more straightforward horror-thriller of the first film, James DeMonaco was inspired by ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE WARRIORS, and THE RUNNING MAN to create a more action-oriented film that allows more character development and more exciting set pieces that allow DeMonaco to clue us in on the real reason for the Purge. Watching the upper-class and government use these 12 hours to eliminate the segment of the population they feel is corrupting the society [a.k.a. the poor] portrays how laws [good and bad] can be misconstrued in one’s image to do bad things to others - something that has become seriously relevant in our day in age. The final act, where our protagonists must play a deadly game of tag [as if this is THE HUNGER GAMES] while the aristocrats watch with glee as they sip champagne, gives us a real look as to what this new America has become.

I do think DeMonaco hammers the message a bit too much, to the point where we say “we get it”. And there may be too many intertwining stories and villains that don’t get enough screen time. But compared to the first film, the commentary and narrative are stronger, which makes our characters more interesting, deeper, and more likable or unlikable.

The direction by DeMonaco is a vast improvement over the first PURGE movie, as it displays more confidence and more of a vision that the first film wouldn’t allow him to have. There’s a lot of tension and suspense throughout, with a relentless pace that keeps the bleak mood going from beginning to end. I like how the film builds and builds, visualizing the level of violence [great action sequences and gore] that occurs throughout the 12 hours - reaching its apex towards the end. I loved the gritty look and even some of the shaky cam. And the music score by Nathan Whitehead brought that 80’s goodness with the synths.

The acting is pretty good. Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez were kind of grating as the young couple, but I think that was the point since they were going through personal turmoil in their marriage, as well as being victims of the Purge. They played the dumb characters in the film you wanted to slap more than once. Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul were very good as the mother and daughter - especially Soul, who brought a sassiness and intelligence that I enjoyed quite a lot. Michael K. Williams does good with what he’s given, while Jack Conley is pretty menacing as the turret-shooting villain. But THE PURGE: ANARCHY belongs to one man - Frank Grillo. The dude is just a total bad ass, playing a Punisher-type character who broods while kicking butt and taking names. The guy has this quiet charisma and presence that makes you want to watch what he does. I’m not surprised they brought him back for THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR. Grillo is honestly the best part of this film, and this franchise.


The Final Howl: A lot better than 2013’s THE PURGE, THE PURGE: ANARCHY finds its niche as an action-thriller that takes elements of late-70’s/early 80’s gritty action films to bring them forth for a newer audience. James DeMonaco finds his confidence as a director, with cool visuals and great pacing. The social commentary is heavy handed at times, but also helps deepen character relationships and the idea of The Purge. And Frank Grillo outshines the rest of the cast as a badass action hero who now seems to be the centerpiece of this franchise. A rare sequel that’s better than the original.


SCORE
3 Howls Outta 4


7.10.2016

100 Bloody Acres (2012)


Directed By: Cameron & Colin Cairnes

Starring: Damon Herriman, Angus Sampson, Anna McGahan, Oliver Ackland, Jamie Kristian, Chrissie Page, John Jarratt, Paul Blackwell

Genre: Horror, Comedy, Cannibalism

Running Time: 90 Minutes


Plot From IMDB: Reg (Damon Herriman) and Lindsay Morgan (Angus Sampson) run an organic fertilizer business. They need a fresh supply of their “secret ingredient” [a.k.a. human bodies] to process through the meat grinder. Reg comes across two guys (Oliver Ackland & Jamie Kristian) and a girl (Anna McGahan) with a broken-down vehicle on their way to a music festival.



Review: As part of my horror movie catch-up, I decided to check out this horror-comedy from our friends Down Under in Australia. I thought 100 BLOODY ACRES would be a dumb independent horror-comedy that wouldn’t do much for me, but I was pleasantly surprised how much I really enjoyed this charming little flick.

It’s not easy balancing horror with comedy, but 100 BLOODY ACRES succeeds with it. The premise is your typical “backwoods family kidnaps tourists to murder/feast upon them” kind of horror film. But underneath the surface, it’s really a goofy comedy about how love can overcome evil. All the characters are a bit over-the-top in all the right ways, infusing the movie with personality and charm that makes the 90 minutes go right by. Reg is the simple brother, being subservient to his older brother Lindsay out of fear, with his crush on one of his victims being the catalyst to change his ways and outlook on life. Lindsay is the more business minded brother, not caring who dies if it’ll help his business. Even the victims - gullible James, his girlfriend Sophie, and best friend Wes - all start out one way, but end up becoming totally different characters by the end of the film due to well-written character arcs. There are great lines of dialogue and the character interactions are very amusing and surprising at times. For a film that’s modeled from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and MOTEL HELL, it stands out on its own two feet as it’s own memorable Australian thing.

The direction by Cameron and Colin Cairnes is pretty darn great, as the tone never changes and tells a unique story in a pretty quick running time to never wear out its welcome. There are cool shots that sprinkle throughout the film, and the cinematography is very nice too. I love looking at the Australian locale - looks like a beautiful place. I would definitely check out more work from these brothers.

The acting is what makes 100 BLOODY ACRES really work. Damon Herriman is funny as the quirky, naive and innocent Reg. He makes a villain really likable and sympathetic. Angus Sampson is great as the opposite Lindsay - playing menace and cruelty for laughs. Herriman and Sampson have a great brotherly relationship with each other that elevates the script. Anna McGahan is cute as Sophie, using her sexuality to seduce multiple men in the film. She starts out as someone you wouldn’t particularly like, but ends up being an interesting character by the end. Oliver Ackland is also good as the clueless boyfriend, while Jamie Kristian has the more funnier moments under the influence of drugs. Chrissie Page as Nancy is also a delight as the quirky elderly neighbor. I really enjoyed the actors here.




The Final Howl: 100 BLOODY ACRES is one of the better horror-comedies I’ve seen in modern horror. Great acting, genuine laughs, solid direction, and just a fun story that takes elements from other horror films to create its own thing. If you’re looking for some good horror from Down Under, 100 BLOODY ACRES is for you.


SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4




7.04.2016

[Animal Summer '16] The Shallows (2016)

DIRECTED BY
Jaume Collet-Serra

STARRING
Blake Lively - Nancy Adams
Oscar Jaenada - Carlos
Brett Cullen - Nancy’s Father
Sedona Legge - Chloe Adams
Sully the Seagull - Steven the Seagull

Genre - Thriller/Horror/Survival/Bad Animals

Running Time - 86 Minutes


PLOT
Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) goes to Mexico to find a secret beach that her mother went to when she was pregnant with Nancy. This trip was prompted by her mother’s passing due to a long fight with cancer, making her question her status in medical school while trying to figure out how to live in a world without her mom. Admiring the beautiful scenery, Nancy decides to go surfing along with two locals. When the locals leave and she’s alone, Nancy is attacked by a great white shark on the leg. Narrowly escaping to a rock 200 yards from the shore and slowly dealing with a gaping wound catching gangrene, Nancy must survive for 24 hours on this rock and reach safety before high tide comes in and gives the shark more room to feed.


REVIEW

  • Blake Lively is an actress I’ve been indifferent on. I don’t think I’ve really watched anything she’s been in besides THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS and GREEN LANTERN, even though I knew of her from Gossip Girl and her marriage to Ryan Reynolds. So it was really interesting to watch her act in a film where she had to carry the runtime by being the only real actor on screen for much of the movie. And I gotta say - Lively was pretty excellent as a young woman at a crossroads in her life after the passing of her mother. We understand her pain from a massive loss. We understand her need to escape. We root for her when she encounters this crazy shark and tries everything in her power to escape. Hell, Lively even makes a one-sided relationship with a seagull fascinating to watch onscreen. I also really enjoyed the one scene where she records a video for her family, thinking she won’t survive the shark attack. Lively acts pretty damn well and seems like a good reel for an Academy Award if the Academy ever considers Lively for an award [probably not, but you never know]. So I went in not really caring about Lively’s acting, and came out of the viewing wanting to see more of her in hopefully good projects. She’s really solid here. Plus, she’s very attractive with doesn’t hurt.

  • The direction by ORPHAN director Jaume Collet-Serra and the cinematography by Flavio Labiano are top notch. THE SHALLOWS is a gorgeous looking movie, making Nancy’s nightmare look like paradise on the surface [the movie was filmed in beautiful Australia]. The framing of shots and the editing are very solid, with Collet-Serra’s direction showing much confidence and capturing our attention visually through tension and action. I loved the way the surfing scenes were shot, which slow motion turned into fast motion as the waves crashed into Nancy before she surfs underwater to gain momentum. I even thought the special effects were very well done and shot well, as the shark looked very realistic [at least until the end] and the leg bite looked serious as hell due to great make-up work. THE SHALLOWS has a light script due to just a woman trying to survive a shark attack, so the visuals had to be pretty strong. Thankfully, that’s not an issue here.

  • Some people had issues with lack of character development for the people in the film, and/or backstory that some feel was forced and nothing but exposition. The supporting characters are all mysteries, but we know enough about them through their short dialogue and actions. Nancy is the focus of the film anyway, so the film only had to work with her development and character arc to sink or swim the movie. There were complaints about her stuff with her late mom, who passed away from cancer. Plus some found it coincidental that Nancy was a med student, who wanted to drop out due to what happened with her mother - feeling medicine couldn’t save a very important person in her life. And when Nancy gets attacked, Nancy happened to have certain unconventional accessories and tools to keep the wound closed as much as possible.

     
 First of all, this film wouldn’t exist if a few narrative liberties were taken. Nancy using earrings,   a necklace, and her wet suit to close a wound is called “survival”. If someone was trying to survive, I’d think they’d do something similar using the same items. As for the mother deal, I could see why some would see it as an unnecessary tool to have us gain sympathy for her. But after losing my own mother to cancer last year, I understood where the character was coming from. I understood her lost of faith. I understood her need to escape and figure things out. I understood her half-wanting to give up and her half-wanting to fight like her mom did. Personally, it made connect to the character more and care about her plight and her need to survive. You can call it cheap and maybe it was. But it was also heavily effective and it worked on me big time. Sometimes that’s all you need to develop a character, as it built her character arc in a way that was human.

  • My only issues with THE SHALLOWS are the last few minutes of the film. With as much struggle and tension Nancy’s dealing with the shark creates, the conclusion happens way too easily and neat. It’s as if the writer needed to end the film and took a pretty cliche way to do it, making the finale feel more silly than effective. It’s not the worst ending to a shark film, but I was disappointed how it was executed. The epilogue felt too Hollywood as well, since everything before it didn’t really. The conclusion didn’t upset me or anything, but it should have been better and more nail-biting than it was. It just got a “really?” out of me, that’s all.


THE FINAL HOWL
THE SHALLOWS is one of the best killer shark films ever made, done for serious intentions rather than for B-movie humor that SyFy has no problem shilling. Blake Lively is a revelation here as a woman trying to survive while going through a traumatizing moment in her life, capturing every emotion throughout the ordeal in a convincing way. The direction by Jaume Corret-Serra is solid and the cinematography by Flavio Labiano is absolutely gorgeous. The ending was a bit disappointing in some aspects, but the 80 minutes before it are pretty strong and effective. JAWS will always be the king of shark films, but THE SHALLOWS is in the upper echelon of the sub-genre along with THE REEF and OPEN WATER. In a world where Sharknadoes and Mega Shark vs Whoever get the attention from this current generation, THE SHALLOWS is a welcome surprise that deserves to be appreciated for showing us that serious shark movies can still be made in this day and age.




SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4



6.28.2016

Midnight Confessions Ep. 96: "June/July Giallo Part 2 of 3"


This week the MC Crew take another look at two classic, albeit sleazy gialli flicks; STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (1975) and THE SISTER OF URSULA (1978). Plus music by: Iggy Pop, Adam Ant, Prince and Dio.











 




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6.23.2016

[When Wrestlers Act] Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)

DIRECTED BY
Dave Green

STARRING
Megan Fox - April O’Neil
Stephen Amell - Casey Jones
Pete Ploszek - Leonardo
Alan Ritchson - Raphael
Noel Fisher - Michelangelo
Jeremy Howard - Donatello
Will Arnett - Vern Fenwick
Brian Tee - Oroku Saki/ The Shredder
Tyler Perry - Dr. Baxter Stockman
Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly - Rocksteady
Gary Anthony Williams - Bebop
Tony Shalhoub - Splinter (voice)
Brad Garrett - Krang (voice)
Laura Linney - Police Chief Rebecca Vincent

Genre - Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Science Fiction/Comedy/Comic Books

Running Time - 112 Minutes


PLOT
A year has passed since the Ninja Turtles saved New York City from the evil Shredder (Brian Tee) and the Foot Clan. Although the Turtles would love to live amongst the public, they know humans will fear them - allowing April O’Neil’s (Megan Fox) cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) take the credit and making him a citywide hero. As they continue to wait in the shadows in case more people need saving, April lets them in on the fact that the Foot Clan is planning on breaking out Shredder from prison with the help of scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry). Even though the Turtles try to stop the escape, they’re shocked to see that Shredder has managed to teleport himself out of danger. This teleportation leads Shredder to Dimension X, where he meets Krang (Brad Garrett) - a slimy alien who wants to rebuild the Technodrome and conquer Earth with the help of Shredder. Shredder has also come across a canister of ooze - the same ooze that turned the Turtles into the humanoids that they’re now become - using it to turn Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) into a giant warthog and Rocksteady (Sheamus) into a giant rhinoceros. Joined by suspended corrections officer, now vigilante, Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), the Turtles and April plan on stopping Shredder and Krang from achieving their devious goals.


REVIEW
  • TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS was a film that left me feeling nostalgic since it resembled the late-1980s original cartoon with its childlike charm, silly action, and an abundance of characters who have finally made their cinematic debuts after five cinematic adaptations. A much better film than the 2014 reboot, OUT OF THE SHADOWS is a sequel that gets the origin story out of the way and is allowed to be over the top and build its own legacy away from previous adaptations. I’m not saying the script is fantastic or anything, but the characters felt and acted like the characters who I remembered. And the actual premise reminded me of a few cartoon episodes where the Turtles, April, and even Casey Jones would try to stop Shredder and Krang from taking over the world. The screenplay was written for children in mind, but it didn’t feel like it was insulting older fans who would be familiar with these characters either. It was colorful and energetic - which I liked more than I really wanted to.

  • Speaking of the characters, how cool is it to finally see some of these characters in a live-action feature for once? No offense to THE SECRET OF THE OOZE’s Tokka and Rahzar, but finally getting Bebop and Rocksteady as Shredder’s dumb lackeys put a smile on my face. And they acted pretty closely to their cartoon counterparts. Same with Krang, who I wish was in the film more, but I enjoyed what was done with him. Even Shredder, who felt out of place in the previous film, was much better characterized and actually given purpose and motivation this time out. Baxter Stockman was alright, although I have a feeling he’ll get more of a substantial role in the next film. Casey Jones was a nice addition to the story, being given cool moments in the film - especially towards the end. And the Turtles were pitch perfect, with each one getting their own character moments and acting very faithful to how audiences expect them to be.

  • The direction by Dave Green was a step up from what Jonathan Liebesman did in the 2014 reboot. While still stylish and definitely a Michael Bay produced product [EXPLOSIONS!! ACTION!!], the sequel felt a bit more grounded and focused than the previous installments. Scenes flowed a lot better. The tone was more consistent. And for the most part, the visuals were slightly improved. Unlike Liebesman, it felt like Green knew exactly how he wanted to visually tell this story, as you can tell he was a fan of the original cartoon. The direction won’t win awards, but I thought Green showed some confidence behind the lens.

  • I liked the action sequences here. The Turtle Van/prison escape sequence had some cool moments, especially seeing the Turtle Van in action for once. The river sequence in Brazil matched the snow sequence in the previous film, with some nice visuals. The Krang sequence was also cool, as watching the Technodrome almost form into completion was pretty nifty. I think the film could have used more action really, but what we do get is memorable.

  • The acting is slightly improved from the previous film. All the voice actors for the Turtles are great, as they capture the personalities of each one. Megan Fox is Megan Fox. She didn’t bother me, so I guess she was okay. Will Arnett is fine as Vern. Stephen Amell was charismatic as Casey Jones, playing the role more lighthearted than Elias Koteas did in the older films. It was great seeing him not play Oliver Queen. Gary Anthony Williams and WWE wrestler Sheamus do very well as Bebop and Rocksteady. They may have played the characters a bit too dumb, but I found them both likable in their roles. Tyler Perry is extremely hammy as Baxter Stockman, and I found his performance to be a mixed bag at times. Brian Tee doesn’t really get to do much as Shredder, but he’s more suitable here than he was in the last film. And Brad Garrett was cool as Krang. Neat cast that makes the most of what they’re given.

  • Even though OUT OF THE SHADOWS is a better film than the 2014 film, it still has issues. The special effects still look odd to me. Honestly, nothing beats the practical effects of the 1990s films for me. The characters look how they’re supposed to, but I guess they feel a bit too cartoony for me. That’s the modern age of big budget films for you, I guess.

  • OUT OF THE SHADOWS also introduces too many new characters, really limiting the necessary screen time for the newer folk. Baxter doesn’t get more to do than just act like a prototype mad scientist. Bebop and Rocksteady get more to do, but miss a chunk of screen time in order to highlight other characters. Even the meeting of Shredder and Krang seems a feel too easy and too quick, as their union only seems to be at play since fans would expect the alliance. And Krang disappears for much of the film, only really having a major presence during the final act. Plus other characters, like Police Chief Rebecca Vincent only come across as idiotic, denying the presence of mutated creatures even though she sees them with her own two eyes. I’m glad to see that Platinum Dunes wants to do some great fan service to make up for their previous reboot. But cramming so much into one film only proves that less is sometimes more.

  • OUT OF THE SHADOWS is also a film that’s more style than substance. Yes, many audiences aren’t expecting something deep in a film involving the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But the 1990 adaptation proved that you can do a Turtles film with heart and soul, while catering to all audiences in an intelligent manner. I wasn’t expecting much out of this film and I had fun with the fluff and goofiness of it all. And while it was a bit more mature than the previous film, with themes of “wanting to fit in”, I don’t think younger audiences would be turned off by more substance. Especially judging by the success of the 1990 film that lasts even until today.


THE FINAL HOWL
I know some people are hating on it, but I had fun with TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS. It’s a definite improvement over the 2014 reboot, resembling the original cartoon to create a nostalgic effect for older audiences, while re-introducing younger fans with characters many of us grew up loving. Dave Green’s direction is confident. The acting is mostly solid. The action works. And while the special effects are still behind the practical effects used for the series in the 1990’s, I’m sure children will love the colorful characters. OUT OF THE SHADOWS doesn’t cater to my audience, but I still found things I got a kick of. Sue me, but I dug this for the most part. Probably my guilty pleasure of 2016 so far.


SCORE

3 Howls Outta 4







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