31 October 2013

October 31st - HALLOWEEN

Halloween!  The big day!  I took the day off from work -- I figure this is pretty much the equivalent to a religious holiday for me, so why not -- and relaxed at home to watch a horror movie.  Because it was raining, I also figured I'd go grab some glowsticks from the store to stick in the pumpkins, figuring candles wouldn't last.  That quest was surprisingly frustrating.  On Halloween day itself, stores were busy ripping down all vestiges of the holiday -- dumping unpurchased masks and candles and candies in discount bins -- and replacing them with accursed Christmas decorations.  Target came through, their dollar shelves still overflowing with glow-necklaces that I could use.

Monster Cereal Week 6: All of 'Em!
Starting Halloween morning off right with a nutritious mix of all known food dyes.
In the end, it was strangely flavorless.  Like they canceled each other out.

Evil Dead (2013) directed by Fede Alvarez
Satisfying.  I was a little afraid that last year's excellent Cabin in the Woods would make this a little redundant to watch.  Why would we need a serious cabin in the woods story after Cabin stripped the idea down to its bones and rebuilt it as something wonderful?  My worry was misplaced.  The Evil Dead remake is in the best tradition of gritty '80s horror movies, except elevated by better effects and photography.

Storywise, there's not a heckuva lot to chew on.  Mia is taken to a cabin in the woods by her friends so they can help her kick a drug habit.  One of the friends reads some passages from the Necronomicon and things start happening.  There's some stuff about her brother abandoning her and their mother dying in an asylum, but it wasn't too terribly important.  I did like the idea that the friends were at the cabin for a more serious reason that the typical "let's party!" thing.  Mia going through withdrawal gave them some excellent opportunities to turn her into a Cassandra when she tries to warn everyone about the evil in the woods.  In the end, though, things are very simple: a great evil is trying to establish itself in the world and only these kids can stop it.

Stopping that evil takes a lot.  A lot.  People lose pieces of their face, limbs are hacked or pulled off, they get nails shot into them, hands are split, heads are blown up with shotguns... this is a frickin' tour de force of practical effects.  It drops the mic and walks away from all of the other horror movies these days using shitty CGI blood.  I hope the success of this remake spurs on more of this type of thing.

Watched: DVD from Sony.

Tales from the Crypt 6.03: "Whirlpool" (1994) directed by Mick Garris
After Jack and Casey arrived for the night's festivities -- beer in the fridge, candy in the bowl, ready to rock -- we popped in a Tales.  This episode is Crypt's version of Groundhog Day (which was released the year before this aired) that takes place at the Crypt offices in the 1950s.  It was surprisingly funny.  Instead of exactly the same thing happening every day that Rita Rudner repeats, this universe is a little crueler.  No matter what she does, she ends up with a dead boss and a posse of cops blowing her away.  It gets especially ridiculous after this happens when she doesn't even leave her apartment.  Very funny.

Return of the Living Dead III (1993) directed by Brian Yuzna
Somehow, I managed to convince the gang to watch this movie, one of my secret favorite zombie flicks.  Jack had never see it, so it seemed like a plan.  I think it's a ton of fun.  In the tradition of Yuzna's Society, it gets increasingly bizarre and goofy as the movie goes on.

Of course, my main attraction to the film is the beautiful Julie, played by Mindy Clarke.  She's absolutely one of my all-time favorite zombie characters.  In the movie, her unwise friskiness on her boyfriend's motorcycle causes a crash that breaks her neck.  Her boyfriend's dad happens to be experimenting with the 2-4-5 trioxin chemical from the original Return at a nearby military compound, and the boyfriend uses that to bring her back to life.  Julie then begins to slowly lose control of herself as her brain starts to die and zombify.

Julie discovers that only pain can temporarily make her forget the hunger that drives her to munch on the living.  She begins shoving wire and glass into her flesh in an effort to stave off that hunger.  In the process, she creates a stunning figure of herself (as in the poster above).  Clarke's portrayal, though, really sells things.  She's confused and in enormous physical pain and very emotionally hurt that her boyfriend put her into such a terrible predicament.  It is impossible to take your eyes off of her when she's onscreen.  Yes, yes I do have a zombie crush.

Other zombies in the movie are nearly as fun.  There's Santos with his spine extending two feet over his body.  There's the melted zombie from a trioxin barrel -- like Tarman in the original -- who has to rip his skull from one side of his face because the skin is fused to his shoulder.  My favorite, after Julie, is definitely poor Riverman.  Formerly a hobo who helps Julie and her boyfriend in the sewers, he gets zombified and bolted into a military exoskeleton.  He's pretty much a crazed zombie terminator.  Even gorily blowing away his limbs cannot stop him.

I love this movie, no matter what anyone says!

Watched: uncut DVD from Cinema Club.

Jones Halloween flavors return.
Red Licorice was the best.  Blood Orange wasn't bad.
Carmel Apple tastes like watered-down battery acid.  Candy Corn gave me diabeetus.

Halloween (1978) directed by John Carpenter
For the 15th year in a row, I watched Halloween on Halloween.  This year, for the first time ever, I chose the surround mix of the soundtrack instead of the original mono.  I always tend to go with an original sound mix -- as it was back when the movie was in theaters -- when watching a movie.  I think later-day surround mixes often sound fake and silly.  Plus, they aren't usually created by the people who made the film in the first place, so I tend to think of it as the audio equivalent of colorization.  Yuck.

But, this year I gave it a shot on the brand new 35th Anniversary blu-ray.  It was interesting.  The surround mix highlighted lots of different sounds that are usually muddled with all of the other sounds going on.  In particular, they shoved Mike's Vader-esque breathing into the center channel at a louder than normal volume.  I found it kind of neat, actually, as it emphasized the idea of we as the audience watching this through his eyes.  On the negative, a lot of the dialogue sounded more obviously done in ADR than ever before.  When the three girls are walking home from school, it sounds like nothing other than the three of them speaking a little too loud into a mic somewhere.

Outside of the audio, one thing I noticed for the first time -- and there's always something, even though I have this movie nearly memorized -- was at the end after Loomis shot Mike.  After he peeks over the balcony and sees Mike has gone missing, Loomis looks around.  But, he doesn't look around at the surrounding neighborhood below, hoping to catch a glimpse of a fleeing Michael.  Nope, he looks upwards, at the sky.  Very cool.  This evil is bigger that just a man in a mask.  It's out "there," in the very fabric of the Universe.  There's nothing we can really do to ever stop it permanently.  But, like Loomis, we have to fight anyway.

Watched: 35th Anniversary blu-ray from Anchor Bay.

Though it was raining continuously during trick-or-treating time and coats covered up their costumes, the kids didn't care at all.  "This is the best Halloween ever!" exclaimed one of my daughters as we ducked between the raindrops to get more candy.  Kids are awesome that way.

Ain't no rain gonna stop the quest for candy on Halloween night.
It was a good Six Weeks of Halloween.  I went nuts with the TV shows this year, only watching 38 movies but 51 episodes.  My favorite new movie of the year was Maniac, followed closely by American Mary.  I got to go to a cool convention.  I ate some Monster Cereal and carved pumpkins.  I jumped in a pile of leaves with the girls.  It was a good Six Weeks.

30 October 2013

October 30th

Trick 'r Treat (2007) directed by Michael Dougherty
This is a movie I try to watch every Halloween, as I do with Carpenter's Halloween.  I missed watching it last year for some reason, but I'm glad I popped it in tonight.  It never fails to get the spirit of the season pumping in my veins.

It's neat how this movie keeps growing in the public's consciousness.  This year, I'm seeing articles saying that it is Halloween's answer to A Christmas Story.  FEARnet even stepped up and did a Christmas Story-like 24-hour marathon on their TV channel.  And, a sequel was just announced.  Impressive for a little movie that sat on Warner Brothers' shelf for two years gathering dust.

I'm with the people.  I tend to like this movie a little bit better each year.  There is nothing else out that that really captures the feeling of Halloween, as we celebrate it in America, quite like this film.  Of course, everything is amped up quite a bit.  In real life, I don't know of any small towns here in the Midwest that have hundreds of lit pumpkins everywhere and a Mardi Gras-like bacchanal on Main Street.  That's all a part of the fun, though.  This is Halloween as we Halloween fanatics wish it were.

The first time I watch it four years ago, I have to admit, I wasn't as impressed with it as I'd hoped.  I still kind of have an uncharacteristically squeamish problem with the scene with Steven, the shovel, and the grave in his backyard.  I think the bit with him using the blade of the shovel to chop off a child's finger and then an arm while we hear children moaning -- even though we don't see the violence -- is far crueler than the rest of the movie.  I'm guessing this scene, early in the movie, has turned off a lot of casual Halloween celebrators checking the movie out.  We parents are weird that way.

I can't wait to see what they do for part 2.  In a more just world, there would've been one of these movies every couple of years.  The world wasn't ready for such a thing back in 1982 when Halloween III ditched Mike and tried to start a different tradition.  I think we are now.

Watched: blu-ray from WB.

Me and the kids doing our part to make Sam happy.

29 October 2013

October 29th

The Walking Dead 3.15: "This Sorrowful Life" (2013) directed by Greg Nicotero
As I thought, this episode sticks with the prison as they prepare for war.  Rick initially wants to send Michonne to the Gov in order to prevent the war and gets Daryl and Merle to help.  He changes his mind.  Merle still thinks it's a good idea and grabs Michonne on his own.  After some sweet-talking by Michonne, Merle also changes his mind and changes his trip into a suicide run at the Gov's gathering on the farm.  I liked the trick Merle used: turning up the stereo in a car to attract a herd of zombies, then jumping out and letting the car roll towards the enemy.  I had a similar idea for Daryl.  He should have some trick arrows -- like Green Arrow! -- with one being an arrow with an iPod, a speaker and super glue on it.

Zombified Merle is stabbed by his own brother at the end of the episode.  I was happy and sad to see this character go.  I liked that he added a dash of "angry old cuss" into the group, to balance out the relatively happy little family the others in the prison have going.  On the other hand, they really defanged Merle's character in this season.  In season one, he was a racist asshole who was constantly stirring things up.  It was fun to watch the characters get angrier and angrier at the guy as the season went on until they were so pissed that they abandoned him.  Season three Merle was toned way, way down and just didn't feel like the same guy.

The Walking Dead 3.16: "Welcome to the Tombs" (2013) directed by Ernest R. Dickerson
Why in the hell would everyone move to the grimy prison instead of taking over the well-stocked, pleasant-looking Woodbury?  That's my only thought after a mediocre ending to a mediocre season of a mediocre show.  There are these constant dumb decisions the writers have the characters making in this show that make it impossible to love.

What I liked: Carl offing the Woodbury teen trying to surrender.  He's growing up in a messed up world and he's going to be a messed up kid.  This is the type of worry all parents are going to have in this universe.  Andrea dying.  Finally, this awful character is gone.  I was a little bummed that a giant chunk of the final minutes of the show were occupied by the sad piano melody-backed farewell to her, but, she was a major character, I suppose.

I'm disappointed that they're still in the prison instead of moving on like they have been doing at the end of every other season.  From what I'm hearing about season four from friends watching it, it doesn't sound like it's getting any better.  Ah well.  I still come back to it next October.

The Wicker Man: The Final Cut (1973) directed by Robin Hardy
In celebration of the blu-ray release of this fine film, I had myself a wickerthon.  First off, it's a pure joy to finally be able to watch this movie with film-like quality.  The extended version found in the Anchor Bay wooden box set was always my preferred cut, but was always painful to watch due to the extended scenes being lifted from a crappy tape copy.   No longer.  The final cut is, as far as I can tell, the same as the extended cut with just a little of the Howie-on-the-mainland stuff cut from the beginning.  I do miss one lost bit, where Howie's colleagues make fun of his sexless engagement (which reinforces the idea that this man is a virgin).  But, "Gentle Johnny" and the mating snails are here, so I am overall happy.

It's hard to describe why I like this movie so much.  It's a feeling.  Howie's investigation of Rowan's disappearance also serves as a perfect vehicle for the audience to see every facet of life on the island.  As the film reveals more and more of the otherworldly Summerisle, it's impossible not to fall in love with the place.  Everyone is happy.  Everyone is in tune with the cycle of nature.  The community is tight-knit.  No one is repressed or depressed.  Were it not for the whole human sacrifice thing, it would be an ideal place to live.

That's the rub, though, isn't it?  Maybe one thing the film is saying is that there are always trade-offs in the human pursuit of happiness.  The old beliefs practiced on Summerisle make it a paradise... except when the crops fail and the extremely violent parts of the old beliefs surface.  Christianity replaced the idea of continual sacrifice with the thought that one, final sacrifice of a demigod would suffice for all time.  That animals and people no longer needed to be slaughtered to appease invisible forces is a huge step forward for society.  This advancement is not without a cost, as we can see in Howie.  He suffers from an unhealthy repression of some of the fun parts of being human and a dourly rigid mode of thinking.  I'm honestly not sure which is better.

Watched: blu-ray from StudioCanal.

The Wicker Man (2006) directed by Neil LaBute
Like everyone with an Internet connection, I've laughed at the clip of Nicolas Cage in his bee helmet:

But, I'd never bothered to watch the entire movie.  Of all the movies in the world to remake, The Wicker Man is, honestly, the last I would've liked to have seen been attempted.  The original is lightening in a bottle.  It's the definition of lightening in a bottle.  No one will ever make a film like it again.  This remake was doomed from the start.

Still, I went into things with an open mind.  I was hoping that the rest of the film -- outside of Cage's standard over-the-top performance -- might have something to say.  I knew that this movie replaced the pagans with some sort of matriarchal society, so there was a wide open door for good some good social commentary.  Some aspects of a woman-dominated society may seem ideal, but in the end they can be just as violent as men.  That might be something to explore, right?

Yeah, no.  There's nothing here.  It seems as though the filmmakers had heard that the original film was considered a horror movie (though I always have trouble with that classification) are ran with that.  They immediately lost any goodwill I may have had about 10 minutes into the film when an over-loud phone rings and scares Cage.  That cliche?  In The Wicker Man?  Go to Hell.

Other horror cliches abound: Cage keeps catching glimpses of Rowan out of the corner of his eye and pursues her.  Cage repeatedly has dreams that the film tries to pretend are reality.  When he awakens, he wakes up in another nightmare and has to wake up a second time.  The women on the island exchange obvious knowing glances whenever they mislead Cage.  Cage finds the slaughtered body of the airplane pilot (Why?? Won't he be missed?  Don't they need supplies flown in?).  Cage's cellphone never works.  It goes on.

All throughout this mess, the film bizarrely lifts entire paragraphs of dialogue from the original movie.  I really don't understand why.  Other than the vague structure -- man looks for lost girl on a private island, gets sacrificed by islanders -- nothing is the same in the movie.  I'm guessing it's pure creative bankruptcy.  Why craft your own dialogue when you can crudely plop some in from the original movie?  You can see clear evidence of this during the final scene.  When Cage is shown the wicker man for the first time, he screams at the top of his his lungs: "Oh my God!".  The same thing happens in the original.  The difference: the original wicker man had what was clearly a stack of bonfire logs around its legs and there were islanders with lit torches ready.  Howie immediately saw that they meant to burn him to death and that was utterly terrifying.  All the Cage sees in the remake is a giant wooden man.  No fire.  No logs.  He should be confused and not terrified.  The only reason he freaks out: that dialogue was mindlessly grabbed from the original script.

One aspect of the film fascinated me.  I had the idea that, as bad as it is, this was truly a proper American version of the film.  The British film is reserved and beautiful and didn't wait for the audience to keep up with it as Howie's investigation revealed more about Rowan and the island.  The American version is loud and ugly and dumb.  Cage spends most of the movie shouting, punching people, and asking for things be re-explained over and over.  It's just the type of movie and hero my country thinks it wants.  Way to be a stereotype, Wicker Man remake.

Watched: DVD from WB.

The Wicker Tree (2011) directed by Robin Hardy
I was hoping this spiritual sequel to the original film might take the bad taste of the remake out of my mouth.  It did, but just a little.  In this film, a couple of Texan evangelical Christians -- one of whom is a singer -- travel to Scotland to spread the word of Jesus and perform.  Naturally, they end up in a village populated by pagans who require them as a sacrifice.

The movie just doesn't feel right.  I think it was a good choice to use American evangelicals as the sacrificial subjects.  They are very much like Howie in the original film and they really do exist in great numbers over here (hard as it may be for Europeans to believe).  Making them cowboy-Texans -- complete with a cowboy hat that has a bullet hole in it (?!) -- was pushing things too far, though.  They felt more like a stereotype of what Robin Hardy thinks of Americans rather than real characters.

The Scottish village the Americans visit is no Summerisle.  We never get a feel for the place as we do in the original.  It's simply row housing with a handful of wacky characters living in them.   We never really get to see their life or what they're like as a community.  All we ever see is them either having sex or having secret conversations about their plans for the Americans.

The movie doesn't look right.  You can tell it was shot with digital cameras.  The film has a very flat look and the colors are, for the most part, very muted.  Some tinkering with color correction could've gone a long way to improve the look of the movie.  I will say I was very impressed with some of the scenes they captured that used natural light.  I've never seen naturally lit scenes filmed with digital cameras look quite so nice before.  In particular, the scene in which Lolly is bathing in a pond is very pretty.  We see shafts of sunshine breaking through the clouds to illuminate patches of her naked body.  Lovely.

The plot is a rehash of the original.  I didn't expect anything else.  Even if there were only one of these movies, "pagans sacrificing Christians" is Wicker Man's thing.  In this film, rather than failed crops, the pagans require blood to fix their community's infertility problem.  The true cause of this issue is pretty lame: the Lord Summerisle equivalent Sir Lachlan runs a nuclear power plant nearby.  This would've been a great idea in the 1980s, but nuclear waste fear is sort of passe by now.

There are a lot of bizarre things in the film that don't fit with the Wicker Man universe.  At one point, a man is stabbed in the testicles by a broken glass and it's played for laughs.  The male American ends up being cannibalized by the villagers (??).  The female American easily pushes Sir Lachlan into the titular tree and burns him to death.

In the end, it just doesn't feel right.

Watched: DVD from Anchor Bay.

28 October 2013

October 28th

Chained (2012) directed by Jennifer Lynch
I always meant to watch David Lynch's daughter's first film Boxing Helena, but never managed to get around to it.  This one she made 19 years later and tells the tale of a maniac (Vincent D'Onofrio) who kidnaps, rapes, and murders women in his out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere home.  One woman has her 9-year-old child with her and he decides to raise the kid in his own demented way.  He chains his leg, forces him to make him meals and cleanup dead bodies, and calls him Rabbit.

This is a perfect example of a movie completely ruined by its ending.  According the the IMBd trivia, there wasn't enough time and money to complete the the movie properly.  You can tell.  Towards the end, Rabbit kills the psycho and locates his father, who he hasn't seen in ten years.  Within the span of a few minutes, we find out that his dad setup the kidnapping, the psycho was his uncle, his dad is also a psycho, and his dad's new wife is unaware of all of this.  Rabbi then fights with and kills his father.  His father's new wife instantly believes Rabbit's in the right during all of this -- though she'd never seen the kid before and he husband is dying on the floor -- and allows him to escape.  Yeah... what?  None of this was setup in the film before the last ten minutes.  It comes out of nowhere and slaps you in the face.  Awful.

Watched: DVD from Anchor Bay.

The Walking Dead 3.13: "Arrow on the Doorpost" (2013) directed by David Boyd
The entire episode is mostly a tense meeting between Rick and the Governor.  Rick wants to divide their territory using a river between them and the Gov just wants Michonne.  As the audience, it's mostly us wondering if Rick will be dumb enough to believe the Gov's offer.  Also, mighty generous of the prison folk to have Rick handle the negotiations when the guy was recently was running around with zombies chasing the ghost of his wife.

The Walking Dead 3.14: "Prey" (2013) directed by Stefan Schwartz
Woodbury continues to prepare for war.  Tyreese finally gets a little more screentime, but the guy such a wimp at this point.  In the early comics, he was the other alpha male competing with Rick to lead the group (instead of Shane, who was killed far earlier).  While not very believable, the Gov's stalking of Andrea was pretty fun in a slasher kind of way.

Just some more build-up for the finale.  I suspect the next episode will be the war preparations on the prison side of the things and nothing will really happen on the show until the last few minutes.  Such is life with a limited budget.

27 October 2013

October 27th

The Hitcher (1986) directed by Robert Harmon
Jack was over and neither of us had seen this one in forever.  In it, hitchhiker Rutger Hauer decides to give driver C. Thomas Howell as really bad day.  While ostensibly a thriller about a man pursued by a deranged hitchhiker, in reality it's a secret slasher movie.  Hauer has the Jason-like ability to pop up in exactly the right place and time to terrorize Howell at every opportune moment.  While doing this, he also has plenty of time to continue his mass-murder spree of families and policemen.  And, towards the end like any good slasher picture, Hauer even gets seemingly defeated a couple of times only to rise again for more.

So, yes, at times it's a little silly.  Howell's acting doesn't help the situation.  I couldn't help but laugh at the exaggerated reactions to the situations he finds himself in.  His wailing and gnashing of teeth was impossible to take seriously and hurt the movie a bit.  On the other hand, Hauer is completely awesome in the role of the psychotic hitchhiker.  He wears this maniacal grin throughout the movie that shouts "I am out of my mind' and looks to be having a blast playing the villain.

I enjoyed the story.  It's an interesting idea: a psycho who's tired of it all.  The hitchhiker is so good at what he does -- torturing and killing people on the highway -- that he will never be caught.  But, it's all too easy for him now.  There's no excitement in it any more.  The only possible thing left to do is to face his own death.  That, in itself, isn't very exciting, either.  Pushing a random person to to point where they snap and hunt and kill him... that's might be a good final adventure.

Watched: DVD from WB.

26 October 2013

October 26th

American Horror Story 2.12: "Continuum" (2013) directed by Craig Zisk
After killing off nearly all of their bad guys, this episode abandons the 1965 story and skips into the future.  We find Jude continues to resides at Briarcliff and is truly bonkers, Kit briefly lives happily with two wives and two kids, Alma also goes bonkers and kills Grace, and Lana releases a slightly inaccurate but successful book about her experiences with Thredson.  The asylum is sold to the county and becomes increasingly chaotic and filthy.  This type of thing seems to be the show's M.O.  In season one, they also completely changed directions for the last few episodes.  It didn't work out so well then...

For a scene or two, we see Jude and Pepper as friends in the asylum, playing games and looking out for each other.  It's by far the most Pepper has been given to do on the show since we learned the aliens had given her the power of speech and the mandate to protect Grace.  And, just like the alien storyline, she ends up being largely unnecessary and likely only added to the show to up the "WTF" factor.  We find that Jude has lost track of time and Pepper died some years back.  Like the aliens, we never see her again.

American Horror Story 2.13: "Madness Ends" (2013) directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Gotta love how we're unnecessarily shown Johnny breaking into Briarcliff and chopping that guy's arm off, as seen in the first episode.  We already know he did this.  Why are we wasting time in the final episode showing this stuff from Johnny's perspective when there are a zillion storylines to finish?

An interview with Lana in the present day is used to finish these storylines.  As she speaks to a reporter, we flash back and back and back again, touching on Lana's exposés of Briarcliff and Cardinal Timothy, and her conversation with Kit about Jude's fate.  It's rushed and largely unsatisfying.  The final scene, in which Lana again uses her wiles to talk herself out of being killed by a Bloody Face, is easy to see coming.

I liked how much stuff the showrunners shoved into the first episodes of this season -- aliens, an insane asylum, a serial killer, a mad scientist, an ambitious priest, a cruel nun, wrongfully imprisoned inmates, a demon -- but it's just too much for them to handle.  They just don't know how to tie all of this stuff up properly and tons of ideas are simply thrown away without being used to their potential.  The alien story is shrugged aside: Kit's kids became a professor and a surgeon.  Hardly world-changing.  Cardinal Timothy's story is shrugged aside: we hear -- but don't see -- that Lana did a report on him and got him fired.  The mad Nazi scientist's story was finished episodes ago when he cremated himself.  The demon's story was abandoned episodes ago when its host was killed.  Briarcliff's story is completed when it turns into a Willowbrook and then gets shutdown... but we already knew that from episode 1 when we saw it abandoned.

The only thing I felt they got right was Jude's story.  A kind man she once abused rescues her and she finds a small amount of redemption.  This is nicely contrasted with Lana's tale of a woman consumed by ambition who abandons her connection to humanity.  Cut the aliens, cut the demon, cut the mad scientist... just focus on these three characters (plus Bloody Face and the priest to spur Lana and Jude's character growth).  Had they done this, the ending of the show would've been much more satisfying.  As it is, I'm too annoyed at the dangling threads to be happy.