May 24, 2015

Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly and Me, Part 9: "THE BOX" (2009)

[Part 9 of a not-exactly-weekly 12-part blog series about Donnie Darko, S. Darko and the works of Richard Kelly]
Part 1 - "Donnie Darko"
Part 2 - "Donnie Darko: Director's Cut"
Part 3 - "Cindy's Thoughts on Donnie Darko"
Part 4 - "Eric's Pros & Cons of Living in Middlesex"
Part 5 - "Donnie Darko: Deleted Scenes vs. Director's Cut"
Part 6 - "S. Sarko: A Donnie Darko Tale"
Part 7 - "Donnie Darko vs. S. Darko"
Part 8 - "Southland Tales"

THE BOX

German Title:

The Box - Du bist das Experiment

USA, 2009
Director: Richard Kelly

6,5/10








Richard Kelly's "Donnie Darko" follow-ups "Domino" (2005, written) and "Southland Tales" (2006, written & directed) both bombed so spectacularly,
I was convinced we wouldn't see any Kelly-flick for a very long time. However, he somehow was able to obtain some magical Shyamalan-powers and convince yet another filmstudio to give him money for yet another film. The result: "The Box", a highly weird mess of a film that bombed again, though it gladly turned out to be better than its predecessors.


"The Box" is the second film adaptation of Richard Matheson's short story "Button, Button" (which first was adapted as an episode of "Twilight Zone" in 1985). It's one of these films that actually start out really awesome and end up totally meh, in this case due to a fantastic first half, and a weak, confusing, messy and hugely disappointing second half. It's not a bad film, but it could have been so much better if done by a completely different director / screenwriter.

While the short story was more about mysteries and morality, Kelly took it to a completely different level and decided to let it take place in his bizarre Donnie-Darko/Southland-Tales universe. There's humans controlled by aliens, portals, space stuff, superpowers and, for whatever reason, lots of water. Kelly basically made the same mistake he already made in his director's cut of "Donnie Darko": turning an intriguing mystery-film into a mediocre kind of pulp fiction rubbish, by smearing clichéd science-fiction stuff all over it.


The first half is stylish and incredible suspenseful with lots of scary scenes, unsettling images and tons of gripping tension. I was intrigued, I was thrilled, I was fascinated. Then, the whole thing takes a u-turn, and suddenly nothing makes sense anymore. The fact that the movie is clearly too long (120 minutes!) doesn't help. The minute it stops making sense, it begins to drag and bore *yawn* and when we finally reach the climax, I already wasn't interested in the film anymore. Even worse: there are too many unanswered questions. What's with these water portals? What's with the giant light warehouse? What is the actual
purpose of the aliens? etc.

Aside from all this negative stuff, there's still a lot to enjoy, especially the acting: James Marsden is simply terrific and builds a splendid chemistry with Cameron Diaz. Ok, her accent sounds a bit weird, but it's wonderful to see her in a darker, non-comedic role. Frank Langella deliver a super-eerie performance,
Holmes Osborne is great as always, and Celia Weston... well, I just have
a soft spot for her :)


The string score - composed by three members of "Arcade Fire" [Win Butler, Régine Chassagne & Owen Pallett] - is delightfully haunting and sets the mood perfectly. "Donnie Darko"-cinematographer Steven Poster proves again that he's an underrated genius, the set design is gorgeous and the editing is simply excellent. I also think that the CGI is fairly good. Not perfect, but believable enough not to piss me off. The water portals look ace and Langella's CG'd face
is pretty superb.

The movie's tagline "You are the Experiment" should have been changed to "This is an Experiment" because that's exactly what it is: an experiment.
Well, a failed experiment, but at least an interesting one.

Wiki ~ Imdb

May 21, 2015

Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly and Me, Part 8: "SOUTHLAND TALES (2006)"

[Part 8 of a not-exactly-weekly 12-part blog series about Donnie Darko, S. Darko and the works of Richard Kelly]
Part 1 - "Donnie Darko"
Part 2 - "Donnie Darko: Director's Cut"
Part 3 - "Cindy's Thoughts on Donnie Darko"
Part 4 - "Eric's Pros & Cons of Living in Middlesex"
Part 5 - "Donnie Darko: Deleted Scenes vs. Director's Cut"
Part 6 - "S. Sarko: A Donnie Darko Tale"
Part 7 - "Donnie Darko vs. S. Darko"
Part 9 - "The Box"

SOUTHLAND TALES

USA / France / Germany, 2006
Director: Richard Kelly

5,5/10











 After the surprise success of "Donnie Darko", writer/director Richard Kelly could have done  everything, be it horror, sci-fi, action, drama, comedy, musical etc. Unfortunately, he decided to literally do everything at once and ended up with rolling every genre into one big fucking mess. Seriously, this movie is such a flabbergasting mess, it's absolutely inexplicable how this got green-lit in the first place. The movie made only about $375.000 against a budget of $17 million!

"Southland Tales" is basically 140 fucking minutes of various bizarre events leading to the world's end ("not with a whimper, but with a bang"), centered around an amnesiac action-movie star, a reality-TV porn actress, a police officer and his twin brother who works for a neo-Marxist group and
German firm who found a way to generate energy using seawater *phew*.
The whole thing is way, WAY too over-ambitious, way too over-exaggerated, way too over-the top, and sadly, it's the complete opposite of "Donnie Darko". It's obviously much too long (the original version that was shown in Cannes was even longer: 160 minutes!!), screenplay and plot are all over the place, the pacing is super-dull and Kelly's direction is just weird.


"Shenanigans: The Movie, or how Richard Kelly became Megalomanaic" would have been a much better fitting title...


Still, it's watchable because it's a completely unique, uber-crazy, never-seen-before mess. Is it good? No. Is it entertaining? Kinda, yes. The things
that I enjoyed:

- The Acting: Justin Timberlake as scarred Iraq war veteran, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as super-nervous and action star with amnesia, Sarah Michelle Gellar as porn star Krysta Now, Seann William Scott in a twin-brother double role, the mighty Zelda Rubinstein ("Poltergeist"), the uber-hot Bai Ling ("Crank 2") and Christopher Lambert ("Highlander").

- The Music: a fabulous score from Moby, plus many cool tunes from Radiohead ("Planet Telex"), Blur ("Tender") or Muse ("Blackout"), as well as a stunningly great performance of Rebekah Del Rio singing the National Anthem.

- A few stand-out scenes like the one with Justin Timberlake lip-singing The Killers' "All These Things That I've Done", the fascinating opening, the "humping cars" advertisement, or the explosive climax.


If you ever wanted to know how it would look like if David Lynch and Robert Altman remade "Postal", this is your chance! ;-)

May 20, 2015

HORSEHEAD

HORSEHEAD

Working Title:
Fièvre (Fever)

France, 2014
Director: Romain Basset

5/10









Imagine "A Nightmare on Elm Street" would have been set in the French town of Argenton-sur-Creuse, where, instead of Freddy Krueger, a Horse-headed figure called "The Cardinal" (straight outta Henry Fuseli's famous "The Nightmare" painting) haunts the dreams of a teenage girl. Yep, this sounds ridiculous, but in some kinda way, that's "Horsehead" in a nutshell.

Okay, I admit: the mentioning of Wes Craven's 80s classic might confuse you a bit, because, well, the directorial feature debut of French filmmaker Romain Basset is obviously NOT an average teen-slasher, but a Giallo-looking piece of arthouse-horror. However, the movie's storyline - girl tries out lucid dreaming to explore the mystery behind the "Horsehead" and discovers an unsettling family secret - is nothing more than an arthouse-variation of the Krueger-plot, developed in an unnecessarily artsy way.


Every eerie dream sequence, every super-artful shot, every uber-symbolic incident... it all feels as if it was supposed to be artsy just for the sake of being artsy, as if Basset just wanted to hide the fact that there's actually nothing too original behind the movie's basic concept, and so he simply hid it behind an array of beautifully composed images, stunningly designed settings and
fascinating-looking characters.

Yes, "Horsehead" is an incredibly gorgeous film, fabulously lit and excellently filmed (Vincent Vieillard-Baron), accompanied by a brooding, intense electro score (Benjamin Shielden) - but beneath its beautiful exterior, it's bland and shallow, lacking any real/true depth, lacking in substance and depth. It all seems so meaningful and powerful in the beginning, but after the first half hour, I quickly realized that it's all just empty and totally vapid. The movie's structure is even worse, taking place in reality, then in dreamland, then back to reality, then back to dreamland etc. etc. right until the end. It's as repetitive as Sysiphus' punishment and as predictable as gravity.


Thank goodness, it's not a bad movie. Aside from the above-mentioned great technical aspects, there's also some neat gore, ace nudity and lots of great actors, most notably Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux (hot chick!), the great, great Catriona MacColl [a.k.a Catherine MacColl who starred in Lucio Fulci's Gates-of-Hell-trilogy ("City of the Living Dead", "The Beyond" & "The House by the Cemetery")], veteran actor Vernon Dobtcheff ("Dr. Who", "Murder on the Orient Express", "Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade") and... Murray Head! Yes, THE Murray Head, singer of the all-time 80s classic "One Night in Bangkok"!

Yet, overall, "Horsehead" is the definiton of mediocre and makes you wish someone with more experience would have been involved in the making. Basset has talent, but if this would have been directed by some other French filmmaker, maybe by Marina de Van or by Cattet/Forzani, oh boy, THEN it would have become a contemporary arthouse classic, I'm sure!

Imdb

Thanks to Ray (Artsploitation Films) for the screener!

May 19, 2015

INFERNAL

INFERNAL

USA, 2015
Director: Bryan Coyne

2/10











Look at the cover - what do you see? A child with a reversed cross on its forehead... oh-so-eerie bright light coming out of an open door... a generic looking creepy hand... an unimaginative title... a bland tagline...
basically, that's all you need to know about this rubbish-fest, but since I'm a nice guy and love to warn people about movies that aren't worth checking out, I'll give you some more information about it.

"Infernal", the first feature film of filmmaker Bryan Coyne (who co-produced the god-awful "The Human Race"), is just another frustratingly bad found footage flick with a well-trodden, worn out storyline, in this case, it's about a young couple's daughter who suddenly starts to act very weird, whilst strange phenomena start happening around the house.


The movie is 100 minutes long and drags, drags, drags. You could easily shorten it to 30 minutes and it would still suck, mainly because there's nothing original going on here, nothing suspenseful, nothing scary. The movie looks and feels as if Coyne is a massive fan of the "Paranormal Activity" franchise and simply wanted to make his very own PA-flick (similar-looking houses, slightly similar camera work, cameras all over the house, structure and build-up similar to the first three PA films...), but he obviously has no idea how these movies work and why these movies work so well (ever heard of talent?).

Even worse: he has absolutely no imagination. Everything here is rehashed from other movies: a possessed child with some kinda devil's mark on its head ("The Omen"), a room full of flying toys and stuff ("Poltergeist"), some more "Poltergeist"-y shots, various worn-out "Exorcist"-tropes like reversed crosses or priests trying to perform exorcisms, an attic with an "Amityville"-like window + various plot elements that seem to be 'borrowed' from "Devil's Due".


In addition, the acting is mediocre and all characters are unlikable; I didn't care for any of them. There's lots of laughable 'laugh sound effects", way too many scenes that make you ask "Why the fuck are they filming this? Why???", way too many unbelievably tedious dialogue sequences that go on for like forever, and the ending... ugh, nevermind.

The only things that I enjoyed: the scene with the above-mentioned reversed cross (cheesy scene, but it came out of nowhere and it looked fun), a brutal and unexpectedly shocking 'hammer-smashed face', and the hilarious scene where the girl names her new teddybear "Brandy", and when Daddy asks her why, she replies: "It's what Mommy drinks every night." Aside from that, "Infernal" is bad and definitely not worth seeing.

Imdb

Thanks to Ashleigh Davies & Clint Morris for the screener!

May 18, 2015

"THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES" (Chilling 20 Movies Pack, #5)

THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES

USA, 1955
Director: Dan Milner

1,5/10











In an attempt to cash in on the success of Eugène Lourié's cult classic "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" (1953), editor & three-time-director Dan Milner ("From Hell It Came") and his brother Jack Milner (sound editor / producer / editor) created "The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues", one of the worst and dumbest monster flicks of the 1950s, based on an idea by Jack H. Nicholson (co-founder of American International Pictures) and a screenplay by Lou Rusoff ("Zontar: The Thing from Venus").


With a budget of only about $40,000, one of the wackiest rubber-suit-monsters I've ever seen and complete lack of any talent, the Milners gave us 80 minutes of pure fucking boredom. Endless scenes of bland and incredibly uninteresting characters talking about radiation, underwater stuff and "the phantom" which isn't a phantom at all, it's just a man in a lizard-like leftover Halloween costume that appears 4-5 times throughout the movie, only to grin as if it's completely imbecile, and to 'attack' several divers and swimmers.

The pace is horrendously slow, tension or suspense are non-existent, the camera work is highly unimaginative (Brydon Baker, "The Astounding She-Monster") and the musical score by regular Roger-Corman-collaborator Ronald Stein ("Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman", "Dementia 13") is surprisingly lame. 1 point for the gorgeous ladies (Cathy Downs, Helene Stanton), a half point for the laughable 'phantom'. End of rant.



May 17, 2015

AMOR ETERNO (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2015)


AMOR ETERNO

International Title:
Everlasting Love

Spain, 2014
Director: Marçal Forés

7/10







I went into this film with absolutely no expectations because I didn't know anything about it, never heard of it before, never heard of any of the filmmakers involved - and fortunately, I got rewarded with an interesting and unexpectedly fascinating cinematic indie-surprise, that starts out as gay love-drama about a young student who falls in love with a middle-aged teacher, and ends up as artsy low-budget shocker, somewhere between home-invasion horror and cannibal drama.


Marçal Forés' third directorial feature is an odd and somehow extremely difficult movie, with great performances by Joan Bentallé and Aimar Vega, developed in a highly unconventional style that takes some getting used to. Long shots and pretty calm sequences with little or no dialogue, alternate with amusing music-video-like scenes or unexpectedly experimental moments. For the majority of the movie, I was fascinated by this weird style, especially because, contrary to my buddy Christian, I wasn't able to foresee what happens next.

There's a long, dark and slightly uncanny gay-sex-in-a-car scene, shot without any noticeable cuts, a scene so fucking impressive, I'd say it's one of the most erotic things I've seen since the incredible car-sex scene in "Here Comes The Devil". There's many weird but beautifully shot scenes of random people having sex in a forest, outstanding use of stunningly aggressive electronic music, various uber-creepy locations, a kid whistling in a chillingly scary way somewhere in the deep of the forests, and a super-harsh ending including a genius shocker-plot-twist + most entertaining ending credits since "The Baron".


Unfortunately, the finale was a bit too slow, long and tedious for my taste. Considering how much suspense and intensity was going on beforehand, the last third was a letdown, and while it didn't ruin the movie, it definitely toned down my initial excitement. Still, "Amor Eterno" is something you don't get to see that often, and it gave me a damn great time. Thumbs up!

May 14, 2015

STONEHEARST ASYLUM


STONEHEARST ASYLUM

Alternate Title:
Eliza Graves

German Title:
Stonehearst Asylum - Diese Mauern wirst du nie verlassen

USA, 2014
Director: Brad Anderson

7/10





The last time I 'sang' these line on my blog was when I talked about "Dr. Tarr's Torture Dungeon", also known as "The Mansion of Madness", Juan López Moctezuma's rather bizarre, but somehow quite impressive adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's "The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether". Now that I have seen this movie, I get to 'sing' these lines again, because... yeah, "Stonehearst Asylum" is a brand-new adaptation of this often overlooked story *yay*


Based on a screenplay by Joe Gangemi ("Wind Chill"), prolific filmmaker Brad Anderson ("The Machinist", "The Call") created a dark and slightly macabre gothic horror-thriller, taking place in 1899, following medical school grad Edward Newgate who takes a position at the remote mental institution "Stonehearst Asylum" where the mentally ill get treated in an unexpectedly humane way. What Newgate doesn't know: there has been a recent, pretty terrifying staffing change...

"Stonehearst Asylum" sadly lacks the humor of its source material, as well as of the above-mentioned 1973 adaptation and S.F. Brownrigg's slightly similar "Don't Look in the Basement". Anderson's direction is solid as always, but... I don't now. I thought it's way more tentative than in his previous films, a direction style that perfectly fits movies like "Transiberian" or "Session 9", but doesn't quite fit here. He should have put some of the madness from "Dr. Tarr's Torture Dungeon" into it. Also, the ending... as bittersweet as it is, it's a tad too positive, too sappy,
at least for my taste.


Other than that, everything else is just marvellous. For almost 2 hours, Anderson leads us through beautifully designed and very well lit gothic settings and locations, past many, many likable characters wearing gorgeous costumes. There wasn't a moment of boredom or fatigue, thanks to the competent direction and the carefully composed screenplay. Kudos to Gangemi who tried and succeeded on turning the super-short story into a pretty epic thriller, full of love,
drama and eerieness.

Next to some superb music by John Debney ("Hocus Pocus", "Sin City") and the sublime cinematography by Tom Yatsko ("Fringe", "Gotham"), the cast is obviously the true highlight of the movie: Ben Kingsley a.k.a one of the greatest actors of all time as slightly "Shutter Island"-like asylum doctor, a surprisingly powerful performance by Kate Beckinsale as unobtrusive inmate, Jim Sturgess as love-struck medical graduate + veteran actors Michael Caine and Brendan Gleeson in fabulous minor roles.


"Stonehearst Asylum" is a suspenseful and entertaining gothic chiller, recommended to fans of everything Poe, as well as to every admirer of Anderson's work. Still, we have yet to see a "Dr. Tarr & Professor Fether" adaptation that gets it fully right. Well, I'm patient. I can wait. In the meantime, I just keep singing...


May 13, 2015

CUB (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2015)

CUB

Original Title:
Welp

German Title:
Camp Evil

Belgium, 2014
Director: Jonas Govaerts

6/10





The IndieGogo-backed "Cub", full-length debut of young filmmaker Jonas Govaerts, is one of the very first true Belgian horror films ever made (next to the works of Fabrice du Welz and a couple of cult classics like "Rabid Grannies" or "Daughters of Darkness"), following young Sam, a regularly bullied boy-scout-slash-outcast who befriends a flesh-hungry feral child who hides in the Belgian backwoods and terrorizes everyone who's coming through.


For the greater part, "Cub" is a wonderfully entertaining little shocker that pays homage to the camp-slashers of the 80s by taking the basic premise of classics like "Friday the 13th" or "Sleepaway Camp" and twisting it a bit around: scouts and scout leaders instead of horny teenagers, mysterious semi-creatures and brutally effective booby traps, instead of axe-wielding masked maniacs.

Most of the acting is spot-on (especially Titus De Voogdt and Noa Tambwe Kabati), the retro synth score gives the movie a fabulous 80s feeling
(Steve Moore, "The Guest"), there's lots of gory kills, lots of pretty intense suspense, some super-cool-looking locations (eerie forests, the feral boy's bizarre-looking 'timber nest', several, erm, 'underground bus wrecks'...), ace lighting, stellar cinematography (Nicolas Karakatsanis, "The Drop"), some fun with fat policemen and French douchebags, and one of the nastiest, meanest dog kills in horror history.


Unfortunately, despite all the overall awesomeness, "Cub" suffers from a weak screenplay that actually starts out great, but ends up messy as hell. Yes, Govaerts and his co-writer Roel Mondelaers had a lot of ideas... and yes, they put them all into the screenplay... and, no, they had no idea how to bring them all together in a coherent and believable way. Instead of putting all the events, sub-plots and side-characters together to a satisfying conclusion, they just haphazardly mixed it together to a really lame-ass mess that ends up with a clichéd, worn out, foreseeable and pointless plot twist that made me go "Oh come on, are you fucking kidding me??"

With better writing and a more coherent screenplay, "Cub" could have been an instant Euro-horror-classic. Yet, the way it eventually turned out to be,
it is just okay.

May 11, 2015

MARSHLAND (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2015)

MARSHLAND

Original Title:
La isla mínima

Spain, 2014
Director: Alberto Rodríguez

9/10








After years and years of countless unnecessary Dahmer- and/or Gacy-related (*yawn*) serial-killer-sploitation crapfests, the serial-killer-genre finally starts to recover from all that garbage and goes back to its roots, back to its strengths - so, after the amazing "The Frozen Ground" (Review here!), lucky me got to see another stunningly amazing serial-killer-thriller, centered around detectives, dead bodies and a gruesome killer: "Marshland", the latest feature by Spanish director Alberto Rodríguez ("Unit 7"), taking place in the post-Franco-regime Spain of 1980, following two ideologically and politically divided detectives trying to solve the mystery behind a series of brutal murders of young adolescent girls
in a small remote town.


The very basis of the plot might not be exactly original, but who cares about such trifles when everything else is just plain awesome?! "Marshland" is a grim and staggeringly powerful thriller, set in the early post-Franco-era of Spain when the political climate was confusing and unfathomable. Right from the super-gorgeous AND super-odd opening where you get to see an array of marsh-images (based on the photographies of Hector Garrido), Rodríguez creates an unbelievably gripping and gobsmackingly mesmerising atmosphere that slightly reminded me of films like "Zodiac" or "8MM". The pace is slow, but never boring, thanks to the super-strong direction and 'swamploads' of spellbinding suspense.

The story seems to be simple at first, but over the course of the movie, you realize how complex and eclectic is actually is. This is not just another murder mystery, this is actually about so much more: unemployment and money tightness, longing for the past and fear of the future, political repression, closets full of skeletons, coming of age, lust, sexual perversion, mortality etc. Certain people doing very bad ways, just because they can... certain things happening because no-one seems to care about anything... everything goes down the drain, or sinks into the marsh. It's thrilling, and it's barnstorming, and it's unsettling and it's shocking. At times, it's all at once which is just wow!


Acting-wise, everyone delivers an absolutely flawless performance, most notably Javier Gutiérrez as cynical drinker with a dark, dark past, and Raúl Arévalo as his partner, a slightly rebellious non-drinker. Together, they're one of the most unlikely, yet most fascinating detective teams I've ever witnessed in my entire life (Hell, a sequel/prequel would be great!). Regular Rodríguez-collaborator Alex Catalán's cinematography is stunning, delivering vivid and colorful imagery, as well as lots of ravishing grimness. Julio de la Rosa's ("Juan of the Dead") eerie score is a masterful treat for the ears. Massive kudos to the amazing ending, the breathtaking nightly car chase, the fantastic scene with the bird and the inclusion of, erm, Baccara's "Yes Sir, I Can Boogie".

It's no suprise that it was showered with awards last year (see here). "Marshland" is simply outstanding!

THE DEAD LANDS (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2015)

THE DEAD LANDS

New Zealand / UK, 2014
Director: Toa Fraser

8/10











My knowledge about New Zealand is rather sparse. I know a lot  about New Zealandian cinema, I know a bit about the politics and infrastructure of New Zealand - that's about it. Māori? Whoops, that's something European schools don't teach you about - which is actually pretty sad, because now that I've seen my first Māori-themed film, I definitely wanna know more about this fascinating culture... and of course, I will file a petition to the Austrian Ministry of Education asking to change the curriculum: more New Zealand and Australia, less Roman Empire and first World War. That's that. ;)


"The Dead Lands" is the fourth feature of Britain-born filmmaker Toa Fraser ("Dean Spanley"), an epic and action-packed revenge story about Hongi, teenage son of a Māori chieftain who tries to avenge the murder of his father and the slaughter of his tribe by going into the feared and forbidden "Dead Lands" to team up with a mysterious, legendary and ruthless warrior...

No, the story isn't exactly original, and parts of the film are even highly foreseeable. However, in this case, that didn't annoy me a bit because "The Dead Lands" is such an amazingly well made film, I couldn't care less about any revenge-film clichés or well-trodden code-of-honour tropes. From start to finish, I was intrigued and riveted by all the believable and surprisingly complex characters, all the beautiful landscapes, Leon Narbey's ("The Tattooist") excellent camera work and the powerful, bombastic and simply staggering soundtrack by New Zealand multi-instrumentalist Don McGlashan.


There's lots of badass fight scenes with rarely-seen Māori weapons, breathtakingly choreographed and executed. Far from being as gob-smacking as the fighting in "The Raid", but in some kinda way similarly enthralling, at least that's how I felt about it, especially about the incredible scene where the young boy and the old warrior fight against an entire tribe at some forest glade. I sat there, eyes and mouth wide open, completely mesmerised by the breathtaking
martial arts awesomeness.

The best thing about "The Dead Lands" is definitely the fantastic acting, especially the awesome chemistry between youngster James Rolleston and Māori actor Lawrence Makoare who is probably best known for his performances in several "Middle Earth" films ("Fellowship of the Ring" / "Return of the King" / "Desolation of Smaug") and several episodes of "Xena" & "Young Hercules".
The film is great in the beginning, but it really gets going halfway into when Rolleston and Makoare finally meet up, forming an unlikely, yet highly interesting and somehow splendidly well-paired revenge team. You can rant about the films's unoriginality as much as you want, but you have to admit that those two characters are probably two of the most fascinating ones the action/action-related genre has ever seen. Also great: super-hot
Māori babe Raukura Turei and tough guy Te Kohe Tuhaka.


Entertaining. Thrilling. Action-packed. A real blast from Kiwi country, and next to recent NZ-films like "Housebound" or "What We Do In The Shadows", another example of how awesome New Zealand's current movie output is.
Who needs Peter Jackson anyway?

May 8, 2015

THE ENCOUNTER (2015)

THE ENCOUNTER

Working Title:
Forest Fire

USA, 2015
Director: Robert Conway

3/10








The alien abduction subgenre is in a massive crisis (just like the exorcism subgenre), due to a decades-long overuse of the same old alien abduction clichés, such as grey human-like aliens, lights from above, people getting sucked into flying saucers via beams of light etc. etc. Ok, exceptions prove the rule. Several films like "The Fourth Kind" or "Dark Skies" had enough atmosphere and originality going on, and also managed to entertain, as well as to creep the shit out of the viewer.


Yet, aside from these examples, recent stuff like "The Device" or "Alien Abduction" failed to achieve on the levels of originality, entertainment and creepiness - and "The Encounter" makes no exception. The third feature of indie director Robert Conway ("Exit to Hell") is a trite paint-by-numbers piece of
alien-boredom, following three groups of people who all experience encounters of the third kind.

"The Encounter" suffers from many, many problems: the characters are either bland, stupid or super-annoying. Most of the acting is poor, incl. a few really cringeworthy performances. The pacing is all over the place, at times way too fast, at times way too slow - and when it's slow, it's reeeaaally slow.


As an avid fan of found footage, I had no problem with the shaky cam or several grainy images, but the fact that it feels as if filmed with thousands of different cameras constantly took me outta the movie. Even worse, it doesn't matter which found footage cliché you're looking for, it's all in there: night vision, mockumentary-like sequences, stock/archive footage, blurry/grainy/out-of-focus images, people filming nearly everything the entire time for no apparent reason, people talking to the camera Blair-Witch-style, open ending etc. etc. ad. inf. I've seen it all millions of times before and it's getting damn fucking boring!

Okay, there are a few mildly suspenseful scenes and some decently eerie moments, most of the low-budget special effects look surprisingly awesome, and I loved the segment where we get to see a park ranger getting infected with some alien goo and undergoing a horrible transformation. Other than that,
"The Encounter" is nothing I'd recommend.


Thanks to Ashleigh Davies and Clint Morris for the screeener!

May 7, 2015

"LOST RIVER" (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2015)

LOST RIVER

Working Title:
How to Catch a Monster

USA, 2014
Director: Ryan Gosling

2/10








I like Ryan Gosling as an actor ("Drive", "The Ides of March") and I respect his recent foray into the writer/director-realm... but omg, I HATED his debut feature "Lost River". I hated it about as much as the critics in Cannes who tore it to shreds last year. It's obviously not the worst movie I've ever seen, but it's definitely the most unbearable one.

"Lost River" feels as if Gosling went crazy after binge-watching all the films of Nicolas Winding Refn, Gaspar Noe, David Cronenberg, David Lynch and Terrence Mallick. I imagine him sitting at home, shouting out "Hey! I wanna do that too!" over and over again, before he finally sat down and wrote an awkward, incomprehensible and pointless story about a semi-abandoned town called 'Lost River' where a few characters do some oh-so-symbolic and/or oh-so-pointless shit: a single mother who starts to work at some super-grotesque theatre club (which feels like a harmless variation of the club in "Hostel III"), her son who discovers a mysterious road that leads into an underwater dinosaur theme park (where's Spielberg when you need him?), an old woman (who looks a bit like Gloria Swnason in "Sunset Blvd.") who's watching TV all night long, and a naive young girl named Rat(!) who prefers to live (and sing) in a neon-pink-light attic. Oh, and there's also some guy who thinks he's king of the town and spends his days sitting in a car with a seat mounted on top, shouting and screaming through a louspeaker H.P.-Baxxter-style (Thanks Lilly!).


"Style Over Substance - The Movie" would be a better-fitting title. The whole thing is just one oh-so-beautiful, oh-so-meaningful image after the other. A neverending succession of trippy visuals and money shots without any depth or thoughtfulness. Weird characters doing weird things and saying weird things for no apparent reason. Nothing makes sense. Nothing fits together. Everything seems to have "Just Because" written all over it. At times it feels like this is the worst example of pretentious filmmaking imaginable, at times it feels as if Gosling simply had no idea what he's doing. As if he was running around all day long, filming this, filming that. I'm not sure what sucks more: Gosling's direction, Gosling's screenplay or Gosling's wacko imagination.

Things like the dinosaur head or the burning bicycle made me cringe. For every slow-mo shot of a burning house, I wanted to give Gosling a slap in the face. The scenes with the (slightly Cronenbergian) 'shells' or the educational film about the artifical lake - ridiculous, dumb and highly unnerving. Ugh. It was a torture. "Lost River" was definitely NOT made for me. 1 point for the gorgeous imagery. 1 point for the cast (minus Saoirse Ronan who was surprisingly disappointing). Rant over.


P.S. My buddy Manuel said that "It looks like a Hipster-Tumblr" which is probably the absolute best way to describe it :-D

P.P.S. No-one would care about "Lost River" if it would have been made by a no-name director with a no-name cast. No-one.

"WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD" (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2015)

WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD

Alternate Title:
Wyrmwood

Australia, 2014
Director: Kiah Roache-Turner

4/10








As of lately, my beloved Australia is letting me down quite a lot. Aside from the amazing "The Babadook", there was lots of disappointing stuff, like the mediocre remakes of "Patrick" and "Long Weekend", promising but ultimately not that satisfying films like "These Final Hours" or "Wolf Creek 2" - and now this one: "Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead", another post-apocalyptic zombie movie about a couple of wacky survivors trying to, erm, survive *yawn* in a world where an odd meteor shower has turned half the population into living and walking dead.

From what I saw and heard of it beforehand, I expected this to be more like 'Mad Max vs. Zombies'. Unfortunately, it's SO NOT "Mad Max" level and feels more like a shiftless best-of of all zombie-movie-clichés ever created, including semi-funky anti-zombie-armour, characters and scenarios straight outta "Bad Taste" or "The Battery" ,and a few plot elements that are actually smart and original, but were applied in a gimmicky and disappointingly unimpressive way, for example:
the meteor shower has made gasoline inflammable, while zombie-blood and zombie-breath are perfectly flammable now, which leads to a good-but-actually-not-that-good throwaway-scene where a few guys power their car with...
well, a zombie! Great idea, but the execution was just meh.


There are other pretty amusing scenes, involving zombie home invasions and accidental friendly fire, a couple of neat actors playing very likable characters (most notably: Luke McKenzie and Keith Agius) and lots of gore, blood and violence. Unfortunately, due to Kiah Roache-Turner's poor direction and very awkward pacing, all the fun didn't prevent me and my 5 buddies (the regular /Slash crowd) from ending up bored and annoyed. Crudely developed subplots that are pretty worthless, unnerving side characters, frustratingly unfunny comic reliefs, superfluous "Shaun of the Dead"-like oh-so-emotional scenes that just don't work at all, tedious fight sequences that drag on and on, way too much slow-motion, weird editing, lack of suspense and atmosphere etc. etc.

It's not bad, but it's about as forgettable as recent zombie trash à la "Zombie Hunter" or "Cockneys vs. Zombies". Absolutely no interest in checking out
the *sigh* upcoming sequel "Wyrmwood 2"...

May 6, 2015

"THE MAN IN THE ORANGE JACKET" (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2015)


THE MAN IN THE ORANGE JACKET

Original Title:
 M.O.Ž.

Alternate Spellings:
М. О. Ж. / M.O.Zh.

Latvia / Estonia, 2014
Director: Aik Karapetian

5/10





*sigh* It could have been so, so good...
"The Man in the Orange Jacket" [super-cool title, super-cool poster] is an artsy horror film shot and produced in Latvia [yay, I've haven't seen any Latvian movies before!], following a young dockworker who seeks revenge for being laid off from his job by entering the luxurious remote mansion of his boss, killing him and his wife. He hides the bodies and immediately starts a new life, becoming the "man in the house", living off all the money and all the luxuries he can find in the mansion - but soon, la dolce vita becomes a nightmare when he starts hearing terrifying noises and seeing mysterious figures...


The movie starts out simply terrific: a mesmerising opening with lots of beautiful slow-motion sequences, astonishing images of gorgeous landscapes and stunningly designed interiors, and some incredibly harsh brutality, followed by many, many intense scenes that slightly resemble the direction style of Michael Haneke, as well as various unforeseeable shocks, non-cheap jump scares and lots of powerful suspense + epic music, fantastic cinematography and a striking performance by rookie actor Maxim Lazarev.

Then, in the second half, it all falls apart and ends up bitterly disappointing [HUGE SPOILERS!] with a lame and worn out twist ending à la "High Tension" or "The Secret Garden" *yawn*. Director / writer Aik Karapetian obviously ran dry of ideas how to properly end this movie. I'd even assume that once it came to the ending, he simply didn't care which is a shame.  The first half is so fucking great, I really thought about giving it a 9/10 - but the second half is such a weak and poor mishmash of other movies, like "American Psycho", "The Machinist", "The Changeling", "YellowBrickRoad" and the above-mentioned titles, it's... man, it's so fucking frustrating, especially because of the dumb ending and the scene with the twins which starts out fantastic, but ends up bland as hell.


Starts good. Ends bad. Meh. What a letdown.

May 4, 2015

SPRING (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2015)

SPRING

USA, 2014
Directors: Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead

7/10










 
"Spring" is probably the closest we will ever get to a Richard-Linklater-horror film (thanks to my buddy Christian for pointing out the movie's similarities to Linklater's "Before"-trilogy), a love-story with some absurd but also fascinating Lovecraftian elements, following Evan, a young American who impulsively travels to Italy to take a break from all the shit that happened back home (his mother died, he lost his job, and the police is after him...). There, in the town of Bari, he falls in love with a beautiful and intelligent, but also mysterious and quite enigmatic woman who's hiding a horrifying secret...


It's shocking that this movie was made by the same guys who created the uber-awful "Bonestorm"-segment in "V/H/S: Viral". Where "Bonestorm" was just insanely stupid, "Spring" surprises with a heartwarming lightness that you don't get to see that often in horror, and which I obviously totally didn't expect from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. "Spring" focuses on topics like self-discovery, love at first sight and dropping out of life, adding a few supernatural elements & semi-creature-feature twists that turn this average boy-meets-girl
love story into a lovely, amusing and quite original genre-hybrid that entertained me much more than I expected.

I loved the unbelievably believable chemistry between German actress Nadia Hilker (whose English is so perfect, it's baffling!) and Lou Taylor Pucci ("Evil Dead", "Carriers") whose look and performance could be described as 'Simon Pegg, born again as an American', and I just loved seeing them interacting with each other, talking all kinds of bullshit while being lovey-dovey and silly, even though her behavior is often quite awkward, and holy shit, that girl has some serious transformation-problems which affect their relationship a lot - but Evan sticks to her, because love *sigh*


The movie is clearly too long (110 minutes!!) and the ending is a bit meh, even though its basic message is sweet, and there's also lot of really ridiculous talk about biochemistry and hormones - but all in all, it's a really wonderful film, hardly ever boring, full of beautiful images of Italian landscspaes, sunrises, sunsets, fruit, insects and... erm, tentacles :) Also, worth mentioning: a hilarious appearance by Jeremy Gardner ("The Battery"), some outstanding cinematography / camera work (done by Moorhead himself) and one of the most hilarious cliché-americans I've ever seen, a drinking, weed-smoking, National-Anthem-singing douchebag who thinks Italians speak French *duh*

Can't wait for the sequel "Summer" and the prequel "Winter" ;)))

EVANGELINE

EVANGELINE

Alternate Title:
The Soul Collector

Canada, 2013
Director: Karen Lam

2/10








I'm not entirely sure what writer / director Karen Lam wanted to achieve with this movie, but... whatever it was, it totally didn't work out. "Evangeline" tries to be all at once: revenge thriller, rape'n'revenge thriller, average teen horror, pro-faith horror, fantasy-horror about supposedly good demons, homage to "The Crow" etc. etc. Focusing on ONE of these sub-genres would have been so much better than cobbling it all together and ending up with a movie that is simply a freaking mess.


The story takes place in a police-less North Vancouver and follows Evangeline, a naive and devout student who falls in love with a guy who's actually a fucking psychopath. He hunts, tortures and almost kills her in a bizarre cat-and-mouse/hide-and-seek game. Left for dead in the woods, she gets rescued by homeless hicks, flees when one of them tries to tease her, and eventually runs into an even more psychopatic serial killer who kidnaps and rapes her.

By the time Evangeline gets raped, we're already 52 minutes into the movie, when suddenly some kinda ancient demon(?) takes over and transforms the poor girl into a dull-looking avenging angel (with all the semi-goth make-up, she looks more like 'The Crow light'...) and for the remaining 28 minutes (yes, "Evangeline" is only 80 minutes long...), she seeks revenge on her tormentors. The end.


In terms of visuals and atmosphere, Lam and cinematographer Michael Balfry ("The Dead Zone") did a great job: there's lots of creepy images, very well filmed eerie locations and many atmosphere-laden scenes/sequences. Unfortunately, that's pretty much the only positive thing to say about "Evangeline". The direction is awkward and shiftless, the acting is thoroughly meh (sole exception: Mayumi Yoshida) and the screenplay is a half-assed and dilettante hodge podge of crude ideas that don't fit together, illogical plot points, odd and irritating twists/turns, and countless unexplained questions. Even worse: the characters - damn, they're all terrible to the max. Everyone is absolutely unsympathetic. Everyone behaves in irrational and ridiculous ways. Every single character is cliché-ridden and completely unbelievable. I couldn't care less about who survives or who dies, because they were all the same to me.


Despite being a visual treat, I cannot recommend this movie at all,
not to Horror fans, not to non-horror-fans, not to hardcore Christians (I'm 100% sure that the few obvious faith elements are way too sparse to 'satisfy' the average believer). Wanna see a great rape'n'revenge film that deals with similar elements but gets it fully right? Yeah? Then please watch "Avenged" instead. This movie smacks Evangeline's butt so hard, she hopefully runs away and never
comes back. The end.


Thanks to Brooke Campbell and Clint Morris for the screener!

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