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Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Happening’

June 10, 2018

Written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan is one of my favorite directors because he isn’t afraid to swing-and-miss. His films The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, The Visitors and Split (forget the other two) are mind-bogglers that are either great or terrible. His box-office hit ($193 million internationally) The Happening is one of his biggest head-scratchers because it makes very little sense and features heavily directed performances that work against the dark themes. It’s an earnest horror movie that is like it’s killer in that it is “an act of nature and we’ll never fully understand it.” I love The Happening because of its total dedication to being a “force of nature that is beyond our understanding.” It is an odd-gem that swung-and-missed and is easy to dislike and almost easier to make fun of.

The Happening opens with a woman stabbing herself in the neck with a hairpin and then shows us construction workers making suicidal jumps at an NYC worksite. It’s an eye-grabber of an introduction that proves M. Night was using the films R-rating to its full potential. It’s grim, mysterious and is very (very very) Shyamalan. It then cuts to science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) earnestly discussing the disappearance of bees in his high school science class. His class is interrupted when news breaks out that people in NYC are becoming suicidal after being exposed to a type of toxin or poisonous gas (AKA neurotoxin). Wahlberg joins up with his girlfriend Alma Moore (Zooey Deschanel) and his pal Julian (John Leguizamo) and they start making their way to the safety of Philadelphia. Before they can get to Philly their train stops and they are dropped off in Philbert, Pennsylvania to fend for themselves.

We see the bad reviews coming.

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Elliott and Alma eventually learn that the “wind” is targeting cities, towns, and roads so they get off the grid and find themselves wandering rural Philadelphia looking to stay ahead of the wind. Their journey leads to bloody moments featuring various members of their party killing themselves or being killed which allows Elliott to piece together clues about what is happening around them. Everything culminates to quite possibly the strangest moment of 21st-century film when they come across an old woman who is very (very very very) strange. Watch this clip and you will know what I mean.

The Happening is a nonstop thriller that features constant violent suicides, stilted dialogue and heavy foreshadowing (plants respond to human stimulus). Most importantly, the main antogonists are plants who are mad at humans for destroying the earth so they lash out with “suicide wind” in order to thin the populace a bit. It’s interesting to watch because the breakneck murderous pace clashes with the patient M. Night dialogue that focuses heavily on whispers, cough syrup and bonkers questions (Are you eyeing my lemonade?). It’s a mishmashed grouping of mishmashed elements that goes to some shocking places when it murders teenagers and features humans being run over by their lawnmowers. The relationship between Alma and Elliott is never fully established and it goes to some weird places when they are forced to watch over a young child and be asked pointed questions about their relationship.

Mark Wahlberg justifiably hates this movie but I appreciate that he went all-in and delivered the performance Shyamalan wanted. The same goes for Deschanel who isn’t given much and manages to keep a straight face while saying “can you believe how crappy people are?” Shyamalan always manages to get all-in performances from his actors and it’s interesting that they can really pay off (James MacAvoy – Split) or play as super awkward (Paul Giamatti – The Lady in the Water). It’s a credit to Shyamalan that actors believe in what he is doing and he managed to get back-on-track after his The Last Airbender and After Earth debacles. I love how Split was a massive hit and the end result is Glass which is a sequel to my favorite superhero movie Unbreakable.

The Happening is not a good movie but I like how it tells an insane story in a breezy 90 minutes. I guarantee we will never get another movie like this (for a reason) and that is why I appreciate it. When you watch as many movies as I do you begin to appreciate movies like The Happening because they are f**king crazy and are the result of a filmmaker having total control and no oversight. Some of the best worst movies happen (The Postman, Evan Almighty, Jupiter Ascending) when directors can do whatever they’ve had success and can make their passion projects with zero restraint.

If you are a looking for an absolutely insane movie I totally recommend The Happening because it’s confusing, embarrassing, earnest and very fun.

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The MFF Podcast #132: Upgrade (2018), Blumhouse and Leigh Whannell’s brutal Techno-Thriller

June 7, 2018

MFF

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SUMMARY: This week we discuss the techno-thriller Upgrade (2018), Leigh Whannell’s wondrous writing, and brutal tech-marionetted fight scenes! We muse whether or not this is a contemporary exploitation movie, what kinds of projects we’d love to see Whannell pursue next, the motives behind STEM, and possible sequel plots.

For more podcast discussions about violent, hard-R movies, check out…

Episode 130: Deadpool 2, Sugar Bears and Tiny Legs
Episode 51: 10 Deadpool Lane
Episode 114: Office Horror, Mayhem & The Belko Experiment
Episode 91: Everybody Wants Some More John Wick!

Download the pod on iTunes, PodBean, Stitcher or
LISTEN TO THE POD ON BLOG TALK RADIO.
Please SUBSCRIBE, REVIEWRATE and SHARE.

John’s Horror Corner: A Cure for Wellness (2016), The Road to Wellville (1994) meets Shutter Island (2010) with a dash of Frankenstein (1931) in this incredibly strange genre-splicing film.

June 6, 2018

MY CALL:  Incredibly strange yet surprisingly rather coherent given its moral-testing lunacy and wispily mixed themes, this visually stunning and sanity-challenging film is worth the time of any adventurous film-goer with a strong stomach and a penchant for the unusual.  MORE MOVIES LIKE A Cure for WellnessGet Out (2017) comes to mind… and maybe Shutter Island (2010). But, outside of those, I’m at a loss.

Director Gore Verbinksi (The Ring, The Pirates of the Caribbean 1-3) brings his facility for scale and cinematography to this GORGEOUS film that injects a horrific story into The Road to Wellville (1994) interspersed with Shutter Island (2010).

From its very offset we are awash with very different tones and themes. We meet a slick, ambitious young Wall Street executive who is charged by the robotically cold corporate board to venture to a sanitarium in the Swiss Alps to return the company’s perhaps insane CEO. Not 15 minutes into the film and we have corporate scandals and hints that a Frankensteinian dichotomy exists between the “villagers” and the hilltop castle-like wellness facility in a region of the world remote from modern comforts—as if spinning an admixture of present day with Mary Shelley’s historic period.

Our young exec Lockhart (Dane Dehaan; Chronicle, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) discovers a Utopian treatment center with sunny Tai Chi and badminton on the lawn enjoyed by smiling patients in immaculate white robes and none with a negative word to say. So idealistic is it, that the patients seem to participate equally with the staff in hiding something as Lockhart learns more of the historic hydrotherapy facility’s dark past.

As Lockhart, Dane Dehaan is as sinister as he is charming, but more tightly wound; an excellent counterpart to Jason Isaac’s Dr. Volmer (The OA, Event Horizon) very similar performance as the charismatic facility director Dr. Volmer, who is of ever more calm disposition. As Lockhart loses control, Volmer is always there to grasp more. Not unlike Shutter Island (2010), Lockhart’s investigation soon finds himself a patient of the facility, with numerous delusions of his present echoing the haunting pains of his past.

Things get pretty weird and we end up somewhere I absolutely didn’t expect through the use of elderly full frontal nudity, complicated historical clues revolving around incest and deformed babies, a very strange masturbation scene, reality-questioning hypotheses (or hallucinations) of parasitosis and their VERY invasive means of application, rumors of science-based longevity, an unusual application of electric eels in an off-putting coming-of-age scene, and an extremely uncomfortable father-daughter moment that will likely offend many viewers. Yes, this film includes numerous perverse themes. But, no, I don’t find it exploitative. Given the cavalier inclusion of the aforementioned components, the film was approached rather tactfully. Although it is more than a bit jarring when an actress (regardless of her adulthood in reality) playing an early teenage girl (Mia Goth; Nymphomaniac Vol. II, the 2018 remake of 1977’s Suspiria) is the subject of nudity and sexual assault.  So… yeah… ummm… don’t watch this with your mother or your kids.

Despite being incredibly eerie and on (frequent) occasion uncomfortable, this is truly an outstanding film.

PODCAST SIDEBAR: If you want to know more about A Cure for Wellness, check out our in-depth podcast discussion: Episode 129: A Cure for Wellness, Gore Verbinkski’s gorgeous genre-splicing psychological horror. Mark did TONS of research on the film, the behind-the-scenes, and even the filming aspect ratio. You’ll walk away with a serious appreciation of the film’s production and the impracticality of “obsession laboratory” lair architecture.

 

John’s Horror Corner: Creature (1985; aka Titan Find), another Alien (1979) rip-off that aims high on set design, middles on succubus-like drone themes, and low on creature features.

June 5, 2018

MY CALL: A solidly entertaining B-movie that aims high everywhere except its creature effects. Recommended to bad movie connoisseurs. MORE MOVIES LIKE CreatureFor more low budget Alien (1979) rip-offs, you should seek Contamination (1980; aka Alien Contamination), Alien 2: On Earth (1980), Scared to Death (1980), Galaxy of Terror (1981), Forbidden World (1982; aka Mutant), Inseminoid (1982; aka Horror Planet), Parasite (1982), Creepazoids (1987), Blue Monkey (1987), Nightflyers (1987), Deep Space (1988), The Terror Within (1989), The Rift (1990), Dark Universe (1993) and Zombies: The Beginning (2007).

IMDB synopsis: “An expedition to Titan uncovers an alien being, that goes on a rampage.”

This movie opens with a scene paralleling the alien ship recon in Alien (1979), as a corporate space crew unwittingly discover alien life and… presumably, all of them die. Then our next crew (this movie’s protagonists) have set out to investigate the site and, apparently, the women brought loads of hair and make-up products.

Written and directed by William Malone (Scared to Death, House on Haunted Hill, Feardotcom), Creature tries to follow more closely in Alien’s footsteps than most of its copycats. And like Alien, this mission is all business and the crew is largely ill-prepared for what they discover. We also enjoy some ambitious model-work for the space ships and ground vessels, and the rocky set design is definitely hitting above its weight.

As soon as our crew lands, they hit a sink hole and are stuck there. When they investigate a competing corporation’s vessel (that beat them there), they discover dilapidated laboratories, mangled dead bodies and torn air vents. Not exactly a good sign.

The cast includes Wendy Schaal (Batteries Not Included, Munchies), Lyman Ward (Sleepwalkers, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2), Diane Salinger (Dark House), Annette McCarthy (Twin Peaks) and Klaus Kinski (Nosferatu the Vampire, Venom, Schizoid).

The tone is inconsistent at best. Everything seems standard until we’re hit with an oddly sensual, warm-filtered sex scene that came out of nowhere. Later in the film, we learn that little parasites (perhaps like mini-Facehugger-parasites applied to the head) control the minds of those infected, creating a sort of hivemind pod person drone a la Alien 2: On Earth (1980), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) or Screamers (1995). These infected drones act totally human and can mislead, convince, or sexually lure our protagonists to their doom.

The special effects are largely blood sprays, large wounds, after-the-fact corpses, a solid face-rip and exploding head. As for the monster—the “creature” of the title—it’s quite xenomorphic in form and drool-dripping presentation. But we don’t see nearly enough of it as the rubber suited beast clunkily lumbers down hallways. Truth be told, our “creature” was the weakest link of the movie, even if it did enjoy one or two good shots of its menacing face.

Like the monster and the plot, the ending is dumb but fun.

MFF Lists: 5 Moments in the ‘Star Wars’ Films That Feature Characters Looking Fatigued

June 4, 2018

The world has been blessed with 10 Star Wars movies over the last 41 years (and four since 2015) but somehow we are just too tired of watching them already. With all the talk of Solo underperforming at the box office because of Star Wars fatigue” (and other reasons) I decided to pull five moments from the 10 films that feature somebody looking fatigued. These moments feature characters we all know and love taking a breather after a battle, or taking a breather during a battle (Qui-Gon is the bomb). This list isn’t proving anything or making a statement, it’s just a list that provides moments of characters looking exhausted. It makes about as much sense as the whole “Star Wars fatigue” thing does.

Yoda Looking Beat After Battling Darth Sidious – Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith

I get tired watching Yoda battle Darth Sidious in Revenge of the Sith, so I can imagine how he felt after this extremely acrobatic fight. If any Star Wars character ever earned the right to look fatigued in a movie it is Yoda. The guy pulled off triple-flips, quadruple back-flips, and engaged in a force lightning battle that must’ve burned thousands of calories. He gets added gangster points for looking like a boss when he knocks out the two Royal Guards at the beginning of the clip.

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Luke Skywalker Looking Exhausted While Training on Dagoba – Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Dagoba is probably the best/worst planet to train because you need to be focused at all times to prevent running into lake monsters, snakes, and giant carnivorous birds. The rough terrain would make for a perfect Tough Mudder or Spartan Race location with its lakes, intricate tree systems and copious amounts of vines. Nothing would have to be built for an intense 5K because everything is already there and ready to hurt people.

I totally understand why Luke looks fatigued after a long day of running through muck, mud, and murk. Also, he had Yoda on his back which must’ve added about 40 pounds and thrown off his balance when doing front-flips.

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Qui-Gon Jinn Takes A Breather – Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

I love when Qui Gon Jinn takes a breather during his lightsaber battle with Darth Maul. His moment of zen makes a lot of sense because he needs to save his energy and refocus his powers to survive against a more powerful foe. The Phantom Menace is a mixed-bag of quality but the finale lightsaber brawl is almost universally beloved because it’s exciting, beautifully choreographed and features Jedi Knights taking breathers. When watching this clip you 100% buy that he has a particular brand of skills and taking a quick breather is one of them.

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The Mask Comes Off Darth Vader – Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi

The dude looks totally fatigued at the end of Return of the Jedi and I understand why. It took all his power to pick up Emperor Palpatine over his head and throw him into a reactor chute. Also, the guy isn’t young anymore and is probably tired of the all the supernatural crap and labored breathing. It was a bit of a shock to see Vader’s face at the end, but I love that it was an older guy who looked really tired and he seemed happy to see his son during his final moments. After many years of killing people (and children), Vader could finally rest and enjoy embracing something good.

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Leia Becomes Super Leia – Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

It took a while for Leia to use the force, but when she did it was INSANE! I remember sitting in the theater and hearing people “gasp” when Leia came back to life after she got sucked into space. I’m pretty sure nobody saw the moment coming and I’m still having a hard time believing she went full CGI-force Mary Poppins and floated back to her spaceship. Everyone can agree she needed a nap afterward because it took a lot of power for Leia to save herself.

 

What is your favorite moment involving a tired Star Wars character?

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Upgrade: A Fantastic Techno-Thriller That You Should See With an Audience

June 3, 2018

Upgrade is a bloody breath of fresh air that features top-notch production value, inspired violence and a solid lead performance from Logan Marshall-Green. It is a tiny-budgeted  ($3-5 million) exploitation movie that showcases the DIY talents of director/writer Leigh Whannell.  Whannell is the man responsible for the  Saw, Insidious, Cooties and Dead Silence screenplays and you can tell he has been fine-tuning his craft to get to Upgrade. What I appreciate most about Whannell is how he can maximize his tiny budgets and create new worlds that feel heavily borrowed and totally unique at the same time. I can’t think of the last time I wanted a movie to succeed so badly because if Upgrade pulls a profit it could open the doors for other tiny-budgeted exploitation movies to be made and released in theaters.

Upgrade tells the story of something terrible happening to a technologically averse man living in the near future. Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is an analog man who fixes old cars, listens to vinyl and doesn’t know how to operate the driverless car that his wife drives. Things go terribly wrong after he and his wife drop off a muscle car to a tech billionaire’s insanely upgraded home when their driverless car is hacked and eventually flips after hitting a ramp. Grey’s wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) is killed and he is left as a quadriplegic who becomes dependent on the technology around him. Things get really interesting when the tech billionaire Eron (Harrison Gilbertson)  shows up and says he can cure Grey’s quadriplegia by installing an enhanced microchip called STEM into his body. The surgery is a success but Grey soon finds out that STEM is smarter than it seems when it starts talking to him and has the capability of taking over his body.  Problems arise when the fully-mobile Grey starts finding and killing (via crazy methods) the men who killed his wife. The killings put him on the radar of a detective named Cortez (Betty Gabriel) and soon he is being hunted by an uber enhanced soldier who can kill people by simply breathing. It all leads to a gut-punch of a conclusion that builds a bigger world and opens up some neat sequel possibilities.

Some of the most impressive aspects of Upgrade are the creative fight scenes that showcase some very interesting choreography that plays like The Matrix met The Raid and became more bloody. Logan Marshall-Green does a fantastic job of pulling off the physicality of the brawls and acting like he isn’t doing any of the fighting because STEM has control. You will find yourself laughing as he mutilates people’s bodies with every weapon you could imagine. I’ve never seen fights like this before and that is a credit to Whannell who always finds ways to create something original with familiar elements. Take a look at the trailer and you will see what I mean.

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If you are looking to watch a beautifully inventive movie it doesn’t get any better than Upgrade. I can’t wait to see what Leigh Whannell does next and I hope Logan Marshall-Green is able to use Upgrade to catapult himself into some more interesting films.

 

 

John’s Horror Corner: Demon Wind (1990), a raunchy, cheesy, gory B-movie about lots of ugly mushy-faced monsters.

June 3, 2018

MY CALL: Pretty random, pretty fun. In many respects this is the typical aimless 80s B-movie, but it’s one of the more enjoyable ones and it smacks of Night of the Demons (1988). MORE MOVIES LIKE Demon WindI’d say Demons (1985), Night of the Demons (1988), Night of the Demons 2 (1994) and Slime City (1988) off the top of my head—even if only due to the obvious influences.

IMDB synopsis: “With the need to investigate the mysterious death of his grandparents, Cory and his friends assemble back to the old farm where it all began, sixty years earlier.”

Everyone they meet on their way to Cory’s farm is terrified of the place and stammers lies about it. You’d think these twenty-somethings might know better. But nope. They’re going anyway! It’s really hokey, but the cast is trying really hard and I can appreciate that. Once they arrive, the surrounding bewitched mists entrap them at the burnt down cabin.

The opening scenes feature strong imagery of gore and immolation. The budget is clearly low, but the special effects team is not holding back.

We have yogurt vomiting, pulsating flesh, toothy-mawed homages to Demons (1985) or even Night of the Demons (1988) at every turn, poltergeist-y telekinesis, some evil children turn someone into an exploding doll, there’s a Necronomicon-like diary and a backstory about raising the Devil, a cheap beguiling boob ghost temptress that turns into a melty-skinned Freddy Krueger mess of a monster, a redneck zombie murder family, loads of mustard goo bloody gore (much like Phantsasm or Slime City), a spin kick decapitation, and even a tongue strangulation scene! I should add that the demons (and their monstrous make-up) get loads of screen time. Bravo!

The random factor is pretty high here. I should also point out that the monster effects (i.e., murder zombie demonoids) get loads of screen time as a tour de force of pus-filled cyst-faced monsters.

Written and directed by Charles Philip Moore (Dance with Death, Black Belt, Angel of Destruction), his very first film and only horror film is an ambitious B-movie worthy of bad 80s cult status. It starts somewhat slowly, but with surprisingly likable characters (written with some actual “B-movie” effort), and culminates in a ridiculous ending complete with the classic Elm Street dream-turned-bad.

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