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Mississippi Grind (2015), a more mature look into Ryan Reynolds’ charm.

March 14, 2017


MY CALL:  This is a witty approach to the kinds of people drawn to gambling, their hot streaks and the lulls, and what happens when those two cross paths. As their relationships and superstitions unfold we find equal parts warmth and desperation in this film. I enjoyed it a lot.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Mississippi Grind:  Some other movies about people who find themselves dangerously in debt from gambling, and then gamble to pay their debts include Rounders (1998), 21 (2008) and The Gambler (2014).

Written and directed by Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson) and Anna Boden (Half Nelson), this is the kind of film that I am never really excited to see, but always satisfied after seeing it.  If you’re a fan of Ryan Reynolds or Ben Mendelsohn, that should be reason enough for you.

From their opening scenes we quickly come to understand our two unlikely cohorts.  Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn; Rogue One, Bloodline, Slow West, Animal Kingdom) is a student of the inner workings of the hustle, and the silver-tongued drifter Curtis (Ryan Reynolds; Deadpool, The Change-Up) enjoys a glib luckiness that draws Gerry’s interest.  After meeting at a poker table and enjoying a pretty damn clever joke revolving around Bourbon, Curtis and Gerry hit it off.

But Curtis seems less interested in actually winning than simply being entertained, and Gerry leans compulsively to the game.  And whereas Curtis strikes the match to make things edgy and interesting, Gerry is the powder keg for whom we worry.  You see good things always seem to happen to Curtis–but not Gerry, especially not when Curtis is gone.  But Gerry is our storyteller and we know a lot more about him than our mysterious charming drifter.

Knowing little about each other, the two embark on a journey.  We discover more about them as they do within each other.  Meanwhile we, as outsiders, gain perspective on what makes gamblers tick.  This film enjoys the superstitions of gamblers who pick winners at the dog track based on recent coincidences and desperately look for signs and lucky charms from their surroundings.

Ryan Reynolds is a more mature version of his last decade’s self.  He channels all the cutting charm that earned him our favor from Waiting (2005), Van Wilder (2002) and Buying the Cow (2002), but has now grown up…somewhat.  His charismatic drifter exudes occasional glimmers that smack of his touching performance in The Woman in Gold (2015); but most of the time he’s just Ryan being Ryan outside of the confines of his typical raunchy comedy.

Much as the temptation to stay and try your luck with one more hand, this film has a slow but powerful draw.  I’d recommend it for a quiet Sunday afternoon.

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John’s Horror Corner: Pet (2016), a decent so-called psychological thriller about obsession and manipulation.

March 13, 2017


MY CALL:  Maybe nothing special, but still worth a watch. This captivity-based psychological horror takes some unexpected and satisfying turns, but won’t wow you with reveals.  MORE MOVIES LIKE PetThe Gift (2015), Swimfan (2002), Dread (2009), Hunger (2009).

Rigidly awkward yet seemingly well-mannered and kind-hearted, Seth (Dominic Monaghan; Lost, The Day) works at an animal shelter and enjoys the dogs’ company as if they were his only taste of friendship. He happens upon Holly (Ksenia Solo; Black Swan, Lost Girl, Orphan Black), an old high school crush of his, and shines an interest which goes completed unreciprocated.

Unfortunately for Holly, Seth is one to fixate.  It’s a bit endearing at first as he rehearses asking her out on a date in front of the mirror, but more than a bit troubling when he studies her social media as if her affection were a test he could pass.  Seth becomes a bit obsessive, things get weird…you know how it goes.

What caught my attention was the very credible obsession that overcame Seth, who remained completely unable to understand how the object of his interest didn’t share his feelings.  I’ve seen it.  I feel, at some point, we all probably saw this happen to (or with) someone we knew.

As if Seth prayed to the Gods of Cliché Horror Convenience, the animal shelter has an abandoned wing with a cellar.  A little anesthesia and some online welding tutorials and presto—Seth has himself a caged pet he can visit during his lunch break.  He keeps Holly captive and systematically starves and conditions her to psychologically breaking her.  Here’s the thing…Seth may not be the only sick person in this relationship.  As the story progresses, the lines get a little blurred as to who is manipulating whom, who is using whom, who is torturing whom.

As director Carles Torrens (Apartment 143) guides us on our journey in this psychological thriller we find some brutal and gory scenes, some plot turns I wouldn’t have expected, and a lot of manipulation.

This film may not be anything special but it highly succeeded at entertaining me. It started a bit slow and plainly formulaic, but developed into something worthy of my time—even if I’ll never see it again since it’s more “neat” than “good.” I also enjoyed the ending—far from perfect, but endings are where most horror movies fall apart anyway, right? So let’s give credit where it’s due.

John’s Horror Corner: Phantasm (1979), the Tall Man and the seven evil dwarves.

March 11, 2017


MY CALL: 
Complete, awesome absurdity is what we have here in this highly ambitious horror classic.  Here’s my take on the plot: a supernatural funeral director who occasionally seduces men (in the form of a young woman) employs bladed flying murder balls to kill people who interfere with his mission to create undead midgets whom he outsources as slave labor on an ultra-high gravity planet.  I shouldn’t need to explain who will like this film.  You know who you are.  MORE MOVIES LIKE PhantasmThere is little out there that compares to this film, so I’ll just suggest Phantasm II (1988) and perhaps the subsequent sequels up to part 5.

Writer/director Don Coscarelli (The Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-Tep) sets an admirably uneasy mood.  We are thrown off guard right away with a smorgasbord of weird; dead calm shots of the mausoleum are striking and dire while beautiful and well-lit, but the marble chamber and the nearby funeral parlor are populated by diminutive evil beings (they look like Jawas) disturbing our sense of calm.

Pallbearers at his brother’s funeral, Jody (Bill Thornbury; Phantasm 2-5) and ice cream man Reggie (Reggie Bannister; Phantasm 2-5, Wishmaster) rekindle an old friendship while Jody stays in town taking care of now-orphaned teenager Michael (A. Michael Baldwin; Phantasm 2-5).

Perhaps for witnessing something he shouldn’t have seen, Michael finds himself followed by the skulking evil midgets that inhabit the funeral home and cemetery.  These malevolent sprites lead Jody and Reggie to greater other-worldly threats.  This threat and the Tall Man’s motives go largely unexplained.  He’s simply the tall, evil old man who runs the Morningside Funeral Parlor.

The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm; Phantasm 2-5, Subspecies, Wishmaster) is sufficiently gruff, supernaturally strong, and shapeshifts into a lady dressed in lavender (Kathy Lester; Phantasm III, Phantasm: Ravager) to seduce men or serve as disguise.  While we never witness them interact directly, it is implied that the evil dwarves work with him.

You can’t discuss Phantasm without mentioning the balls.  The effects were great, with the murderous chrome spheres flying throw the air (excellent and seamless rotoscoping, by the way), unsheathing blades, impaling victims, and drilling into their heads!  The gore is sufficient as blood gushes in bright red and mustard yellow. More silly than scary and an example of a cheap effect, a severed finger transforms into a furry monster beetle (for apparently no real reason at all).

If this all sounds weird, please understand we’re just getting started.  Apparently, the Tall Man is transforming dead people into his growling hooded dwarf servants and there is a portal to another dimension, to which he apparently outsources this labor force…to do…something.  Don’t expect any explanations.

These somewhat sci-fi concepts are introducing us to a greater theme that is only partially realized in this film.  As if world-building, Coscarelli is setting the stage for something of grander scale by letting us know that these things exist, without getting into the why’s.  At one point Michael visits a creepy fortune-teller and her telepathically linked granddaughter who subject him to a Dune-like “fear box” test.  But why?  Why are there truly supernatural diviners and why do they “prepare” young Michael for his future challenges (i.e., the Tall Man)?  Why does the Tall Man turn into a young woman, why always in a lavender dress, and why not someone else?

SIDEBAR with SPOILERS:  There’s a lot going on here.  The Tall Man is reanimating human corpses as evil compact dwarves so that their now denser bodies can handle the greater gravity of another planet, in which the dwarves serve as slaves.  We don’t know why, or to do what, or exactly where or for whom.  This is all somehow revealed to Michael (through a telepathic link perhaps) when he momentarily passes the portal and witnesses the harsh world on the other side.  Is it Hell, or another planet in a nearby solar system?  Are there other portals?  Is the Tall Man the head bad guy, or the equivalent of a Vegas pit boss or regional salesman/recruiter?  Who knows?  After watching this, we sure don’t!  As far as ambitious stories go, Phantasm is like the horror Avatar (2009) of the 1970s.  Unfortunately, only so much can be revealed with 88 minutes and a humble budget.
In the end, Reggie is consoling Michael that all of this (i.e., the entire movie’s events) was a bad dream, that Jody died in a car accident and that he would take care of him.  Then it ends much as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) subsequently would, with the Tall Man inexplicably and randomly getting his due. “Booooooooooooy!”

This film felt scary when I saw it 20 years ago, but unlike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) the scares definitely didn’t survive the test of time.  However, the eerie atmosphere, intriguing original story and special effects continue to impress me.  Also, as satisfyingly unusual as this story is, by today’s standards it feels sloppily told and haphazardly stitched together.  That said, I remain quite impressed with this original product.  This film may not feel organized, but it still has a lot of good to offer the genre and its story stands out even today.

John’s Horror Corner: The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016), so creepy and worth it just for the outstanding premise.

March 10, 2017


MY CALL: 
This intellectualized mysterious autopsy film procures an outstanding premise in the first half, followed by a somewhat random second half that doesn’t measure up.  Take that for what it is, watch it anyway, and temper your expectations. It’s pretty damn neat.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The Autopsy of Jane DoeAfter.Life (2009), Unrest (2006), Deadgirl (2008).

After the mysterious body of a dead girl is found half-buried but otherwise unscathed in the basement of a brutally murdered elderly couple, the cadaver is passed to the care of father and son coroners Austin (Emile Hirsch; The Darkest Hour, Into the Wild) and Tommy (Brian Cox; Troy, Trick ‘r Treat, The Ring).

Director André Øvredal (Trollhunter) is a master of atmosphere and characters—and it shows.  The opening murder scene is calm yet dire, and we are transitioned to the playfully light-hearted father-son apprenticeship, complete with endearingly quizzical learning experiences cast over a gory burnt corpse.  These two are very close and it’s obvious. I love that. They bring a positive and dynamic energy enhanced by the film’s soundtrack.

As they begin the autopsy of their Jane Doe (Olwen Catherine Kelly), there are numerous medical anomalies; oddly small waist, curiously cloudy eyes, cold body temp but no rigor mortis, a severed tongue, bleeding…  But that’s hardly the beginning. The weirdness continues to be laid on thick as Tommy provides fleetingly thin hypotheses to explain one extremely rare oddity after another—any one of which alone would give a cadaver quite an unusual story to tell.  So, what story does Jane Doe’s body have to tell?  And why does her seemingly fresh body not externally match what is internally suggested?

There is a lot of nudity but it is not at all sultry. This is about an autopsy, after all—it’s not like they do these with the body clothed.  And not to such extent as, perhaps, a Saw film, but the gore was medically visceral.  As strange internal tissue trauma is discovered we have a front row seat to lacerated organs, flaps of tissue, and the crunching sound of cutting through a ribcage. It might make you moderately uncomfortable, but in a good way.

Theories will fire wildly in your head as you watch this.  Is she a vampire, a victim of some torture or ritual, a demon or undead thing, a vessel containing a demon…something else entirely?  You’ll wonder even more as strange things begin to happen inside the mortuary.  They are not subtle, and rouse unease.

When in doubt: burn it.

I was very entertained by this film and found the first 30-40 minutes to be absolutely outstanding. However, I cannot say the same for the ensuing hour, which felt like a very different and completely inferior film. Our once thoughtful and rational characters, all of a sudden, lost their intellect and wisdom and don’t even bat an eye at the most alarming things; they were basically written like dummies for the last 40 minutes.  Not scared people who, thus, stopped thinking straight—but dummies. I’m not really sure what happened. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the second half…but if you told me that an entirely different (and far less capable) director and writer did the second half of the film, I’d completely believe it.  It’s like the first 30-40 minutes was written as an exquisitely mysterious short story with a cliff hanger…and then it was forced into a feature length script that had to build another 60 pages to try and explain everything.

But for the fantastic novelty and mystery of the first half, I remain overall quite pleased and still highly recommend this.  Just temper your expectations accordingly.

 

John’s Horror Corner: Evil Clutch (1988) aka Il Bosco 1, a horrible Italian flick that makes no sense.

March 9, 2017


MY CALL: 
This senselessly stupid not-so-sexy hardly-a-succubus movie makes no sense. Neither the title nor any brief synopses can reveal how random this film is.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Evil ClutchThis film created expectations of sleazy horror but failed to deliver.  So for more effective sleazy low budget horror try Breeders (1986), Evils of Night (1985), The Haunting of Morella (1990), Head of the Family (1996), Hideous! (1997), Bio Slime (2010) and Night of the Tentacles (2013). For similarly obscure horror movies that are bad but still make a notable effort on the effects try Superstition (1982), Ghosthouse (1988), Night Angel (1990) or Def By Temptation (1990).

IMDB says: “The story of a hideous monster who takes the form of a beautiful, seductive woman who in a torrent of special effects, beauty and monster transform into a climax of pure evil. For years this monster woman has cursed a small village, and to this day her deadly grasps holds the peaceful residents in fear. This ferocious, feminine fury possesses a shocking sensual appetite and she can only satisfy her lust when passion consumes her, by striking where a man is most vulnerable…. and the results are deadly!”  Right about NOW is when we should stop trusting IMDB and especially stop trusting misleading movie posters.

Written and directed by Andreas Marfori—not known at all for is not at all classic Ataga sovetskikh zombie—this super low budget 80s Italian horror movie will draw giggles only from those in search of the bad and campy.

Seduced by a strange and sultry woman, a young man is brutally gored by her hairy clawed crotch tentacle.  Yes, you read that right.  A hairy tentacle with a claw at the end, emerging from this succubus’ nether region, killed a man.  The effects are nothing to brag about, but they’re easily good enough to entertain fans of cheap horror and, hey, it tries.

Our sex-hungry murderess (who might be able to fly, not sure because the film is so poorly made) is picked up by a tourist couple (including Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni; Mother of Tears, Opera, Demons 2) who are subsequently warned about her by the weirdest possible man they could find in this tiny village among the Italian countryside.  The creepy local—who might just be the only local they find other than the crotch tentacle lady—unloads an elaborate regional history about summoning monsters.  Clearly our couple has found one.

This senselessly stupid film includes beer turning to sand, random zombie things, strange cauldrons of infectious goo, and the weirdest cuckoo clock ever.  Apparently, the demoness is trying to afflict the couple with something.  But it’s hard to understand what’s even supposed to be going on as our couple hikes into the Alps with this weird stranger.

Other than the crotch claw, the effects and events of the 50 minutes are all rather dull. In the last 30 minutes things pick up and we are bombarded by diverse weirdness.  There is more crotch tentacle, weird monstrous (maybe tree root) tentacles, clothes-on zombie love, an unseen POV Evil Dead force rushing through the forest, crusty zombie attacks, bloody dismemberment and some weak demonic transformation.  Yes, this may sound good…but it’s bad. Very, very bad. And you’ll probably only enjoy this if a bad horror movie is exactly what you were hoping to find.

The title seems quite misleading.  Our demoness implies sexuality and seduction, but never seems to consummate anything. So, I’d struggle to understand how an “evil clutch” would ever come to be…nor was any infernal offspring of hers even implied.

In summary, this movie is horrible.  It’s horrible, but it’s enjoyably horrible if you are in the mood for horrible and horrible draws laughter from you.  Whole lot of horrible, but I’ve admittedly watched, reviewed and even enjoyed far, far worse.

John’s Horror Corner: Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010), yup… Milla Jovovich and her clones are back to killing even more zombies.

March 7, 2017

MY CALL:  The Matrix trilogy and Guillermo del Toro’s slack-jawed tentacle-vampires meet Silent Hill in this least entertaining Resident Evil sequel.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Resident EvilResident Evil (2002), Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), Doom (2005), the Silent Hill movies (2006, 2012) and the Underworld franchise (2003-2017) come to mind.  For a fine ratings vs earnings comparison of the Resident Evil and Underworld franchises check this feisty article out.

Paul W. S. Anderson (Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Soldier) returns to the beloved Zompocalypse franchise and, apparently, he thought he was directing a Matrix sequel. No sooner are we re-acquainted with Alice (Milla Jovovich; The Fifth Element, Resident Evil 1-3, Ultraviolet) than we see her in Blade II ninja gear running across walls and spiraling through the air dodging slow-motion machine gun fire as bullet casings rain to the ground, their chiming on the floor punctuated by the hum of her twin katanas as she minces her way through dozens of Umbrella SWAT guards.

Coming after Wesker (Shawn Roberts; xXx: The Return of Xander Cage) at the Tokyo Umbrella headquarters, Alice has come full-force with twin Uzis, a leather and tights ensemble, and—as she promised at the end of Extinction—a whole bunch of her(s).  Despite the impressively attractive army of Jovo-clones, her plan backfires when Wesker neutralizes her T-virus; stripping her of her superpowers.

The franchise has taken us from the heart of Raccoon City to the Las Vegas desert and now we are swept to the beautiful Alaskan wilderness where the now human Alice is reacquainted with Claire (Ali Larter; House on Haunted Hill, Final Destination 1-2, Resident Evil: Extinction), and off to a dilapidated Hollywood where several survivors (including a slimy Kim Coates; Sons of Anarchy, Innocent Blood) have taken refuge in a prison besieged by zombies.

As the franchise progresses, so does the virus.  The hastened zombies now have quad-unhinging tentacle jaws (like Blade II’s vampire meets Hellboy’s Sammael; both predating Afterlife) and are joined by a giant axe-wielding hooded ogre (think Silent Hill’s pyramid head; also predating Afterlife).  It looks cool but both the film and the monsters execute poorly.

Despite all the action (and there’s a lot), the quality of the special effects seem to have dropped considerably since Extinction and I was unimpressed with the explosions and fights.  I’m not sure if this was an actual budget issue, or if Anderson dedicated so much attention to how this would look in 3-D that he never stopped to consider how it would look on a television.  Perhaps it was all much prettier with red and blue glasses on the big screen…?

Alice and Claire fight the giant ogre mutant and, outside of the monster looking cool, it bored me.  Yes, there was slow-motion giant axe-throwing, slow-motion water pipes bursting and slow-motion sliding across the wet floor by soaking wet ladies.  But I’ve got news for you, Anderson, slow-motion does not equal good.  It’s a shame, too.  Anderson clearly tried to make this a worthy rollercoaster of excitement to follow up parts 1-3…but…Alice running in slow-motion through a field of head-bursting zombies with quarter-roll buckshot just isn’t doing it for me. I miss Russell Mulcahy (Razorback, Highlander 1-2, Resident Evil: Extinction)…can we bring him back?

Dodging slow-motion bullets and sunglasses, the black leather-clad Wesker goes full-on Agent Smith, hellbent on “consuming” Alice as she is—wait for it—“the one” who can help him tame the T-virus. #MatrixEyeRoll

The highlights of this movie include the sheer fun of an army of Alices in the opening sequence, gorgeous shots of Alaska, the crisp sweeping interior shots of the ship Arcadia’s lower research decks, and the return of the weirder-than-ever zombie dogs.  The story is developed a bit and we are introduced to the Umbrella heart spiders, but nothing feels further explained; another weak point of this installment.

I have had a blast revisiting parts 1-3. However, I can comfortably say that this Zombiegeddon sequel was by far the least gratifying and least entertaining.

Resident Evil is like the Fast and Furious franchise of horror action in that they are always already planning on part 5 before part 4 hits theaters; complete with closing scenes revealing premise points with future villains.  Watch out for the Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory; Resident Evil: Apocalypse, The Time Machine) stinger at the end—as every other Resident Evil film has so far to harbinger its soon-to-come sequel.

The MFF Podcast #92: Predicting the Winners of the 2007 Academy Awards

March 7, 2017

Hello all. Mark here.

MFF

Download the pod on iTunes,  PodBean, or LISTEN TO THE POD ON BLOG TALK RADIO.
If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

The MFF podcast is back and we are predicting the winners of the 2007 Academy Awards! We decided to go back 10 years and see which films would win today. Will The Departed still defeat The Queen? Can Forest Whitaker hold off Ryan Gosling? Will Judi Dench make a very late comeback? Lasavath and I analyze the nominees and we even put together a list of films that might be nominated for best picture today (Casino Royale would make the cut).

Monster Pans Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth = An MFF contender.

As always we answer random listener questions and ponder how Superman Returns isn’t more popular. If you a fan of the podcast make sure to send in some random listener questions so we can do our best to not answer them correctly. We thank you for listening and hope you enjoy the MFF bookshelf!

You can download the pod on Itunes or LISTEN TO THE POD ON BLOG TALK RADIO.

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

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