Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Book of Life

The official The Book of Life site and trailer have hit the web. Wow. It has even more stunning concept art, a description of the characters (looking a bit of Lego-ish... clever), and the trailer. Wow, again. My snap judgement is that the movie seems to be veering more toward Hotel Translyvania than ParaNorman in tone, but it looks great nonetheless. Opens October 17, 2014 in 3D.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Godzilla (2014): Review

Like many of you, I grew up with Godzilla and have been optimistically hopeful that one day someone would make a great movie. Thankfully, the new Godzilla movie does so many things right that it's easy to overlook any faults. Godzilla is a big, loud, messy and incredibly fun film than has reconnected me to that roaring monster of my youth.

At the core, this is a disaster movie that happens to feature a giant monster (or two) which means the human peril should matter but it doesn't. Bryan Cranston gives an extraordinary performance, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is an understated, emotional kick-ass as the perfunctory human element. But no man can compare to Godzilla. After an excruciating buildup, Godzilla does show up but the director isn't giving in to our instant gratification. Even after the first brawl ensues, its relegated to the background, out of focus long shots, or doors close in front of the camera cutting off our view. We will wait a bit longer, but ultimately, we're left awe-struck, satisfied, and yearning for a sequel (which has already been announced).

If one question must be pondered it's whether Godzilla is a friend or foe. He is repeatedly called the "ultimate predator" which means humanity is not a threat, but still he managed to kill quite a few people in his wake. I asked a friend and he put it succinctly:
I think the ambiguity of Godzilla's motivation is part of the charm. You're always hoping he does the right thing, but you can't be 100% sure he will. The reason the audience cheers for him is entirely because deep down they know he's the good guy, even if he knocks down a few buildings. If he was just as bad as the other monsters then it would be like watching a football game where you don't really care which team wins.
But we do care, and we do cheer for Godzilla. It's a thrilling summer movie that will appeal to many audiences, especially those lucky enough to splurge on the IMAX 3D ticket. This is a remarkable 3D film even though it was not shot in 3D. (And take a look at these beautiful alternate posters!)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hannibal, Season 2: Review

The mesmerizing Season 2 of Hannibal came to a resounding finish last Friday. What began in Season 1 as an unfocused menagerie of freaks-of-the-week meets crime procedural took a turn for the better as the story narrowed in on Hannibal Lecter, and ever-unstable Will Graham who was ultimately accused of being the Chesapeake Ripper. Season 2 picks up with Will in prison and heading to trial – and then things get really interesting. The show becomes a chess game between Hannibal, Will and any unfortunate person that comes between them in their dance to the death. The impossible happens, and the viewer is left to believe the show has jumped the shark – but there IS masterful plan. So many reversals, so many reveals, so little time. Prepare yourself if you binge watch!

There’s a couple of sluggish episodes in the middle, and the annoying forensic team (including woefully miscast Scott Thompson) gets center stage in a devastating and unnecessary arc, but otherwise it’s a very solid season. And then there’s the flawless cast Mads Mikkelsen, High Dancy, Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas, Hettienne Park, and the incomparable Gillian Anderson that bring every moment of pain, anguish, doubt, and madness to life.

Hannibal is beautifully shot and features some of the most stark and terrifying imagery I’ve ever seen. The way Will sees Hannibal as a black skeletal figure with blank eyes and antler-horns is incredibly unsettling. The horrifically gory and gruesome carnage (on a network show!?!) is cringe-and-nausea inducing. And the constant sprays of blood and red rain always appear in lyrical slow motion. It’s highly stylized and elegant, if you’re into that kind of thing. And apparently audiences don’t seem to be responding well to the show according to the ratings. It’s incredibly dark without the slightest trace of camp or humor. It’s shrewd, insistently obscure, and refuses to pander to audiences. It's a quality show that more horror genre fans should be watching.

(Hannibal was officially picked up for Season 3. Where it goes after that bloody finale is anyone's guess.)

This is my design: the killer sees his "body tapestry" from the perspective of God. 

A teardrop rolls off a cheek and lands on a glass desk – followed by a drop of blood of course.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Book of Life ~ Concept Art Revealed

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is about to become an even hotter property when Guillermo del Toro's Book of Life opens on October 17. It's the first film out of the gate, and may or may not influence the long-gestating version that Pixar has been developing for years. Dia de los Muertos is often considered the Mexican Halloween (it's not though) and it's a wonderful, colorful, whimsically-dark celebration of family and loved ones lost.

 Since family-friendly horror films seem to stumble at the box office (Frankenweenie: "Too morbid!" ParaNorman: "Too Scary!" Monster House: "Too dark!") perhaps this film will approach the themes of death, skeletons, and the afterlife with a more playful tone, like Hotel Transylvania did to excellent financial (albeit less artistic) success. If they respect the holiday's true intentions they won't need to make it "too scary" and if they keep silliness to a minimum, it may just connect with adult audiences. Fingers crossed.

Here's a look at the gorgeous concept art for The Book of Life. At first glance it's rather Tim Burton inspired but the much more colorful palette is certainly unique.

Also available to pre-order on Amazon is the "The Art of The Book of Life" movie companion.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Nurse: Review

Nurse is campy, so-bad-it's-good, and stars a crazed nurse who struts around bottomless (but not topless) while doing unspeakable things with hospital implements. It's dark humor, extreme gore, and over-the-top grind house tone is definitely not for everyone (most?) – but for a few, this film will be a non-stop, thoroughly entertaining, and senseless ride.

Paz de la Huerta is perfectly cast as the nurse whose mission is to cure the world of cheating husbands by seducing them and then killing them. Her affected performance is so off kilter, purposeful, and ultimately creepy, especially towards the middle when her obsession with a pretty blonde intern reaches a fever pitch. But nothing in this film is meant to be taken seriously for even a second. It also stars a wacky Judd Nelson (!), the always-funny Niecy Nash (from Reno 911), and Boris Kodjoe, a former male model, who is dressed like a male model, and gives every line a sultry "Blue Steel" delivery. It's hilarious and the very definition of a cult film. It's recommended only for horror buffs who love cheesy movies and find this poster utterly compelling:

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Godzilla: The Art of Destruction Book

Monster fans waiting with anticipation for the new Godzilla movie opening tomorrow may be interested in the new book Godzilla: The Art of Destruction, released this week. It's a visually stunning hardcover companion book with 156 pages of concept illustrations, storyboards, and interviews with the director, cast and crew. The publisher, Insight Editions, has put together some of the most incredible companion books for films like Trick 'r Treat, Monster House, and the TV show Supernatural.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mr. Jones: Review

Do you remember your last nightmare? When you woke up did you have that feeling of utter dread or that you were not truly safe? If so, you will relate to the horror of Mr. Jones, the Tribeca Film Festival favorite that’s finally been released to home video. It’s an unconventional horror mashup that starts as a found footage flick and morphs into… well, something else. It’s a surreal trip that maintains only one foot firmly on the ground and succeeds in giving the viewer a perplexing and disorienting experience, even if there’s little plot or character development.

The two charismatic actors at the center really seem to be experiencing the terrifying events, and we root for Scott (John Foster) from the beginning. He’s the struggling documentary/filmmaker who’s trying to figure who – or what –  their neighbor Mr. Jones is. There’s a questionable notion that Mr. Jones is a reclusive artist, like Banksy, that no one has ever seen but whose subversive art is renown and sought after. The art in question is terrifying scarecrows assembled from sticks, stones and bones.

The scarecrows for the movie were created by infamous and elusive Pumpkinrot, the artist/home haunter/blogger who has inspired a legion of followers with his own frightening Halloween art. For a second, I wondered if this was a biographical piece on Pumpkinrot, but alas our story takes an ambiguous turn into the supernatural. Going into the reason Mr. Jones creates this scarecrows would spoil the fun, but I did appreciate that these totems are a core element of the story and not just window dressing.

Even with so much positive results, the last half hour is frustrating with it’s abstract and largely unexplained qualities. It bears repeating that this is more of a film to “experience” rather than pick apart for narrative. So much is left to interpretation but if you know some basic Halloween history, a little bit about Lovecraft lore, and a sprinkling of imagination, you can connect the dots to a story much greater than what is shown. That’s a lot to ask of an audience, even for dedicated horror fans, but there’s enough entertainment value and genuine creepiness to satisfy most audiences.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve have a very specific Theory and Explanation of Mr. Jones. I won’t post it yet because it’s full of spoilers and personal conjecture but if you are interested in reading it or sharing your interpretations, please contact me (form on the right column).

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Rosemary's Baby (2014) Airs Tonight

There's good horror movies and then there's the classics, like 1968's Rosemary's Baby directed by Roman Polanski. It also happens to be one of the rare horror movies that won an Oscar. Sure the setting is a little dated, but period horror movies are back in vogue.

So naturally, someone thought it was a good idea to: (1) reimagine the classic combining two books, Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby and Son of Rosemary; (2) make it a 4-hour TV miniseries; (3) air it on Mother's Day (wink-wink). I don't know how this will all turn out but hopefully the flawless Zoe Saldana will save the day.

The first part airs tonight, Sunday, on NBC, and part two airs on Thursday, May 15. Find more info on NBC.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dead Shadows: Review

The French indie-scifi/horror film Dead Shadows is a good concept that’s unfortunately not well told. For such a small budget, it is ambitious in scope. A comet soaring over Paris is causing doomsdayers to take to the streets in protests or parties. Enter the doe-eyed Chris, a tech support phone specialist who’s medically-diagnosed as being afraid of the dark, and invited by his pretty neighbor to an End of the World party. Against his better judgement, he ventures out just as the world falls apart in a very Lovecraftian way (featuring freaky things with tentacles and claws).

For such a short running time, 75 minutes, the movie spends half it’s time trying to establish one character, and then comes the nonsensical and completely unexplained horror as humans start transforming into mutants. This is where the movie goes off the rails. What follows is a series of random but cool looking, almost wordless scenes that don’t add up to a story. It’s also maddening when this scrawny kid has a samurai sword and a plethora of automatic weapons at his disposal yet chooses to fight back with two bats instead. Irreverent, or thoroughly implausible? Maybe the apocalypse doesn’t have to make sense, but a film about it does.

To call this film blithely incoherent would be generous, but the visuals are worth a look as a vague reference to the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s obvious that this is director’s David Cholewa’s first film, but he does show incredible potential and good eye for cosmic horror.

DEAD SHADOWS - Official Trailer from CESAR DUCASSE on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Poltergeist Remake

My favorite movie of all-time is Poltergeist. I saw it in my youth and fell in love with the suburban family, that wicked haunting, and the astounding practical effects. When I heard they were remaking it, I immediately flew into a rage of disbelief. Who in their right mind would attempt to remake a Steven Spielberg film? Yes, Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) was credited with directing the film, but it's a known truth that Spielberg held tight control over the film.

But look at the pedigree of behind the remake: produced by Sam Raimi who also produced the excellent Evil Dead remake; directed by Gil Kenan who made Monster House (one of my favorite animated films of all-time); and the cast of incredible talents including Sam Rockwell, Roseamarie DeWitt (a JoBeth Williams dead ringer) and Jared Harris. The rest of the crew has also worked on some of the best horror movies of the last decade, so perhaps this shouldn't be written off so quickly.

Rather than invite direct comparison, the story has been reimagined and now features a struggling family, The Bowens (goodbye Freelings), who move to an outdated suburban home and are confronted by angry spirits who take their daughter. Enter the TV personality Carrigan Burke (goodbye Tangina), host of a basic cable show Haunted House Cleaners to help them out.

This departure seems to be respectful of the original movie while borrowing it's template. MGM announced the release date: February 13, 2015, and Jared Harris let it slip out during an interview for The Quiet Ones that it was in 3D but no official announcement or marketing has been released. The filming has wrapped and is in post-production. The early release date ensures that we'll get the home video release by Halloween.

Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, and Jared Harris

Ontario resident who lives on the street where the movie was filming took these pictures.

Is this the tree that ensnarls the young boy? The top half is CGI so it's possible.

Fan made teaser poster – great concept!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Haunted Mansion Backstage

FearNet posted this Tumblr page on their Facebook and I had to share it! Those who love the Disney's Haunted Mansion ride are sure to get a kick:

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Quiet Ones: Review

The Quiet Ones struggles with an identity crisis. It’s the first period piece/found footage/slow burn inspired by true events that’s creepy but confusing, tense but toothless.

There seems to have been good intentions with great production values, a refined cast, plenty of atmosphere, aural spookiness, and a story that seems like it would be really interesting if it made any sense. But the final script seems to have been cobbled together from a series of drafts (or studio notes?), and I kept wondering if there was a “missing reel”. So much was left unexplained and one wonders what the point was, or why it's even called "The Quiet Ones" (which is a terrible title).

It’s also quite repetitive which increases the tedium: slow build, random obvious paranormal activity, and then Jared Harris thrashing about how they should continue with the experiment because nothing paranormal is happening. Rinse and repeat.

Hammer Films has produced two of the best horror films in recent memory (The Woman in Black, Let Me In) but The Quiet Ones misses the mark almost entirely. The most fascinating thing about this film was seeing the pictures of the real people portrayed in the film during the credits. That alone has piqued my curiosity and improved the overall experience.