Saturday, February 27, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings

Laika Films, the masterminds behind Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls, is celebrating it's 10th anniversary this year with the release of Kubo and the Two Strings. Stop-motion films are definitely a favorite of mine and this one is looks stunning (the trailer features a few glimpses of the monsters and some familiar looking witches).  Here's a description of the story from IMDB:

Kubo lives a quiet, normal life in a small shoreside village until a spirit from the past turns his life upside down by re-igniting an age-old vendetta. This causes all sorts of havoc as gods and monsters chase Kubo who, in order to survive, must locate a magical suit of armor once worn by his late father, a legendary Samurai warrior.

Kubo and the Two Strings arrives in theaters on August 19, 2016 (in 3D) and features the voices of Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, George Takei and Ralph Fiennes. Watch the trailer below.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Favorite Scary Movies of 2015

It's award season and rooting for Max Max to win top honors at the Oscars next weekend. I've spent the last six weeks watching horror films and I'm almost caught up with the 2015 batch of horror films. We are definitely in a neo-golden era of scary movie thanks mostly to the rise of VOD (video-on-demand) releases. Without an expensive marketing plan, commercials, and national theater chain contracts, smaller independent films are being pushed through on-demand channels to much success. Hardcore horror fans also seem to be abandoning water-down and often mediocre mainstream releases aimed primarily at teens in favor of VOD's more adult-oriented fare. Without further ado, here are my favorite films from 2015:

1. Krampus - From the director of Trick ‘r Treat comes this new holiday gem that combines humor, family satire, and thrills into one neat package. It is not too scary but never stops being entertaining and finally features a creature of lore that has yet to make it to the screen.

2. Mad Max Fury Road - I wasn't a big fan of the original, but this masterful remake adds gravitas, unforgettable visuals, and aural alchemy in an almost wordless road/apocalypse film that was one of the most thrilling rides in long time. Add some exceptionally understatesd performances from Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron and mostly in camera practical effects and you've got an epic.

3. The Final Girls - Another throwback film that captures the essence of 80s slasher flicks. At the center is a surprising emotional core even though the proceedings are outlandish. 

4. It Follows - This film is all about atmosphere and plays like a lost Carpenter film from the 80s. Some think “that’s it” after it ends expecting some giant effects-laden film with jump scares and twists, and if so, you are clearly not the audience for this gem.

5. What We Do In The Shadows - This New Zeland mockumentary follows a vampire housemates through the mundane everyday tasks, the perils of being a vampire, and perks of eternal life – until it’s not. It’s highbrow humor than never ceases to be entertaining. 

6. Crimson Peak - A horror movie of this scale comes along once in a generation, and while not perfect, Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to gothic haunted house movies is breathtaking, incredibly produced, and memorable. 

7. Ex Machina - This disquieting film echoes Frankenstein, and keeps you entranced from the moment that Ava, a self-aware robot, makes contact and defines what is human. The effects are mesmerizing, and the twists and turns never give your palpitating heart a rest.

8. The Nightmare - Ever had a dream you can’t wake from. It’s terrifying and this untraditional documentary presents the stories of people who experience sleep paralysis, some of the scientific explanations – and the more abstract and scary elements. Whether true or figments of the imagination, they stories are truly frightening.

9. Spring – A chance encounter leads to a love story set against the breathtaking Italian backdrops. However, some thing comes between these two love birds and it evokes Lovecraft lore of elder ones. Wow, didn’t see that coming. It’s a great date night movie (for horror fans)!

10. Tales of Halloween - Like it’s cousin Trick ‘r Treat, this is an anthology of Halloween stories with more mischief than outright fright. It captures the essence of Halloween and while not as polished as it’s cousin is still a lot of fun. A must for those who love Halloween more than horror.

11. Goodnight Mommy - This unsettling slow-burn film from Austria pits two brothers against their abusive mother who just has a facelift. The brothers are convinced the woman beneath these bandages is not their mother and go to great lengths to discover the truth.

12. Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse - The reviews called it crass, juvenile and unoriginal – that’s only half true (hello, zombie penis). If you’ve ever been a male teen, have a sense of dark humor, love gory horror, and looking for a fun 90 minutes, this is the way to go. It’s a fairly polished, goofy film.

13. Ash vs. Evil Dead - Yes, I realize this is a TV series on Starz but it’s more cinematic, risky, quirky, and gory than anything I’ve seen on the screen all year. For those of you waiting for a five-hour sequel to Army of Darkness, this is it! It just happens to be broken into ten 30-minute episodes.  

Honorable Mentions: Deathgasm, Goosebumps, Hotel Transylvania 2, The Hallow, Bone Tomahawk, Insidious: Chapter 3, and We Are Still Here.

Department 56 ~ Halloween 2016 Introductions

Since being bought by Enesco in 2009, Department 56, the manufacturer of fine collectibles that includes a wicked Halloween village, has gone through a striking evolution leaving behind much of its niche antiquity. Their website which felt like it was trapped in the early 90s for the better part of two decades relaunched in April 2015 with a modern overhaul aimed at a sophisticated (and younger) audience. Suddenly the site is airy, responsive, and their once hard-to-find merchandise is sold directly to the public (to the chagrin of many third party sellers).

Their 2016 Halloween Introductions have a decidedly updated air as well. The folksy and cutesy elements have been replaced with a more mischievous (creepy candy house), humorous (a plump black widow), and even scary tone (skull tree and angel of death). Take a look at some of my favorite pieces this year:

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

America's Most Haunted Village Collection

Halloween village collectors take note: the Bradford Exchange, purveyors of fine collectibles, is considering offering a series of infamous haunted houses. Sign up now to reserve the Amityville House for a rather modest price of $59.99 (most Department 56 buildings start at $70). If they get enough orders they will proceed with the series, and the second issue will be the exquisite Franklin Castle. Why has no one thought of making replicas of famous haunted houses until now?

Friday, February 12, 2016

V-Day Valentines

Just in the nick of time! Wish those you love a scary V-Day with these Pride and Prejudice and Zombies valentines from Quirk Books. These feature artwork and lines from the book by Seth Grahame-Smith. Here are some of my favorites.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Pride + Prejudice + Zombies ~ Review

I loved Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies the moment it arrived on bookshelves. It was an irreverent tangle of Jane Austen and zombies in a cocktail so absurd you couldn’t help but laugh. When the Bennet sisters retired to the Dojo to practice the deadly arts in hopes of battling the scourge of unmentionables yet still childishly scheme to find wealthy suitors you can’t help but smile. But that was 2009 when the mashup was new. Seven years later with countless books, movies and even tv series, the mashup is not as fresh or funny. It’s a pity. Seven years ago this movie would have killed.

The cast of P+P+Z keep too much of stiff upper lip amongst the chaos and never seem to be in on the joke – save for the foppish Matt Smith. The overall tone is just too serious. The music is too important. The lighting is too severe. And the limited gore is never quite fun. Perhaps its the dull script or the plodding direction but the film never quite soars like it should.

It’s a tough order to fill and I can see why they struggled to bring this to the screen through many versions, directors, and casts (at one point, Natalie Portman was set to star and Academy Award-nominated David O. Russell to direct). While P+P+Z is not an outright train wreck, it’s still not a victory. If you happen to like Jane Austen’s work, period zombie films, or the lovely Lily James then it is worth a stream on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Otherwise the fantastic book is still available and worth a read.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The VVItch Gets (Un)welcomed Attention

According to an article on IndieWire, THE VVITCH, a new period horror film coming out February 19, is being endorsed by the Satanic Temple as a transformative satanic experience. Uh-oh – this just got too real. Horror films are supposed to be fun, scary, and entertaining – not recruitment tools, and stories like these give horror movies (and fans) a bad rap. I'm sure its a palm-to-the-face for the filmmakers and a sudden cash opportunity for the distribution studio. I'm still looking forward to the movie as a work of art, and have no intention of subscribing to a any devilish membership.