Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The Strangers

I don't know how they did it.

They, the powers that be, somehow made a horror movie that was incredibly short and yet incredibly slow at the same time. It literally crawled along the floor and limped up to the oh-so stupid ending. Quite a feat, if you ask me.

I liked the idea behind it. A couple of young lover spending a night in an isolated country home. Masked strangers torment them for unknown reasons. Yeah...that sounds pretty good. Except it wasn't.

It reminded me of two different and much better films. The first, for obvious reasons if you have seen it, is a French film calls Ils (Them, in English). That one was about, you guessed it, a young couple spending a night in an isolated country home who are tormented by mysterious strangers. That one had a decent twist at the end though. This one didn't. It just laid there, floundering instead. The second was John Carpenter's original Assault on Precinct 13. And only because of the unknown surrounding the assailants. To be honest, I haven't seen Assault on Precinct 13 in a long time so I don't remember if Carpenter actually showed why they were attacking the Precinct. I like to remember that there was no reason. It was the unknown that made it powerful.

The unknown in this film was just plain boring.

And the entire film was shot with hand-held cameras. So even calm scenes of the two protagonists sitting at a table are shaky as hell. What the fuck? There is no reason for that.

I will say one thing. Liv Tyler can freakin' scream! I'm not a huge fan of her acting but the woman has some pipes. That doesn't mean you should go out and rent it. No, no, no, no, no.

Rent Empire Records instead. She screams nicely in that one too.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


Dear God, what hath John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson wrought?

The formerly reliable Cusack plays a paranormal travel writer who specializes in debunking ghostly occurrences at hotels, motels and creepy country inns. He used to be a "real writer", but he has become kinda stuck in this rut of being a professional ghost hunter. He's also a cynical bastard, you betcha. Until he encounters real terror in room 1408 at the legendary Dolphin Hotel in New York City. Those numbers add up to 13, by the way. Isn't that clever?

Excuse me while I yawn.


Sorry about that. Couldn't help myself. Besides, that yawn is probably as good of a review as you are gonna find for this, um, er...yawner. See what I did there?

You know there was a time and a place when I would watch pretty much any piece of crap that John Cusack or Sam Jackson produced. I probably would even watch them produce an actual piece of crap, but we aren't talking about my bathroom fetishes here. No, we are talking about bad cinema. And this, my friends, is truly bad cinema.

I still had high hopes, though. I love these two actors and I love ghost stories. I even kinda love Stephen King who wrote the story that the movie is based upon. Or at least I used to. Back in the day. And he had done "bad hotels" before, and done it well. Like I said, I had high hopes.

So what went wrong? Was it the faux yellow and red hued atmosphere? Was it the kitschy inclusion of every ghostly trick in the book? Radios turning on by themselves, candies appearing on the pillows, toilet paper re-folding itself, pictures dislodging themselves from the wall, a sudden bout of deafness followed by painful encounters with a window pane and some scalding hot water. It all feels like it has been done before. Better, I might add.

Nah. You know what I really think it was? It was John Cusack.

I just don't think he was the right guy for this role. I kept imagining someone who I believed was more cynical, more beat down by life in the role. Clive Owen in the beginning of Children of Men, maybe. He also become too manic too quickly, I thought. And then he started accepting it. And then manic again. There was no slow dissolve into madness like there was with "The Shining". He just sank right into it. That might be the fault of the screenwriter and the director more than the star, but Cusack certainly bought into it.

And I couldn't help but feel that it would have been better if it downplayed the SFX and maybe was in black in white. Or in French. I dunno, but it could have used something.

Another thing. It wasn't scary. Or at least it didn't scare me. Lord knows I wanted it to. I love a good scary flick. All cheap special effects with no payoff. Why did some of the ghosts look like bad movie projections on the wall? Was that supposed to be scary? Was the excessive heat or the chilling cold? Any of it?

Turns out he was more haunted by his own personal ghosts than the not-so-scary ones in Room 1408.

Or was he?, er Aaaaarrrrgggghhhhh-owwwaaaahhhhhhrooohhhwrrr!!!

Sorry. Yawned again.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Vantage Point

I seem to be watching a lot of movies lately that beg/borrow/steal from Akira Kurasawa. This time it was Vantage Point that gets the Rashomon treatment. Badly.

It's actually not a awful movie. Some A-list or former A-list actors are littered through the film. Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Sigourney Weaver (in an extraordinarily useless role...must have needed a new bathroom in her house or something), Forest Whitaker, William Hurt, etc... All big shots trying to make it work in this ensemble piece. Yet the only character I seemed to care about was Whitaker's eyewitness to the tragic events portrayed in the film.

You know what I hate? I hate when I can spot the actor playing the bad guy right away and it turns out that I am right. Took me all of 3 minutes to figure this movie out. That is either a new personal record for me or it is damned close. The obvious choice had me doubting myself all through the picture until...duh! There it is! Holy fuck is that awful!

Like I said, the Forest Whitaker sub-plot was interesting to watch, but the rest of it? Feh. Watch the first five minutes and see if you can guess who the bad guy is. Then watch the last five minutes of it to see if you are right. I bet you will be. And I saved you an hour and half of viewing.

You are most welcome!

Sunday, 4 January 2009


I had high hopes for this one for a number of reasons. First off, it was written and directed by Neil Marshall. The man responsible for Dog Soldiers and The Descent, two terrific films. Secondly, it is Marshall's homage to films like Escape From New York and the Mad Max trilogy. Films I love! Genres I love!

But this one disappointed.

It started off great. A killer plague wipes out most of the residents of Scotland forcing the U.K. to totally isolate the region by wall to the South and by a sea blockade of mines around the rest of the nation. After close to 30 years it is discovered that the plague still exists and that there are survivors living in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

A girl who escaped (sans one eye) from Scotland before it was sealed off is now a grown up special forces hottie. She is chosen to lead a team into Scotland to finds some survivors to halt the spread of the plague in London. Since there are survivors there must be a cure, right?

First she encounters a group living a very Mad Max-ish existence in Glasgow. Why is it that as soon as a bunch of people die in a Nuclear War or a monstrous plague, the survivors begin piercing things and shaving their heads into Mohawks? Anyway, these guys are bad. And they are cannibals. Which makes no sense since there appears to be plenty of cows running around the countryside. But I've never tried human flesh, so I could be talking out of my ass.

The team later encounters a second group of survivors led by Malcolm MacDowell, and this is where the film lost me. This group of survivors, in under 30 years, have reverted to living in the Middle Ages. Castles, swords, armor, horses and bad personal hygiene. You get the picture.

Not sure where Marshall was going with this particular homage. I get the Mad Max references and the Escape From New York references, but this one escapes me. Knightriders by George Romero, maybe? I dunno.

I do know that I was thoroughly enjoying the film until it went there. REALLY enjoying it. But as soon as that happened I was really let down. And even though it went back to the Mad Max theme fairly quickly, it was too late. For me.

I get that it was supposed to be just a little bit o' brain candy for those that love these kind of films. And lord knows, I'm one of them. But the Medieval shit just was a bit too much for me. Shame.