Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Red, The Bird People in China, Return to Sleepaway Camp, City on Fire

RED is a film based on Jack Ketchum's book by the same name. It was adapted Stephen Susco (The Grudge, The Grudge 2) and directed by Trygve Allister Diesen and Lucky McKee. It stars Brian Cox as Avery Ludlow, a man who's dog Red is senseless murdered by the town hothead Danny (Noel Fisher.) Avery is thwarted at every pass in his journey to get justice because Danny is the eldest son in a rich family, headed by another hothead (played by Tom Sizemore.) Eventually, things get out of control, as things often do, and blood is spilt from both sides of the argument.

It started out well enough, and had a great trailer, but was severely brought down by too much exposition and a truly terrible performance from Tom Sizemore. He was bad and I mean really, really bad. Thankfully, the leads, Brian Cox and Noel Fisher, were excellent. There were also appearances by Amanda Plummer playing Robert Englund's screen wife and Ashley Lawrence played Tom Sizemore's character's wife. That was distracting, the stunt casting of Englund and Lawrence. Their characters were pointless in the movie. They could have easily been played by anyone at all. Ah well.

The script could have been a lot better. It needed a little bit of work before going before the cameras, i think. Cutting down the exposition would have helped. That's better suited to a novel than a movie.

The direction was okay. I'd love to know why there were two directors. Lucky McKee is big enough to be able to direct by himself and he's pretty good at it. So why the other dude with the really cool name?

Overall, I wouldn't recommend it. I'd recommend watching the trailer. That was some good stuff.


The Bird People in China was directed by Takashi Miike from an adapted screenplay by Masa Nakamura. It's about a business man and a yakuza who are sent to a remote part of China to investigate a vein of jade and are changed forever. A plot description from the IMDb, posted by Danny Leary, says it better:

A young Japanese salaryman is sent by his company to a remote Chinese village to evaluate precious Jade that is found there, but before he arrives meets the yakuza who was sent to tail him to protect his bosses interest in the company. When the men finally arrive their mission become sidetracked by their interest in a mysterious young village girl, her haunting English language song and the secret that makes men fly like birds.

It's a wonderfully imaginative little flick, very sweet and only slightly strange. Everything about it was wonderful. I did find the colours to be a little muted, a little untrue, but that could just be my teevee getting ready to die. This is nothing like Audition or The Happiness of the Katakuris or Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, and Sukiyaki Western Django. Miike-san's films are all very unique, even if he's making something to capitalize on a current trend (One Missed Call, for example.)

Everything about it was superb and I highly recommend it.


Return to Sleepaway Camp.

I'm not going to bother with all the cast and crew stuff like I normally do. This was easily among the worst films I've ever seen and I've seen some real stinkers. I liked Sleepaway Camp, but I've never watched any of the sequels, not that you need to in order to see this flick.

Bah...don't bother unless you're really into the Sleepaway Camp movies.


City on Fire.

I'd like to have a review of this for you, I really would. The problem is that Netflix only has the Dimension release. I watched it up until the characters started speaking, then kicked the DVD out of my house. It was dubbed and there was no option to turn off the dubbing.

Dimension ruins Asian films when they release them. I'd purchased The Heroic Trio when Dimension released it unaware of how miserable they were and took it back immediately after watching half of the flick so I could purchase a real copy (I got the Tai Seng release and it was a fantastic purchase.) The Supercop they released here is nothing like the original version, known in China as Police Story 3: Supercop.

So, eventually I'll have a review of this flick for you, which is basically the original version of Reservoir Dogs once I track down a better copy.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Stand (book and movie)

My mom made a special request of me: that I also review the books I read. Since I just watched The Stand miniseries after reading the omigod long version of the book, I thought I'd start with that.

The Book:

I love Stephen King. I have not read everything he's written, I don't think I could ever catch up especially with the rate at which he publishes, but I've read a fair number of his books and watched his movies. In fact, I'd just finished the entire Dark Tower series, all seven books, just before I launched myself into the somewhat vague DT tie-in The Stand.

That was a big mistake.

The Dark Tower was massive, but somehow it didn't feel as massive as the 1500 page tome that the expanded Stand is. It's just...large and filled with so many characters that I didn't, or couldn't, really latch onto any of them as favourites (Mother Abagail aside, of course.) Only Larry Underwood and Randall Flagg really have any sort of arc. Most of the characters don't change or evolve or get any deeper. I had a glimmer of hope that Fran Goldsmith would be a good character, but that was pretty quickly dashed. Dayna Jurgins had a wonderfully strong part, but since I hadn't travelled with her for very long, I felt no connection to her. King wanted to show this massive, country-wide scale epic monstrosity of an apocalypse and did so very well. I simply did not connect with most of the characters.

The strongest parts are the journeys and the dreams. And nearly everything without Frannie.

Overall, not my favourite King book. Right now, that would be entire The Dark Tower. However, it is worth a read for the sections that are incredible, like Vegas and the stuff with Trashcan Man. I haven't read the original version so I can only recommend grabbing the expanded edition.

The Movie:

King's imagery is so vibrant and yet so personal feeling that it's often hard to watch a movie adaptation. I think the best adaptation of his work would have to be The Mist. I love, love, love that movie and love, love, love Frank Darabont for making it. I would say that it's among my top favourite movies of all time. That said, the most prolific and literal adapter of King's work is Mick Garris. He's built a career on directing and adapting King's work to the screen. He's done other stuff, sure (Hocus Pocus and the unfortunately short-lived Masters of Horror,) but his main thing is King. Out of 21 IMDb-listed directing credits, seven of them are Stephen King and four of those have been for teevee.

The cast for The Stand, which was made in 1994, is pretty impressive if not entirely accurate. Gary Sinise was a wonderful Stu Redman, Molly Ringwald (not my favourite of the Brat Pack) was the perfect Frannie, and you can't get much better than Ruby Dee as Mother Abagail and Ossie Davis as the underwritten Judge Farris. I just read that Moses Gunn was originally cast as the Judge (oh, that would have been marvelous...), but had to say no because he was battling cancer.

Bill Fagerbakke was wonderful as Tom Cullen, the always great Miguel Ferrer was wonderful, of not underused, as Lloyd Henreid, and Matt Frewer was PERFECT for Trashcan Man. I loved Ray Walston as Glen Batemen, but I did miss the "baldy" stuff between he and Stu. Adam Storke was good as Larry, but I imagined someone different. Jamey Sheridan was a great Randall Flagg, but I couldn't get the image of Charles Dance out of my head (this stems from a painting of Flagg / O'Dim in The Dark Tower) and I think he would have been marvelous. Or Lance Henriksen, but that's casting to type...

On the flip side, Rob Lowe was miscast as Nick Andros and Laura San Giacomo was good as Nadine, but I wouldn't have cast her. Someone mentioned that Diane Lane was going to play Julie Lowry (which eventually went to Shawnee Smith, later of the Saw flicks), but I think I would have cast her as Nadine.

Other notable faces in the show are Ed Harris as General Starkey, Kathy Bates as Ray (the radio host,) Sam Raimi as one of the two ill-fated border guards who encounters the Judge, Howard Sherman as one of the Virginia doctors (BUB!!), and of course Stephen King as one of the Boulderites. Can't honestly tell you which one without looking at the IMDb, he wrote so many of them...

Stephen King tried his hand at adapting his own work, originally aiming for the silver screen with George A. Romero at the helm. The material was then handed over to another writer and ABC offered to make it as a mini-series with Garris directing, fresh off his "triumph?" on King's Sleepwalkers. The constrictions of working with a network aside, the script was clumsy and felt just like the book in that it glossed over everything and focused on nothing. I really, really missed Rita. She's the most important part of Larry's transformation and without her, his arc seems so empty. Combining Rita with Nadine was a good move to save time and money, but Larry starts out as an intensely selfish character and needs the...geez, look at me telling the ether how Stephen King should handle his own characters...but anyway, Larry needs the push of Rita's death to go from the Taker to the Giver and that was missing here. Also missing was his connection to Joe / Leo. Okay, you can't really have a kid running around in his underwear for the majority of his screen time, but there was simply nothing between them.

The problem with Garris as a director is that his work is always very bright; there's always a lot of light. All of his work feels like television instead of a movie that happens to be made for television. He had what could have been an incredibly intense scene when Larry and Nadine go through the Lincoln Tunnel to Jersey and ruined it. His episodes of Masters of Horror aren't much better. Garris's next project is King's Bag of Bones.

Overall, I guess I would recommend the mini-series, but with reservations especially if you're a fan of the book. If you've never read the book and still want to see the movie...that's up to you...

Angel of Death round-up

Alright, Ed Brubaker's Angel of Death has finished its initial run on Crackle dot com, but you can still watch all ten episodes at that link. Chad (@crackledotcom) said that the DVD will be released in June. For those of you just joining us, Angel of Death is about a hitwoman named Eve who gets a conscience when she gets a knife to the brain and stars Kiwi stuntie and all-around kickass chick Zoe Bell (you've seen her all over and didn't even know it, but to actually see her do her thing, rent Double Dare and, of course, Death Proof.)

I've been talking up this show since it started and would have had this review up ages ago if I hadn't gotten all "ooh, shiny!" with work, writing, and Resident Evil 5.

I have really only one big complaint: the final three episodes felt severely chopped and rushed in order to make the short running time for each episode. I hope that's something that will be fixed when the DVD is released and the whole thing is stitched together into one cohesive unit. My other complaint is that there needs to be more and it needs to be longer! This 5 minutes of awesome at a time thing was kind of annoying...are all internet shows like that? I honestly don't know; I've only watched this and Dr. Horrible (Joss is awesome.)

My personal questions aside, I loved this show. Zoe Bell was awesome and it was great to see Monica Staggs (she's an American stuntie who was also in Death Proof as Leena Frank) and Lucy Lawless even if Lucy's character really didn't go anywhere...this is also something I'd like to see in an expanded version of the show on DVD or a second season (yes, please!) Some of the characters were a little too flat, but maybe that's part of the problem inherent in making something for such a short running time.

Technically, the show is great and the performances are ace. I highly recommend it!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Last House on the Left remake

The Last House on the Left is yet another remake of a classic horror flick, this one produced (and therefore sanctioned) by the original's creator, the Professor of Horror himself, Wes Craven. It was directed by Dennis Iliadis, making his American feature debut, from a script by Adam Alleca (first produced feature script) and Carl Ellsworth (Craven's Red Eye and Disturbia as well as a couple of okay Xena episodes.) This one, like the original, is about a family seeking revenge on the people who raped and beat their daughter.

Before I start, I should say that The Last House on the Left is not my favourite Craven flick. To be honest, it's been so long since I saw it that I don't remember much other than that it was very intense and shocking.

The biggest problem with remakes, in my opinion, is that the people who write the scripts now aren't the people who wrote the scripts then. Sometimes, the people writing the scripts now (like Adam Alleca) weren't even born when the original came out. We as a world are not in the same frame of mind we were 37 years ago when Last House first hit the screens. As such, these new scripts keep missing the mark in little, and in not so little, ways. I know of no one who says that the remake of anything is better than the original. I've not heard anyone tout the newest Friday the 13th as the mostest awesomest Jason flick evar!1! Remakes are, by their very nature, inferiour products because its a world created by one person filtered through someone else's perspective and personal memories. It's like the game Telephone and how the first person says "Butterflies are pretty" and by the time it gets to the last person the message has transformed into "Butt-licker fancy trees." The newest Last House is no different.

On the technical side, everything was good. The cinematography was too slick and processed, and they focused so much on Francis's broken nose that I thought Lucio Fulci (whose ocular obsession was legendary) had possessed the creative team. The score was good in and of itself, but it missed a few marks, or perhaps the movie missed them, so that was kind of distracting.

I saw nothing wrong with the performances. I thought everyone in the film did a magnificent job.

While it was brutal in certain respects, as it should be given its pedigree, it felt really reserved in others. Pretty frustrating, actually. And the finale felt like something out of the sequel to a slasher flick.

Overall: I wouldn't recommend it. Go watch the original instead, if you have to, or just watch something original.

Burnt Offerings, The Sentinel (1977), Mulberry Street

Burnt Offerings was directed by Dan Curtis from an adaptation of the Robert Murasco novel by William F. Nolan. It's about a family who rents a house for the summer and the price the house exacts on its tenants. It stars Oliver Reed and Karen Black with appearances by Burgess Meredith and Bette Davis.

I put this on my queue because one of my favourite actresses, Heather Langenkamp, lists it as one of her favourite horror flicks. I've not read the novel so I can't say how book accurate it is, but it felt like the beginning and the end were very strong while the middle sagged as they struggled to add things to pad out the runtime.

The performances were good enough. I don't really feel either way about Oliver Reed and I'm not a big fan of Karen Black, but I thought they were good. The son was annoying. I would have LOVED to see more of Meredith and Eileen Heckart, who played his sister. The chauffeur was creepy. They score was okay, the editing was okay, and there wasn't a lot in the way of effects.

Overall: pretty good.


The Sentinel is a supernatural horror flick from 1977 directed by Michael Winner and adapted by Jeffrey Konvitz from his own novel about a suicidal fashion model who finds a strikingly nice NYC apartment for amazingly cheap and soon finds out that the building is a gateway to hell being guarded by an ancient, blind priest. Right up my alley.

This is one of those 70s flicks where the filmmakers jammed in as many names as they could of both at the time up-and-comers (Chris Sarandon, who seems to be really underrated, and Christopher Walken) and those who have been around a while (Burgess Meredith, Ava Gardner, Eli Wallach, Jose Ferrer, etc., etc.) and was seen by Universal as their answer to Warner Brothers' The Exorcist from four years previous. They even got the master, Dick Smith, to come in and do the effects. Sorry Universal, you lost this round...

If I hadn't already seen Lucio Fulci's masterful The Beyond, or even his own less masterful original version Gates of Hell, I would be all over this flick. It has everything I'm fascinated by and can't stop myself from writing about, but there's a lot of pointless, useless, stupid stuff that drags it down. Combine that with a script that really isn't very mysterious or scary and you have a recipe for yawn.

The performances were pretty good from everyone involved. Walken wasn't given much to do other than stand there looking like a made man chewing gum and Sarandon was just the supportive boyfriend and part time sleazy lawyer. Not a lot of depth was given to them. Cristina Raines (geez, there are a lot of Chrises in this flick...) was...okay. A little uneven in her performance, but she was trying.

Overall: A good try, but not quite there.


Mulberry Street was one of the line-up in After Dark's first 8 Films to Die For film festival. It was directed by Jim Mickle from a script by Mickle and the film's star Nick Damici and is about a strange infection that turns people into rats.

I originally wasn't going to watch any of After Dark's 8 Films to Die For. I thought their handling of Captivity's marketing campaign was kind of shady and the flicks in the fest didn't look that good (please keep in mind that I am, surprisingly enough, very picky). I caught a section of this film on the Sci-Fi channel and thought, "Hey, this looks pretty good, but I thought it was about rats." It is, I just didn't watch enough of it on Sci-Fi.

99.9 percent of this film rocked my socks. The cinematography, the performances, the score...nearly everything about it was freakin' awesome. The one problem I had with it is the one thing it was built on: the freakin' rat people. Oh Lord, I hated that not because they were rats, but because they were turning into rats. And I get it, I get the symbolism, I just thought it was goofy. Everything else was absolutely spectacular, so much so that it was hard to reconcile the two.

Overall: I recommend it, but with reservations because of the rat thing...

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Halfway Point: Ed Brubaker's Angel of Death and Watchmen

Hey y'all, we're at the halfway point in the online series Angel of Death; five down, five to go. If you haven't started watching yet, now is a pretty good time to start: there are about 45 minutes currently up on the Crackle website and there's around 45 more minutes of mystery remaining. :D

The unfortunate thing is that the show isn't available outside the US. Why that is, I couldn't tell you, but you can send your tweets of frustration to Chad over @crackledotcom...just don't take it out on him, it's not his fault. He's just the poor guy who got stuck fielding the fans' ire.

I'm still loving every second of it. The cinematography, the editing, the score (which gets stuck in my head now, yeah), the direction, action, and performances. Great stuff! If you have any interest in watching a hitwoman develop a conscience and seek some down, dirty, gritty vengeance, check it out!!

I'll post the final wrap up in five days.


Watchmen was directed by Zach Snyder and comes from the venerable comic book by Alan Moore. Okay, okay. I hear the comic fans yelling at me already. It comes from the Graphic Novel by Alan Moore.

I should preface this by saying, I haven't read the Graphic Novel of the Watchmen. I went into this as blind as I did for 300 and V for Vendetta. I cannot comment on accuracy of detail or storyline, but I can say that I wasn't confused, I had no questions, and I went out the next day and got the collection so I could get the full effect.

While the running time packs a wallop at two and a three quarter hours (three with trailers), and you feel every bit of it, there's absolutely nothing that could have been cut. To lose any part of what's in there would have been to lose the story. While aficionados of Watchmen have told me that there were parts from the book that they really missed, they LOVED the movie, so I think that says something.

There was nothing in the movie that stood out to me as being terrible. The music was strange, though. Lots of sixties and seventies anti-war songs, two Leonard Cohen songs (one of them is "Hallelujah" which, I'm sorry, but Jeff Buckley sang it so much better and I normally hate covers), and several previously used Philip Glass tracks (one was from The Hours, if you can believe it.) I didn't hate the music, I just thought it was weird...

All of the performances rang true for me and it's always wonderful to see Matt Frewer so it's a score there. There was a rumour going around that Jackie Earle Haley, who played Rorschach, would be taking up the fedora and glove of Freddy Krueger so I paid extra special attention to him. If the rumour is true, based on his performance in this flick I think he can handle it. However, I heard that he just booked a pilot. If he's booked a pilot, there's little chance he's playing Freddy. Next rumour please...

I've never seen his music video work, but I have seen Zach Snyder's films (Dawn of the Dead, 300, and now Watchmen.) they're all beautiful, brutal, exhausting, intense, and well-directed. I think he did a great job under such daunting pressure from every sector of the business from the studios down to the people who would lay down their cash to watch the flick. I don't think the film, and his work on it, will disappoint anyone (except the critics, hahaha!)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pumpkinhead and The Other Side

Pumpkinhead is a movie from 1988 directed by the late Stan Winston from a script by Mark Patrick Carducci. Of course, Winston's company handles the effects. It tells the story of a father (played by Lance Hendriksen) who invokes a powerful demon to get revenge on the people who ran over his son and left him to die...but, of course, the demon's services come with a hefty price.

Some spotty writing aside, it's a solid story with a really good cast, some great special effects, and some ace cinematography. This was the first time I saw it and while I knew it was an American flick, I couldn't help by draw parallels between this film and the Clive Barker story Rawhead Rex, which I also haven't seen yet. Doesn't look like Netflix has it either. Ah well.


The Other Side was written, directed, and edited by Gregg Bishop and tells the story of a young man named Sam who comes back from hell to solve his murder and rescue his girlfriend. He's pressed for time, however, as three Reapers (Hellbound Headhunters) are after him and a large group of escapees including perpetually horny Mally and Oz, who is determined to not go back to Hell.

Plot issues and script inconsistencies aside (you won't hear me say that very often so you may want to read that again), this was a well made little flick. Everyone loved the material and that comes through in the performances and in the care taken with (some of) the effects. The acting was all pretty top notch and the cinematography, editing, and score were well done.

The cast and crew put a lot of heart into the movie and I feel that does make up for the writing issues...of which there were many. It's kind of convoluted and there are times where one's suspension of disbelief is tested pretty mightily, but it was well made and I think that definitely says something and makes something worth watching.

One little strange thing that bugged me: there was a base-side scratch on the left hand side during a couple of shots (it was shot on Super16.) This film was made in 2005-6. Why was there still a scratch, especially on the wide DVD release?

Angel of Death and The Midnight Meat Train

Angel of Death is a web series written by Ed Brubaker and directed by Paul Etheredge. It's hosted on Crackle ( Starring the phenomenal Zoe Bell (to actually see her in action else where, you need to see the documentary Double Dare and Death Proof because she's a stunt woman by trade - Xena and Kill Bill among others - and you're not supposed to see her), Angel of Death is about a hitwoman who suddenly, and unfortunately in her line of work, grows a conscience when she's stabbed in the head with a knife.

Episode one, "Edge," is currently up with a new episode coming once a day for the next ten days barring any sort of issues.

I don't know anything about comics. I think my friend Shawn can testify to that. You say Ed Brubaker and I think of the character in George A. Romero's Land of the Dead because of the last name. As such, I can't comment on this being within his style or any of that hullabaloo. I can say that if the remaining episodes are as strongly written as the first one, this is going to be one hell of a ride. I'm already saving up for the DVD! (Which comes out in June according to crackledotcom.) Of course, Zoe Bell kickin' ass is always ace in my book.

So far, I'm loving the comic book feel of the show, the cinematography is pretty ace, the editing flows really well, and the direction is spot on. Also, I love the score. It's bold, energetic, and attention grabbing, but not in an intrusive way.

Hoo-ray for the internets, and Crackle / Sony of course, for letting the show air without censoring Brubaker and company. I love that this isn't on teevee for that very reason; they're free to be creative and see where their creativity leads them. I'm looking forward to watching each episode as they unfold!

Anyway, I recommend it very highly.


The Midnight Meat Train was adapted by relative newcomer Jeff Buhler from the short story written by Clive Barker and was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus.) The movie is about a young photographer with dreams of capturing the City as it truly is and winds up capturing much more than that. It stars Bradley Cooper as Kaufmann and Vinnie Jones as Mahogany with support from Peter Jacobson (Taub in House!), Roger Bart (most famously, he was Carmen Ghia in the musical of The Producers), and Leslie Bibb (she was the reporter in Iron Man.) Oh, and Brooke Shields had a very minor role as an important art dealer.

The best performances in the flick come from Vinnie Jones, Peter Jacobson, and Roger Bart and the last two play throw away characters who I found to be far more interesting than the on-screen Kaufmann and his annoying girlfriend (Bibb.)

The adaptation was uneven. If they'd cut out the girlfriend, I think it would have been a much stronger piece. She was there just to have sex with Kaufmann and be really annoying. It seemed like a few expository sections were cut in favour of gore for gore's sake. Other sections of the film were quite good and engaging, but the majority of sections added to make the film feature length were poorly written and didn't fit.

While quite a few of the effects are well done and amazing, there was a lot of unnecessary CGI blood. In fact, this movie was CG got kind of tiresome. It seems to me that they added a bunch of gory close-ups to satisfy the perceived need for Saw and Hostel like viciousness. There was no reason for the close ups other than to "freak people out." They made me yawn and ask, "Why?"

Ryukei Kitamura's direction was solid and the cinematography was fantastic. The score and editing flowed well.

Overall, it's hard to recommend it and it's hard to damn it. This is one of my favourite Clive Barker stories and I can't say that I'm entirely disappointed. Vinnie Jones was perfect as Mahogany even if he is less Terminator-like in the story and most of the stuff where Kaufmann's girlfriend is absent is really strong, but there's so much CG and the girlfriend is so annoying that...well, it's just tough.