horror

Movie Issues Review: The Woman in Black

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Movie Issues Review: The Woman in Black

Harry Potter’s fought a lot of crazy stuff while at Hogwarts, but now school’s over and there’s no hocus pocus left to get him out of a jam.

Yeah I know The Woman in Black isn’t another Harry Potter sequel, but I can’t help it, Daniel Redcliffe has been Harry Potter for a decade. Now he’s on his own though without the support of Potter-Heads and his trusty wand. Can Daniel Redcliffe handle the leading role of this Gothic Horror?

Leland and Spooky from Movie Issues saw The Woman in Black and had this to say about it:

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Scream 4

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Scream 4

This review is going to piss some of you off.  It should be stated up front that I am a fan of the Scream franchise.  I love its blend of meta-fiction and real scares, its formula-bending obedience to and rejection of horror movie clichés.  I love that these movies have an increasingly Ourobouros-like tendency toward self-awareness while never abandoning an actual narrative.  I love that the women characters are actually strong people, unlike the objectified faux-strong gals in the Joss Whedon adventures.  Halloween scared the crap out of me because it was just a guy who went nuts and started killing people.  All the folks who have donned the Ghostface mask for the Scream adventures have been real — and smart — people who went bonkers.  Yikes!

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Let Me In

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Let Me In

Let Me In

Matinee with Snacks

For those fans of the Swedish original (Let The Right One In) who are all up in arms about an Americanized remake, calm yourself. Director/screenwriter Matt Reeves was a fan of that film too and did not at all want to interfere with the sanctity of the original — and, in fact, took ownership by writing and directing this film, specifically to prevent the inevitable Hollywood slaughter. In a way, this film is a love letter to the original, drawing attention to it while also serving as a solid movie in its own right. All that said, I have to confess that while I found myself lulled to sleep by the original, I was chewing my fingernails off during the remake. Stylistic differences? Am I just a populist and not a cineaste? Or is my couch just that comfortable? You can decide. All I’m saying is while I admired the bravery and beauty of the original, this one “worked” for me.

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Monsters

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Monsters

A friend subtitled this movie based on its premise District 9 II: Immigration Reform, and we laughed at the brazenness of the writer/director/cinematographer setting the Infected Zone in the border states of Mexico. Monsters is a story not of an alien invasion, but the hassle of the aftermath of an alien invasion. Unlike District 9, the victimized citizenry are the humans, and the aliens are implacable death machines — or are they? It’s been six years since Mexico was overrun with these Lovecraftian tentaculosaurs, so our story is concerned with the somewhat contrived and well-tread premise of two Americans trying to get back to the States with all these terrible, predatory obstacles.

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Piranha 3-D

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Piranha 3-D

Matinee Price

When I saw the first Piranha movie in 1978, I was totally traumatized. I would not take a bath, never mind swim, for some time. I just knew those piranha would come up through the drain and eat me up. When I saw Jaws in the same year, I thought, “no way am I swimming in the ocean now,” and I was haunted by the lone swimmer’s fate in the opening sequence. All this history is just to say that I have a fondness for the effectiveness of Death from the Deep movies. Deep Rising: total hoot. Lake Placid: big fun. Piranha 3D: schlocktacular.  Check out more after the break!

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Repo Men

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Nope, it’s not the car one. Nor is it the bizarre musical version with the similar premise. This is a straight-talking, incredibly violent action-drama about dudes who reclaim artificial organs when the buyer defaults on their payment plan. On the surface, Repo Men is just a gory sci-fi excuse for some close-quarters knife fights (never fear, there are plenty of those). After the sub-prime mortgage collapse and the crude and hostile health-care debates, Repo Men accidentally got a little relevant. Do we loathe or pity the defaulters for not meeting their unfairly weighted financial obligations? Justifications abound for both sides, but Repo Men treads a line.

As for the style and texture, if Blade Runner and Gattaca got together, they would look like this near-future semi-dystopic metropolis. Here is the urban hunting ground where Jude Law and Forest Whitaker do their work, shiny and clean, dark and over-saturated with ads, with high tech everything and a pretty cavalier attitude towards violence. Imagine the paperwork today if your cab was the site of a man having his kidney removed in a technically sanctioned act of murder.

Law’s character is at the top of his game, excelling at work while neglecting the home life. His partner Whitaker is more gleeful at his work, less professional. The property they repossess, the artiforgs, are financed at insane rates, then reclaimed (and ew, resold!) after 96 days of nonpayment. In short, you’re surprised in your home or work or anywhere, zapped, cut, and the goods are bagged, while you are left for dead. The obligatory and de facto waiving of patient rights to an ambulance is a nice touch. It’s not serial killing, it’s perfectly legal, apparently. At least society has the decency to be a little squeamish about it. The tools of the trade allow them to check passersby for default, they don’t even have to wait for the bureaucratic wheel to turn up their next mark. It is jacked up.

One thing leads to another and now Law has an artiforg and he has defaulted on the payments, so he’s on the run. You could drive an ambulance through the plot holes after this point. Evil boss Liev Schreiber offers no employee discount for nonconsensual implantation of their product? Never mind the revelations of how it came to happen later in the movie, what about just obeying the legal rules of the world the film set up? It totally doesn’t matter. We didn’t come to the movies for artiforg tort reform. Law, with some shiny new innards and a sudden capacity to empathize for his previous targets, has got him some problems now, the kinds that are often solved through other people getting killed.

Act II is ostensibly the exciting part, you know, revelatory horrors, hiding out, fighting back, etc. Instead Jude takes up with some random woman from a previous scene (Alice Braga), who is chock full of unpaid merchandise and can totally understand what he’s going through. Interest starts to flag. I hope Eric Garcia’s novel, The Repossession Mambo, on which this film was based, doesn’t suffer from the same digression. At least we have a hilarious Larry the Lung costumed character for the kids!

I don’t need to tell you who’s been assigned to the job of repo’ing Law’s artiforg. I also probably don’t need to tell you that a movie about professional vivisectionists has a ridiculously squibbulous climax involving non-traditional weaponry. I shouldn’t have been as surprised by the weird eroticizing of some painful surgical actions. By the ending the twist of the plot turns into a squirm-inducing twist of the knife. Despite the up close and personal slicing and dicing, Repo Men feels like it’s trying to be a new sci-fi classic like the movies it visually resembles, or even become a serious movie. The random girl side plot takes up too much real estate and the psychological ramifications of the tech and the job get short shrift. Still, you can’t go completely wrong with an Oscar winner chasing an Oscar nominee with a paring knife, and Repo Men gets a good bit right.

MPAA Rating R-strong bloody violence, grisly images, language, some sexuality/nudity

Release date 3/19/10

Time in minutes 111

Director Miguel Sapchnik

Studio Universal Pictures

Your Friday Fix 03/19/10: Ookami Kakushi

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Your Friday Fix 03/19/10: Ookami Kakushi

Genres: Horror, Occult, Mystery

Ratings Ratings
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A remote town called Jouga is home to a pervasive myth about ancient, humongous wolves that once roamed the area. These wolves are still spoken of in local religious ceremonies and even revered as gods. A river divides the town between the old and new districts. It is to be noted that the people of the old district do not think kindly of those who have embraced the more modern culture. The story takes place as two siblings, Hiroshi Kuzumi and Mana Kuzumi, move to the town with their father, Masaaki Kuzumi, to seek inspiration for his occult novels.

Before Hiroshi can even settle in a neighbor girl, Isuzu Tsumuhana, latches on to him, confesses her love, and tells him that they will be together. Mana, who is in a wheelchair, dislikes the situation from the start. Mana does not seem to want to get along with anyone. When Issei Tsumuhana, Isuzu’s older brother, shows up Mana’s attitude changes. Issei also gets along well with their father, Masaaki, whose books he professes to enjoy. In fact, everyone at school and in town are so damn happy to see new people. Everyone wants to know more about Hiroshi, continually pestering him all throughout class.

One student, Ogasawara, tries to drag Hiroshi off to join his activity club, but is scolded by the class president Nemuru Kushinada. For the rest of the day Ogasawara seems jumpy and scared of everyone. Later that night we see Ogasawara running the streets of the town, his eyes glowing red. A group of masked figures stalk him in the shadows cast by a red moon. The leader, a young girl with a giant scythe, strikes him down. Elsewhere, a mysterious man reacts to the death he somehow feels.

The next day everyone seems to react like nothing happened. Nemuru says that Ogasawara “moved away” suddenly. Hiroshi and another newcomer to the town, Kaname Asagiri, discuss the strange disappearance. Both feel uneasy, especially when Nemuru requests a private audience with Isuzu. We see the two girls exchange heated, yet muted words. The only words we are left to hear are Isuzu saying that she will protect Hiroshi.

This series keeps a great deal of its cards hidden at the start of this series, yet shows just enough to get you to play the hand. The mystery of the town and the wolves, demons, and the warnings to keep off the streets at night set a great mood. While the horror aspect of the series is still mild, it is mounting.

Overall Hook Rating: B

Watch part of episode one after the break…

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Your Friday Fix 01/29/10: Aoi Bungaku

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Genres: Horror, Mystery, Suspense

Ratings Ratings
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Aoi Bungaku varies from its anime brethren by nature of its source. Parts of this series are derived from various classical Japanese works; six in all. The first two episodes comprise half of the story No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai. Episodes 5 and 6 are from In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom by Ango Sakaguchi, episodes 7 and 8 are from Kokoro by Natsume Souseki, episodes 9 and 10 are from Run, Melos! also by Osamu Dazai with episodes 11 and 12 each being their own complete story consisting of The Spider’s Thread and Hell Screen by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

No Longer Human takes us inside the mind of a monster. Not your average monster, but instead a young man who feels no connection to his fellow man. Yozo Oba grew up the privileged son of a wealthy congressman yet feared upsetting his father. In flashbacks we see Yozo, still a young boy, being abused by a group of women; cowering under his father’s gaze as he challenges his plans for him; and growing further apart from his humanity.

It is not until a boy in his class sees through his disguise that Yozo admits he is a monster, whose visage takes Yozo’s place in the mirror. As Yozo grows up he begins to lie, cheat and steal through life. He lives off allowances from his ever more irate father until he is cut off. It is at this point he meets Tsuneko, working under the name Mayumi, who has been abandoned by her ex-convict husband and has all but lost the will to live.

The two of them spend an intimate night describing their loath of life and decide to commit double suicide. They load up on sleeping medication and leap from an ocean cliff (Tsuneko asks Yozo to push her off). Guilt begins to stab into Yozo after this action and he follows her into the abyss. Yet, he survives the attempt and later recovers in the hospital. His lingering guilt begins to unravel him further and he wishes to attempt to carry out Tsuneko’s wishes to become more human in her next life. He makes a pact with himself to makes this opportunity his second chance at a normal life.

The atmosphere, artwork and story laid out in this half of the No Longer Human story just blew me away. It contains a great deal of internal turmoil and deep psychological insights that really pull you into the characters. I have just put this series at the top of my to watch list.

Overall Hook Rating: A

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Daybreakers

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What? You didn’t hear about this one? It’s 2019, and most of the world is populated by vampires. Sexy, huh? Stephanie Meyer heaven. However, when now the doughy vampires have glazed Monday morning, er, evening stares riding the subway to their tedious accountant jobs, rather than sexy blood-foam raves in underground clubs, you know the honeymoon of the undead is over. Humans have become an endangered species (finite biofuel), and the world of bloodsuckers has to find an alternative (clean bile?) before their blood deficiencies make them devolve into cave-dwelling bat monsters (drill baby drill). Message much? Yes, they tried everything all the other movies and TV shows have tried.

It gets better. One thing leads to another, and the solution to the fuel — er, blood — shortage transforms from creating an alternative (see: HBO’s True Blood) to eliminating the demand via a cure for vampirism. Get it yet? Hint: it involves the sun. No oil for blood! What’s truly notable about Daybreakers is how it takes a really great idea that also happens to be a swinging two-by-four of a modern-day allegory, in a genre that has been sucked dry by every major media outlet, and still make a movie premise that feels interesting and new, shot in a groovily-realized and plausible world. For this alone, Daybreakers deserves your attention. The problem is that eventually it succumbs to the very pop cultural burdens that it took up in the first place.

Ethan Hawke is a vampire hematologist working for a delectably spooky vampire CEO, Sam Neill. Hawke is his usual undead self, but Neill seems to be having real fun. Enter Willem DaFoe who, despite being human here, is even more sceneivorous than the cartoonish vampire he limned in Cirque du Freak. Daybreakers may have a facepalmer of an allegory driving its plot, but it truly is beautifully shot and designed, with a cool, stimulating score driving the pace. The dark, desaturated grimness of the eternal night of a world of vampires and the feverish Acting! of the mobs of extras create a believable post-vampirism world.

It’s actually hilarious that these ex-humans hunted their human prey to near-extinction, and not just for the “oh yes we do consume too much” reminder. They are even less fit in a Darwinian sense then the Ebola virus, in that vampires not only destroy the source of their sustenance, they create more competition by doing so; and if they do not feed, they turn into…bats, kind of. Despite all this, Daybreakers manages to paint a pretty real-feeling alternative world of the near future. The human species might be endangered, but greedy human nature won’t go down without a fight. It’s not the most brilliant vampire movie ever made, but it’s the best one of 2010.

MPAA Rating R-strong bloody violence, language, and brief nudity

Release date 1/8/10

Time in minutes 138

Director Michael and Peter Spierig

Studio Lionsgate

Disney's A Christmas Carol

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This story is well-enough known that I will indulge in some spoilers, mostly because some elements of this movie are beautiful and innovative, and some just plain did not belong. The aggregate score makes it a rental, because the highs were very high, but the lows very low. First of all, all performance-capture technicians should be so lucky as to have a face such as Jim Carrey’s to use for source movement. Like Andy Serkis before him, Carrey has fine control of his expressions, and his entire physical instrument. As a result, the character of Scrooge is a wonder to behold. You can almost feel the veins pounding with ire behind his dessicated skin. Carrey plays him with real heart, real bile, real fear.

That said, why would you then skimp on every other character — even the other ones played by Carrey? Sure, Scrooge is the reason we’re here, but you spoil us with a rich, nearly photo-realistic performance and then bust out faces like the kid in the first Toy Story movie (admittedly with better texture mapping)? The uncanny valley looks all the deeper when you’ve got the mountain in the same shot. Also: stop making the characters look like their voice actors. Sure, it helps identify their player, but that’s what credits are for. When you give us Colin Firth’s voice coming out of a creepy Colin Firth waxwork, it’s even more jarring than say, Cary Elwes’ voice coming out of a portly stranger. OK, huzzah for the casting reunions from Princess Bride and Liar Liar. Give everyone with a substantial speaking part a new face and put a ton of dots on them too, or don’t do it at all. Poor Gary Oldman could really have worked Bob Cratchit to the maximum.

London is a beautiful place to fly a camera through when rendered with such loving Dickensian detail — people and streets, chamberpots and shops, sweeps and urchins. I imagine in 3-D it would be even more swooping and gorgeous. But then the creepy robots sing their stiff-mouthed carols — even with adorable character design they just disturb next to Scrooge’s twitching nasolabial folds.

The reason to remake this story in CG is to explore storytelling techniques that you couldn’t do as well or easily with live-action, right? Not just to jump on the 3D bandwagon. Right? Not just to find ways to poke things into the faces of the kids in the audience and go “Wooo Dickens is COOOOL!” Right? Of course I expect some expansion from the relatively intimate story, but some of these elaborate showcases felt like someone wished he made a different movie and decided just to keep the idea. I am glad I didn’t see it in 3-D because the camera poking was pretty egregious at times.

This Christmas Carol also doesn’t seem to know its audience. Between goofy chase scenes and glossing over some of the better poetry of the novel, and genuinely scary, profound moments of self-discovery on the part of Scrooge, I’d say they may also not have read the book. I would never take a child to see this — the sections with Jacob Marley and the spirit of Christmas Yet To Come are quite scary and effectively done. Future was portrayed as only a silent shadow, its bony hand sliding along reality to point the way for Scrooge…unless it pokes, black and glistening and fakey, into the 3-D realm, ruining the beautiful and haunting effect. After the Ringwraiths and Dementors and depictions of Death over a century of cinema, I was so pleased to see something different for Christmas Yet To Come…and then frustrated. Did I mention the ridiculous, gratuitous chase scene? Chase. Scene. Future does not chase you and shrink you and — Zemeckis!!!!!

The Ghost of Christmas Past was handled like a human candle, a creative and different interpretation of happier times and the ephemerality of memory. He and Christmas Present are also played by Jim Carrey (Future may have been as well, but there was no face to animate), and Past had an inexplicable Irish accent and a hissing whisper, the blame for both of which I can only lay on director Robert Zemeckis’ shoulders. It was such a lovely idea of a candle and then ruined.

And then we come to Christmas Present. As we know, Present is the boisterous, merry love-of-life spirit of jolly, earthy goodness and generosity. They got the general look of him right (oddly including the petulant forehead wrinkle that Carrey fans will recognize as his impish look, not his expansive humanity-loving look), but the booming warm laugh is instead incredibly horrible and fake and creepy. If this was meant to be a Scrooged-type cynical commentary on how artificial our seasonal bursts of kindness are before we slide back into 11 months of selfishness, well, it didn’t work. It looked bush league. His laugh was unsettling and creepy and not at all merry, and it ruined everything else: the cornucopia of generosity, the hale spirit astride the wonders of the world, and the truly lovely way he showed Scrooge his part of the spirits’ presentation. This scene would have been the most effective in 3-D, but if I had seen that petulant wrinkle shake out those kidnapper-van laughs in 3-D, I might have fled the building. Present repelled me right when he should have been washing us in the wassail of what Scrooge is missing. Again, this ancillary character wasn’t given full animation of his face, despite being based on rubberface Carrey.

I wish I could cut a montage of the sobering and well-thought-out segue from Present to Future, the swooping flights through London and Scrooge’s face. But I cannot. Wait to watch it at home with some warmth to ward off the chill.

MPAA Rating PG

Release date 11/6.09

Time in minutes 96

Director Robert Zemeckis

Studio Walt Disney Pictures