Monday, April 30, 2012

'The One Who Got Away'--a zombie parody

As a counter-balance to the rather vile parody of the Katy Perry Song "In Another Life" ("Hitler's Suicide Note") that I posted at the main Cinema Steve blog earlier today, here's cute zombie apocalypse parody of the same song.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Amy Acker

Born in 1976 in Dallas, Texas, Amy Acker was destined for show-business from a young age. She spent her childhood studying ballet, modern dance and jazz dance, but knee surgery in high school forced her to abandon that path and turn to acting.

While still in college, Acker landed her first television roles on the children's series "Wishbone", and soon after graduation she landed the role of Fred on the "Buffy the Vampire Splayer" spin-off series "Angel" om 2001. Acker's character that was put not though one but several wringers... and ultimately transformed into a demon.

Acker's career has thus far been mostly focused around television, with one-shot appearances on numerous seriem and recurring roles on shows such as "Alias", "Dollhouse", and "Happy Town", but she has managed to fit in a few movies along the way, some of them in the horror genre. In 2008, Acker starred in "A Near Death Experience" and she can currently be seen in movie theatres in "The Cabin in the Woods".

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

'The Cabin in the Woods' is worth visiting

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker, Sigourney Weaver, Brian White, Tim De Zern, and Jodelle Ferland
Director: Drew Goddard
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Five college kids (Connolly, Hemsworth, Hutchison, Kranz, and Williams) head to an isolated cabin for a weekend of fun, but things don't turn out as planned... for them, or the global organization that is secretly manipulating them.

"Cabin in the Woods" was the happiest cinematic surprise I've had in quite some time. Like most movies I see, I came to it knowing very little about it. Based on what little advertising I'd seen and what little "buzz" I'd heard, I expected a straight "Evil Dead" rip-off (at worst) or "Totem" done right (at best).

It turned out the film was closer to "Totem", but yet not anything like it at all. From the very first scene--which features a pair of stereotypical office workers having a mundane conversation by the water cooler--this is a film that surprises at nearly every turn... but does so through a solid, well-paced story rather than half-assed twists and forced scared. If more scripts were written with the care exhibited here, fewer people would be declaring the horror genre dead.

Because most of the fun in watching the mystery of what is really going on in the film come together, this is a hard movie to review. I can say that it's aimed squarely at fans of B- horror and sci-fi movies and that your level of experience with low-budget cheese will be directly proportional to the level of enjoyment you'll derive from this movie. Like the "Grindhouse" flicks from a few years ago, there is nothing terribly original here, as almost everything is a homage to, or a wry commentary upon, horror and sci-fi genre conventions and movies. But this is an effort far superior to those featured in "Grindhouse" (and the spin-offs), because the parts here add up to something greater than the whole and the movies being referenced.

I've already mentioned the exceptional script at the heart of the film, but the quality of the cast is also a major part of what makes the film so enjoyable. While the young actors portraying the teenaged victims in the cabin are all fine in their various roles as slasher-movie stereotypes, the real fun for me was had watching Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, and Amy Acker as technicians working to manipulate events around the other characters. Although their characters are, more or less, the film's villains, I found myself rooting for them as the film moved into its wild climax.

It's been a while since I've had this much fun watching a movie, and I loved every minute of it. The only complaint I have revolves around a lidded coffee cup that Richard Jenkins' character Sitterson is seen fiddling with in the early scenes. That cup is later placed on a control panel full of buttons and levers, the kind of place you wouldn't want to place a coffee cup that might get knocked over and thus spill liquid on sensitive equipment. But, after this obvious set-up of disaster, the cup just vanishes from the story... and that bugs me. I'm a firm believer in the concept that if "there's a gun in the first act, it hast to be fired by the third." The lack of pay-off for the coffee cup business is the only flaw I could see in this otherwise excellent picture.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Not much story to get in the way of the gore

Recycled Parts (2010)
Starring: Girstin Bergquist, David Dartt, Joe Duffy, Brandon Brendel, Lisa Gail, Michael Dias, and Larry Sands
Directors: Larry Sands, Erick Vega, and Bradley Young
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Three unlikeable college friends (Brendel, Gail, and Dias) and two stupid ones (Bergquist and Sands) become victims of a madman (Dartt) who is abducting people and harvesting their limbs and organs for sale on the black market (or something like that).

First of all, this turned out not to be my kind of movie, so maybe I'm unable to appreciate its strengths, but sitting through this movie was a miserable experience. Regular readers know that I can't stand "torture porn" movies... and there's really not much else to this movie that gory deaths and screaming victims.

The best thing about "Recycled Parts" was that it was that it was so to the point that it lasted just one hour.

But during that hour, you get to see just about every variety of incompetent filmmaking you can imagine--from bad dialogue to bad characterization; from amateurish Foley work to uneven sound levels and inaudible dialogue; from badly lit scenes to badly framed shots, this film has it all! Hell, it even has a textbook example of the moronic "shock twist ending" that is so bad it actually ends up being one of the worst parts of the movie.

The only reason I'm not rating it Zero, is that the filmmakers did manage to creep me out with te Christmas-themed lair of the psychotic doctor's assistant Einstein (played by Joe Duffy). Then again, with three directors and five cinematographers, one would expect them to get SOMETHING right. Unless, of course, each director and cinematographer was brought in to work on a part of the film that didn't play to their strengths....

Perhaps if you're really, REALLY into films with less substance and class and creativity than the "Hostel" series, you might like this film. Everyone else should probably stay away.

(Full disclosure: Distributor Midnight Releasing provided me with a screener of this film.)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Diana Terranova

Diana Terranova is best known for her role as a super-powered cheerleader on the sci-fi television series "Heroes", but her resume is full of appearances in low-budget thrillers, sci-fi films and horror flicks where her presense in the cast was, to a large extent, dictated by her two most obvious talents.

Recent horror credits for Terranova include "Gacy House", "The Butcher" and the soft-core porn horror spoof "The Hills Have Thighs".

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

'Xtro 3' craters like a meteor strike

Xtro 3: Watch the Skies (1994)
Starring: Sal Landi, Andrew Divoff, Andrea Lauren Hertz, and Robert Kulp
Director: Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A group of Marine demolitions experts are sent to a remote, deserted island to disarm explosives left over from WW2. As will happen, something goes wrong and they unleash an alien that has been trapped in a bunker for several decades. Gory mayhem ensues.

I've read in several places that director Harry Bromley Davenport says this is his favorite entry in the "Xtro" series. I can't for the life of me figure out why. As flawed as it was, the original "Xtro" is far more interesting on every level than this one... and far more competently made.

It's actually a shame that "Xtro 3" turned out as a textbook example of what happens when a low-budget film is made with a slip-shod attitude, because there was a lot of potential here.

The setting--a deserted jungle island that once housed interned Japanese and a secret research facility could have been a character unto itself and filled the movie with atmosphere if the cinematography and direction hadn't been as lifeless as an instructional video on how to navigate the Dewey Decimal System. The story of Marines stalked by a murderous alien creature could have been engaging if the script writer had taken time to research actual military protocols and behaviors, had spent some time making the characters interesting and distinct, and bothered to actually bothered to do more than one draft so the dialogue didn't sound like something written for a cheap voice-over of a Japanese sci-fi movie.

And speaking of characters, perhaps if the actors all didn't seem like they had been handed the script pages right before cameras started to roll but instead seemed like they were in character instead of simply delivering the bad lines, the audience could perhaps develop attachment to one or more of them. Although decent acting would not make up for the fact that illogical, plot-dictated behavior governs every action they take, because no one seems to have bothered to think scenes through.

Similarly, if someone had paid attention to costuming and continuity on the production, maybe generous-minded or entertainment-starved viewers would be able to suspend disbelief and engage with the film, despite the incompetent direction and script. However, the appearing and disappearing gear on characters and less effort put into costuming than you might put into getting dressed for lounging around the house on a Saturday when your friends are all out of town, make that impossible.

Finally, although the alien has possibilities to rival the creepy creature of the original "Xtro," it ends up more laughable than scary due to badly executed special effects and the aforementioned illogical, plot-dictated character behavior. Is there anyone reading this who has seen this film who didn't think like I did: "Why run when you can just kick it really hard?"

"Xtro 3" continues the decline of this series into crapitude. The only thing that keeps it from sinking to a Two Rating (and thus earning a place over at Movies You Should [Die Before You] See) is the alien's back story. It's a cool idea... and it's too bad that it is wasted in a movie like this one. (I won't give it away here, because it is one of the few decent story elements in the film.)

If your looking for something to round out a Bad Movie Night line-up, "Xtro 3: Watch the Skies" might be what you're looking for. You might, however, be better off actually watching the skies and identifying shapes in the clouds.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Jennifer Aniston

This week's Scream Queen is perhaps the biggest reach yet, as American actress Jennifer Aniston, best known for her role on the 1990s sit-com "Friends", has spent her career making people scream with laugher rather than terror. And she's only rarely screamed herself.

But it's Easter weekend, so I figured it was okay to put up a ham.

Jennifer Aniston's single horror outing to date was her first starring role in a feature film--1992's offbeat chiller "Leprechaun". The film was treated harshly by critics, and, even if the film was a commercial success, Aniston was seriously considering quitting acting after making it.

But then she found "Friends", and she transformed into the star of screen and television that we know today.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

'Ghost Whisperer' got off to a strong start

I was gifted with Seasons 1 and 2 of "Ghost Whisperer" some time ago, and I recently got around to start watching them. So, I will be reviewing the episodes in this space. I only watched the show once in a blue moon during its five year run on CBS, but every time I did, I was impressed by Jennifer Love Hewitts two great talents. She's also quite an actress.

Ghost Whisperer (Untitled Pilot Episode) (2005)
Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, David Conrad, Aisha Tyler, and Wentworth Miller
Director: John Gray
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Her entire life, Melinda (Hewitt) has been able to see and communicate with ghosts. As she grew up, she began to pass messages from them to the living, so the restless spirits would feel relieved of their earthly duties and finally be able to move onto the afterlife. Even on her wedding night, she spends time with both the living and the dead... when for the first time one of the dead (Miller) invade her very home in search of help.

"Ghost Whisperer" got off to a strong start with its 2005 pilot episode. A deftly written script that introduces us to likable newly-weds Melinda and Jim--she sees dead people and tries to help them move onto the next life, he is a paramedic and tries to help people stay in this one, which is an interesting arrangement that I'm sure will get play as the show unfolds--and Melinda's sassy employee at the antique store she runs. I expect Melinda's doting and supportive husband will give rise to nearly as many plots as the ghosts he will help as I watch this series... and I expect her employee will come in at a close second, probably not directly but rather through antiques that she brings into the shop that Melinda owns and operates.

The pilot also presents what I know to be the show's formula from what few I've already seen: Melinda encounters a ghosts here and there, but one or two become her focus. After some initial sleuthing and plot complications, she finds the key to helping them resolve the issues that are keeping them in this world. After a tearful goodbye with family members and loved ones, the ghost moves on, and Melinda returns to the arms of her loving husband.

But the pilot also features a near-perfect mix of sappy and creepy that made the best episodes of the show that I've seen so much fun. Just when you think the schmaltz might be going on just a little too thick, scary ghost stuff starts happening.

What I found most entertaining about the pilot episode was the way it time and again made me wonder what it would be like to go through life never knowing if the person sitting across from you is alive or dead... until you realize that you're the only person who can see him. If the show keeps that aspect alive, I think this is going to be lots of fun.

Things Learned About Ghosts and The Afterlife in This Episode: Major life-changes for those the departed care about may "awaken" their slumbering, lingering spirits and draw them to the location, even if they don't know why. Ghosts somehow communicate even with the ghosts who are stuck in this world... and sometimes they tell those who are stuck to seek out Melinda for help.