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Stage Fright (2014)

Stage Fright

★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Jerome Sable

Starring Allie MacDonald as Camilla

Meat Loaf as Roger

Imdb Link

At a summer theater camp, Camilla, one of the cooks, auditions for the lead role in Haunting of the Opera. The play in which her mother played the lead role, which she was killed doing.

An absolutely ridiculous slasher musical loosely based on Phantom of the Opera, set at a summer camp in Western Ontario, Canada. My dad and I decided to watch this off of a friend’s recommendation for Halloween. While Stage Fright wasn’t great, it certainly was a lot of fun, which is really what I wanted in a Halloween movie. This movie is filled from beginning to end with every slasher cliché imaginable, and every beat is easily predictable (other than the reveal of the killer, which I didn’t see coming). Yet even though this movie was predictable, it was still very scary. You know exactly what is going to happen, but the suspense before it does keeps you on edge. This movie isn’t just a slasher though, it’s first and foremost a musical. This added component to the film makes it feel like it’s more than just an ordinary, run of the mill slasher. Is the music good though? Occasionally. Sometimes the songs are great, and you know they would have a lot of potential with a good singer doing them, and other times the songs are purely played for laughs, and aren’t meant to be good. For example, the entire “we’re here!” sequence, isn’t a great song, but the lyrics and campiness of it all set up the rest of the film. I do have to wonder why they couldn’t have cast singers though. Sometimes I don’t mind when movie musicals have mediocre singers, if it pushes the story forward (see Les Mis), but in Stage Fright, where the story revolves around people we are supposed to believe are aspiring Broadway performers, and people working at a theater camp, you expect more. I mean, hell, I work at a summer theater camp, and 95% of the people I work with can sing better than these actors. So in the end, Stage Fright isn’t a very good movie, but it is a really fun watch, and it had me laughing a good deal of the time. This is one of the cases where I can excuse a lot of the flaws because I find it entertaining as hell.

Horns (2014)

Horns

★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Alexandre Aja

Starring Daniel Radcliffe as Ig Parrish

Imdb Link

Ig Parrish, who has been accused of murdering his girlfriend, wakes up one day with strange horns growing out of his forehead. Horns that have strangely persuasive powers.

I have to say, I enjoyed this movie just as much as I had hoped I would, and it is a lot better than the reviews it is getting lead you to believe. Horns isn’t a new masterpiece of horror or anything, but it doesn’t try to be. It’s a twisted, fun, and oftentimes very creepy horror movie. The director of the film, Alexandre Aja, is actually very talented. Of everything that he’s directed, Horns has the most artistic value for sure, although Piranha 3D’s strongest feature was Aja’s direction. A lot of the directorial choices made in Horns were simply excellent, for example, the first shot, which was a long take, is the perfect way to set up a movie. It sets up the love felt between this couple, and then destroys that all in a minute by showing Daniel Radcliffe lying on a floor alone, passed out with a bottle of vodka. I was really surprised at how well Aja set up the tension without having to use his trademarks of over the top gore and shock horror. 90% of Horns is just suspense, and the suspense is incredibly high. The film is also incredibly funny. There’s a lot of wit here, and a ton of really dark humor involving people confessing their darkest secrets, which get really out there, and really crazy. I couldn’t stop laughing at the entire doctor scene. The script is well written in a sense that it delivers what you want out of a movie like this, some good scares and some weird laughs. However otherwise it can be a bit of a mess. It’s full of cheese, and it jumps back and forth tonally a lot, never getting a perfect mix, and instead just flipping between dramatic and comedic. I also really need to give Daniel Radcliffe a shout out. He disappears into this role, and his American accent is spot on. Not once did I see Harry Potter trying to be American, but I just saw an incredibly talented actor doing an incredibly outstanding job in a genre film. I may not have loved everything about Horns, but it is a fun movie above all else, and I had a great time watching it.

Let the Right One In (2008)

Let the Right One In

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Thomas Alfredson

Starring Kare Hedebrant as Oskar

Lina Leandersson as Eli

Imdb Link

Oskar is a young boy living with his single mom, and being bullied day in and day out. A man and a young girl Oskar’s age move in next door. Oskar and the girl, Eli become fast friends, but as Eli moves in a series of murders start happening around town.

Let the Right One In is the anti-Twilight, and by that I mean, it’s a good vampire paranormal romance. The movie really surpassed my expectations, I had previously seen the English language remake Let Me In, and I thought it was decent, nothing special. So I thought that this would probably be about the same. I’m having another The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo moment now. Where both the original and remake are very similar, and yet the original feels so much more interesting. I don’t know for certain what makes it so much better than the remake, but it really is a million times more enjoyable even though Chloe Grace Moretz was superior, and Let Me In is a very high quality film. I think what makes this film work so much more than Let Me In is the different tone. Let the Right One In focuses more on the romance and the innocence of youth than it does on the scares. This is more of a romance than it is a horror, which is a wise choice, and it’s actually one of the best romances I’ve seen in a while. Another focus the film has is on the innocence of childhood, which is one of the best choices in the film. The way the film is shot is very basic, flat white lights instead of high contrast fancy lighting, which gives us a kind of innocent feel. Then there’s the music, which is a bright, maybe even playful melody on the piano. All this adds to the creepiness of the film. Even though there isn’t much focus on the scares themselves, this movie is certainly really creepy and unsettling. The ending is also one of the most incredible endings I’ve seen in a long time. But I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film. Go watch it if you haven’t.

Piranha 3D (2010)

Piranha 3D

★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Alexandre Aja

Starring Steven R McQueen as Jake

Elizabeth Shue as Julie

Imdb Link

After an earthquake unveils a passage to an underground lake, thousands of vicious prehistoric piranhas are unleashed on Lake Victoria, a college party hot spot, just as Spring Break comes around.

I remember when this first came out, I looked at a trailer and thought to myself “this looks ridiculously stupid, why do people buy into pieces of crap like these? I will never watch it” and of course now I find myself watching it for that very reason. Piranha 3D is ridiculously stupid, but that’s the point of this whole genre, it’s stupid for the sake of comedy. Joy can be derived from watching so-bad-its-good movies, but unfortunately this one missed the mark. This can’t be blamed on the filmmaking though, it’s actually a damn well made movie. It takes talent to do bad well. Piranha 3D also has surprisingly good camerawork and special effects, it consistently looks good. Also the cheesy deaths were done perfectly, and some of the scenes were incredibly well blocked. For example, the spring break massacre scene is chaotic in every sense of the word, and Alexandre Aja filmed and blocked it perfectly. Filmmaking wise, it’s a well done tribute to the B-movie horror flicks of the 70s. However even though the filmmaking was spot on, the creative team behind the film seemed to forget the one thing that makes a bad movie good, a funny script. Every so-bad-its-good movie has one thing in common, a ridiculously cheesy script to match its premise. Look at Sharknado, a film that I would not call good, but a film that has some perfect moments script wise. It’s built around a ridiculous premise, and it embraces that, and puts forth some of the best cheesy dialogue out there (the “now I hate sharks too!” scene had me rolling on the ground laughing). Piranha 3D‘s script never embraces the fact that it needs to be over the top and cheesy, and instead just plays it safe. Which is disappointing because with the right script, this really could have been a masterpiece of a B-movie.

Buried (2010)

Buried

★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Rodrigo Cortés

Starring Ryan Reynolds as Paul Conroy

Imdb Link

Paul Conroy, a truck driver in Iraq, wakes up to find himself gagged and tied up in a small wooden box, buried a few feet underground, with only a lighter and a cell phone.

Holy shit this movie is a nightmare put on screen, I’m not even claustrophobic but I felt like I was while watching this movie. Buried is one of the most tense movies I have ever seen, as well as being one of the most emotionally crushing. I’m actually surprised that this isn’t considered a horror film by many, seeing as Buried had me more terrified throughout than any horror film I’ve seen has. I think it might come down to the fact that this is something that actually happened in Iraq. People would be kidnapped, and held hostage in a place where all they can do is sit and slowly die. It is a terrifying thought to wake up in your own grave. Anyways, the execution of the movie was pretty great too. Using lighters for lighting is a good idea, and is really the only way it could have been done in those scenes, but despite that fact, it does get annoying to watch a flickering flame be the lighting for most of the film. Again, I’m not saying they should have done anything different, it’s the only way they could have done it, it’s not pleasant to look at. Moving on, I never knew Ryan Reynolds could act! I’ve only ever seen him in roles where he can just walk in and be good looking, but Buried shows a whole other side to him, a side that can carry a film where he’s the only one on screen for the entire film. He did a great job with his role. Finally, I won’t spoil the ending, but god damn, that crushed me. I just sat there for a few hours afterwords and felt kind of depressed. The ending is one of the most depressing twists ever. Anyways, Buried is a really well executed thriller. It’s definitely something I never want to see again in any circumstance, it stressed me out way too much, but I definitely recommend it. I still think though, when it comes to “one person in a dangerous situation made in 2010” films, 127 Hours still leads the pack for me. Buried was excellent though, I just didn’t connect with it on a level above “oh my god this is tense.”

Tusk (2014) – TIFF World Premiere Review

Tusk

★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Kevin Smith

Starring Jason Long as Wallace

Michael Parks as Howard

Imdb Link

Wallace, a podcaster who goes around the world interviewing strange people is disappointed when he travels to Canada only to find that the man he was supposed to interview killed himself. So Wallace tries to find a new subject for his podcast, who drugs Wallace and turns him into a walrus.

Coo coo ca choo. This movie was absolutely, indescribably, uncompromisably the most “what the fuck” movie I have ever seen. But Tusk is fucked up in a good way. It’s also one of the funniest movies out there. The best thing about Tusk is that it’s not 100% about the shock factor, it’s not about trying to creep you out, it’s mainly about telling stories. So there’s many times when the gore, and the weirdness stops so that someone can just talk for a bit. Kevin Smith is of course at his best when he’s working with dialogue. Which is when the film is at it’s best. The dialogue is so good. It’s fun to listen to, and it makes you know this isn’t just an ordinary shock factor horror movie. Tusk was also just about as good as it could have been with a story like this one, as well as the fact that I’m not a horror fan in the slightest, and even less so a shock horror fan. The film was great up till the gruesomeness started in my opinion, which is from an “I don’t like watching mutilation” stand point. The film was definitely at it’s best when it was telling stories, and at it’s worst when legs were being cut off. That said, seeing Justin Long in a walrus suit was hilarious. That never got old. Also, have to mention the sheer quality of the showing that this was at. The world premiere, Kevin Smith had people giving out cardboard walrus masks to every single person in the audience. Then he took a selfie with the entire audience wearing walrus masks behind him. Also, Kevin Smith is such a good story teller, so the q&a was outstanding. He just talked and talked, and it was incredibly insightful into what the fuck he was thinking making Tusk. So in the end, a pretty good movie, a very funny one, and an undeniable future cult classic. Still definitely don’t think I’d watch it again, it’s not my style of movie. Mutilation ain’t for me.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Jalmari Helander

Starring Onni Tommila as Pieter

Jorma Tommila as Rauno

Imdb Link

After a young boy, Pieter, sneaks onto an archaeological dig site, he starts to believe that Santa Claus is being dug up from the near by mountain. When children start disappearing around town, and a strange, and vicious old man shows up at Pieter’s door, Pieter and his father are dragged into saving the world.

I’m seeing Jalmari Helander’s Big Game later this week as my TIFF “Midnight Madness” film, and as I’ve been doing this whole week, I’ve been looking through my TIFF films’ directors’ previous works. I had never heard of Rare Exports before looking at what Helander had done before, and after reading the description, I wondered why. A Finnish Santa Claus slasher? That’s one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a while. Now, I can’t say that Rare Exports delivered on that promise. I also can’t say it’s a bad movie in the slightest. It did disappoint me though. Despite the fact that it was absolutely gorgeous to look at, and often genuinely creepy, it missed out on a huge opportunity. When a film’s premise promises Santa Claus going all Freddy Kruger on a Finnish town, you expect there to be a great deal of comedy in there. Or for the film maker to acknowledge the extreme level of cheesiness that premise has. I expected this to be a really fun comedy horror, a Tucker and Dale vs Evil Christmas film. Unfortunately, Rare Exports’s biggest flaw is in how serious it is. There’s not one moment of humor, not one second where they have fun with it. It’s a dead serious, Santa horror. They missed a gigantic opportunity for silliness, which would have made the film a million times more enjoyable. This ends up feeling like any other slasher film, instead of something more, which it could have been. However, this is a genuinely beautifully shot film, which is why I was very pleased with it. It looks absolutely stunning. The Finnish mountains are beautiful to begin with, and the photography definitely added to it. So in the end, I found Rare Exports to fall into being a medium film. But it’s strengths give me hope for Helander’s follow up. Which, if it does what Rare Exports could not do, in delivering on it’s crazy premise, it will be brilliant.

King Kong (1933)

King Kong

★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack

Starring Fay Wray as Ann Darrow

Robert Armstrong as Carl Denham

Imdb Link

A film crew goes to an uncivilized island, where something seems a bit off with the villagers. The villagers kidnap the film productions’ lead actress, and sacrifice her to their god. A 30 foot tall ape, living on the island. Who falls in love with the girl.

I’m not sure if my expectations were too high, or if the film is just dated. Probably a lot of both. But King Kong definitely disappointed me in a lot of ways. I’ve seen Peter Jackson’s version before, and I was expecting the original to blow his version out of the water. It had all the makings of something great. It has the same great story, cool revolutionary stop motion special effects, and a runtime that’s about an hour and a half shorter (something Peter Jackson’s needed to have). So where did it go wrong? I can sum it up pretty easily. The characters. Not a single character in the movie, except for Kong himself, is memorable. None of them have good motivations for what they do, they’re just set up to be a certain way, and everything they do mirrors that. Carl Denham for example, is a huge risk taker, and everything he does through the film is dangerous. But it never tells us why. This makes for under-developed characters, we know what they’re doing but we never know the reasoning behind it. Every one is very one dimensional. Then of course, there are the characters who don’t need to be there/are just plain racist. Such as the Chinese man, who spends the whole film saying things like “me so scared.” or “me no good feel about this”. He’s basically Jar Jar Binks, if Jar Jar Binks were an extremely xenophobic, and racist caricature of asian men. I understand that the 1930s were a different time, but come on. I’m reviewing the film in 2014, and that does not hold up. That said, there are some awesome parts of the film, like I mentioned, I love the story of King Kong, it’s one of the most creative, and genius fantasy-horror stories ever written. Whoever came up with the idea of Skull Island, and it’s king, is one of the most creative, and brilliant people out there. As well, the stop motion effects are awesome, I love the look of the film in general. Also, I have to say, a few of the Kong-Dinosaur fight scenes were the best fights I’ve seen from this era of film. All in all, King Kong is a very dated movie, in a lot of ways, it fails, but in some others, it’s still brilliant.

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Phantom of the Paradise

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Brian De Palma

Starring William Finley as Winslow/The Phantom

Paul Williams as Swan

Jessica Harper as Phoenix

Imdb Link

A corrupt record executive, opening a new rock palace, called “the Paradise”, steals a songwriter’s work. The songwriter, Winslow, then sneaks into the paradise as the mysterious phantom, and starts wreaking havoc on the place.

My parents have had this in their DVD collection for as long as I can remember. I’ve always put off watching it because I didn’t know what to expect. Recently, I’ve gained interest in it again, because I need to watch De Palma’s work, and it was also a part of one of the theme months that I need to catch up on. I knew it was a musical, I knew it was based on “Phantom of the Opera”. I did not know what to expect, in fact I kind of expected something along the lines of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s broadway musical. I had no clue that Phantom of the Paradise was a cult classic along the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was an absolute blast. The craziest, most wacky, cheesy, 70s style movie I have ever seen. It was absolute cheesy perfection. The songs were great, especially the opening song, which has been stuck in my head ever since I saw the film. And the tributes to old horror stories like Phantom, Faust, Dorian Gray and others were spectacular. This has definitely joined the ranks of my favorite cult classics, and I need to show this to my friends soon. Hopefully they’ll love it as much as I do. It may not have been the smartest film at times, and sometimes the plot moved in a weirdly paced way. But as entertainment, and as an experience, it’s a truly great movie. A rock opera like no other.

 

2nd Watch

(October 31st, 2014)

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Phantom of the Paradise is a cult classic that I wish would get a lot more recognition than it does. This film is absolutely hilarious, creative, ridiculous, and full of amazing music, as well as being the most seventies looking thing I have ever seen. On my second watch I actually think I appreciated this movie a little more, because I started seeing subtle little visual gags that Brian DePalma threw into the film, and strange directorial choices now made sense. For example, I found the main character’s escape from prison kind of confusing on my first watch, but hilarious on my second. He gets out of Sing Sing high security prison by hiding in a cardboard box at the “Sing Sing Toy Factory.” If that isn’t the funniest way to escape from prison, I don’t know what is. Also, the entire final sequence felt so rushed and strange on my first watch, full of quick cuts, and Andy Warholesque imagery, while many people die and the crowd just keeps dancing, but it all just made sense this time around. It’s a really clever commentary on the way the pop music world was in the 1970s, and still is right now. The artist gets screwed over by the big record labels, and no one cares, they just keep on dancing. I’m also incredibly disappointed that this soundtrack isn’t on iTunes. The music is incredibly good. Overall, I just really love Phantom of the Paradise. It’s the wild, wacky, stylish, and incredibly fun movie that most B-movies strive to be. A horror musical that does it right.

American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Mary Harron

Starring Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman

Imdb Link

Patrick Bateman, a wall street broker who indulges his psychopathic urge to brutally murder people, finds himself in danger of being caught after he kills another wall street broker, and an investigation opens up.

This was almost a great film, it was so close to being really amazing, but then the end came along and ruined it for me. Up till the last 20 minutes, American Psycho was a brilliant satire on how people on wall street can get away with anything, it was funny, it was scary, it was incredibly well acted. That all just kind of falls apart in the end. I mean, the end tears apart the satire, taking it away from being about wall street, and making it about, I don’t even know what. The film loses it’s purpose in the end. From the moment an ATM tells Patrick to feed it a cat, the film goes from a creepy funny, to an “I am attempting to be ridiculous and random”. It really didn’t feel right. But oh well, I should speak a bit about everything I loved about American Psycho before it went wrong. Patrick Bateman is one of the best characters of all time. He’s basically a robot who is attempting to emulate Tom Cruise to seem human. It is hilarious to watch. Christian Bale definitely gives one of his best performances as Bateman as well. He is one of the greatest actors working nowadays, and that shows through here. The film as a whole, is dated in it’s style, it feels very early 2000s, but the style works with the story. It has the right amount of cheese, and it makes it a lot more fun than if, say this was made in the “ultra gritty realistic” style that we see a lot now. The writing is hilarious, with tons of amazing quotes, and great narration. I think I love the fact that before Bateman kills people, he starts talking to them about random albums, that is very funny. “Do you like Huey Lewis and The News?” that scene will stick with me, it’s one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in a long time. American Psycho is ultra violent, full of great satire, an amazing performance from Christian Bale, and just altogether a really great movie. That is, it would have been a great movie had they not tried to force in a shocking plot twist. But looking past the end, and erasing that from my memory, this would be one of my favorite films. Also, I ended up watching this on the fourth of July by accident. But it’s a funny coincidence. Happy independence day.