Monthly Archives: August 2012

Premium Rush (2012)

by Steve Habrat

Imagine if you removed all the muscle cars and roaring engines from The Fast and the Furious and replaced them with human stamina, sweat, spandex, and tricked out bicycles. Keep the pretty faces and the nonstop chases and you’d have director David Koepp’s Premium Rush, an energetic late summer action flick that is quite the breath of fresh air. Thrusting us into the fast paced world of bike messengers who zigzag through the taxi-clogged streets of New York City, Premium Rush keeps you on the edge of your seat with the idea that these kids, who have nothing protecting them from the pavement but a helmet, could eat concrete at any time if they make one wrong turn. Slightly better than your average late summer throwaway blockbuster, Premium Rush does find itself swerving a bit due to some bland dialogue and a slightly flaccid middle section, but it does keep on its course due to the performances from Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Michael Shannon. It also sneaks by due to the premise, which centers itself on speed demon bike messengers who are addicted to the adrenaline rush they receive from dodging pedestrians and cars. It’s the type of film that I can honestly say that there is nothing else out there like it and truly mean it. Premium Rush is certainly a different approach to the action film. Somebody get these kids a bottle of Gatorade!

Premium Rush introduces us to Wilee (Played by Joseph-Gordon Levitt), an adrenaline junkie bike messenger who zips through the streets of New York City while explaining to us that office work just isn’t for him. This guy prefers Under Armour t-shirts and cargo shorts to a shirt, tie, and briefcase. He also happens to ride a bike with no brakes, which forces him to fully assess a tricky spot when he rides up on it. Wilee pedals along side his ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Played by Dania Ramirez), who he is constantly trying to win back from cocky rival Manny (Played by Wolé Parks). Frustrated that Manny keeps jumping onto his routes and stealing his deliveries, Wilee nabs a job delivering for his friend and Vanessa’s roommate Nima (Played by Jamie Chung), who warns Wilee that he has to deliver her package by 7 P.M. What Wilee assumes is just another ordinary delivery turns out to be something much more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. Wilee is soon being hunted down by corrupt NYPD officer Bobby Monday (Played by Michael Shannon), a desperate man who is after the contents of the envelop Nima has given to Wilee. As the chase gets more and more chaotic, Wilee has no other option but to turn to Vanessa to help him stay alive.

The argument can be made that Premium Rush is just one long chase scene that is filled out with a handful of flashbacks. While that is true, the film’s true plot, which won’t be spoiled here, is still good enough to keep us on the hook for the hour and a half it rides across the screen. Still, the middle section does find some of the air leaking out of its tires as things start to get a bit bloated. Luckily, a number of twists and turns keep Premium Rush riding at full speed. The film packs a number of marvelous chase scenes that find us riding right next to the fully exposed bike messengers as they attempt to not get blasted by a speeding New York driver. Wilee and his cohorts ride around a sea of yellow obstacles while cops on beefed up bikes pedal furiously after them. These chase scenes usually pause when Wilee arrives at a tricky obstacle or maneuver that he must pull off perfectly to avoid a couple of broken bones and a night in the emergency room. Director Koepp shows us the outcome of each maneuver and route that Wilee can take and what the damage will be if he chooses the route. I’ll be honest, some of them are pretty violent and brutal. These scenes are effective enough to keep your knuckles white for a good majority of the action.

When the chases aren’t engaging you, the acting of Premium Rush will surely hold your attention. Levitt, who has been everywhere this year and is riding off the success of The Dark Knight Rises, continues to wow us as Wilee, a charismatic and smart-mouthed hero who really gets a charge from putting his life on the line. He has flames in his eyes as he groans over the idea of settling down and getting a real job in a stuffy office. Levitt has really proved himself as an action star and Premium Rush has me ready for what Looper will bring for the infinitely talented young star. When the film moved away from Levitt, I worried that it would take a turn for the worst but luckily, Michael Shannon brings his bat-shit crazy best and really laps up playing the bug-eyed crooked cop Monday. Talking with a spiky New Yawk accent and laughing like a cartoon hyena dreamed up by Looney Tunes, Shannon really knocks the role out of the park. It’s a role that could have slipped into the cliché but Shannon manages to resist the familiar and he single handedly rides off with the entire movie. Everyone else just settles for good as they are completely overshadowed by Levitt and Shannon. Chung does an admiral job as a troubled woman who is nursing heartbreak and Ramirez gets by as the perpetually sweaty ally to Wilee. The only one who is really flat here is Parks as Manny, a smug jerk that comes up short against everyone else. Another stand out in the minor role depart is Christopher Place as an exasperated bike cop who is constantly being outsmarted by Wilee.

There are a few other aspects that hold back Premium Rush from being a really great film. At times, Koepp resorts to iffy computer effects during chase scenes and hypothetical crashes. These scenes are painfully noticeable and they are severely at odds with the scenes where the chase isn’t done on a computer. Furthermore, there are points where the dialogue will have you shaking your head (“This is the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on!”). Still, the actors grit their teeth and deliver it, never letting the characters fall victim to the flawed writing from Koepp and John Kamps. There is plenty to like in Premium Rush and I can honestly say I was never really bored during the film, although my attention slipped a bit during the redundant middle section. I will applaud the film because it works double time to keep things light and keep us entertained, just like a good summer movie should do. Overall, as the last of the summer blockbusters make their way into theaters, Premium Rush offers audiences craving one more adrenaline rush an espresso size shot of action to tide them over until the next wave of blockbusters takes over.

Grade: B

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Chillerama (2011)

by Steve Habrat

Ever since Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse ripped through movie theaters back in 2007, there have been multiple attempts to emulate that film’s underground success. Far from a huge hit on release, Grindhouse found an audience in fans of cult cinema, trashy horror, and sleazy exploitation, and has since become something of an unsung classic. A classic that happens to feature melting penises, a serial killer who dispatches his victims with a hot rod, gooey zombies, and go-go dancers with machine gun legs. As a fan of that wasteland of cinema, I have praised Grindhouse for its attempt to transport its audience back to the good old days of sleaze and doing it quite well. Credit should go to Tarantino and Rodriguez, who did it with plenty of gusto and a strong understanding of what made those films so fun. The sleaze films they were paying tribute to weren’t perfect, but they had their hearts in the right place so it was easy to forgive them for the flimsy production value and shock tactics. While some of the copycats have been okay, there is one out there that should have never seen the light of day. Behold Chillerama, another attempt at celebrating sleaze and trash but going about it the complete wrong way. From the wrapped minds of director’s Adam Green (director of 2006’s Hatchet), Joe Lynch (director of 2007’s Wrong Turn 2: Dead End), Adam Rifkin (director of 1999’s Detroit Rock City), and Tim Sullivan (director of 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams), this D-squad of B-movie fans try to recreate the glory days of the drive-in but end up with an insufferable stink bomb of a movie that complete misses the mark.

Chillerama begins on the closing night of the last drive-in in America. This drive-in, run by Cecil Kaufman (Played by Richard Riehle), is gearing up to show its faithful patrons one final night of long lost horror movies that are so rare, it is the first time they are ever being shown on American soil. As Wadzilla (a 50’s style giant creatures attack flick directed by Rifkin), I Was a Teenage Werebear (a 60’s beach party meets The Lost Boys directed by openly gay filmmaker Sullivan), and The Diary of Anne Frankenstein (an Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS meets Universal Movie Monster knockoff directed by Green) roll on the screen, the audience members begin to suffer from strange symptoms that are turning them into sex-crazed zombies. As the place is overrun with the undead, it is up to Tobe (Played by Corey Jones), Mayna (Played by Kaili Thorne), Ryan (Played by Brendan McCreary), and Miller (Played by Ward Roberts) to band together and try to save the drive-in before it closes its doors for good.

Lacking the big name draw and subtle humor that Grindhouse had, Chillerama is trying so hard that it is almost painful to watch. It is riddled with nonstop movie references that are weirdly distracting or have absolutely no place in a film like this (What is with the Orson Wells nod?). Presented as a collection of short films (they all run about twenty-five minutes), Chillerama is preoccupied with being a relentless knee-slapping romp with so much strained sleaze that it seems like these guys are trying to convince us that they with can outdo what Tarantino and Rodriguez did. Unfortunately, they can’t nor will they ever be able to. The film begins with necrophilia and from there, the directors seem like they are locked in a gross-out competition rather than attempting to make a complete vision. Wadzilla finds its actors sprayed with gallons of fake semen while the homoerotic I Was a Teenage Werebear has a man killing another man with his erect penis. While exploitation films got weird (Have you ever seen Burial Ground?!), a little wild, and more than a little disgusting (Cannibal Holocaust anyone?), they were NEVER this cartoonishly foul. There was still a serious side despite the cringe inducing acting and the pointless nude scenes that filled out there runtime.

When you aren’t fighting back gags, you’ll find Chillerama is a severely disjointed and inconsistent thrill ride. Grindhouse benefitted from smooth sailing from the first frame of the Machete trailer to the final frame of Death Proof. There was never a dry spot in Grindhouse, although the argument could be made that there were a few slower moments, moments necessary to build story. Chillerama does have a bit of momentum in Wadzilla, even if it is a little too disgusting for its own good. It does have a few jokes that land and the hokey special effects really make the film what it is. It is the highlight of the picture but once we hit I Was a Teenage Werebear, things fly wildly off the rails and the handful of giggles that were found in Wadzilla evaporate from the screen. I have to give the idea credit, a beach party thrown by gay werewolves does sound pretty intriguing but the execution is such a disaster that you can’t wait for it to end. This short is done in by poor musical numbers that are eye rolling and severely unfunny. It also has tons of misdirected raunchy moments that blow up in its face. And then there is The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, which is a mind numbing monster movie that features its actors yelling gibberish while making contemporary jokes in a film that is supposed to be dated. Everything culminates with the idiotic orgy of Zom B Movie (directed by Joe Lynch), which finds gangs of sex crazed maniacs roaming the drive-in for an undead roll in the hay. It is here that Riehle gets to really cut loose but the amateurs around him keep things stuck in the entrails.

There really isn’t much to say about the acting in Chillerama. It is purposely “bad” but the irony is that it is really bad “bad” acting. As far as familiar faces go, outside of Riehle, the only other recognizable thespians will be Eric Roberts, Ron Jeremy, Kane Hodder, and Joel David Moore, all who should be busy scrubbing this filth from their résumés as soon as they get the chance (yes, even Ron Jeremy). The sets and production design are also pretty bad too, but I’m sure it was on purpose (at least I hope). It seems like the four fanboys who are responsible for this didn’t properly divide up the money and it appears as if I Was a Teenage Werebear got screwed, as it all takes place on the beach with barely a set to speak of. This might hit the funny bone for some but to me, Chillerama just seemed too disorganized, with four people pulling in opposite directions. Furthermore, not one of these men knows who to write a funny joke and should consider stepping away from comedy immediately. If you happen to be a fan of the Golden Age of Trash cinema, my advice is stay away from Chillerama. Instead, pop in your Grindhouse Blu-ray or consider revisiting your 42nd Street Forever Collection. Hell, go with the real thing if you must but just promise me you will never watch Chillerama.

Grade: F

Chillerama is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Favorite Movie of the Summer… GO!

To the Devil a Daughter (1976)

by Steve Habrat

If you took Reagan from The Exorcist, the demon children from Earserhead, Rosemary’s Baby and It’s Alive, and the chanting score from The Omen, mixed all of them up with Christopher Lee, you’d have 1976’s To the Devil a Daughter, Hammer Film Productions’ last venture into the realm of supernatural terror. Probably best known for dialogue clips that were used on heavy metal band White Zombie’s Astro Creep: 2000 album and for a sequence where then 17-year-old star Nastassja Kinski treats us all to the most awkward full frontal nude scene ever put on screen, To the Devil a Daughter isn’t one of the best productions that Hammer ever delivered to horror gurus but it certainly isn’t the worst from the British horror company. Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley, director Peter Sykes thinks his film is a high art offering within the demonic horror realm but what he doesn’t seem to pick up on is the fact that he is basically making a veiled exploitation film knock off of The Exorcist with only a small handful of effective scares. The film is pretty gross, delusional, convoluted, and, at times, borderline pornographic but it still manages to paint a number of jarring images to make it worthwhile for anyone who fancies a bloody horror flick. Just make sure you go in with a notebook so you can jot notes down because the plotline here is an absolute mess.

To the Devil a Daughter introduces us to Catherine Beddows (Played by Nastassja Kinski), who believes she has been raised in a Christian convent called “The Children of the Lord.” It turns out that this convent is actually a satanic coven, which is led by the sinister Fr. Michael Rayner (Played by Christopher Lee), created for the worship of Astaroth. On the day that Catherine was born, her father, Henry (Played by Denholm Elliott), made a deal with Rayner that would allow him to give Catherine over to Astaroth on her eighteenth birthday. Now filled with fear and regret, Henry seeks out the help of occult writer John Verney (Played by Richard Widmark), who may be the only one who knows who to protect Catherine from Rayner and his associates. As Catherine’s behavior grows more and more bizarre, Verney begins to suspect that he is dealing with some very dangerous and determined people. Soon, the bizarre events turn into grisly murder and horrific hallucinations, leading Verney to brush up on his knowledge of Astaroth and prepare himself for a battle with Rayner.

Vaguely creepy and ever so slightly off-putting, To the Devil a Daughter never really flat out terrifies you like say Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist but it does have a fair share of impressive moments. Still, the film is thrown off by some poor pacing and a head scratching final showdown between Rayner and Verney, a scene that you expect to be more of a nail biter than it actually is. Throughout the film, Catherine suffers hallucinations of a strange, Eraserhead/It’s Alive-like fetus that is covered in red slime and looks sort of like an alien, another creepy addition but one that is never fully developed so we understand just what the hell it’s supposed to be. The film also suffers from some unintentional humor in certain spots, especially a scene where an ally of Verney’s is killed and Verney’s only response is “DAMN YOU” before passing out. To make things even worse, the film has one of the messiest scripts that you will ever come across, half the film making zero sense at all. It is frustrating because when the film shows some coherency, it is actually a pretty eerie demonic horror offering, one that could have edged its way to the front of the demonic horror pack. There is also the random orgy thrown in to the middle of the movie, another strange flashback/hallucination/repressed memory that has Christopher Lee stripping down his birthday suit while frantic editing shows us graphic sex scenes. Well, The Exorcist never had the balls to throw that at us!

I can say that despite the number of flaws to be found in To the Devil a Daughter, the acting is outstanding, a shocker considering this material. Christopher Lee is just the right amount of wicked as Rayner, a gentleman with a razor-sharp edge of evil. Lee was always game to do whatever was asked of him in the Hammer horror films and in this offering, it is no different. Lee’s Rayner is pitted against Widmark’s Verney, a sly and informed hero who needs to be one step ahead of his demonic enemy. It has been said that Widmark was difficult to work with on set and that he loathed this production but you would never guess by his performance. He is always top notch and nothing less, even when he has to battle a demonic windstorm with nothing but a rock. Then there is Kinski as Catherine, an innocent but erratic force in the middle of the film. One moment, she is a whispery and naïve child but the next moment, she is a howling banshee who is a witness to pure evil. Denholm Elliott is superb as a wounded father who has no one else to turn to. The end of the film frames him as a withering soul seeking shelter in a chalk pentagram. Anthony Valentine and Honor Blackman also nab honorable mentions as David and Anna, friends of Verney who end up aiding him in his quest to stop Rayner.

While I have sounded like I really disliked To the Devil a Daughter, there are several scenes that made the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention. A scene where a rope is dangled over a phone to get a character to hallucinate a snake coiled around their hand was pretty effective and the film also has one hell of an unnerving suicide scene. The most shocking comes when a woman, who is about to give birth, has her legs bound together so the demon seed can claw its way through her belly (yes, you read that correctly). It was easily the most intense sequence of the film and without question the most unforgettable. Another creepy moment comes when Catherine, who is caught in a murderous trance, wanders the streets of London as people who pass look on in bewilderment at her bizarre behavior. The film also has some wonderful gothic structures to marvel at and compliment the supernatural events. Still, the messy screenplay, convoluted plot, and the trippy end battle leave quite a bit to be desired. As far as the climax is concerned, I still have a hard to believing that the forces of evil could be vanquished with a rock. Overall, if you are a Hammer horror enthusiast or one who really gets the willies from demonic horror films (I know there are those of you who really fear this stuff), To the Devil a Daughter is a horror film that you shouldn’t miss. The rest of us will be re-watching The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Omen and when we get sick of those, maybe we will join you.

Grade: C

To the Devil a Daughter is available on DVD.

Anti-Film School’s Summer Movie Wrap-Up Part 2: June 2012

The Expendables 2 (2012)

by Steve Habrat

One thing that I never dreamed I would see in my lifetime is Sylvester Stallone duke it out with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Now if that doesn’t scream manly than nothing does. Thanks to director Simon West’s The Expendables 2, I have now seen these two titans of action beat each other to a bloody pulp and I have to say, I kind of enjoyed watching it. Yes, I sort of enjoyed The Expendables 2 because, well, it was the movie that should have been released back in August 2010. I wasn’t exactly kind to the first Expendables film and for good reason. It was pretty stupid and unfulfilling to say the least, a hoarse battle cry for the action films with empty beefcakes shooting their way through endless waves of bad guys. It also had a weak villain and not nearly as many aging action stars as it liked to think it had. Also, Stallone was taking things way too seriously, almost like the film (which he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in) was the reassuring whisper in his ear saying, “you still have it in you, man!”  Now we have the balls-to-the-wall sequel to that testosterone terror of a first film and the party has begun. Still weak in the plot depart and still light on character development, The Expendables 2 wins bonus points for the smart inclusion of Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, AND Chuck Norris. Got all that? The only manly thing missing from The Expendables 2 is an all you can eat buffet of pizza and hot wings and a complimentary cooler of ice cold Budweiser, all served to you by a smoking hot blonde in a low cut tank top. Personally, I’m stunned Stallone didn’t demand all theaters provide this during showings of the film.

After rescuing a Chinese businessman from the clutches of a brutal mercenary in Nepal, Expendables leader Barney Ross (Played by Sylvester Stallone) and his team return to the U.S. for some much needed R&R. Playtime is cut short when Barney finds himself approached by the mysterious Mr. Church (Played by Bruce Willis), who asks that the Expendables travel to Albania to retrieve a set of blueprints from a downed airplane. Mr. Church also demands that Barney takes the beautiful tech expert Maggie (Played by Yu Nan) along with him. Barney reluctantly agrees to take the mission and begins rounding up the gang. With blades specialist Lee Christmas (Played by Jason Statham), martial artist Yin Yang (Played by Jet Li), heavy weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Played by Terry Crews), demolitions expert Toll Road (Played by Randy Couture), and snipers Gunnar Jensen (Played by Dolph Lundgren) and Billy the Kid (Played by Liam Hemsworth) by his side, Barney comes face to face with his deadliest foe yet—terrorist Jean Vilain (Played by Jean-Claude Van Damme). It turns out that the blueprints that the Expendables were sent in to retrieve could spell doom for the entire planet, but when one of their own is killed on the mission, the fight gets personal.

The Expendables 2 mulls you over with brute force the second it takes command of the screen but it isn’t all an ego stroke for Mr. Stallone. The Expendables 2 is willing to kid with the audience and even have a sense of humor about itself. The guys all crack jokes about their age and long for the youthful enthusiasm that radiates from newcomer Billy the Kid. In a way, you do sort of feel for these guys because, beneath all the protein bars and steroids, they do have hearts of gold. Still, when one of their own falls in the line of duty, they just sigh deeply, say a few words, and move on like the manly men that they all are. Come on! Show a smidgeon more of respect. Oh well, that is the kind of experience you are in for if you were wondering. Still, it is a MINOR improvement over the first film but it is clear that screenwriters Richard Wenk and Stallone still have little regard for the plot of their film. It is the typical stop the money hungry terrorist before he reduces the world to ashes. This loose storyline basically leads us to one massive action scene after another and I must say, these battles are incredibly satisfying on every level. My only complaint is that they resorted to the goddamn CGI blood! NOOOO!

It is hard to approach a film like this and expect to really evaluate the acting but there are a handful of standouts, if you can believe it. Stallone dials back his heavy determination and plays things a bit cooler. I can’t believe I am about to write this but the one who steals the entire film is Van Damme as the purring terrorist Vilain, a man with the meanest roundhouse kick you have ever seen. He’s just a few kicks short of brilliant if you ask me and you can tell he is having the time of his life back in front of a camera. When he isn’t chewing up the movie, Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Norris are. Schwarzenegger is like a giddy muscleman let loose on shopping spree in a GNC. He grins through one-liners like, “I told you I’d be baaahck” and you will be happy to join him in grinning. Willis, meanwhile, seems to enjoy being back in action mode after drifting into dramatic territory with Moonrise Kingdom. Willis is the most talented actor here and when he screams, “SHOOT SOMETHING”, he means it. Then there is Norris, the one who got the biggest response from the audience. You’ll be doubled over as Norris shoots his way through an ARMY of bad guys and then looks at Stallone and calmly says that he prefers to work alone. If that isn’t cool enough, Norris then references those jokes about him that have been passed around the Internet. Good to have you back, Chuck.

Then we have everyone else, who does the exact jobs that you expect them to do. Li is reduced to basically a cameo in the film and then he is off on his own. He does get a savage little confrontation at the beginning to keep his fans happy. Statham grumbles and mumbles over the fact that he is getting older and then throws some knives. There isn’t really any growth to be found in his character. Hemsworth brings some fresh talent to the mix but he isn’t given much to really do. He does bring a bit of depth with him, which was nice and pretty surprising consider no else cared to. Crews and Couture are here just to let you know that their characters are still alive and kicking. They get a few decent jokes here and there but they mainly just fill the background. And then there is Lundgren, who references his real life master’s degree in chemical engineering while sending a big wink our way. He almost seems desperate to convince us that he isn’t just some lumbering piece of meat. Rounding out the team is Nan, the female newcomer to this guy’s night out. She adds a sexy little sizzle and she can more than handle herself in a fight. It’s good to see Stallone is starting to let a few ladies mix it up with the boys.

Despite a familiar plot, thin characters, and some eye-rolling dialogue, The Expendables 2 still packs a mean action scene. The opening sequence has to rank as one of the most extreme action scenes of recent memory and it sure as hell leaves a lasting impression. I think it has to hold a record for the most deaths on screen in the span of ten minutes. The end fistfight between Stallone and Van Damme will have action junkies on their feet and begging for a lot more. And I have to admit that I smiled when Ah-nold and Bruce picked up some machine guns and joined the madness. And I have to confess that I laughed when Norris strolled onto the screen and let loose a fury that would make God tremble. My only other complaint about the film was the absence of the great Mickey Rourke. He would have been a welcome presence here as he really did most of the heavy lifting in the first film. There have been some significant improvements since the first film and I give The Expendables 2 credit for that but there is still room for even more improvement. For now, I’d happily sign on for a third mission with these guys. I just hope I don’t regret it.

Grade: B-

Anti-Film School’s Summer Movie Wrap-Up-Part 1: May 2012

Liebster Blog Award


Liebster Blog Award

There is a new award floating around the blogging universe that is awarded to bloggers from bloggers. This award goes by the name Liebster Blog Award. I was lucky enough to have one passed on to me from John over at The Droid You’re Looking For and I want to send a big THANK YOU his way. So, if you are given the award, you have to share eleven things about yourself, answer eleven questions, choose eleven blogs that you enjoy and pass on eleven questions on to those bloggers. So, lets begin…

11 THINGS ABOUT STEVE:

1.) I am deathly afraid of spiders. I absolutely cannot stand them and I always seem to stumble upon the worst ones out there. They really creep me out.

2.) I love going to concerts. I haven’t made it to one in two years which bums me out. I’ve seen bands like The Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Rob Zombie, Placebo, Franz Ferdinand, She Wants Revenge, Mickey Avalon, Muse, Wolfmother, The Go! Team, Death Cab for Cutie, and more. The best one was by far Rob Zombie.

3.) I love to read. Recently, I have moved away from fiction and been reading lots of non-fiction. I also enjoy collecting books.

4.) I really like video games. My favorite games are Bioshock, Batman: Arkham City, Limbo, and Half-Life. I’m not very good at them but I have a blast playing them.

5.) I am afraid of driving. I was involved in a very nasty accident a few years ago (which wasn’t my fault) and ever since I have not been a big fan of it. I really dislike driving long distances because I just don’t trust other people on the road. I usually try to avoid it if I can.

6.) I am not a morning person. I have to down a cup of coffee before I can even think about doing anything productive in the morning. If I had it my way, I wouldn’t wake up until around noon.

7.) I can be incredibly shy. It usually takes me a little bit of time to open up to someone. I have to really get to know them before I become really buddy-buddy with them.

8.) I really love absinthe. I wish it wasn’t so expensive because I’d always have a bottle of it.

9.) I absolutely love Halloween. It has been my favorite holiday ever since I was a little kid. The day after Halloween is the most depressing day of the year, in my opinion.

10.) I could eat sushi for every meal. I absolutely love it. My favorite is eel.

11.) I really enjoy cooking. I do everything from pizza to cajun to mexican. I think it is a lot of fun to experiment with different recipes and put my own spin on them.

QUESTIONS FROM JOHN:

1. Eating in a theater- nefarious behavior or perfectly acceptable?

It depends on the movie I am seeing. If I really want to see the movie then I wouldn’t entertain the idea because it distracts me from the screen. I hate it when other people bring it and they are loud about it. If it is a movie I am so-so on, then I may grab a bag of candy or a soda for the hell of it. I just recently went to the drive-in and I have to say that I wouldn’t even consider going to the drive-in without some food and drink.

2. If a train leaves Chicago at 10 pm and travels at an average of 70 miles per hour, and travels 280 miles away, while another train leaves Philadelphia heading for the same destination 300 miles away traveling at 75 miles per hour, what is your favorite movie?

If this were seriously a math question, I’d be doomed. My favorite movie is Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. I just love everything about that movie, from the acting, to the subtext, to the action. It also appeals to the Batman fan in me, although I think The Dark Knight Rises may trump it. The Dark Knight ties with George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. It is the movie that made me fall in love with movies. I just think it is so ahead of its time and that it really makes a lasting impression. It also manages to be a combination of everything. It is funny, thrilling, creepy, terrifying, isolated, cold, dramatic, and action packed. I love that Romero really forces us to get to know those characters so when the time comes for one to become zombie chow, it really leaves us in ruin.

3. What do you do for a living?

I work for Old Navy. It is not the most exciting job but it puts money in the bank.

4. What is your credit card number, expiration date, and social security number? Ok, just kidding. How many movies do you own? A ballpark figure is fine.

I’m going to have to go with a ballpark figure here because I have quite a few. Combining Blu-rays and DVDs, I have probably around 300 movies. I don’t even know where to go with all of them.

5. Do you own any pets? Bonus points given if it’s a dog.

I do. I have a dog. He is a year and a half old Brittany Spaniel named Spencer.

6. Describe the way the Hawley-Smoot Tariff has impacted your daily life.

I guess I know what it is so I live with that knowledge. I feel I am a better person for knowing about it.

7. Is there such a thing as a movie that’s “so bad it’s good”?

Oh yes. I point you towards old Italian zombie exploitation flicks like Hell of the Living Dead and Burial Grounds. Those movies are so awful that they actually end up being pretty good. They have no shame. As far as new movies are concerned, there are a few comedies that are so stupid that they are actually kind of funny. The first one I can think of is Grandma’s Boy. It is just so stupid that it is funny.

8. Other than your native country, which country makes the best (or at least, your favorite) films?

I think Italy made some truly amazing stuff. I love their exploitation offerings and I absolutely love their spaghetti westerns. I also have to give Swedish director Ingmar Bergman tons of credit. He did some truly remarkable films.

9. Who is your favorite artist? Painter, photographer, etc…

I love the drawings by Ralph Steadman and I really like the paintings from Marilyn Manson. Manson’s artwork is really incredible. I’d like to own one but a guy can dream.

10. Which film critics do you read?

I like to read Lisa Schwarzbaum and Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly and I also enjoy Roger Ebert. Another favorite would have to be Peter Travers from Rolling Stone. I also love finding new film blogs and getting the opinions from fellow film fans.

11. What is the meaning of life?

To watch movies and enjoy the ride. In that order.

QUESTIONS TO THE BLOGGERS I HAVE CHOSEN:

1.) What is your favorite movie poster?

2.) Besides writing about film, what else do you enjoy doing in your free time?

3.) What are your three favorite films in your movie collection?

4.) Name your favorite actor and actress from classic film. No current actors or actresses. Anything from the 1980s and below.

5.) Who are your three favorite bands and why?

6.) What is your favorite era of cinema and why?

7.) What is your favorite superhero movie?

8.) Did The Artist deserve Best Picture at the last Oscars?

9.) 3D or regular format at the movies?

10.) After a long day, what is your preferred cocktail?

11.) Do you believe in the supernatural?

11 RECIPIENTS:

Nightmirrors

Goregirl’s Dungeon

Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights

AndyWatchesMovies

The Warning Sign

The Movie Montage

The Year of Halloween

psychocinematics

PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews

Zombie Spirituality

Most Recently Watched

ParaNorman (2012)

by Steve Habrat

This fall sees the release of three ghostly children’s films and the first one rising out of the grave is ParaNorman, a gentle and amusing adventure about a lovable loner who can chat with the undead. From the makers of Coraline, ParaNorman is such a high-quality film, both in animation and story, that I firmly believe that the upcoming Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie won’t be able to live up to this virtually flawless work of art.  Despite the fact that ParaNorman is marketed as a morbid children’s film, ParaNorman definitely doesn’t skimp on the witty humor for adults and it even invites in some extremely efficient horror that would make most straightforward horror films blush. ParaNorman also scores big with the countless loving nods and tributes to B-movie and classic horror films (check out that opening), something for horror fans to go crazy over (I sure did!). Slightly more accessible than the surreal Coraline, ParaNorman is funnier, crazier, and a genuine crowd pleaser with imagination run amok, just like it should. And if all these touches aren’t enough to make you fall for ParaNorman, get a load of the hero himself, Norman, a shoe-gazing outcast who prefers to be alone with his ability. If you are even thinking about resisting against Norman, you can’t. You will fall for him the second you meet him.

Welcome to the small town of Blithe Hollow, New England, a place where it seems that every day is Halloween. It is here in Blithe Hollow that we meet Norman Babcock (Voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), a skinny loner with a shock of brown hair who can speak to spirits. His parents, Perry (Voiced by Jeff Garlin) and Sandra (Voiced by Leslie Mann), don’t know how to relate to him while his sister, Courtney (Voiced by Anna Kendrick), thinks he is a freak. At school, things are no different for poor Norman. He is the target of relentless bullying from the big lug Alvin (Voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and finds his only friend in the overweight Neil (Voiced by Tucker Albrizzi). One day, Norman finds himself confronted by his estranged uncle Mr. Prenderghast (Voiced by John Goodman), a man that Norman’s father has strictly warned him to stay away from. Mr. Prenderghast tells Norman that he has the same ability as Norman and that he needs his help to stop a terrifying curse that will be unleashed upon the town. Norman refuses to take him seriously, but after he suffers from a horrifying vision, Norman decides to humor his uncle. Unfortunately, it is too late and a horde of zombies have risen from their graves and begun attacking the town.

The grounded opening half-hour of ParaNorman easily overshadows all the supernatural pandemonium of the second half but that is not to say that I didn’t like the second half of the movie. I got a huge kick out of seeing Norman’s day-to-day routine of mimicking a zombie in the mirror while he brushes his teeth, trying to comb down his fright wig hairdo, and sitting in front of the television watching shoddy old horror flicks while his grandmother’s ghost watches in revulsion. It was these moments where Norman really stole my heart and really got me to root for the little guy. The second half of the film is when the explosion of horror references takes over and sends the film into overdrive for chiller fans everywhere. Everything from John Carpenter’s Halloween to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead all the way to Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (!) are referenced while the soundtrack is a mix of pulsing synthesizers as colonial zombies lurch towards the trigger happy town. I must admit that I was a bit surprised to see all these horror references in a children’s film mostly due to the adult content of those films. I can imagine very few kids in the audience have actually seen those films and were actually picking up on these touches. For the adults who cherish these horror classics, directors Chris Butler and Adam Fell handle them with loving care and miraculously allow them to all flow together into an explosive witchy climax.

Then we have the vividly conceived characters that are all evenly developed, a rarity especially when there are this many at the heart of the film. Norman gets the most attention (obviously) but his best chum Neil is a hysterical little creation himself. Much like Norman, Neil is the target of bullies at school, teased for his weight, irritable bowel syndrome, and his choice of lunchbox (this only names a few reasons why he is an easy target). He enjoys passing time by messily munching on potato chips and freeze framing his mother’s aerobics video. Then we have Neil’s beefcake brother, Mitch (Voiced by Casey Affleck), who enjoys flexing his muscles more than his brain. Norman’s boy-obsessed sister Courtney is enamored with the muscular Mitch while reluctantly becoming Norman’s ally. Courtney bops around in a pink sweat suit while battling back gags over the things that come out of little Norman’s mouth. Rounding out the group of youngsters is Alvin, the flabby bully who tries to impress girls by break dancing to Dizzee Rascal (wait until you see the dance). Alvin tries to deface school property by writing his name in bathroom stalls yet can’t even spell his own name right. It is absolutely hilarious and touching to watch this group try to warm up to Norman even though he never once asks them to.

While it takes Norman some time to win over this rag-tag group of kiddies, the real obstacle is the adults, who are actually scarier than the zombies shuffling through town. Norman’s parents try desperately to level with Norman but all they end up doing is bickering back and forth over what to do with him. Norman’s father, Perry, tries to keep an open mind but he flies off the handle when Norman begins acting like Norman. Perry recoils at the very idea that people will talk about how odd Norman is while his mother, Sandra, takes a gentler approach to reaching Norman. Then there is Mr. Prenderghast, who overly levels with Norman to the point of freaking him out. The rest of the adults all quickly rally together to put down the zombies, who actually turn out to be just as misunderstood as Norman. There is a clever twist with them that I won’t reveal here but it definitely takes ParaNorman on an emotional detour. I will say that the adults end up being the real monsters because they absolutely refuse to listen to what Norman has to say.

I do have one minor complaint about ParaNorman and that is the hair-raising climax that seems to rapidly loose steam as it goes on. Things get a bit too far out in the end and I was left wishing that it would hurry up and end before it got too out of hand. Luckily it does and doesn’t do too much damage to the big picture. After the film ended, the buddy I attended this film with said that he found the film “refreshing” and I have to agree with him. ParaNorman dares to get a little weird and do it with such a wonderful sense of humor. I loved that the film was eager to act grown-up over just catering to the innocence of youngsters, which was the big problem with Pixar’s summer offering. This leads me to the PG rating slapped on the film. I’m still pretty astonished that this got away with a PG rating and didn’t get slapped with a big, bad PG-13. Things get freaky in ParaNorman and some of the jokes may make some adults bat an eye. Overall, ParaNorman kept me in stitches for its entire runtime while also consistently keeping me giddy over the raw inspiration that powers the film. Buggy conclusion aside, ParaNorman is a new classic that is just begging to be seen and revisited over and over. All that is required is that you bring an imagination, a sense of adventure, and a willingness to laugh. A new animated classic and easily one of the best films of 2012, so far.

Grade: A

We Own the Night (2007)

by Steve Habrat

The crime drama is a tough genre for a director and screenwriter to take a crack at. The genre is hopelessly enamored by loyalty, honor, and betrayal, all which have been done to death by this point. The last truly refreshing take on the genre was Martin Scorsese’s 2006 gangster epic The Departed, which was a beast of a picture that snagged Best Picture at the Oscars. The following year, director James Gray released We Own the Night, a period crime drama that tried to ride the wave of The Departed. Sadly, We Own the Night doesn’t make a tiny chip in The Departed but that doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t have aspects that one can admire. Slower and tighter, We Own the Night never really becomes a white knuckler due to some clichés that are just unforgivable but this grimy tale of two brothers on opposite sides of the law will actually manage to disturb you ever so slightly. The film also boasts a knockout performance from Joaquin Phoenix as nightclub manager Bobby Green, a shaky tough guy who wears the mask of cool like a professional. It is a haunted performance that isn’t easily shaken once you have walked away from We Own the Night and it single handedly makes the film worth your while. If you are not interested in Phoenix, see the film for its kick-in-the-head violence that actually manages to wipe away some of the glamour that Hollywood has attached to onscreen nastiness.

We Own the Night begins in November 1988, on the mean streets of New York City, where crime runs rampant. The law is nearly powerless as the criminals snicker at the police’s futile attempts to clean up the streets. It is in the thick of the crime that we meet Bobby Green (Played by Phoenix), a nightclub manager who enjoys doing blow in the company of his Puerto Rican girlfriend Amada Juarez (Played by Eva Mendes). Life is good for Bobby and the future promises to be even better but soon, his father, police Deputy Chief Bert Grusinsky (Played by Robert Duvall) and his brother, Captain Joseph Grusinsky (Played by Mark Wahlberg), warn Bobby that the owner of Bobby’s club, Marat Buzhayev (Played by Moni Moshonov), may be involved in smuggling drugs into the United States. After someone close to Bobby is gunned down by a Russian hitman, Bobby decides to become an informant for the police even though he has worked hard to keep his family’s ties to the law a secret. This leads to the capture of Vadim Nezhinski (Played by Alex Veadov), the nephew of Buzhayev. Just when Bobby thinks everything is back to normal, Nezhinski escapes from jail and vows to find Bobby and kill him.

Much heavier on the drama than the thrills, We Own the Night may not please those who are hoping for tons of shoot-em-up action. Sure, there are a few action scenes to speak of, all of which are tense and in your face. A raid on a drug house has some of the most stomach churning violence you are ever likely to see in a mainstream Hollywood film. It is pretty vicious to say the least and I actually liked this aspect of the film. All I will say is that the raid features some truly nasty scenes of people getting shot in the head. Another scene finds Bobby and Amada caught in a terrifying car chase in a heavy downpour. I never thought that a Hollywood car chase would make the hair on my arm stand up but We Own the Night has changed that. It helps that there is absolutely no music to tell us how to feel. It is just gunshots, shattering glass, and screaming, all which fry your nerves relentlessly. It ended up being my favorite sequence in the entire film. The rest of the film is a slow burner, one that hits you with thorny family relations. It is about Bobby trying to mend his relationship with his firm father and his brother who thinks the world of their father. It is these scenes that resonated the most with me, even if I was reminded about other, better crime dramas that dealt with complicated family relations and tensions (I’m looking at your, Godfather).

While aspects of the script may not stand out, the performances cover up some of the familiarity within We Own the Night. Phoenix is the one who really brings his A-game and knocks it out of the park. You are drawn to him from the get go and he refuses to let you pull away. He is almost always silky smooth, even when he is higher than a kite while his father lectures him about his lifestyle. When he explodes into rage, take cover. While he isn’t a cold-blooded gangster, he sure as hell isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Wahlberg plays largely the same role that he did in The Departed but here he is a bit watered down. He is more family man than hothead with a mouth that would make a sailor blush. Duvall is his usual tip-top self, another veteran of the organized crime genre. Here he plays the determined good guy who is a little past his prime. I sometimes think he saw the clumsiness in the script but he rolls with punches gracefully. Mendes is the one without real purpose as she just acts as the sex appeal while the boys all flex the masculine muscle. Then there are the two Russian bad guys who are your typical gangsters who make lots of threats. They won’t make much of an impression on you.

We Own the Night also has some gritty set design and wardrobe detail to really yank you out of the present. We Own the Night does find a nippy chill of unease slowly circling the edges of the action but it never engulfs the film fully. When this film is good, it is really, really good but when it is average, it is really, really average. The film is never flat out bad, but it just stinks of a paint-by-numbers approach. This causes the two-hour runtime to really drag its feet at points, which had me checking my watch one or two times. Still, I was mesmerized by how much dedication Phoenix pours into this project and I applaud him for it. He comes out on top and leaves even the veteran Duvall chewing on his dust. It leaves you wanting so much more from this guy! I really have a hard time understanding why every single crime drama that comes out wants to touch the sky. Only a small handful of them truly do while the rest come close but end up falling hard. With We Own the Night, Gray really tried to run with the big dogs but these mean streets belong to Scorsese and Coppola, two men who really know how to construct a crime drama. Gray is left just re-evaluating his approach to the genre and thinking of more ways to impress the ones who rule this genre with an iron fist.

Grade: C+

We Own the Night is available on Blu-ray and DVD.