Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Scott Snyder to Introduce Female Nightwing in Batman #28

Art by Dustin Nguyen
Today on Twitter, Batman writer Scott Snyder told his followers that Batman #28 would not continue the "Zero Year" story. Instead, it would give the reads a glimpse of Batman's future.
 "Then I started thinking about all the crazy plans we have in BATMAN, and in BATMAN ETERNAL (the weekly), for Gotham of 2014, and I figured: what if, as a thank you to you guys for all the support, we took a month off from ZY right at the halfway point, and instead did a special issue that showed you what's coming up in the world of Batman AFTER ZY? Not an issue that cuts to the present, but one that actually shows you a glimpse of the FUTURE of Batman - Gotham circa summer 2014?
So I got to talking with the other Gotham writers, and we agreed that with all the crazy stuff that's going to happen in 2014 - and my goal above all in 2014 is to keep things daring and fun - it'd be a thrill to do a total spoiler issue. A stand-alone issue that takes place in the near future and reveals all sorts of massive surprises coming to Gotham in the spring of summer of 2014. 
Afterwords, Snyder tweeted the above piece of art from comic artist Dustin Nguyen of what appears to be a female Nightwing. DC has been teasing about the last of Nightwing for awhile. Could this be why?

Last month, Snyder tweeted a Thanksgiving portrait of the Batfamily that seemed to lack a certain Boy Wonder and had Snyder's character Harper Row sitting with beside Stephanie Brown, Red Robin, and Batman.

While this is purely speculation, I have a feeling Harper Row will take on the role of Nightwing. The character depicted in the Nightwing design does look like her and the costume fits her style. Also, it would make since for a character that Snyder created to take on the role and become a full -fledged member of the Batfamily.

Personally, I'm fine with this. I like the character of Harper Row and I had a feeling Snyder would do something like this eventually. I thought he would make her Robin after the situation with Damion Wayne, but I can't be right about everything. However, this does leave me with a question: How does Dick Grayson fit into all of this?

Is something going to happen to him? Will he be retiring from the superhero game or will DC kill him like they've done so many other characters in the New 52? Will we have two Nightwings, one red and one blue? Who knows.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Trailer: Initial Thoughts

Sony Pictures released the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 today. As the number at the end of the title implies, its the sequel to 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, a reboot of the franchise directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. 

While I had some problems with the first movie, like how they handled the Uncle Ben plot elements and the costume design, I really enjoyed the film and thought Garfield embodied the character of Peter Parker a lot better than Toby Maguire. So, its safe to say that I have high hopes for this sequel and have been waiting to see the trailer. 

However, while this trailer looks nice, I find myself somewhat nervous after watching it. Apparently, there will be three villains in the film: Electro, Green Goblin, and Rhino. The last time they tried to shove three of Spidey's villains into a film, it didn't turn out so well (*cough*Spider-Man 3*cough*). While the film could prove me wrong, knowing they are going to be juggling three villains makes me a little apprehensive. 

Also, while the trailer does look good and has me intrigued with the mystery behind Peter's father and his relationship to Oscorp, the CG seems a little off to me. I've never been a big fan of CG, having always preferred practical effects. However, I accept that sometimes you have to use CG due to budgetary reasons or that it might not be possible to create the effect practically. With something like Spider-Man, I know most of the effects will be CG. However, the CG in the trailer seems too "clean" for my tastes and looks really fake and weird at times. 

However, this is just a trailer and my first opinions based on said trailer. The final project's special effects might be a lot better and Webb and the script might prove my suspicions about the three villains wrong. So, with my opinions out there, I'd like to hear yours as well. After seeing the trailer, are you excited for this film, or apprehensive? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Anyone else getting a strange Star Wars vibe from this poster?
Thor: The Dark World follows the adventures of Thor, the God of Thunder, as he battles to save Earth and all the Nine Realms from the dark elves and their vengeful leader Malekith who wish to plunge the universe back into darkness. Can Thor, his brother Loki, and his companions but an end to this menace and save the universe, or will the darkness consume them?

I'll be the first one to admit this, but 2011's Thor was my least favorite of Marvel's "Phase One" movies. While I loved Tom Hiddleston's performance as Loki and thought Kenneth Branagh's directing was interesting, I found Thor to be rather lackluster when compared to the likes of Iron Man or Captain America: The First Avenger

Thankfully, Thor: The Dark World manages to keep the elements that worked in the original and improved on the ones that didn't. 

Like in the previous film, Asgard and the other set-pieces look absolutely gorgeous. Being a fan of science fiction and fantasy, I would love to visit Asgard and experience the "magical technology" the Asgardians possess. Also, the home world of the dark elves looks absolutely bleak and lifeless, fitting the attitude of its inhabitants and what happened to them ages ago during their war with the Asgardians. 

The actions scenes and cinematography have definitely taken a step up from the previous film. While the first film's action beats and cinematography weren't terrible, they weren't great either. Luckily, that isn't the case here. Almost every action scene is entertaining to watch and the cinematography is rather clean, easy to follow, and visually interesting. 

The acting was great as well. Like before, Tom Hiddleston is amazing in his role as Loki. While he is clearly a villain and has no qualms about doing horrible things, you can't help but love the mischievous bastard. However, there are a few scenes that reveal that he might still have a sliver of goodness buried within him. Chris Hemsworth also does a fantastic job as our titular character. Unlike the first film, it is obvious that Thor has grown as a character and Hemsworth plays this rather well. Also, he is wonderful in his scenes with Hiddleston, making their relationship rather believable.

However, the film is not without its faults. Like the previous movie, the character of Jane Foster is only present because the plot says she has to be present. I have no problem with Natalie Portman's performance, but the character is rather pointless and only seems to be there so Thor can have a love interest and some connection to Earth. The same goes for Darcy (Kat Dennings) and her male intern (whose name escapes me at the moment). Nothing against the actors (I actually rather like Kat Dennings and I find her adorable), but their characters could be erased from the moment and I have a feeling no one would ever notice. 

The film also has some problems with mood. For the most part, the film is rather serious and sticks to a darker mood. However, there are a number of comedic scenes as well (most of which focus on Stellen Skarsgard's character from the first film and The Avengers). Now, most of these scenes do a good job at releasing the tension at the right moment so the audience doesn't become overwhelmed by all the seriousness. Unfortunately, there are too many of these scenes and they occasionally ruin the tone of the scene. 

With that being said, I still found Thor: The Dark World to be an enjoyable (if somewhat problematic) superhero film. The action scenes were great, the visuals were well-done, and the characters (for the most part) were interesting and the actors did a good job. If you like the Marvel movies, enjoy a good mixture of science fiction and fantasy, and just want to have a fun time at the movies, I'd recommend you give Thor: The Dark World a chance. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Movie Review: Ender's Game (2013)

Based on the novel by Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game takes place in the near future after a hostile alien race called the Formics have attacked Earth. Thankfully, humanity was saved by an International Fleet Commander named Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley). Fearing a second attack, Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and the International Military have gather the best young minds at the illustrious Battle School, hoping to find the next Mazer and put an end to this conflict once and for all. Graff believes a shy, but brilliant young boy named Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) might be the person they are looking for. Will Ender be able to step up to the plate and lead the forces of humanity to victory, or will he crack under the pressure and fail?

Not being the biggest fan of Gavin Hood (who most people know as the director of X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and finding most of the trailers rather underwhelming, I went into Ender's Game with rather low expectations. While the film wasn't perfect, I found Ender's Game to be an enjoyable film.

The cinematography was very well done. While it didn't blow me away, I feel like the camera-work and Hood's directing kept the film interesting to watch. The set-design and special effects work really helped int this department as well. The look of the Battle School and the Battle Room match what I imagined when reading the book and I loved the design of the Formics (especially the Queen).

The performances were great as well. Both Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford gave excellent performances, with Ford easily stealing every scene he's in. Ben Kingsley and Hailee Steinfeld also do a great job, giving solid performances and showing their talents as actors. While some of the actors in the smaller roles were not outstanding, I would hesitate to call anyone's performance in the film bad.

The only real problem I had with the film is its pacing. There are moments in the film where scenes move at lightning speed to the detriment of the scene itself. However, other scenes are a decent pace that keeps the story moving without being too fast or slow. The movie keeps bouncing back and forth between these two and it can be somewhat jarring at times.

With that being said, I still found Ender's Game to be an enjoyable movie. The acting, cinematography, and music are good and make up for the erratic pacing. If you like science-fiction movies and were a fan of Card's novel, you will probably find something to like in the film.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Movie Review: Machete Kills (2013)

The sequel to the 2010 film based on the fake Grindhouse trailer, Machete Kills stars Danny Trejo as ex-Federale agent turned legendary bad-ass Machete. After the death of his lover Sartana Rivera, Machete is recruited by the President of the United States to take down a crazy revolutionary and an eccentric billionaire arms dealer who has hatched a plan to spread war and chaos across the planet.

Now, time for some backstory. Back in 2007, I was lucky enough to see Grindhouse while it was still in theaters. While it wasn't a box office success, I loved every moment of it and hope that we can finally get a sequel to it someday (a man can dream, can't he?).

I remember seeing the fake Machete trailer before Planet Terror and wishing that it was a real film. Thankfully, the movie gods heard my wish and Robert Rodriguez turned the trailer into one of my favorite films of 2010. Machete was a loving homage to the exploitation films of the 1970's, embracing the goofiness that made those films enjoyable, but remembered to infuse just the right amount of heart and soul that made the best of those films memorable. So, it should be obvious that I was rather excited for this sequel, hoping that it would be just as fun as the first. Unfortunately, Machete Kills left me with very mixed emotions.

Like the first film, the acting is solid. Danny Trejo continues to be as bad-ass as before, showing the world why he deserves to be the star of his own action franchise. That grizzled appearance and "man of few words" personality really sells the tough nature of the character and makes you believe he'd be able to cause so much carnage and mayhem. The rest of the ensemble cast do decent jobs as well, with Demian Bichir as Mendez the crazy revolutionary with multiple personalities, Michelle Rodriguez as the one-eyed ass-kicker Luz, and Mel Gibson as the psychic arms dealer Voz being the obvious stand-outs.

Machete Kills also manages to take the insane level of violence from the first film and crank it up to 11. While the first film had its crazy moments, it was still grounded within some sense of reality. Machete Kills, however, leaves that grounded reality behind embraces the violent insanity. This is a movie where our main character uses a gun that turns people inside out and kills an enemy by cutting out his intestines and hurling them into a helicopter's blades, causing the man to be ripped up and chopped into pieces. There is just something morbidly hilarious about that and if you can accept that, you will find yourself laughing and smiling at the gleeful levels of violence.

Unfortunately, Machete Kills has two major problems that keep it from being a great film. The first film, for the most part, was a rather simple revenge story. Machete is hired to perform a job, but is betrayed and left for dead. Afterwords, he decided to track down those who were responsible and take out his vengeance on them. While there are a few additional elements and subplots to the story, the basic plot is rather straight-forward and structurally-sound. Machete Kills, on the other hand, seems like its trying so hard to be so many different things at once. It wants to be a 1980's action film, but it also wants to be a cheesy sci-fi film as well, with a good dose of Mad Max and Escape From New York in the middle. Because its trying to do a lot of things, Machete Kills stretches itself a little thin and the movie's structure suffers for it.

Secondly, Machete Kills' special effects are atrocious. The majority of the CGI effects look like something a 13-year old would create on Adobe After Effects instead of a movie with a $20 million dollar budget and a seasoned director at the helm. When the first film had some amazing practical effects and you have one of the best special effect artists in your movie (Tom Savini), its rather depressing to see such horrible CGI.

Machete Kills is a rather mixed bag. While the acting is solid and the action enjoyably over-the-top, the film isn't as well-structured as the original and the god awful effects weaken the film. If you can get past that terrible CGI and accept the film for what it is (a loud, insanely violent action film that tells reality to fuck off), you will find a lot to love about Machete Kills.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

31 Days of Horror: The Haunting (1963)

Directed by Robert Wise, The Haunting is an adaptation of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. The film stars Julie Harris as Eleanor Vance, a questionably sane young woman who is asked to join anthropologist Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) and two other individuals as they investigate the supernatural incidents occurring in the infamous Hill House. As the group learns more about the house and its tragic past, they discover the legends surrounding the mansion might hold more truth than the skeptical guests previously expected.

The Haunting is one of the most highly regarded haunted house films ever created. Instead of focusing on cheap scares and supernatural antics (which can be fun when done well), the film builds an unsettling atmosphere that enhances the natural tension of the story and situation, and includes more subtle scares that rely heavily on the "Less is More" philosophy of horror film-making.

Robert Wise, being a veteran at the art of film-making, sets up his shots perfectly, keeping the film visually interesting and downright beautiful at times. Like any good, atmospheric horror film, The Haunting uses each and every scene to build tension and show just enough to creep us out and get us scared without beating us over the head with loud scares. The music is equally fantastic, enhancing each scene at just the right moment, adding to the mood and situation.

The acting is also superb. Julie Harris does a great job at portraying Eleanor, showing her as a young woman who you believe is teetering on the breaking point of sanity. She plays the character in such a sympathetic way, making you worried about her and her mental state, hoping that she manages to stay together and make it out of the house in one piece. All of the other actors give equally great performances.

The Haunting is definitely a classic of horror cinema and one of the most influential haunted house films ever made. It does a great job at building suspense and releasing it at just the right moment. If you love haunted house movies the focus more on atmosphere and mood, you will love The Haunting.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

31 Days of Horror: Horror of Dracula (1958)

Inspired by Bram Stoker's classic novel and directed by Hammer Horror alumni Terence Fisher, Horror of Dracula stars Christopher Lee as the undead Count Dracula who travels from his castle in Transylvania to England, hoping to seek revenge on a mortal man who tried to vanquish him. In the process, the Count runs into his arch-nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing, who will do whatever he can to end Dracula's reign of terror.

Horror of Dracula, with its predecessor Cure of Frankenstein, helped turn Hammer Films into an icon of horror cinema. The movie is a perfect mixture of gothic horror, wonderful performances, fantastic sets and special effects, and a good dash of suaveness and sexuality.

Like the novel and the 1931 Universal movie, Horror of Dracula possesses an eerie atmosphere that melds perfectly with the dread surrounding Count Dracula and the situations of the story. Its a movie that focuses more on mood and situation instead of on-the-nose scares. It wants to draw you into the story, making you feel like you have a connection with the characters, a connection that causes you to worry when a character is put into danger and hope they will succeed, and the films pulls it off.

The acting is also superb. Christopher Lee, who would go on to play Dracula several more times in future Hammer Horror films, is easily the best actor to dawn the cape and fangs since Bela Lugosi in the 1930's. He easily captures the spookiness and terror that is inherent to the character, but mixes that with a suave demeanor that draws you in, like another one of his victims. Peter Cushing is just as amazing. You actually believe he's dedicated his life to studying the undead and will do whatever he can to destroy Dracula. He also seems to have a will of iron, not even batting an eye when a vampire comes at him and not hesitating in the slightest to fight Dracula in the climax, knowing the Count is most likely stronger than him. While Lee and Cushing are easily the stand-outs in the cast, the other actors do a fantastic job as well.

For a film made in the late 50's, the majority of Horror of Dracula's effects and sets manage to hold up fairly well. While there are times when you can see through the illusion, like Dracula turning to ash for example, most of the sets are beautiful to look at and the effects are great and get the job done.

Horror of Dracula deserves its place among the classics, such as Frankenstein or The Wolf Man. Its a well-made, beautifully shot film that has an eerie atmosphere and wonderful acting. If you like vampire movies, atmospheric horror films, and great acting, you will love Horror of Dracula.

Friday, October 11, 2013

31 Days of Horror: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The sequel to the 1931 horror classic Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein is considered by many to be just as good, if not better than its predecessor.

The film begins immediately after the events of the first movie. After managing to survive the collapse of the burning windmill, a chastened Henry Frankenstein abandons his plans to create life. Sadly, he is tempted and ultimately coerced by the Monster, encouraged by Frankenstein's old mentor Dr. Pretorius, into constructing  a mate for him.

Bride of Frankenstein is a perfect example of how to make a sequel that not only lives up to the original, but surpasses it. Like its predecessor, Bride of Frankenstein's cinematography is utterly beautiful and captivating. Its obvious how much time and effort the director and crew put into this film, wanting it to be the best movie the could make, and I believe they succeeded at that goal.

The music is expertly done as well. Like its predecessor's score, Bride of Frankenstein's music is atmospheric and haunting, perfectly matching the film and enhancing each and every scene. Its so good and captivating that I have a good feeling that I keep catching myself humming the tunes to myself as I write this review.

Finally, every actor and actress in the film gives a wonderful performance. Boris Karloff once again portray's the Monster, using his facial expressions and physicality to give the character a unique personality that makes us relate with the creature and understand his plight. Ernst Thesiger also captures the eerie and diabolical nature of Dr. Pretorius perfectly and Elsa Lanchester is as both Mary Shelley in the film's prologue scene and the titular Bride. While these three were easily the stand-out performers, the rest of the cast is great and each performance helps make the film better.

Bride of Frankenstein is the rare sequel that takes what was great about the original film and just makes it better. Its beautifully shot, hauntingly scored, and jam-packed with excellent performances. Bride of Frankenstein is a classic movie that everyone needs to see at least once in their life. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

31 Days of Horror: Night of the Demons (2009)

Night of the Demons is a remake of the 1988 film of the same name. In the film, Maddie (Monica Keena) and a few friends attend a party being held by a girl named Angela (Shannon Elizabeth) at the Broussard Mansion, a New Orleans house with a dark history. After the cops break up the party and most of the guests leave, Angela and Maddie's ex-boyfriend Colin (Edward Furlong) venture into the basement and make a grisly discover that accidentally releases a horde of ancient demons who terrorize the remaining party goers who are now trapped inside the mansion. Will they survive, or will they succumb to the diabolical demons?

Generally, there is a rather negative stigma attached to horror movie remakes. While some of them can be great, like John Carpenter's The Thing or David Cronenberg's The Fly, the majority of them seem to be nothing but garbage meant to cash in on a recognizable name and the nostalgia of a generation. While Night of the Demons isn't a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, I'm not sure I can throw it into the same trash can with the likes of the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street remakes.

While the film's story has a number of flaws and most of the characters are rather bland and forgettable, Night of the Demons makes up for its faults with some really well done make-up and special effects, some decent performances, and a sense of fun that keeps the audience from walking out.

Most of the film's special effects seem to be practically done, which is something I always like to see, and happen to be rather effective for the most part. The make-up for most of the demons, with Angela's and another party-goer named Suzanne's in particular, is equally great and looks pretty damn cool.

While some of the acting in the film is rather mediocre and bad, Monica Keena and Shannon Elizabeth do a decent job with the script they have been given. It's actually rather surprising how good Elizabeth is at playing a demon and Keena presents Maddie in a way that makes her rather likable.

Finally, but most importantly, Night of the Demons knows what kind of film it is and decides to just have a fun time being loud, gory, and goofy. The film is presented with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and embraces the underlying silliness of the situation. This is a movie where a girl is possessed by a demon that was banished from hell and has the ability to shoot tentacles from her breasts. I think that one effect perfectly captures the tone this film is going for, and if you can accept that tone, you will have a good time with it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

31 Days of Horror: Piranha (1978)

Directed by Joe Dante, Piranha follows Insurance investigator Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) who is dispatched to find two teenagers who have gone missing near Lost River Lake. After hiring the surly drunkard Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) to serve as her guide and help her search the area, they find a seemingly abandoned military facility. The two end up draining one of the facility's pools and accidentally releasing a particularly vicious swarm of piranha into the local waterways. Maggie and Paul race to warn the locals, but their pleas fall upon skeptical ears - until the piranha reach the swimmers.

Piranha is a spoof of "Nature Run Amok" films, with Jaws being the specific target. The movie is incredibly goofy at times, having characters act in ways that seem rather illogical and utilizing some cheesy special effects for the titular creatures. However, none of these elements actually hurt the film, but help make the film incredibly enjoyable to watch.

Piranha is a film that knows exactly what it is, a cheesy spoof of a popular film that doesn't take itself seriously in the slightest. If you can accept that, you will find a lot to like about the film. Dillman and Menzies actually give decent performances, presenting their somewhat eccentric characters in a believable and likable manner. While a good amount of the effects are rather cheesy, there are a few that I found pretty well executed, such as the stop-motion creatures lurking within abandoned military facility. The music is also not half bad and there are a few moments in the film that are actually rather scary and well-done (like the piranha attack at the summer camp)

Piranha is one of those films that can be pretty entertaining if you accept the inherent goofiness of the product. It's not a masterpiece of horror cinema, but its still an enjoyable film that I'd recommend to those who like goofy monster films and Joe Dante movies.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

31 Days of Horror: The Howling: Reborn (2011)

Directed by Joe Nimziki, The Howling: Reborn is the 9th entry in The Howling franchise. The film follows Will Kidman, a high school senior whose mother was attacked and killed when he was just a baby. As his graduation grows closer, Will discovers that he too is a werewolf and realizes a pack of werewolves are coming after him.

A few years ago, I watched The Howling for the first time. I've always been a werewolf fan and I felt I had to watch the classics, such as The Wolf-Man and An American Werewolf in London. I immediately fell in love with the film and its one of my favorite monster movies of all time. With that piece of context, you can understand what I mean when I say that The Howling: Reborn is one of the most depressing and disappointing films that I've seen in a very long time.

It's rather obvious that The Howling: Reborn is trying desperately to draw in the Twilight crowd. Both films share a rather gloomy soundtrack, washed-out cinematography, and pretentious philosophizing that makes you want to just punch whoever is saying this stupid shit. The story, like the sanitized supernatural romances that its trying to emulate, is rather dull and predictable, hitting all the expected beats.

The special effects are just as bad. Some, like the oddly psychopathic bully falling over the stair railing, are so bad they managed to coax a laugh out of me. The rest just made sigh and wish I was watching the original. Its kind of sad seeing how far this franchise has fallen.

Now, I will give the film this, the majority of the actors seem to actually be trying to take the mediocre script and give a decent performance. The two leads, Landon Liboiron and Lindsay Shaw, being the most successful. The two actors do seem to have some inkling of chemistry, which is more than I can say for their Twilight counterparts.

However, their performances are not enough to save this incredibly mediocre film. Its boring, uninspired, and rather depressing if you're a fan of the original. If you're looking for a good werewolf film, watch the 1st Howling and An American Werewolf in London instead.

Verdict: See it if you like the Twilight formula and like the two leads starts a lot. Skip it if you like your werewolf films to be a little more brutal and not so sanitized. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

31 Days of Horror: Psychosis (2010)

A remake of the "Dreamhouse" episode from the anthology film Screamtime, Psychosis follows prominent horror writer Susan (Charisma Carpenter). After moving to a sprawling country estate in order to recover from a massive mental breakdown, Susan begins to experience gruesome visions of a long-forgotten murder. Are these visions due to Susan's questionable mental health, or is there something else going on?

Psychosis is a competently made film that, unfortunately, is incredibly slow and meandering. The idea behind the film isn't a bad one, and in the right hands, could have made for a really interesting delves into the main character's psyche, but Psychosis just moves through the story at an incredibly slow and boring pace that made it a chore to watch. What makes this worse is that the ending is rather disappointing, giving you no actual reward for sitting through this dull film.

With that being said, there are a few gems buried within the film. The music and sound design is decent and the cinematography is pretty competent (with only a few weak spots scattered throughout the film). The actors, especially Carpenter, try their hardest to give good performances. Sadly, there is only so much you can do with a boring script.

While there are a few decent elements sprinkled throughout the film, Psychosis fails due to its slow as hell pacing and rather boring narrative. If you are looking for a good psychological horror film, I'd recommend checking out Jacob's Ladder and skipping Psychosis.

Verdict: See it if you are a huge fan of Charisma Carpenter and you have an hour and twenty-nine minutes to kill. Skip it if you hate films that are incredibly slow with a lackluster pay-off.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

31 Days of Horror: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

The fourth film in the Hammer Horror's Frankenstein series, Frankenstein Created Woman continues the tale of Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) and his strange experiments.

This time around, Baron Frankenstein is trying to discover a way to trap the soul of a recently deceased person, believing that he can transfer it into another recently deceased body and restore it to life. While the good doctor is working on his experiments, his assistant Hans (Robert Morris) is wrongly accused of murdering his lover Christina's (Susan Denberg) father.

After his execution, Christina commits suicide. Seeing a perfect opportunity before him, Frankenstein resurrects Christina with Hans' soul and everything goes as planned, until the group of young dandies who were actually responsible for the crime start turning up dead, and all signs point to Frankenstein's latest creation.

Frankenstein Created Woman is easily one of the weaker entries in Hammer's Frankenstein series. While it has some interesting ideas, the story itself is rather predictable and the film's pacing is slower than it really needs to be. While I was watching the movie, I found myself thinking this story could have been a rather interesting Tales From The Crypt episode and that show's runtime would have fit it much better.

However, the film is not a horrible movie. Hell, it's not even a bad film. The acting is pretty good, with Cushing being amazing as always and Denberg giving a pretty good performance as well, and the music and cinematography is well-done as well. Frankenstein Created Woman just isn't as good as the previous entries in the series. Its a decent, enjoyable movie, but I'd suggest watching Curse of Frankenstein instead.

Verdict: Watch it if you like the other entries in Hammer's Frankenstein series, enjoy Peter Cushing, and are interested in the ideas presented in the film. Skip it if you dislike stories that are rather predictable and have some pacing issues.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

31 Days of Horror: Hatchet (2006)

Directed and written by Adam Green, Hatchet is a loving homage to the classic slasher films of the 70's and 80's. The story follows a group Louisiana who decide to participate in a haunted swamp tour instead of the usual Mardi Gras festivities. After the boat hits some rocks and sinks, the group is soon pursued the murderous Victor Crowley, the ghost of a backwoods mutant who kills anyone who enters his swamp. Can the group escape the swamp with their lives, or will they fall victim to the legend of Victor Crowley like so many others?

As I've already mentioned, Hatchet is a love letter to the slasher films of yesteryear. Adam Green manages to capture the spirit of those movies perfectly and shows why they were so entertaining and fun. Instead of just throwing us into the middle of the action and have us follow a group of one-dimensional characters who will mostly be fodder for uninspired deaths, Green & Co. take their time to introduce us to the characters, making them feel well-rounded enough that we actually want to see some of them survive and feel bad when they are killed brutally. Also, the death scenes are glorious. Each is interesting and unique, keeping the movie fresh. If I had to choose a favorite, I think I'd have to pick the second death in the movie, where Crowley grabs a woman and rips her head apart with his bare hands. His slasher forefathers would be proud.

Speaking of the classic slasher villains, the film also has a few nods to the past with three nice, little cameos. Victor Crowley, who is very reminiscent of Jason Voorhees, is actually played by Jason alumni Kane Hodder, who also plays Crowley's father in the flashback and does an excellent job. In the opening scene, we have Robert "Freddy Krueger" England as an alligator hunter and Tony "Candyman" Todd shows up later as a flamboyant New Orleans entertainer later in the film, both of them doing great and showing their acting chops and why they are so highly regarded among the horror fan-base.

Hatchet is an over-the-top gory slasher film that is just as entertaining as its predecessors from the 70's and 80's. Its a heart-felt homage that captures the spirit of those old films and shows why they worked so well and why most of us horror fans love them.

Verdict: See it is you love the slasher films of the 70's and 80's, over-the-top death scenes, and great practical effects. Skip it if you don't like gory death scenes and like more psychological, atmospheric horror films. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

31 Days of Horror: Carnival of Souls (1962)

Directed by Herk Harvey, Carnival of Souls centers around a young woman named Mary Henry (Clandice Hilligoss), the sole survivor of a tragic car crash who moves to a small town in Utah to work as an organist in a local church. When she arrives, she finds herself fascinated with an abandoned pavilion and haunted by ghoulish figure. Is Mary just imagining things, or is there more to the situation than meets the eye?

While the film didn't receive widespread attention when it was original released as a B-movie, Carnival of Souls is considered a cult classic by many today and has been cited as an important influence on the films of David Lynch and George A. Romero. After watching the film, I can understand why it has obtained that cult status.

Unlike other horror films that focus on creepy special effects (which isn't a bad thing at all), Carnival of Souls uses atmosphere and music to create a rather effective mood of unease and foreboding. In many ways, Carnival of Souls is like a feature-length episode of the Twilight Zone, taking a rather normal character who has experience a tragic event and having her deal with a number of strange and surreal situations that lead to a nice, little twist at the end .

Due to the film's low budget, almost all the actors are amateurs who had worked with Harvey on his previous educational films. However, none of the actors give particularly bad performances. On the contrary, most of the actors and actresses due a decent job with the material they have been given, with Hilligoss and Sidney Berger as Mary's neighbor John Linden being the stand-out performances in my opinion.

Carnival of Souls only real weakness is that its concept isn't strong enough to sustain an hour and twenty minutes of screen time. Now, it would fit perfectly in the old 30 minute format of the first few seasons of the Twilight Zone. However, the feature-length run-time causes the film to be padded with a few scenes that are rather dull and don't really add all that much to the final product.

However, Carnival of Souls is still worth a watch. While it feels like a Twilight Zone episode that ran a little too long, it would still be a good episode. The concept and twist are interesting and the creepy atmosphere and music are great.

Verdict: See it if you enjoy films that focus more on atmosphere and mood than special effects. Skip it if you dislike movies that are rather slow-paced and surreal.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

31 Days of Horror: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Vincent Price is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most iconic horror actors of all time. He starred in such classic films as The House on Haunted Hill, The Fly, and The Last Man on Earth. Price was well known for his distinctive voice and his ability to mix serious drama with comedy, making him well-suited for roles that were rather over-the-top. The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a perfect example Price at his best.

Set in 1925, The Abominable Dr. Phibes tells the tale of Anton Phibes, a horribly disfigured genius that was supposedly killed in a car crash. Convinced that his beloved wife died due to the incompetent of seven doctors and one nurse, Phibes seeks vengeance by killing each culprit through a series of tortuous methods based on the Ten Plagues of Egypt from the Old Testament.

Price, as usual, knows how capture that perfect mixture of drama and camp, making his performance as the vengeful doctor perfect. Watching him put together these elaborate and imaginative murders is incredibly, but you also feel pity for the character when you hear him talk about his dead wife and how losing her has affected him. Because of this, you want Phibes to succeed in his goals and see the people who caused the death of his beloved pay.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes' cinematography and set design is wonderful as well. Director Robert Fuest and the crew behind the film have created a rather stylized version of the early 20th century that fits rather nicely with Phibes' rather bizarre methods and the tone of the story over-all. Fuest also knows how to get the most out of his scenes, each getting their point across without over-staying their welcome and are shot rather nicely.

The film's only true weakness, in my opinion, are the secondary characters. While he has some good comedic moments and Peter Jeffrey gives a fine performance, Inspector Harry Trout is kind of boring as a character and Phibes' silent assistant Vulnavia isn't much better. Thankfully, the film doesn't linger on them too much.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a perfect example of campy 1970's horror at its best. Vincent Price gives an excellent performance and the film is entertaining as hell. If you like a little dash of dark humor with your horror and want to have a good time and a good laugh, The Abominable Dr. Phibes will satisfy your needs.

Verdict: See it if you like campy horror films with great acting, cinematography, and set design. Skip it if you prefer more serious horror films with more believable situations.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

31 Days of Horror: Trollhunter (2010)

Director:  André Øvredal

Writer:  André Øvredal

Starring: Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Mørck, Knut Nærum, Robert Stoltenberg, Glenn Erland Tosterud

Summary: Trollhunter follows a group of Norwegian film students who are shadowing Hans, a professional hunter who tracks down and eliminates real-life trolls for the government agency known as the Troll Security Service, who do everything they can to keep the public ignorant of the troll menace.

The Good: As I've mentioned before, I am really not a fan of the "found footage" genre. Like 3-D, I see "found footage" as a gimmick that filmmakers use to make something seem more "real" when the actual style adds very little to the film. Thankfully, Trollhunter's director knows how to use the vérité and uses it well. Like The Bay, Trollhunter is shot as if its a documentary, which gives a ready explanation for the camera's presence. Also, since the documentary crew is supposed to be a couple of college students who have never made a documentary before, the questionable cinematography can be forgiven. 

The basic concept that acts as the foundation of the film is really interesting. While its not a very original premise, its still fun to see what it would be like if trolls actually existed. Being someone who loves folklore and mythology, it was cool to see the trolls retain their weakness to sunlight, their rock-based appetite, and the ability to smell the blood of a Christian. Its also interesting to learn how the trollhunter Hans hunts these creatures and learn how the Troll Security Service (TSS for short) keeps their existence a secret. After watching the film, I want to know more about these trolls, the TSS, and if similar organizations and other trollhunters exist around the world. 

Speaking of trollhunters, the character of Hans is rather intriguing as well. The character comes off as a weary warrior who is growing tired of the fight and sees the chance to finally come clean about the secrets he's been keeping when these college students who up, wanting to film him. Otter Jespersen plays the character perfectly, the tired nature of the character coming through clearly thanks to Jespersen's performance and posture throughout the film. He is easily the best thing in this film.

The Bad: While this is probably the result of a low budget, the CGI effects in the film are rather poor. They aren't horrible and they get the job done, but I always felt myself draw out of the film almost every time one of the trolls was on screen. The only exception was the Jotnar at the end of the film, which was pretty well done.

Besides Hans, the other characters in the film are rather bland or one-note. When Hans wasn't the focus of the film, I found myself not really caring about any of the other characters and just wanting to get back to Hans and his situation.

Conclusion: While the CGI is rather lackluster and most of the characters are rather bland, Trollhunters is saved by an interesting concept, good execution, and a very interesting main character. If you like monster movies and want to see one with an interesting take on the situation, give Trollhunter a watch.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

31 Days of Horror: The Bay (2012)

Director: Barry Levinson
Writer: Michael Wallach 
Starring: Kether Donohue, Kristen Connolly, Anthony Reynolds, Michael Beasley, Jane McNeil, Stephen Kunken
Summary: On July 4, 2009, a deadly menace swept through the quaint seaside town of Claridge, Maryland. The authorities believed they had buried the truth about the tragedy. Now, three years later, a reporter who survived the horrors of that terrible day has emerged with footage revealing the cover-up and what actually happened. 
The Good: Generally, I’m not the biggest fan of “found footage” movies. Usually, I find the style unnecessary because the majority of films that seem to use it have stories that could easily be told with a more traditional narrative and the found footage style adds nothing to the story. 
Thankfully, The Bay manages to dodge both of those complaints. The film is told in an amateur, documentary style where our narrator has collected footage of the event through a government leak and has put it together to tell a tale of the Claridge Tragedy in a cohesive fashion. While I could see a few ways they could have told the story in a more traditional narrative, I believe the spliced-together, documentary style they chose to use fits the story better. 
The acting in the film is pretty decent as well. While there are a small handful of background actors and actresses that give somewhat weak performances, the main actors give believable performances with Kristen Connolly as the young mother Stephanie and Stephen Kunken as Dr. Abram being the best of the group. 
Director Barry Levinson and writer Michael Wallach also demonstrate the proper way to make a horror film. Instead of just throwing stuff at the camera and making the occasional loud noise, they choose to build the tension slowly and bring out the scares at just the right time. Also, the film focuses more on the terror of the situation, which I think was a good choice based on the story and the way they are telling it. 
Finally, the majority of the special effects in the movie were very well done for the film’s budget. Most of the effects seemed to be practically done, and that’s always a good thing in my book. The CGI effects were a little sketchy, but they never lingered on them for long, using the found footage style to their advantage and hiding the short-coming. 
The Bad: Like most found footage films, The Bay's cinematography is somewhat questionable. While it is nowhere near the worst cinematography I've seen for one of these kinds of films and the footage is supposed to be somewhat amateurishly done, it still got on my nerves at times.
Also, there are times when the film is showing different camera angles that are rather weird when you realize no one would have been able to get these shots because of the situation going on at the moment. Also, there are times in the movie that caused me to wonder why a character was still carrying the camera when someone else would have put it down. While this is a common thing in found footage films, it is still annoying. 
Conclusions: While there are some cinematography problems with the film, The Bay is still one of the better found footage films I’ve seen in awhile. If you like the found footage sub-genre, like horror films that build up tension and dread, and deal with government cover-ups and ecological terror, you will enjoy The Bay

31 Days of Horror: An Introduction

I have a few confessions to make. First, I love October and it is easily my favorite month of the year. Second, I love Halloween and it is easily my favorite holiday. Finally, I am a horror movie fanatic and I have been since I was a little kid. 
The reason I mention these three things is that I’m planning to do something I like to call the 31 DAYS OF HORROR CHALLENGE. For those of who are interested in taking the challenge as well or are just curious about what the hell I’m talking about, I’ll elaborate. the 31 Days of Horror Challenge is a Movie Challenge with a few simple rules, while I’ll post below: 
  1. The challenge must be taken during the month of October.
  2. The contestant must watch one horror movie per day.
  3. The contestant must watch movies they have NOT seen before.
  4. The contestant must write a review for each movie they watch to prove they have watched the movie. The review must be at least one paragraph long. 
Due to my love of the genre and the season, I thought this would be a fun challenge to take. Will I be able to complete the challenge, watching thirty-one horror films by the end of the month? Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Top 3 Movies of the Summer: 2013 Version

Another summer movie season has come and gone, and I've decided it would be fun to list the three movies that I enjoyed the most. Like with any list on the internet, it is based solely on my personal opinions and don't take it personally if a movie you like doesn't show up. With that out of the way, here are my three favorite films of the summer (in alphabetical order). 

1. The Conjuring
Directed by James Waan, The Conjuring is a horror movie staring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren investing a haunted house in Rhode Island in 1971. Like Waan's previous film Insidious, The Conjuring doesn't rely on loud noises and jump scares like many modern horror films and focuses more on character, story, atmosphere, and tension. It is easily one of the best horror films that I have seen in years and I would recommend it to anybody who's looking for a horror movie that actually knows what its doing. 

2. Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim is Guillermo Del Toro's love letter to Giant Robot and Kaiju films. When the majority of the big-budget action films coming out nowadays seem to be "grim-dark" films that do everything to suck out as much color and life as it possibly can, it is a breath of fresh air to see a film that is simply fun. I felt like a five year old seeing Godzilla or Robot Jox for the first time again. It didn't hurt that Pacific Rim was also well-written, well-acted, and well-shot, but that's to be expected from a Del Toro film. 

3. The World's End
The final entry in Edgar Wright's "Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy", The World's End is easily one of the best comedies I have seen in awhile. While I personally think Hot Fuzz was the best of the three, I loved every minute of The World's End and I'll be picking it up as soon as it comes out on DVD. Anyone who enjoys well-written comedies and loved Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz will adore The World's End

While these three films are my personal favorites, there were a few other films that I enjoyed as well or thought was decent enough. Here are some "honorable mentions": Oblivion, Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, and Evil Dead

Friday, August 2, 2013

Thinking About Life

I realized a long time ago that my life is something of a mixed bag. 
I didn’t have the best childhood in the world. My father was an alcoholic and had a rather bad temper. I remember when I was about 12 years old my father caught me picking on my sister and decided the best punishment would be to kick me rather hard in the stomach, knocking the wind out of me. Also, I was bullied severely throughout my public school years due to my weight, my hobbies, and just being different. That bullying really did a number on my self-esteem and it still effects my confidence to this day. Finally, bad things seem to constantly happen to me. Whenever something good happens, a paranoid part of me is always waiting for the metaphorical shit to hit the fan sooner or later. 
However, my life wasn’t a complete living hell. Over the years, I have befriended a few people who I see as extended members of my family. These people have been there for me during my highest highs and my lowest lows and continue to stand by me. Without these people in my life, I feel like I would be a very different person. Even though I don’t get to talk or see some of them a lot, I cherish every minute I get to be with them and wouldn’t trade them for anything the world. 
Also, I have always found a way to fight through the crap and come out on the other side. Some people who have been through the stuff I have probably would have given up a long time ago and let those horrible experiences break them. However, I try my hardest to keep going. I’ve been close to the edge before, but I have always stopped myself from taking that final step. I could do it, but that would be a permanent solution for a temporary problem and I would be letting down/hurting the people who care about me. Every time life knocks me off the side of the mountain and sends me falling to the ground, I always manage to stand back up and begin climbing again. 
This post is probably a rambling mess, but that’s fine. Lately, I’ve been suffering some serious bouts of depression and I think I needed to say all of this. While I’ve had a lot of bad things happen to me, there are a lot of good things too.
While my life has been a mixed bag, I wouldn’t change it if I could. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Netflix Reviews: The ABCs of Death

Directed By: Nacho Vigalondo, Ti West, Adam Wingard, Srdjan Spasojevic, Ben Wheatly, Jon Schnepp, Xavier Gens, Jason Eisener, Yoshihiro Nishimura, etc.

Written By: Nacho Vigalondo, Ti West, Adam Wingard, Srdjan Spasojevic, Ben Wheatly, Jon Schnepp, Xavier Gens, Jason Eisener, Yoshihiro Nishimura, etc.

Main Cast: Dallas Malloy, Peter Pedrero, Fraser Corbett, Kyra Zagorsky, Darenzia, etc.

Summary: The ABCs of Death is an anthology film divided into 26 individual chapters, each handled by a different director assigned a different letter of the alphabet. Each director was given free rein to choose a word to create a story involving death, which range from accidents to murder.

The Good: Its kind of hard to review a film like The ABCs of Death. Not only is it an anthology film, but its an anthology film where each short is made by a different director and creative team and there are 26 of them. So, to make this easier on everyone reading, I'm just going to touch on the shorts I particularly liked and disliked.

G is for Gravity (directed and written by Andrew Traucki): This was the first short in the film that I actually liked. It was rather simple, short, and made good use of the letter G. While I'm not a big fan of the shaky cam, I can forgive it for this short since its supposed to be a first person perspective. I also loved how the short managed to convey its story without a single line of dialogue. The behavior and the heavy breathing of the POV character helped as well.

H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion (directed and written by Thomas Malling): Malling's short was definitely one of the more comedic ones and one of the few of that variety that I actually felt worked. The short is just so weird, but you can feel the hard work the director and crew put into it and its easily one of the most fun. Also, the costuming, make-up, and set design was fantastic.

Q is for Quack (directed and written by Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett): Q is for Quack is another one of the "comedy" shorts that really works. I love the meta-fictional concept of the directors struggling to find a word and hook for the letter Q. The acting on this one is really solid as well, Wingard and Barret feeling very natural and believable as themselves. To be honest, this was probably my favorite short in the film.

U is for Unearthed (directed and written by Ben Wheatley): Another short shot with a first-person perspective, U is for Unearthed is a very quick and interesting little chapter. The film is shown from the perspective of a recently risen vampire who is chased by an angry mob that is trying to kill him. I think I liked this one mostly because it kept closer to vampiric mythology and kept the vampire as a soulless monster.

The Bad: Now, like most anthology films, The ABCs of Death is very uneven. While some of the shorts are really good and a lot of them are decent, there are some that are just god awful. Here's the ones that I personally found rather dreadful.

D is for Dogfight (directed and written by Marcel Sarmiento): While the cinematography is amazing and the use of slow-motion throughout the short is very effective, the are some big problems with the plot that when you start to think about them, make the story kind of fall apart.

F is for Fart (directed and written by Noboru Iguchi): This one was by far the dumbest short of the bunch. The story revolves around a Japanese school girl who decided she'd rather be killed by the teacher who she has a crush on's farts instead of a poisonous gas released by an earthquake. The special effects are horrible, the story is mind-numbingly dumb, and just had me shaking my head by the end of it.

M is for Miscarriage (directed and written by Ti West): This one was really disappointing because I usually like West's work. I loved House of the Devil and I thought The Innkeepers was fantastic. However, M is for Miscarriage is just really lazily done and rather mean-spirited. The only good thing about this chapter is that it is incredibly short.

O is for Orgasm (directed and written by Bruno Forzani & Helene Cattet): While I hate to use this word because it is incredibly overused, but its best word to use when critiquing this chapter. O is for Orgasm is just a collection of "artsy", pretentious images strung together. Luckily, like M is for Miscarriage, this one goes by rather quickly.

W is for WTF! (directed and written by Jon Schnepp): Like M is for Miscarriage, W is for WTF! is incredibly lazy and tries to steal the basic concept behind Q is for Quack. While the random nature of the short does match the chosen word pretty well, the random scenes aren't particularly good and are downright annoying at times.

Conclusion: As with most anthology films, The ABCs of Death is very uneven. Some of the shorts really work and are interesting, some are decent but kind of forgettable or don't really stand out all that much, and some are just terrible and bring the film down. Basically, the film is a very mixed bag.

Recommended?: Yes and no. While I wouldn't recommend it to a general audience, I would say check it out if you like to watch strange movies, are a fan of some of the directors, and have a few friends over who you can laugh at it with and see how they react. Otherwise, you can skip The ABCs of Death.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Movie Review: The Conjuring

Directed By: James Wan

Written By: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes

Main Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, & Sterling Jerins

Summary: The Conjuring tells the supposedly true store of legendary paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who were called to help the Perron Family who are being terrorized by a dark presence that haunts the secluded farmhouse they just moved into. With the family's safety on the line, the Warrens are forced to confront the powerful entity and experience what might be the most horrifying case of their lives.

The Good: This movie is easily one of the best horror films that I've seen in awhile. Like any good horror film, The Conjuring builds a wonderful sense of foreboding and dread and waits for the perfect moment to bring out its scares instead of throwing them haphazardly at the audience like most modern films of the genre do. After the rather chilling Insidious, James Wan has proven that he knows how to build a truly effective horror movie and the scrip by Chad and Carey Hayes is wonderful as well. Unlike most modern horror films, The Conjuring also gives the audience enough time to form connections with the main characters so we will actually feel something when terrible things happen to them.

The acting from the majority of the cast is excellent as well. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are perfect as the Warrens, making us believe in what they are doing and the chemistry between the two is astounding. The same goes for Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston as Carolyn and Roger Perron. The Perron children also do a fantastic job, with Joey King and Mackenzie Foy having the most notable performances in my humble opinion.

Finally, The Conjuring feels like a haunted house film that would have been made in the late 60's/early 70's. It relies heavily on atmosphere and building tension before finally releasing it at the last moment instead of cheap jump scares and loud sounds. The amount of practical effects littered throughout the movie was a nice touch as well. I could easily see this film standing side-by-side with other horror classics like The Changeling and The Haunting.

The Bad: While the majority of the performances and characters were very good, there were some that were admittedly weaker than others. Kyla Deaver, while giving a decent performances as April Perron, seemed to downplay some of her reactions at times, which caused her to come off a little bit wooden at times. Also, I found the character of Officer Brad to be somewhat annoying. While John Brotherton gave a fine performance, the character represents an archetype that I really dislike in horror stories ("The Skeptic Cop") and his presence in the film was a tad irritating at times.

Also, while the film is an excellently made haunted house movie, it's not the most ground-breaking entry into the genre. Instead of subverting some of the expectations tied to the haunted house subgenre, The Conjuring chooses to remain within those boundaries and just tries to be the best horror film it can be (which I believe it easily succeeded at).

Conclusion: The Conjuring is an extremely well-crafted horror movie that relies more on atmosphere, creepiness, dread, and tension than jump scares and loud noises. James Wan has delivered another great horror film that I could easily see becoming a modern classic of the genre.

Recommended?: A wholehearted yes. If you are looking for a well-made horror film that knows what it takes to be truly scary, you should give The Conjuring a chance. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, June 24, 2013

R.I.P. Richard Matheson

On June 23, American author and screenwriter Richard Burton Matheson died at the age of 87. He was the author of I Am Legend, What Dreams May Come, and a number of episodes for The Twilight Zone (such as "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and "Nick of Time"). He was an inspiration to many authors, such as Ann Rice and Stephen King, and has left a legacy that will keep his memory alive for many years to come.

We will miss you Mr. Matheson. I hope you find peace in your own, personal Summerland.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Random Musing: Do We Take Our Opinions Too Seriously?

((Have you ever had a question or idea pop into your mind that you'd love to write about, but feel like it might not be strong enough to base an essay/editorial on it? Same here! To deal with that, I'm starting a new series of random posts appropriately called Random Musings. Whenever I think of a question or idea that would be perfect for this series, I'll make a quick post introducing the topic and throwing out an answer/idea or two I head about it. At the end, I'll ask a question for you to answer in the comments. I hope you enjoy and please, keep the discussions in the comments civil.)) 

Last Thursday, I managed to catch an early screening of Man of Steel with a group of friends. While the film had a good cast and decent music, it was brought down by some serious pacing issues, story-structure problems, and a sheer lack of character development.

Since it currently holds a 56% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I knew I was going to eventually run into people who enjoyed the film and I would have to explain myself when they asked the inevitable question: "Why didn't you like it?"

A few days ago, I had a few people ask me what I thought and asked me the above question when I told them I disliked Man of Steel. After presenting my points, I expected to hear the usual response of, "I can understand where you're coming from, but I still enjoyed the film. To each their own." Sadly, that's not what I received. Instead, I had people telling me that I was A) a cynical asshole who hates everything, B) an idiot who wouldn't know a good movie if it slapped him in the face, C) a nostalgic idiot who hated the movie because it wasn't the original 1978 film or its sequel, D) had no taste, and E) blind and couldn't see how great the film really was.

When did it become okay to verbally attack someone for having a different opinion than you? I'm perfectly fine with other people having an opinion that is different than mine. If we all had the same opinions about the same things, life would be rather dull and boring. While I might ask why you like something, I'm going to do it as politely as possible and try my hardest to see your side of the argument.

With that being said, I'm going to expect the same respect from you when I disagree with you. I'm not going to call you an idiot for liking a piece of entertainment that I don't and I'm going to expect that you do the same. Why do some people see the need to do this? Is insulting a person based on their taste in entertainment really worth it?

If I had to take a guess as to why some people act like this, I would probably say its because they take their opinions on something too seriously. Because of this, they see someone expressing an opinion that doesn't mirror their own as a personal attack on them. Since they see it as a personal attack, they feel the need to attack the supposed "aggressor" and defend themselves. However, this is still just a theory and it could be something else entirely.

So, what do you think is the cause of this problem? Do you think it might be people taking their opinions about media and entertainment too seriously and personally, or is it something else?

Movie Review: Man of Steel

Man of Steel is Warner Bros.' most recent attempt to reboot the Superman movie franchise after 2006's rather disappointing Superman Returns. The film, which is directed by Zack Snyder and written by David S. Goyer, retells the tale of how Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) becomes the titular Man of Steel and saves the world from a genocidal General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his band of equally evil Kryptonians.

To be perfectly honest, my expectations for Man of Steel have been rather mixed from the very beginning. When I saw the first few trailers, my expectations were rather low based on the director's previous works and I felt the "dark and gritty" tone they seemed to be going for wasn't a good fit for the character. However, as more extensive trailers were released, my hopes slowly began to rise and hoped this film might breathe some new life back into the Superman franchise like Batman Begins did for the Dark Knight.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

Man of Steel, like its predecessor Superman Returns, had an incredible amount of potential to be the definitive Superman film for the current generation of movie-goers. However, it squanders this potential by letting it be consumed by a laundry list of problems.

First, the movie suffers from a number of story structure and pacing issues. The first half of the film, with the exception of the opening scenes on Krypton, feel like a collection of little vignettes that have very little connective tissue between them and go by so quickly that we see very little development for our main character. At times, it feels like we've even missed a scene or two (How did Clark know there was an ancient Kryptonian ship in the Arctic buried under the mountains of ice?). The regular flashbacks don't help with this, disrupting the flow even more. Once Zod and the other Kryptonians show up, the movie picks up a little bit before the second half is consumed by supercharged fight scenes that just drag on and on. While they were occasionally nice to look at, I started to grow bored with them and just wanted them to be over so we could get to the end of the film.

Man of Steel also offers very little in the character development department. Most of the scenes taking place in the present focus more on what Clark can do instead of who he is. In theory, the flashbacks are supposed to handle that like they did in Batman Begins. However, the majority of them just have Jonathan Kent repeating the same speech about keeping his powers secret because humanity won't accept him over and over again.

Speaking of Clark's adoptive father, this has to be the single worse interpretation of Jonathan Kent I have ever seen in my life. Jonathan Kent is supposed to be the man who instills a moral compass into Clark, showing him that he has a responsibility to use his powers for the betterment of mankind and to always find a way to save someone. However, this movie turns him into an asshole who actually suggests that Clark should have let an entire bus full of children die and prevents him from saving his life from a tornado to keep his powers a secret. I really wish he would have just been a one-note and bland like the rest of the characters. At least I wouldn't be as pissed off as I am about him.

Now, my next objection is more subjective than the rest and some people will most likely disagree with me on this. However, I can't give my honest opinion of this film without saying this: the protagonist in this movie doesn't feel like Superman to me. While there are spots in the movie where I see the Superman that I know and love shine through, those moments are few and far between. Instead, we have this rather bland character who doesn't care about the thousands of lives that he is putting in danger due to the massive amounts of property damage he is causing. Superman is a character who will go out of his way to save a human life and takes it rather personally when he causes someone to lose their life. I understand its fun to see two godlike entities beating the crap out of each other and seeing the carnage they leave in their wake, but when one of the characters in that fight is supposed to care deeply for humanity and is supposed to be willing to do whatever it takes to protect them, you'd think he'd try his hardest to not level entire blocks of a majority city fighting a single villain.

While Man of Steel does have a large number of faults, there are a few diamonds buried in the ruff. For example, the cast is easily the best part of this movie. While they have very little to work with character and script-wise, the majority of the actors (especially Amy Addams, Henry Cavill, and Michael Shannon) try their hardest to give a good performance and be entertaining.

The music by Hans Zimmer is decent as well. His compositions really do fit the tone and mood of the movie and never overpowered the scenes they accompanied. While I wished they could have brought back John William's score from the original and re-worked it to fit the movie, Zimmer's music still works.

Man of Steel is a movie that had a lot of potential to be something great, but squandered it with a poorly constructed story, bad pacing, and a serious lack of character development. However, if you just want to see a movie where two super-powered titans beat the crap out of each other, then you'll probably find some enjoyment out of Man of Steel.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Defense for the Man of Steel

Everybody knows the origin story of the Man of Steel. He was born Kal-El on the alien world of Krypton. His father, a scientist known as Jor-El rocketed his only son to Earth moments before his planet's destruction. He crash-landed in rural Kansas and was discovered and adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who raised the child as Clark and imbued him with a strong moral compass. As he grew into adolescence, he started to develop superhuman abilities such as super-strength and the ability to fly. When he reached maturity, he resolved to use his powers for the benefit of mankind. By donning his signature red cape and blue-and-red custom with a stylized red-and-yellow "S" shield on his chest, he become the one and only Superman!

Apearing for the first time in the pages of Action Comics #1 in the summer of 1938, Superman was created by two high school students from Ohio named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. He is considered by many to be the first superhero (even if that might not be technically true) and is widely considered a national cultural icon. He, along with characters such as Batman and Wonder Woman helped to create the superhero genre and establish its primacy within the American comic book industry.

However, Superman has had a lot of criticism leveled at him the past few decades. Many have called him "bland", "over-powered", and even "unrelatable." In fact, I used to be one of these people. When I was younger, I wasn't too found of Superman. I always saw him as nothing but a "Big Blue Boy Scout" and preferred characters such as Batman and Marvel's Spider-Man.

As I grew older, however, my opinions on Superman started to change. After reading Grant Morrison's series All-Star Superman and Joe Kelly's story "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, & The American Way?", I started to see how cool Superman really was and how interesting a character he could be when paired with the right creative team.

Sadly, there are still a number of people who continue to criticize the character for reasons that when you get down to it, aren't actually true (the majority of the time anyway). So, I thought I'd give my very own rebuttal to some of the major criticisms thrown at the Man of Steel.

The most common argument I hear about why Superman isn't a good character is that he's over-powered. While he might have more or less powers depending on the time period when the story was published, Superman's most famous powers are flight, super-strength, invulnerability to most attacks, super-speed, vision-based powers (including x-ray, heat-emitting, telescopic, infra-red, and microscopic vision), super-hearing, super-intelligence, and super-breath. Now, I know what you're saying, "Cody, that is a lot of powers," and I won't disagree with you. Superman has always had a lot of powers and is one of the most powerful characters in the DC Universe. However, I find the idea that a character can't be good because he has too many powers to be ridiculous. Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen has the ability to virtually do whatever he wants and is still just as interesting as the other, powerless characters in that story.

Also, while he has a large number of powers, he also has a number of weaknesses as well. First, his powers are nullified when he is exposed to green Kryptonite. If he's exposed to this stone for a prolonged period of time, he will eventually die from the radiation. Secondly, he loses all of his powers when exposed to the light of a red sun (For those of you who don't know, Superman derives his powers from the light of our yellow sun). Finally, he is vulnerable to magic-based powers and attacks.

The second major criticism thrown at Superman is that he's too bland and unrelatable. Generally, I've seen this criticism come from people who have very little experience with the actual character and are going off what they've heard from others or have only read stories from writers who didn't know how to properly handle the character.

Superman is a brave and kind-hearted hero with a strong sense of justice, morality, and righteousness. These traits were, as I mentioned before, instilled in him by his adoptive parents. He's a character who believes that since he has been blessed with these great powers, he also has the responsibility for good and the betterment of humanity. In many ways, he represents the philosophy of "With great power must also come great responsibility" a lot better than Spider-Man. That responsibility also extends to the code of honor that he has adopted, hoping to show the people of the world that good still exists and to never give up hope.

However, that sense of responsibility can be a negative thing as well. Since he tries to do whatever he can to save humanity, he has a habit of taking a failure to help someone rather personally. In many ways, he is kind of a perfectionist when it comes to being a hero. He always sees areas where he can do better. He also struggles with his code, knowing that it would be easier to become a super-powered version of Judge Dredd and simply do away with his enemies, but not wanting to resort to that because he has to be better than that because of his status as a symbol of hope and righteousness.

Wanting to do the right thing, struggling with doing the right thing when the wrong thing would be much easier, taking failure rather personally at times and being a perfectionist at what you're good at. I don't know about you, but I believe those seem to be very relatable qualities to me.

Now, I will be honest. Like many comic book character, the quality of Superman greatly depends on the creative team behind him at that moment of time. Sometimes, you will have a Grant Morrison or a Joe Kelly who understands the character and will utilize him properly. Utter times, you will have a character like Frank Miller who misses the point and bring those very things that people hate to light and make him unbearable. I have read a number of stories staring the Man of Steel that just make my head hurt and cast it aside for something better.

However, that fluctuation in quality is true for almost any comic book character. For example, Batman can be awesome when handled by someone like Scott Synder or Dennis O'Neil. However, he can be god awful when he's handled by someone like Doug Moench or Frank Miller after The Dark Knight Returns.  It's all about having the right creative team to use the character properly and understand the fundamental elements of the character.

I know some people will remain firm in their dislike of Superman. That's their opinion and they have a right to that opinion. My view of the character differs from theirs and that's okay as well. My motivation behind this post as to explain why I liked Superman and why I disagree with some of the criticisms. However, if someone does change their mind about Superman and gives him a second chance, I'd be perfectly fine with that as well.