Monday, June 18, 2018

Positively Shocking

Normally, a movie that makes me covet the death of its child character in the first reel is a painful slog. Thankfully, someone like Mario Bava has earned himself enough cred to allow me to power through with decent success.

Quick Plot: Dora is recovering from a nervous breakdown in the countryside estate she once shared with her late husband. Now remarried to a pilot named Bruno, Dora finds herself and her young, obnoxious son Marco changing in their new/old home.

Statues come to life, razors fly, and little Marco begins developing some peculiar habits. Is he possessed by the spirit of his late father, or did Dora's doctors move a little too fast with her release?

Shock is the great Mario Bava's last film, made in 1977 with some assistance from his son, Lamberto. While it's far from the top tier of the Italian genre master's output, it has a fair share of strengths that make it interesting enough.

Frequent giallo muse Daria Nicolodi gets one of her meatiest parts, and she makes the most of it. The score blends every popular element of its time into a gloriously bizarre mix of frantic jazz, electronic beats, and classical piano used to randomly spooky effect. Even the isolated country setting works to Shock's favor.

The downside comes with the pacing, which makes the impossible 110 minute run time feeling even longer. The climax seems to ramble on for decades, a sort of clumsy Repulsion-esque mania that just doesn't end. In fairness, when it does, it does so with a generous, eerie bang.

High Points
It's always hard to truly judge a dubbed performance, but Daria Nicolodi manages to do some genuinely deep work with the troubled Dora

Low Points
Dubbed giallo is fairly infamous for its weird/obnoxious children, but Marco is particularly grating, possibly because he reminds me far too much of my current most hated television character, Noah Brat Benson

Lessons Learned
Name your son Marco and life is a constant game of wanting to shout "Polo!"

There's nothing worse for an Italian marriage than sending the husband off without  his coffee

Living with an abusive drug addict, spending half a year in a sanitarium, and getting '70s style electro-shock treatment just might affect your parenting skills slightly

I stumbled upon Shock via a random TCM Underground airing, which worked for a lazy kind of Sunday viewing. It's enjoyable as a relic of Bava's last years and as a showcase for Nicolodi, but probably isn't worth a large investment in your own energy.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Memory Games

Look, I know I said that modern zombie movies should be more innovative with their storytelling, but I also believe we as horror fans deserve good movies.

Moving on...

Quick Plot: A man (District 9's Sharlto Copley) wakes up in a deep pit of corpses with no memory of how he got there or who he even is. With the help of a mystery mute woman (Josie Ho of the brilliant Dream Home), the man who now smells like a pit of corpses and will henceforth be known as John Doe discovers a group of equally attractive people in a nearby house, all of whom are also suffering from the same form of amnesia.

Suspicions arise and infighting begins, especially when some zombie-like creatures are found lurking in the woods. To say more would, I guess, spoil the (too) many twists of Open Grave, which becomes more puzzle being pieced together than a film with a driving narrative.

Directed by Apollo 18's Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego with a script from Eddie & Chris Borey, Open Grave feels like a relic of a recent bygone era in the genre film world, where every straight-to-DVD (remember those?) would put a gaggle of strangers together in a Saw-like scenario, forcing them to discover some terrible secrets about themselves in bad lighting. 

Never forget.

Filmed in 2013, Open Grave is somewhat removed from the slew of early 21st century horror I mentioned, but its overcomplicated plotting ultimately holds it back from being much better. It's disappointing, particularly when you consider the strong cast (even Resident Evil: Apocalypse/Karate Dog'Thomas Kretschmann shows up, primarily for me to remember that he's not Jaime Lannister). 

To SPOIL a few things here, consider the ultimate reveal of Open Grave: John is a scientist trying to find a cure to the rage-inducing plague apparently ravaging the world. Naturally, he has a team of equally attractive, same-aged peers as his research team because that's how science works. The antidote he creates causes temporary memory loss and a rescue team is coming to kill everyone on the property because science? and the mute woman without a name is the key to it all even if we don't ever know anything about who she actually is. 

This movie was...frustrating.

All the more so because it was obviously made with talent, both behind and in front of the camera. The ideas are interesting and in theory, the reveal should be too, but Open Grave just never settles into any kind of fluid pace to get us there. We ultimately learn the truth when one character's memory returns, mostly offscreen and recapped in a handwritten letter. It just doesn't move the way it should.

High Points
On paper, the twist is clever

Low Points
On screen, it's too convolutedly revealed to be so

Lessons Learned
Short-term memory loss may take away your name, but it will not impede your ability to read Latin

When dealing with barbed wire, always have a plan

Notes, people: leave 'em

Eh, Open Grave is certainly a high quality looking horror film, but it left me incredibly unsatisfied. It's better-made than your average Amazon Prime stumble-upon, but that doesn't make it fun to watch. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Millennial Attraction

If a Lifetime networkish-but-not-made-for-Lifetime movie drops on Netflix with a silly title, how long will it take Emily to discover it? 

Quick PlotHarris (yes, Harris) is a late 20something playboy who spends his days working for a modern tech advertising company and his nights trolling a Tinder-like app for one-night stands with attractive, easily seduceable young women. One fated swipe right lands on Riley, a super enthusiastic grad student who quickly becomes a little too invested in the barely-there relationship.

Before you can look for a pet rabbit, Harris's life begins to unravel. Riley's sleepover causes him to miss a key business meeting, while her feigned suicide attempt takes Harris over the edge. The next day, his professional Twitter account has been hacked and worse of all, there's 5 GB of child pornography found on his hard drive.

Naturally, Harris has one goal in mind: find Riley and force her to admit her wrongdoing. 

As the kids say, it's complicated.

Bad Match is written and directed by David Chirchirillo, the cowriter on Cheap Thrills and a contributor to the sequel to ABCs of Death. What he does here is quite interesting, especially as you think more deeply about where the audience's sympathies lie throughout the 90 minute running time.

Star Jack Cutmore-Scott fills almost ever frame, and he's ultimately fascinating in his very own triteness. Maybe it's my own generational bias, but at the start, I wished TERRIBLE things upon this overly confident white dude bro who seemed to embody the worst of his type. As the film wore on, it was hard NOT to feel for a guy who was still an empty douche, but not the kind who deserved to have his life destroyed by an emotional misunderstanding. And yet, but the time the film's third act arrived, my thoughts had changed to a completely different level of head shaking disapproval.

In many ways, Bad Match feels like it would fit right at home with the occasional quality level Lifetime thriller (perhaps the only reason it didn't premier there was its focus on its male protagonist). Cleverly, it has a few more twists up its sleeve than your average straight-to-streaming flick (though in fairness, probably a few less than your average Lifetime premier). The more I think about who its real target is, the smarter Bad Match proves to be. What a neat surprise. 

High Points
Much credit to Chirchirillo and his handle on his two lead actors. Cutmore-Scott finds an interesting balance between empty jerk and actual human being, while Lili Simmons (the plucky nurse in Bone Tomahawk) makes Riley a believably needy flake who might be dangerously psychotic or who might just be a little young

Low Points
I enjoyed the film's nasty escalation in its latter half, but there's a key plot action that spoils a certain aspect of what's going down in a way that feels a little obvious. Maybe that was the point?

Lessons Learned
Never trust a woman who changes her hair color every three weeks

Public attorneys are not paid to leave voicemail

Keep the phone on your side of the bed

I pulled up Bad Match on Netflix because I was looking forward to a campy cheesefest, but it's actually a well-made and acted little film with an appropriately mean twist. I don't quite know what kind of mood you should be in for it, but it's definitely far more decent than its title and premise would suggest. Most importantly, if you've been out of the dating and social scene for more than five years, it will make you feel incredibly old...and thankful that you are. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

You've Got a Stalker

#Horror, Unfriended, The Den, Megan Is Missing Friend Request...In some ways, it's surprising that there aren't MORE social media based slashers.

Give it time.

Quick Plot: Laura is a pretty and popular college sophomore with a knack for taking super flattering selfies and doing amazing things with her hair. One day, a new goth student named Marina sends her the titular friend request, following up with a flood of stalkerish messages designed to make even the kindest of cool girls disinvite her newest BFF to her birthday bash.

Bad decision, that.

Before you can pick your best Instagram filter, Marina commits grisly suicide live on Facebook (I mean, some fictional social media site that is Facebook). Laura is shaken with guilt, but quickly learns that there's no need to punish herself: Marina is fast at work on that, posting nasty things on Laura's behalf and murdering her real friends in mysteriously wacky ways.

Friend Request got hammered by critics when it premiered last year and while it's littered with stupid character decisions, it's also really not nearly as bad as its reputation and Rotten Tomatoes' score might lead you to believe.

Yes, that's slightly disappointing for someone like me.

Fear the Walking Dead's Alycia Debnam-Carey is sympathetic enough as Laura, though I may have been seduced by her ability to maintain incredibly hair styling as her life falls apart (this is true in the zombie apocalypse as well). The story even takes some surprising turns involving a should-be victim taking some unexpected agency in his fate.

The pluses don't necessarily outweigh the minuses. Marina is a frustratingly bland antagonist with a rushed and trite backstory, and while the young actors playing Laura's pals try to make an impression, the script gives them such minimal material that it's hard to care much about their fates. Still, for a lightweight 90 minute modern slasher, there's fun to be had.

High Points
Yes, jump scares are still disappointing as a go-to in modern horror, but you know what? Friend Request does them surprisingly well

Low Points
Any movie that finds its viewer thinking, "You know what technology-kills-young-people horror had better character development? Bedeviled!" is not firing on all cylinders in all departments

Lessons Learned
Modern detectives have no time for investigation or sympathy, but plenty of time to discuss dinner options

College kids in turmoil now experience sever symptoms of excessively red undereyes

Never let a silly thing like being stabbed in the gut slow you down 

Life will get worse after you stare into a black mirror, much like how your emotional life will in many ways get worse after you watch Black Mirror

Is Friend Request good? Not particularly. Is it entertaining and far better than its dreadful reception might lead you to believe? I thought so. Granted, I have terrible taste. But that's what Netflix Instant was made for.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Good Gas Masks Make Good Neighbors

A wildly divisive plague thriller?


Quick Plot: A lethal sickness has ravaged the country, leaving the survivors to head to to unoccupied areas and avoid contact with the infected. One family, led by Paul (Joel Edgerton) has carved out a safe enough existence in woodsy isolation, at least until one fateful night when a mysterious man named Will tries to break in.

Thankfully, Will is simply a fellow family man trying to find water for his own wife and son. With a few chickens and goats to trade, he moves his clan in for a new six-person (plus one dog). Everything is going well enough...until it's not.

Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, It Comes At Night had one of those complicated debuts, wowing some festival goers but leaving genre fans disappointed. The best way to approach it is to forget its occasional classification in the horror section altogether.

Once you get past the idea that this isn't Carriers or the tragically underseen Dead Within, It Comes At Night can play out as intended: essentially, a play or sorts with a nightmarish sense of foreboding. Yes, there is a plague but no, we as the audience don't get to see much of it or the world it has ravaged. We don't have violent scavengers or the zombie-like infected breaking in. Instead, it's the tale of two families learning to trust and distrust each other. Quietly.

High Points
It would be easy for everyone to be miserable in a movie like It Comes At Night, but there's a great bit of brightness to be found in Kelvin Harrison Jr. as teenage Travis. The actor and character bring out a certain sense of hope and the idea that there's still something to be enjoyed in a world where everything has gone to hell

Low Points
It's hard not to watch a movie like this without imagining a more exciting version, especially when one exists that is currently streaming on Instant Watch

Lessons Learned
Chopping wood is best understood when compared to pooping

When watching any post-apocalyptic thriller, do yourself a favor: never get attached to the dog

When there's no more machinery or bustling human sounds, always remember that house walls are incredibly thin

So long as you know the type of film you're getting (i.e., a quiet, almost theatrical interpersonal family survival drama), It Comes At Night is a well put together tale. It just might not be what you want out of 100 minutes of life, particularly since it's bound to leave you feeling fairly miserable about life. But you know, miserable in a way that was inspired by quality, if that makes it any better?

Monday, May 14, 2018

I'm Doing a Thing! A MURDER, SHE WROTE THING!!!

There are few things in this world more perfect than Jessica Fletcher.

Strike that: there is nothing in this world more perfect than Jessica Fletcher.

If you agree and happen to be anywhere near the New York area on May 31st, come on down to the Nitehawk Theater for another edition of Kevin Geeks Out, the monthly variety show thingy hosted by the grand Kevin Maher and filled with funny people gushing about...


Obviously, I'll be discussing 12-time Emmy nominated Angela Lansbury's alter ego, the grand dame of Cabot Cove and more importantly, my heart. Get your tickets and be sure to say hi after the show!

Monday, May 7, 2018

My Hood Is Like a Shark Fin

Morgan was one of those films I like to call "the eternal trailer," a distinction it shares (for me) with the Wolfman remake and Shutter Island. All three, possibly due to adjusted release date, seemed to be included in the previews for just about every film I saw in the theaters in the months (and sometimes years) leading up to their release. 

That plus the general apathy that seemed to accompany Morgan put it low on my watch list. Had someone sold it the right way -- i.e., a reimagining of Renny Harlin's Deep Blue Sea -- I may have actually paid for it.

Quick Plot That's Essentially Just Deep Blue Sea Without Sharks: In an isolated green forest (replacing the blue sea), a team of pretty good-looking scientists have spent the last five years raising and monitoring Morgan (The VVitch's treasure Anya Taylor-Joy), a genetically modified young woman who is sadly not quite a shark.

Stepping in to Stellan Skarsgard's shoes as the most physically abused of the scientists is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who opens the film with her eye gouged out by her charge and is later beaten to death with about the same level of pain as having your arm eaten by a shark, then your body rammed against glass underwater.

This initial Macbethian incident is what summons Samuel L. Jackson stand-in Kate Mara as Lee, a risk assessment manager brought in to evaluate the Morgan experiment. Sporting Saffron Burrows strictly serious haircut, Thomas Jane's combat moves, and Jackson's corporate doubt, Lee regards most of the team suspiciously, particularly the too-soft behaviorist Amy (Ygritte the Wilding, aka Rose Leslie). On the flip side, Lee seems most positive towards Skip, the handsome nutritionalist (aka chef).

No, he does not have a pet parrot, but SPOILER ALERT yes, he does (almost) make it to the end, so OBVIOUSLY, he is LL Cool J.

The poor white man's LL Cool J. 

You might think I'm stretching the Deep Blue Sea comparison, but when the REAL Samuel L. Jackson (in the form of Paul Giamatti) strolls in for one scene to be essentially eaten by the super smart, super fast, and super strong Morgan, it's hard NOT to see the parallel. 

It is very possible that forcing this comparison made the exceedingly mediocre Morgan an exceedingly more interesting film. Directed by Luke Scott (son of Ridley), Morgan has a great look and unfairly great cast, most of whom are essentially wasted. The action offers some thrills, especially when the film takes a not-that-surprising turn and delivers entertaining fight scenes. Then again, nothing you see here is that much more exciting than, say, an episode of Agents of SHIELD.

The point is, pretend Morgan the character is a super smart shark and Morgan the movie is okay.

High Points
Hey, I'm an easy mark for a powerful female lead who's good at her job and also happens to fight like a ninja

Low Points
The dire lack of actual sharks

Lessons Learned
Everyone loves lasagna!

Comfort can be a thorn in the side of revelation

Genetic experimentation companies invest a lot in training employees in hand-to-hand combat

Eh, Morgan, in one word, is an "eh" of a review. With its high production values and good action, it's not a waste of 100 minutes, but it's hard to summon much enthusiasm without relying on, you know, Deep Blue Sea. Then you remember that Morgan doesn't end with anyone rapping and everything is terrible once again.