Monday, July 16, 2018

Sand In the Place Where You Live

On a 90+ degree day in July, the only retreat one has is burrowing into intensive air conditioning to watch a movie about people without intensive air conditioning. 

Bonus points if they're being eating by sand.

Quick Plot: A gaggle of unreasonably attractive college students party hard on a beach. The next day, a few wake up inside sturdy surfaces -- a convertible, lifeguard stand, table, and most uncomfortably in the case of poor chubby Gilbert, inside a trash can. 

Turns out, their positioning is their (temporary) salvation: some mysterious alien form has hatched underneath the beach, turning the sand into a flesh-eating monster with a burning appetite for sunburnt young people. 

With their phones unreachable and car battery dead, the survivors do what they can to outlast the cruelty of unrestrained CGI. Their horror is our pleasure in every possible way.

The Sand is not a good movie: The Sand is a great one. 

Look, sometimes your mind has been put through a marathon and you just crave something short, dumb, bright, and entertaining. You want to see attractive people in pain, fighting something as absolutely ridiculous as POSSESSED EVIL SAND. If you're lucky, maybe there will even be tentacles.

Spoiler alert: you are lucky.

Directed by Isaac Gabaeff and, according to IMDB, filmed in 12 days, The Sand is the epitome of a dumb summer horror movie. Less than 90 minutes long and never fully clothed, The Sand knows what it needs to do and does it in style. 

High Points
Folks, this is a movie where sand eats hot beach bums. What more do you want?

Low Points
I take it that blond, slightly more literate than her peers Kaylee is supposed to be our heroine, but if that's the case, shouldn't someone have excised the oddly racist insult she hurls at rival Chandra?

Lessons Learned
When dealing with a super angry, super insecure police officer, never ask to speak with his supervisor

Dying sucks, but dying with a penis drawn on your face sucks more

The reason quickie lube men make minimum wage is that oil isn't powerful enough to tear the flesh off of young people

Look! It's- 
Dean Geyer, the dude who seduced Rachel on Glee but more importantly, costarred in the amazing Lifetime film Don't Wake Mommy, something everyone should watch because Ashley Bell is a goddess and it features the weirdest Denise Crosby cameo you've never seen

The Sand is a stupid, stupid movie. But it's July, I'm tired, and a stupid movie about a man-eating beach and terrible CGI tentacles is pretty much all I need in life at this moment in time. So head to Amazon Prime and kill a few brain cells. It will do you good. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Zee Holy Zity

One of the beauties of cinema is that it takes us across the world to places we can only see if we summon the energy and funds to shop cheap international airfare and weather the jet lag. With that said, let's renew our imaginary passports and hop on a fantasy flight to demon-filled Israel!

Quick Plot: We open with a grainy video recap of a failed 1972 Israeli exorcism. As the subject sprouts a pair of wings before execution, we learn a telling Talmud proverb: there is a gate to hell in the city of Jerusalem.

Cut to present day New Jersey, a hell of a different sort. Slowly recovering from mourning the death of her brother, 20something Sarah heads to Israel with her wilder bestie Rachel. Armed with a new pair of Google glasses (which doubles as the film's camera), Sarah falls for an "American" wanderer named Kevin, who leads the ladies to historic Jerusalem for some unwinding in a hostel.

After the obligatory Americans-getting-hammered-with-handsome-locals buildup, something goes very, very wrong in the walled city. Self-proclaimed amateur anthropologist Kevin senses a dark presence, while a wandering crazy man ominously warns of trouble a'coming. He should know, since he was there some thirty years earlier, watching his mother turn into a demon.

Jerusalem is shut down, trapping citizens and tourists together to fight off the threat of a demonic contagion. Sarah and her pals attempt to flee via deep hidden tunnels. That goes about as well as you would expect.

Written and directed by the Paz Brothers, Jeruzalem's title spelling and categorization is a bit misleading. I went into this film expecting a zombie siege. That is not the case, and it's not necessarily a bad thing.

Like many a found footage horror film of the 21st century (and details aside, that is indeed the category where Jeruzalem sits), the film would probably be more enjoyable a watching experience had it abandoned its filmic concept for a standard camera approach. The gimmicky web-connected glasses gives us some fun insight early on, but we lose a bit of the suspense when a dark tunnel chase is stuck framed by a shaky human point of view. 

There's also the very typical, very disappointing issue prevalent in 90% of horror: young and bland protagonists. The only thing interesting about Sarah is her sadness over her brother (and in fairness, that pays off rather effectively), while Kevin is set up to be deeper than he ever shows onscreen. Yael Grobglas (from Rabies) and Tom Graziani register best as party girl Rachel and charming local Omar, but with its short window of "real time," the film just doesn't have to ability to do much with their characters.

I'm pointing out a lot of negatives about Jeruzalem because it's one of those early features from a directing team that clearly has a lot more potential going forward. They do an admirable job here, particularly in capturing the feel of a city most of us have never seen and using its own particular nature to mysterious effect. The idea of a sort of long-dormant demonic virus turning civilians into a very different form of the undead is also neat, and I welcome the sequel currently "in development" according to IMDB.

High Points
For as much as I didn't love all of the POV decisions, the final shot is rather brilliant and could only achieved with that style

Low Points
I said it recently with The Open House, and I'll say it again here: post-The Descent, it's simply not fun to have a terrified character accidentally impale a friend because said friend couldn't say, "Hey, it's me" but instead chose to quietly surprise the terrified friend holding a sharp object

Lessons Learned
There are worse bugs to find in your system than one that constantly plays videos of cats

Always listen to what King David has to say

When traveling abroad, consider choosing your lodging based on its proximity to the nearest mental asylum and bicycle supply

Jeruzalem is streaming on Netflix Instant, and it's certainly a decent way to pass 90 minutes. The build is somewhat slow, but it does present a unique variation on the kind of genre film we've been seeing nonstop for ten years. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Third Time's the Charm

When you've got a good thing going, why stop? 

Quick Plot: It's been two years since Sophie Green escaped the clutches of Dr. Albert Beck, the lovesick cardiologist with a dangerous kick for young women. A former bright-eyed aspiring medical student, Sophie has traded her sundresses for a gothier style, complete with insomnia and post traumatic stress syndrome. 

See, closure is hard when the man who kidnapped you, threatened to amputate your limbs, and came thisclose to raping and killing you escaped conviction by charming a vulnerable female juror, just like Pablo Schrieber in that never-ending Law & Order: SVU storyline. Unwilling to let go, Sophie follows Beck to Phoenix where he's accepted a job teaching cardiology 101.

It's the very first day of school when Albert locks eyes with Melissa, a pretty blond who fits his exact type by not only being into older men, but also needing some health help that only he can provide. Meanwhile, Sophie begins a justified smear campaign (is that the right word if the target deserves it?) by starting a petition to have her former tormenter fired. Unfortunately, Albert is one step ahead, leading authority figures to see Sophie as an unreliable drug addict. 

Yes, if you can believe it, what we have here is the third Stalked By My Doctor Lifetime production examining gaslighting. It gets even more interesting when the lovestruck Melissa refuses to #believewomen, going so far as to plan Sophie's murder and coverup to protect her new boyfriend's name. 

Written and directed by the "Stalked By" specialist Doug Campbell, Patient's Revenge is pretty much everything fans of this franchise want. Beautiful unlived-in kitchens, ditzy dads who give terrible advice, and Eric Roberts playing off of, well, Eric Roberts as his conscious takes the form of himself decked out in a Hawaiian shirt, sipping an umbrella-laden cocktail and warning him about the dangers of younger women. 

Did I mention the musical fantasy sequence? It's here, and it's fabulous.

One does not look for feats of cinematic wonder on Lifetime, but Patient's Revenge manages to keep pushing the manic weirdness of the Stalked By series to shockingly fun heights. That's far more ambitious than many a theatrical release.

High Points
I could live a hundred lives and never find an actor better at throwing a temper tantrum at himself than Eric Roberts

Low Points
While the single flashback is played for genuine laughs, it seems a little odd that the events of Stalked By My Doctor 2 aren't really explained as such recent history

Lessons Learned
True love means not being freaked out to discover a photograph of yourself framed in your teacher's bedroom on your very first date

Every sexual predator has his own style when it comes to tying up women

Even the dumbest copy will not be fooled by a Frozen wig

If you didn't enjoy the first two Stalked By My Doctors, I can't imagine why you're still here (and along with that, how you have any joy in your heart). Lack of American Girl doll freakouts aside, this is easily the best yet. Roberts is having a blast, but the real treasure is how the film gives its former victim her own agency. This isn't the a feminist manifesto, but it's nice to see the third entry in a goofy Lifetime series playing with its power dynamics in surprising ways. 

But still: bring back the dolls

Monday, June 25, 2018

Swimming With the Sharks

There's no better time for a shark attack than high summer. 

Let's do this.

Quick Plot: Lisa (Mandy Moore) is an uptight American on vacation in Mexico with her worldlier younger sister Kate (Claire Holt). In an effort to shed the boring image that got her recently dumped, Lisa reluctantly agrees to go shark cage diving with a pair of handsome townies.

Cue Matthew Modine as Captain Billy Taylor, a laid back sailor whose shifty boat unnerves Lisa but can't shake the spunky Kate. After some illegal water chumming, the girls are suited up and lowered down to experience the wonders of underwater tourism. 

Everything is perfectly Instagrammable until their cage's wiring snaps, dropping them down the titular distance to the bottom of the ocean floor. With a dwindling supply of oxygen and a growing circle of teased sharks, the sisters struggle to survive. 

Written and directed by The Strangers: Prey At Night's Johannes Roberts, 47 Meters Down has the advantage/disadvantage of coming out in the much brighter shadow of ANOTHER PG-13 rated shark attack flick, The Shallows. It's hard to not compare the two, and on that end, 47 Meters Down is the clear loser. Aside from its lack of a seagull sidekick, it's ultimately not as pretty, not as tense, and simply not as interesting.

That being said, the film is...fine. It wisely moves fairly quickly, paring down too much exposition or pre-water character buildup to trust most of the internal dynamics between a pair of close but wildly different sisters. Moore and Holt play their family dynamic clearly, and it's enough to make up for the fact that the characters on the page have little to offer. Look, Blake Lively is no Saoirse Ronan, but she managed to create a clear enough vision of a genius surfer girl who knew how make use of her jewelry. Kate and Lisa are as generic white girls as their names imply.

A sequel is already in the works, and much like the Wrong Turn or Step Up series, I can see this being a case where the lower profile followups end up being far more fun than the original. In the meantime, this is a perfectly suitable time waster, particularly when you want to look at pretty underwater scenery occasionally brightened with blood.

High Points
Like many a human being, I find limited air supply an incredibly terrifying premise, and 47 Meters Down does a good job of establishing these conditions to yield the appropriate audience reaction of feeling unpleasantly suffocated

Low Points
It's hard to say exactly what keeps the film in such mediocre territory, but it's probably a combination of low enthusiasm writing and weird underwater visibility that just keeps everything at a distance

Lessons Learned
Really, we just need one that would have solved the entire issue: never make important life decisions with the sole factor being, "will my ex-boyfriend see these pictures on social media and change his mind about our relationship status." Kids, you've been warned

Eh. 47 Meters Down is streaming on Netflix, which makes it an ideal pick for a gym watch or laundry fold accompaniment. It's pretty to look at and slightly darker than you might expect, but ultimately, I'd rather watch a Gossip Girl target sew up her wounds with her necklace any day of the week.

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.