Friday, January 23, 2015

So Exciting That It Took Down An A-Lister!

Just a friendly reminder that if you like to hear chicks discuss Scarlett Johansson luring naked men to sexy death in alien space goo, then this week's podcast episode of The Feminine Critique is for you. My partner in crime Christine joins me as we tackle Jonathan Glazer's recently divisive indie hit Under the Skin and his unnecessarily controversial (but super good) 2004 film Birth.

Head over to iTunes to hear that plus a whole lot more talk on all things film, including just how awesome Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is and the true glory of watching a gorilla drink a martini.

C'mon. You can't tell me that isn't the best thing you've seen in your life. I mean, you CAN tell me, but there's no way in Africa that I'll believe you.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Lessons Learned, Year Six!

Tradition is not something I uphold lightly. Most of that comes from the fact that I'm an extremely disorganized person who sometimes forgets what season it is so really, annual activities are asking quite a lot. Nevertheless, there are three things this blog vows to do every year:

1. Reserve the month of February for movies devoted to vertically challenged villains

2. List my best-of-the-movies-I've-reviewed-this-year near the blog's anniversary

and for you, most importantly

3. Provide my darling readers with a list of the most important life lessons gleaned from the films I've covered here over the past 365 days. Thusly, let's get on with it:

The Culinary Arts
It's better to pay more than to go on a vegetarian diet -- Omnivores

Whiskey + gin = ginsky, and well, it's not good -- A Lonely Place To Die 

Shots solve everything! -- Contracted 

The best way to jump start a broken down vehicle is to be rear-ended -- Crowsnest 

Never drive on a quarter a tank of gas. You'll come to regret it when chasing dinosaurs on the streets of LA -- Age of Dinosaurs 

Web MD, Doll’s House Style
DIY brain surgery is not nearly as difficult as it sounds -- Antisocial 

It's incredibly easy to give CPR to druidic priestesses -- Idle Hands 

The hotter the nurse, the less effective the local anesthetic -- 13 Sins  

Wonders of Science
Potassium alum is the secret to tanning human skin -- In My Skin 

Wide lens flashlights are great, but apparently, night vision on your 20 pound videocamera held is far superior -- Atrocious 

The Supernatural
Ghosts are extremely fast adapters to today's Apple technology -- Haunter 

Ghosts smell like rancid meat or REALLY bad farts (pic) -- The Conjuring 

Worldwide Customs
In mystery European land where everyone has their own accent, barbecues are generally held in chilly weather that requires autumn jackets -- Stevie

People from LA know their nipple clamps while people in Oregon know how to light an entire roomful of candles in just 60 seconds -- Body of Evidence

Know your Australian folk songs. Love your Australian folk songs. -- Wolf Creek 2 

Toy Stories
Rhode Island Reds are the manliest of dollhouses -- Insidious: Chapter 2 

Toy Story-esque robot baby-head creations can be useful in a home invasion, but equipping one with a two-way radio should definitely be included in the next prototype -- The Purge 

The Job Market
Contrary to popular thought, getting a suicidal limbo-stuck slave to do your bidding is not easy -- The Prophecy 

The Human Male 
Guys only cry when they go to Cooperstown -- The Skeptic

Post-Apocalyptic Preparation
In case of apocalypse, be sure to wear layers -- Im Not Jesus Mommy

Meals served that shouldn't be appetizing, but somehow made me hungry included canned peaches seasoned with nutmeg and the crunchy joys of uncooked lasagna noodles coated in Crisco -- Dead Within 

The Art of Escape
Always keep a sack of pennies on you. They might cause you to run with a limp and almost get caught by clumsy martians or schoolteachers, but it's worth it -- Invaders From Mars 

Crutches have some pretty nifty use when you happen to be thrown into a cruel and unusual race to the death -- The Human Race 

Group Think
Splitting up is the number one way to get pack raped -- Mine Games 

Always listen to your crazy elderly neighbors. Because if you can't trust your crazy elderly neighbors to deliver important exposition, who can you trust? -- The Haunting of Helena 

When traveling with a group of friends on a mysterious mission, resist the urge to take an adorable group photo just before takeout unless you want it to be prime motivation for an evil force to focus upon how happy you are before inevitable doom -- Devil’s Pass 

English Class
If and only if you are scientist, it is pronounced 'piranya' -- Piranha

Money Saving Tips
If you’re confined to one secluded house that gets no cellular reception, you’re probably better off just canceling your iPhone plan and saving on the unused minutes -- Curse of Chucky 

You don’t need a phone if you don’t have friends to talk to -- Tormented 

The first thing you do with a lot of money is screw some broad with big boobs -- Kidnapped 

Relationship Advice
It takes two to tarot  -- Frightmare

Just because your drug dealer throws out terms like pre-war German expressionism does not mean he's a standup gentleman -- Alyce Kills 

It’s proper etiquette to sheathe one’s sword before surrender -- The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine 

The Art of Seduction
When in doubt, never forget the powers of a sexy saxophone score -- Poison Ivy 

The night of her mom's funeral is generally not the best time to ask a girl out for a casual date -- We Are What We Are 

A sudden turn-on to the bones of young children is generally not a good portent for your relationship -- The Iron Rose 

Basic Survival 101
Don’t ever try to eff with Peter Cushing. Not only can he slit your throat with those cheekbones, but he also most likely has supernatural control over everything he touches and will ensure you suffer a grisly comeuppance -- From Beyond the Grave

Always bury a useful treasure. You just never know when you’ll need that junior pocket knife in the wilderness -- Black Rock 

Little Known History
Computer imagery enhancement was at its peak in 1994 -- My Soul To Take 

Makeup in the Old West held up amazingly well to the elements -- Gallowwalkers 

Social Media For the Modern Age
Kindergarten teachers in Not-New York City prefer to use professional headshots for their Facebook profile pictures -- Faces In the Crowd

YOU Be the Detective
A big pair of sunglasses is all you really need to trail a car unnoticed -- Here Comes the Devil 

The Challenges of Growing Up
The only thing worse than being jug faced by your friend, whipped by your dad, and impregnated and abandoned by your brother is having Sean Young for your mom -- Jug Face  

Trust the cave. I mean, it's trying to kill you in all sorts of horribly painful ways, but still,just trust it -- Sanctum

Friends don’t let their brilliant, daring, and one-of-a-kind scientists not keeping great records of their illegal research drive irresponsibly--The Wasp Woman 

Haute Couture 
People in fashion should own boots -- The Sacrament 

Everything You Need To Know About Mummy Theme Park Safety
Jars of dangerous acid are thankfully labeled 'dangerous acid' in mummy theme parks -- The Mummy Theme Park 

Current Affairs
The white slavery industry has been ruined by too many enthusiastic amateurs -- Killer’s Moon

The Most Important Piece of Advice You Can Ever Remember
Never forget: just when it all gets quiet and peaceful, BEARS -- The Last Days 

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Music of the Fright

It may have been suggested, at least once or twice, that I’m something of a musical theater fan. Perhaps it’s the stack of Playbills hung on my childhood bedroom wall, the pile of VHS tapes my pals and I used to make in high school featuring us performing Broadway showtunes, or the fact that the best energy boost I’ve ever had in a half marathon is hearing Defying Gravity blasting just half a mile before the finish line.

Yes, I love musicals. I’d probably sell my soul or at the very least, a cat in return for a good singing voice but as I’ve yet to find the right market, I instead comfort myself listening to others. When the world is great--I mean, REALLY great--I find that in a horror movie.

Quick Plot: After a rousing opening night of a new Broadway musical called The Haunting of the Opera (sound familiar?), the leading lady (Minnie Driver, who might have had something to do with that thing that sounds familiar) is brutally slaughtered by a mystery man wearing her co-star’s mask. 

Ten years later, her twin children have grown into attractive cooks at Center Stage, a theater camp run by their mother’s boyfriend and former producer Roger (also, Meat Loaf). Camilla has grown into a beautiful and talented soprano who dreams of following in her late mother’s footsteps, while brother Buddy is still embittered by the entire musical community. 

As a last ditch effort to find some profit, Roger decides to revive The Haunting of the Opera as the summer’s big showcase. Surely nothing can go wrong with such a controversial decision, right?

Written and directed by newcomer Jerome Sable, Stage Fright is pretty much everything I could ask for in a movie, missing only a few evil children and plate of nachos. From the opening text informing us that the movie is sort of based on true events (just like Return of the Living Dead) to the followup that "the musical numbers will be performed exactly as they occurred," I squealed with glee.

(not THAT kind of glee)

This movie was made for me. 

Was it the fact that one song lyric involved a kid getting bullied for singing Sondheim? That the totem poles at this summer camp featured the drama/comedy masks? That one song had the faintest touch of a Jesus Christ Superstar salute? 

I don't know that Stage Fright will appeal to hardcore horror fans or those who prefer, well, another theater-set slasher called Stage Fright. But this film delighted me, and as much as I'd like to think Jerome Sable Inception'ed his way into my dreams to give me exactly what I want, I'll still say that I think this will please you too.

High Points
As someone who has worked backstage in a fair amount of college theater performances, believe me when I say that nothing is more annoying than hearing the actors practice their vocal warmups. Hence, the fact that Stage Fright uses that moment to give us such a juicy murder made me far more happier than it probably should have

The end credits song includes lyrics thanking the audience for staying so late. Then they break into a lecture about piracy. ALL IN ROCK OPERA FORMAT

Did I mention how happy this movie made me?

Low Points
I'm a stickler for detail, so it bothered me slightly that we were never informed who took over for a key actor in the big show. Understudies need to rehearse, you know

Lessons Learned
Altos just don’t understand

The first rule of theater camp: abandon all ye cell phones

You can't change the past, but you can make a musical

Look, I understand that a horror musical with original showtunes might not be for everybody, but good golly was this the film for me. I adored Stage Fright and would eagerly donate to kickstart a sequel. Give me more I say! 

Monday, January 5, 2015

The One With Rachel Weisz

There are three things I knew about Dream House going in:

1. This was the movie wherein the beautiful and talented Rachel Weisz and the even more beautiful and talented Daniel Craig fell in love, creating a union that very well may destroy us mere mortals

2. This was not to be confused with (though for simpletons like me, would ALWAYS be confused with) the wonderfully wicked Hong Kong satire Dream Home

3. Anyone who watched the trailer knew the 'big twist,' one of those huge plot turns that apparently ruins the viewing experience

4. It wasn't going to be very good

Having not seen the trailer and having an odd fascination with cinematic horror that is not very good, I naturally queued it up on Instant Watch.

Quick Plot: Will Atenton is a big shot New York City editor handing in his resignation to spend more time with his wife and daughters in their new New England home. How big a shot is Will? Such a big shot that he has a whole staff carry his belongings out in those brown boxes that exist in every firing/quitting scene you've ever seen on film.

Before you can order a martini shaken not stirred, Will and his family are experiencing some strangeness at the homestead. Shifty neighbor Anne (Naomi Watts, because more talent should always be wasted) seems to be hiding something, but more pressingly, a batch of teenagers hold a black mass in the Atenton basement. Not surprisingly, we learn that the house was once the site of a tragic unsolved massacre wherein someone shot a mother and two little girls. All evidence pointed to the father, who has since been released from a mental institution.

Dream House was, to put it mildly, a troubled production. Aforementioned trailer reveals the film's huge twist (which in fairness, comes around the hour mark, so perhaps an argument could be made that it doesn't COMPLETELY ruin the film) and director Jim Sheridan apparently clashed so hard with the studio that he asked to have his name removed from the final product. Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz supported him by refusing to do any press for the film. 

Also, nothing in it really makes any sense.

This isn't a terrible film by any means. The actors are all professionals (though I have a personal aversion to hearing the normally lovely Rachel Weisz speak with an American accent). The visual style has some interesting things going for it in how it suggests the Atenton New England neighborhood as something a little otherworldly. The family dynamic is warm enough that I was fairly invested in their fate. The ingredients, if you will, were definitely there.

The problem, quite simply, is that nothing is mixed or cooked or combined or cobbled together in any way to make sense. After you learn the twist, there's simply so much that doesn't make any logical sense. For a small example, the mere fact that one can apparently walk from a secluded country home to the heart of town in the middle of a harsh winter and back again before sunset requires more than a fair share of suspension of disbelief. Unlike the trailer, I’ll avoid spoiling a key point, but suffice to say, Elias Koteas shows up as the most incompetent criminal this side of Shredder.

High Points
Hey, at least the ladies get some eye candy

Low Points
Look, I'm not really one to complain about an impeccably crafted male body on display, but the very idea that Will had that much time to work on his abs is a little dubious. Still, lady eye candy is nice in a genre typically catered towards the male gaze

Lessons Learned
Some types of jobs can be made much more foolproof with a picture or at the very least, a browse on Google Earth

There is ALWAYS time to maintain your Bond physique

One has no need for a car if living in the very pedestrian-friendly New England countryside

Dream House is, very simply, not a very good movie. It ultimately seems to be aiming for the same mature crowd as, say, The Skeptic. The tone doesn’t know if it should be genuinely dark and disturbing or grandparent-friendly, leaving the material to sizzle, grow cold, and eventually, become easily forgettable. There is some heart to the performances to at least keep some invested, but even on Instant Watch, this is a skip. Check out Dream Home instead. If nothing else, seeing both will free you from always wondering which title you did indeed watch.