Monday, March 30, 2015

Board Now

Guys, I am totally a grownup.

This fact dawned on me recently as I sifted through my Instant Watch queue and thought, "Maybe it's finally time that I give Poultrygeist a try." Troma's low budget telling of zombie chickens had been on my radar for what felt like an eternity (back when I was in my TWENTIES, no less) but I had just never reached the point of actually watching it. 

So I did.

But I didn't.

See, I generally know what I'm getting with a Troma movie. There will be boobs. There will be crass comments (often about boobs). Silly but often sweet practical effects. And probably more boobs.

As any horror fan with a video store membership in the '80s knows, Troma is what it is, and Lloyd Kaufman wouldn't have it any other way. But as I began my journey into Poultrygeist, I found it hard to enjoy the charm. "You're the best dry humper in school!" comes the first line, which is fine and almost sweet in its own way. But as soon as a character (named Arby, and his girlfriend is Wendy, because CLEVER) responded with, "My dad's a retard," I said to myself, 

It's not that I'm above Troma dialogue. I'm angry at myself for not seeing The Boy Next Door in the theater, for goodness sake. It's just that I took a moment to realize that at this point in my 33 years on this planet, I have grown past certain things, certain things that might have been so charming (and far less offensive) in my youth.

An adult. That's what I felt like.

Naturally, I celebrated my newfound maturity by turning off Poultrygeist and queuing up what I assumed to be an Asylum cash-in on Ouija, The Ouija Experiment.

Quick Plot: Brandon is an obnoxious film student (who immediately sheds any lingering cred by claiming that not only is Twilight about ghosts, but that it actually good) hanging out with his airhead friend Shay, her beefy womanizing boyfriend Calvin, Calivn's sister L'nette and pal Michael. As most groups of twentysomethings in Dallas do, they spend a few evenings playing with a non-Parker Brothers version of a ouija board.

Not, mind you, a Wee-Ji Board, which may be the most exciting knockoff thing I've ever discovered while shopping at Five Below.

Michael lays out the rules of the oujia, which include the all-important 'Never leave the room without saying goodbye' commandment that because it's repeated no less than four times, will inevitably be broken at least twice. 

What could possibly go wrong?

In this case, the quintet releases the ambiguous spirits of a murdered little girl named Gracie, her drowning foe Joseph, and her mother Lisa. The ghosts have all sorts of mean qualities, like spilling to Shay that Calvin's been cheating her and turning Michael's manly bathroom into a pink paradise. C'mon, people, you can't expect Lions Gate-esque terror when your major special effects involve your actors moving a pointer on a ouija board and not one but TWO jump scares that are simply Halloween decorations in storage.

As you can no doubt piece together, Israel Luna's The Ouija Experiment is not going to be shortlisted for the Oscars (or heck, People's Choice Awards) anytime soon. But you know, in the realm of found footage ghost stories made for less money than was used to cater Craft Services for the REAL Ouija, it has some charm. And by the way: considering Ouija starred young good-looking actors who probably don't eat, that's saying something.

To my surprise, The Ouija Experiment was made in 2011, several years before even the Asylum would have thought to capture a name. Granted, I figured this out for less than stellar reasons: one character references Paranormal Activity 1 AND 2, and there's a scene that involves a couple laughing and mimicking what was, in 2011, the hot YouTube "Hide Yo' Kids, Hide Yo' Wife" viral sensation.

The Ouija Experiment, you can say, is kind of dated. And not actually scary. And filled with amateur actors who give it their all, but clearly didn't have the screen experience or proper direction to know how to make a line like "I LOVE  YouTube" sound even mildly believable. If, however, reports about the budget being in the $1200 range are true, then I find myself in an awfully forgiving mood. I've seen worse films made for far more money. It doesn’t mean The Ouija Experiment is deserving of your time (for most of you with kids or cats or jobs or dishes to wash, it’s really far, far less important) but eh, it could have been much worse.

Film criticism at its finest!

High Points
There's something admirable about how director Luna was able to generate ghost suspense in spite of the utter predictability of his story. We've all watched enough of these kinds of films to know that when a little girl appears at the end of a long hallway, she's going to snap and sprint towards us or that when the camera is fixed and a character is facing it, something ominous will appear far behind him in the specifically empty frame. All of these trite touches are alive and thriving in The Ouija Experiment, but I'll still give Luna credit for building to these scenes skillfully enough that the sudden jerks of action occasionally really do work

Low Points
On the flip side, I can think of a lot better ways to generate creepiness than to film an actor literally reading about spirits from the computer screen in front of him

Lessons Learned
Always say goodbye

Always say goodbye

Always say good--

Eh, it’s not like you’re going to listen to the rule the characters repeat thirty five times during the course of the film’s 90 minute run time, so why bother?

I wouldn't particularly recommend The Ouija Experiment to anyone. It's a predictable and decisively unremarkable entry in a crowded field of found footage. I feel like it's a genuine compliment to say that while I was watching it, I likened it to Paranormal Entity in being an Asylum movie that was better than it needed to be. Now that I know it WASN'T an Asylum production,I guess I'd convert that opinion to dubbing it a better movie made under two weeks with a $1200 budget than it needed to be. Make of that what you will.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Bless This Mess

When a film made in the last twenty years achieves that rare feat of earning a 0% 'fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes only to turn up in the Horror section of Netflix Instant, there's simply no way said film will not get its day to shine here at the Doll's House.

Quick Plot: Kim Basinger plays Maggie O'Connor, a NYC nurse and lapsed Catholic whose life (but not hair) takes a dramatic turn when her junkie sister Jenna (May's always welcome Angela Bettis!) dumps her newborn daughter in her care. 

Merry Christmas!

Six years later, young Cody has grown into a pleasant but possibly autistic little girl enrolled in a Catholic school. Meanwhile, FBI agent Jimmy Smits is hunting a serial killer taking out fellow six-year-olds while a former child actor/drug addict named Eric Stark (the always bug-eyed Rufus Sewell) has made headlines with his Scientology-ish anti-religion religion founded on self-help, clean living, and of course, satanism.

There are a lot more details that eventually connect Maggie to devil worship (among them: Christina Ricci as a heroin addict, Ian Holm in a wacky one-scene cameo as a strangely accented priest, and many, many, many terribly rendered CGI mice). There would have to be for a fairly bland 110 minute horror film. Made during the end of the 20th century's brief flirtation with apocalyptic Y2K end of days, Bless the Child is fun to imagine as the Catholic Church's most expensive commercial.

It's also fun when Christina Ricci's head rolls off.

And when a stern nanny stabs a priest's assistant in the eyeballs with her knitting needles.

And when I realized that child actor Holliston Coleman (easily the best thing in the movie, aside from the stern nanny and Christina Ricci's loose noggin) looked familiar not JUST because she once guest starred on Law & Order: SVU, but far more so because she had a small part in that Tori Spelling A Christmas Carol movie (aka A Carol Christmas, because it's a play on words) I reviewed way back when.

Anyway, director Chuck Russell is a far more talented filmmaker than Bless the Child would suggest. This is the man who gave us Nightmare On Elm Street 3, The Mask, and my favorite of all, 1988's The Blob. How he ended up here is something I don't want to think about. The script (based on a popular novel and adapted by at least three screenwriters) is both too complicated and too sparse. We're never actually told WHY or even HOW li'l Cody is the chosen one, or what being the chosen one means other than "Rufus Sewell wants you to embrace Satan with his goth minions and flying monkeys or else die." There's a lot of buildup about how the deadline for whatever black mass in question is counting down on Easter, but, well, WE DON'T ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THAT DEADLINE IS REACHED.

You see my point.

Bless the Child is only a good movie if you've a) never seen a movie or b) believe Catholicism to be the most kickass thing in the world. For all others, it's probably a big skip.

Although it does include a brief glimpse at an adorable puppy.

The adorable puppy is used to lure an innocent child to his death.

But you know, PUPPY! 

High Points
The tone is all over the map, and I honestly don't know how much of the cute head rollings and demons were supposed to be scary vs. campy, but the fact that these scenes made me laugh means I was certainly entertained

Low Points
I'd like to forgive this film's embarrassing CGI for being a victim of its time, but then I remember how great Starship Troopers's completely computerized bug attacks were three years earlier and not only have I lost all the pity I had for the visual effects department, but I've also inserted the Starship Troopers Blu Ray into my player and what were talking about again?

Lessons Learned
Winning an Oscar gives a woman many special powers, but none quite as useful as evenly curling your hair with 0% frizz after your perfectly straight mane runs through mild rain

Angels do indeed exist, and they are the jerks who hold the subway doors open and make the rest of us straphangers late

All kids understand death because of The Lion King

Chekhov's Law of Knitting Needles holds strong: if they get their own closeup, they will most certainly be shown a scene or two later as a multi-purpose murder weapon

Look! It's--
Spartacus's wonderful Oenomaus himself (Peter Mensah) as an angelic janitor. Yes, in addition to angelic children, construction workers, bus riders, and subway door holders, Bless the Child has angelic janitors.

Bless the Child is not by ANY means good (remember: 0%) but we've seen far worse. As a relic from the year 2000, there's something kind of entertaining in seeing the mix of Y2K-influenced fears, early CGI, and movie star mode Kim Basinger fighting a predictable battle against a poorly rendered Satan. I don't really recommend anyone give it a chance when there are plenty of far stronger independent devil-centric films out there, but those with Netflix Instant and a thing for '90s theatrical horror might find themselves chuckling.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Gorilla + Martini = Magic

Before I discuss 1995's Congo, I'd like to introduce those who don't know about it to a very, very important website.

See, as an animal lover, I often find myself being one of those morally confused viewers who watches a film where human beings are tortured and slaughtered without a facial twitch, yet sobs like a baby who stubbed its toe when an adorable puppy is kicked or a likable hamster meets the dark limbo of a household vacuum. Call me a hypocrite in any language, but I was among those in the theater for Cold Mountain that gasped when a hungry hermit slit a goat's throat yet munched on my popcorn when hundreds of soldiers were blasted away.

This kind of attitude is what kept me away from Congo for, it would now seem twenty years. I remember the film being released and thought, as any typical thirteen-year-old girl would, "Neat! Gorillas! Jungles! Volcanoes! Ernie Hudson!" Then I realized the film included a lovable TALKING gorilla who was so clearly going to earn my instant love. Then I realized the film included human characters SHOOTING gorillas. I could connect the dots well enough (thanks, Pee-Wee's Playhouse) to know that this added up to the chance that human characters may very well shoot the talking gorilla that had earned my love.

That did not sound joyous.

Thankfully, twenty years later, I'm married to a man who has seen Congo so when I asked, "Does the adorable talking gorilla die?" he responded, 


"Are you sure?"


Okay. So I now allowed myself to watch Congo. 

Side note: does not apparently care about gorillas, as it has no entry for Congo. I still recommend it for those (like me) who nearly turned off The Caller for fear of that wonderful golden retriever suffering a cruel fate, but if you like gorillas, then I advise you to marry someone like my husband.

Just not, you know, MY husband. Because then I'll have to go all Laura Linney on you.


Quick Plot: A multimillion dollar communications conglomerate something something headed by a paranoid Joe Don Baker sends Ash to Africa to find diamonds that can power laser guns.

No, I'm serious. 

And yes, that's just the first five minutes.

Before you can say groovy, Bruce Campbell is mangled by mutant-ish gorillas and his ex-fiancee/colleague Karen Ross (Linney) is heading overseas to track him down. Meanwhile, primatologist Peter (Dylan Walsh) is also booking a flight to Africa in order to reunite his prized talking ape Amy with her motherland. His travel companions include a nervous assistant and a Romanian philanthropist hammed up by Tim Curry.

Yes, THE Tim Curry.

And yes, THE Tim Curry speaks in what might be the most awesomely ridiculous European accent humanely possible. If Congo gave me one thing, it's the new dream project of seeing Tim Curry cast in a live action musical version of Bram Stoker's Dracula but playing the titular role as if he were Sesame Street's The Count.

In my head, it's life changing.

Because one amazing accent isn't enough, we also get Ernie Hudson as Munro, a black great white hunter (it makes sense, trust me) guiding the missions. Munro is British, I guess, and speaks with a randomly pretentious lilt that seems to delight the man playing him. That's enough for me.

Also, his assistant is played by Adebisi himself, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Here's an actor that always deserves better, but it's still nice to see him show up to fight mutant-ish gorillas.

So. To recap:

Karen Ross goes to the Congo to find Bruce Campbell and maybe laser diamonds that Muppet Count Tim Curry wants while Peter tries to free Amy the Talking Gorilla and political chaos causes a lot of travel problems so we lose a few porters but Laura Linney can fire flare guns at missiles and hungry hungry hippos attempt to eat people which means we lose a few more porters while mutant-ish apes guard King Solomon's mine and we just lost two more porters and there are volcanoes, too.

I think I hit all the major plot points in that beautifully written sentence, but I did not, however, provide you a list of all the amazing things Amy does. 

No, not that Amazing Amy. Better.

Remember, Amy is a gorilla, albeit a puppet one created by Stan Winston, but still an adorable banana-eating gorilla. She adorably does the following:

Hugs a stuffed animal
Plays with a lizard and frog

Wears 3D glasses

Paints a picture


Parachutes with Ernie Hudson
Sips a martini

Yes folks, no matter how sour that 7% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating may seem (and the lone fresh bite comes from none other than the late but always great Roger Ebert), Congo is the movie that features a cute gorilla sipping a martini. 

It is a masterpiece.

High Points
There's no other way to say this: Laura Linney as Karen Ross kicks ass. Here's an intelligent, multi-talented female character who never asks or needs help from her male counterparts, who can take down missiles, outrun a volcano, kill killer mutant-ish gorillas, stick it to her boss, tie her hair back in a soft scrunchie, and assemble a futuristic laser gun in the middle of an African cave. Screw Lara Croft: THIS is what a heroine looks like

Low Points
You can always tell when a script was filmed with some undecided decisions. Here you have Oscar and Tony winning playwright John Patrick Shanley penning the kind of screenplay that gives our main character an ex-fiance without ever discussing what made the ex, which was most likely done because the studio hadn't decided if Laura Linney and Dylan Walsh had romantic chemistry (they don't; Linney is great but you can't compete with a martini-sipping gorilla) or if test audiences wanted a romance. So instead, we have a vague attempt at romantic tension (seemingly more from the actors' instincts than script), confusing dead relationship we don't know if we should care about, and the feeling that it would all be better if Ernie Hudson and Laura Linney ended the film making out

Lessons Learned
The shortage of qualify diamonds is the real reason we haven't yet made lightsabers a commercial product

Unlike pounds of sugar, primatologists don't have prices

Stop eating Captain Wanta's sesame cake



Look, Congo is a mess of a big budget action flick, but it's a RIDICULOUS mess of a big budget action flick and as a result, it's one heck of a good time. Director Frank Marshall (Alive, Arachnophobia) spent decades playing around as a producer on Steven Spielberg's films, and he brings a sort of highly flawed, but super enthusiastic spirit of adventure to this weirdly ambitious summer film. The movie is streaming on Netflix and while there are innocent(ly murderous mutant-ish) gorilla deaths, the spirit is light enough to make this ultimately more about fun than anything remotely political. Sorry, Michael Crichton. I'm sure you hated the final product along with the critics, but when you have Ernie Hudson playing the suave hero, Tim Curry eating scenery with the hunger of Cookie Monster, an unapologetically strong female lead, and an adorable gorilla sipping a martini, you have a winner.