Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Happens When People Stop Being Polite...& Start Getting Dead

It's rare that a game show horror film slips under my all-encompassing radar, but that seems to be the case with 2002's My Little Eye. Thankfully, the wonderful Christine Hadden of Fascination With Fear recently highlighted this little indie for a winter horror special. My completist tendencies paired with the convenience of Instant Watch? Just try and stop me!

Quick Plot: Five twentysomethings are chosen to participate in a 6 month long Internet reality show akin to Big Brother, where they're isolated in a country home with the reward of $1 million...providing all five remain on the property for the program's duration. This being a horror movie, you can bet your Survivor torch that our fame-hungry contestants are going to run into some roadblocks 5 months, 3 weeks, and 6 days after signing their release forms.

Filmed, I assume, on a microbudget, My Little Eye is not a good-looking or perfectly made film. The visual graininess and cheap sound cues are tolerable due to the nature of the film's webcam basis, but the overall effect ends up being rather ugly to look at. Thankfully, My Little Eye makes up for its style with genuinely unnerving and surprisingly fresh substance.

Released in 2002, My Little Eye must have been made in the cultural fervor of early 21st century reality boom. Remember Halloween: Resurrection, where Tyra Banks and Bustah Rhymes produced a Michael Myers-infused web series? Same year. The American version of Survivor was just a toddler at 2, while Big Brother was beginning its world domination plan, making MTV stalwart The Real World feel strangely long in the tooth. Reality TV was no longer a passive activity in which we watched lives get lived; it was a competitive event, one that demanded winners triumph and losers suffer. The Real World might have given prized screentime to its sexy young people's romantic exploits, but Who Wants To Marry a Millionaire?'s sponsors demanded a glitzy wedding and legally binding marriage (that naturally ended in an annulment quicker than a Kardashian affair). 

Though nowhere near as sharp (or funny) as the still-underrated Series 7: The Contenders, My Little Eye is a surprisingly strong entry into the game show horror subgenre. The mostly unknown cast (save for a pre-ubiquitous Bradley Cooper and one of the ill-fated roller coaster survivors in Final Destination 3) manage to pull off the not-so-easy feat of being believable human beings who would put themselves in this kind of situation. The script..... packs some neat twists, toying with the idea of the producers-behind-the-curtain being creative sadists who deliver bricks and a loaded gun in place of food. There's even a slightly new spin on the tried and true prank-gone-bad trope so common in '80s slashers. 

Does My Little Eye surpass the satiric chill of Series 7 or the full blasted awesomeness of The Running Man? Not a chance, but this is a fine entry into a subgenre that has yet to grow old (at least in my I-actually-watch-Love-In-The-Wild obsessive opinion). My Little Eye offers quite a few interesting twists on its straightforward concept, and while the budgetary restraints do keep it far form greatness, this is a strong, intelligent little film that's well worth your time.

High Notes
I love a film that actually challenges its characters to define their sense of morality, and My Little Eye approaches such a quandary with plenty of juice

Low Notes
Pity the financially challenged sound man who has to resort to slow motion deep voice antics. Pity the audience who has to wince through them

Lessons Learned
The Internet = The World Wide Web

You can learn a lot of shit at computer club

Statistically speaking, strangers rarely kill strangers

My Little Eye is a tad constrained by its budget (it looks and sounds like it was made on a teenager's 1990s-era allowance) but so long as you can put aside some polishing standards, this is quite a treat. While I watched it on Instant Watch, word on the Internet Super Highway tells me the DVD includes alternate commentary tracks with actors discussing the 'show' in character. That in itself is groovy enough for me to say buy.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Jigsaw Cleaning, Kidman Weeping, & Baldwin Malicing

Back in high school and college (oh fine: and last week), my gal pals and I would periodically revise our very detailed, very organized lists of prospective famous boyfriends that we would like to have. Categories were specific: Olympic Athlete (figure skater Elvis Stoijko), American Athlete (former utility Met Joe McEwing), Silver Fox (Steve Martin now that Leslie Nielsen moved into the category of Dead Crush), and so on. One of the most contested labels was The Guilty Pleasure, not to be confused with the Conventionally Unattractive (Jon Lovitz continues to hold that spot). The Guilty Pleasure, you see, might have the body of an Adonis and face of a Pitt, but admitting that you would like to sleep with him is not something you're comfortable with wearing across a t-shirt.

For most of the late 90s into early 21st century, my guilty pleasure was Alec Baldwin.

Multiple Emmy award winner Alec Baldwin? Jack Donaghy himself? The man who launched a supremely awesome Geico commercial? What's there to be guilty about that, you ask.

Ah, youth. Travel with me to a different time, one when cell phones were mocked for being more than Q-tip sized and Temptation Island was positively scintillating. This is a world where people associated Alec Baldwin with his steely-eyed overhamming in The Juror and other similarly forced sexytime thrillers. Young women in 2002 didn’t have crushes on Alec Baldwin.

Well, SOME did, and I was one. But to say that now means nothing. He’s JACK DONAGHY. An SNL treasure! 

I don’t know what the point of this intro was, other to say that I liked Alec Baldwin before it was cool to do so.

Now about Malice...

Quick Plot: Well, 'quick' is sometimes an impossible thing. Without spoiling anything, let's just say that Malice is about a married couple (Bill Pullman's nerdy college dean Andy and Nicole Kidman's baby-coveting and but uterus-hurting Tracey) whose lives change forever after they rent the third floor of their fixer-upper colonial house to Alec Baldwin's Jed, a hotshot surgeon with a high tolerance for bourbon and high opinion of himself. Meanwhile, a serial rapist is attacking some of Andy's female students, including a dirty blond post-Hook pre-Brad Pitt Gwyneth Paltrow.

Maybe these storylines are connected. Maybe they are not. Maybe there's a reason why a well-respected heart surgeon can't afford to rent his own place. Maybe every New England college has its own rapist. Maybe there was some sort of bonus for any actor in the film who attempted a New England accent and Bebe Neuwirth as the fairly incompetent police detective was the only taker. 

Or maybe, just maybe, every film needs an extended Anne Bancroft cameo.

You might think I’m dancing around synopsizing Malice. You might be right.

Oh, that time I didn’t need the maybe. You are indeed more than right.

Malice is essentially a film built on misdirection, so to go into any detail risks not just a few spoilers, but also ruining the very effect of the film. Depending on your mood, you might find some of its tricks to be forced or unnecessarily complicated, but there’s also something truly exciting in catching twists that you never thought to expect. Sure, seven Saw films have taught us to perk up our sensors when Tobin Bell strolls into a scene, but that doesn’t mean we know what his subplot has to do with our main characters. Seriously, I almost guarantee that.

High Notes
Aforementioned extended Anne Bancroft cameo. Seriously, after a rough night of prayer to the porcelain god, I’d thought I'd sworn off drinking scotch for good but I would give up my beloved beer forever if it meant I got to share a bottle of single malt with that dame

Low Notes
The more you think about certain details involved in the secrets of Malice--the history of a certain marriage, a double life that doesn’t seem logistically possible, the fact that a major crime may have only existed in the screenplay to incidentally reveal a key character detail--the harder it is to accept a lot of the story. So like most difficult things in life, just don’t think about it

Lessons Learned
If you play with plastic bags, Nicole Kidman will tie you up and feed you to the kid monster

Nothing turns Bill Pullman on like eating Chinese food in bed

Office supply rooms for college administration offices generally resemble medieval dungeons

Chekhov’s Rule of Creepy Dummies Employed by the Police Department
Aside from being extremely creepy looking, never rule them out from the action until the last reel is rolled

Malice harkens back to that early ‘90s era of mainstream thrillers advertised with attractive floating heads and insured by Alec Baldwin’s night forest of chest hair. With a script co-written by Aaron Sorkin, it’s a film that tries a little too hard but dangit if it doesn’t have fun making the effort! So long as you go into the film with little to no knowledge of the plot, I think you’ll find it as rewarding an experience as I did. And not ONLY as a reminder that Alec Baldwin was once a worthy guilty pleasure.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Baby Baby Baby Oh!

For many a proud American, the beauty of this fairly young nation is its freedom, best summed up in that oft-cited first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It's a wonderful right that I am millions of others are thankful to enjoy, the idea that if we have something to say, we may say it. If there is art we want to make, we make it. Sure, an elephant dung Hail Mary won't escape controversy when hung on museum walls, but that doesn't mean it can't created and displayed.

I bring up this matter because the low budget 2008 horror film I'm about to discuss had every right to be made by young filmmakers Lars Jacobson and Amardeep Kaleka. The problem is they made it at the wrong time in their (I assume) new careers.

Anybody who reads this blog knows that I'm not easily offended. Hey, look at my cat!

Mookie, by the way, claims Pet Sematary as his favorite film of all time. It is his dream to meet the cat who played Church and take a picture next to him while giving the thumbs up. As a result, he has continually asked me for a thumb transplant every Christmas since his 2006 adoption.

I can argue the merits of A Serbian Film and defend I Spit On Your Grave until my cat grows thumbs. And yet watching Baby Blues, a film about a harried mother of four whose post-partum depression leads her on a violent killing spree, made me want to hop in a DeLorean, cruise over to the home of Jacobson & Kaleka, and gently say "Not yet."

It's not that Baby Blues is a terrible movie. If it WAS a terrible movie, we'd be waist-deep in good-natured Lessons Learned at this point. Unfortunately, Baby Blues is something of a lower end to mediocre slasher cursed by the tease of genuine filmmaking potential. Jacobson and Kaleka have good eyes for staging some Night of the Hunter-esque chases, but their command of dialogue and actors is woefully inexperienced. Had this film tackled any other subject matter (say, a bagheaded mad man slaying teenagers, for example) this would be fairly par for the course in any new genre filmmaker's resume. But Baby Blues, loosely based on the tabloid suffocating actions of Andrea Yates, is a graphic horror movie about an unstable mother violently murdering her young children (and whatever innocent looking farm animal she meets along the way). 

If you're willing to tackle such a subject, you really should know how to do so.

Quick Plot: A young family struggles to make ends meet on a desolate farm, where dad's job as a trucker keeps him away days at a time and mom's stress over raising four young children on her own is starting to spin out of control. Only Jimmy, the eldest son, realizes how serious the issue is becoming...especially when he finds his baby brother laying lifeless on the bed as mom ominously fills up the bathtub.

From there, the story becomes akin to any slasher, minus the sex but with plenty of puns. Yes, puns. Because when your postpartem depression drives you to stabbing your second son with the back of an antique mirror, your Buffy the Vampire Slayer language skills are positively on FIRE.

I can understand why the Yates case might have inspired Jacobson and Kaleka to make Baby Blues. The questions that crime asked are truly fascinating and could certainly be discussed through any art form, be it a bestselling novel or no holds barred horror movie. The problem, though, as I hope I've explained, is that Jaconbson and Kaleka just aren't disciplined enough (yet?) to handle such material. As a result, poor Colleen Porch is stuck running around with more blood on her than Carrie White, spouting off horrid one-liners as she hunts her spawn with all the depth of Michael Myers. 

There is a fascinating film to be made out of the plot of Baby Blues. But when handled so messily by amateurs, the result comes off as either laughable ("I made your favorite dinner. Fried CHICKEN!" teases a blood-soaked Mom as she snaps a poor hen's neck), cliched (observe the token 'fall down the stairs' trick used in 80% of slasher films) or highly exploitative. This is a movie whose climax involves a mother wrestling with her child. It would almost be funny, except for the fact that one hour earlier, we watched her pitchfork her toddler to death.

High Points
It's always a pleasure when a child actor nails it, and young Ridge Canipe makes a sympathetic and believably smart hero in overalls. It doesn't hurt that a previous acting credit was on the Best Episode of Angel ever, Smile Time

Low Points
You know, the whole "We don't quite know how to make a movie yet, so let's tell the most offensive story we can" thing

Lessons Learned
When choosing your matchbook, always consider your psychotic wife's feelings

Time don’t change an animal’s instinct

Never take parenting advice from a scarecrow

Baby Blues did not dissuade me from keeping an eye on this filmmaking team. They clearly have guts when it comes to attacking their material, and their skills behind the camera do show some potential. Sadly, this is simply a film they weren't ready to make. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


We did get to give an official goodbye to The Shortening, but it will return next year with an even more vertically challenged vengeance. Until then, let's go big!

There's nothing like a good, pardon the expression, WTF movie. What, you of a clean mouth ask, is a WTF movie? The Emily answer is the kind of film that cannot be watched without its audience constantly mouthing the PG-13-rated question with a look of utter confusion in their eyes. Obviously something as bizarrely conceived as The Nutcracker In 3D qualifies, but so do smaller scale ventures like the 75% stock footage Hybrid or the what-exactly-are-they-going-for confusion of Grizzly Park. These are movies that enjoy tossing strange touches where you least expect them, like casting Albert Einstein in a children's fairy tale or ending on a breast implant joke.

Blood Surf is a minor WTF movie. On one hand, it's no worse than your average made-for-SyFy original, yet it makes two choices that instantly put it into this elite category:

1. It features blatantly brain-dead, rarely clothed characters starting the film with questions like "What was the name of that shark movie?" (the answer, as another brain-dead character says unsurprisingly, is "Jaws") 

2. It occasionally acts like a good movie

When you combine these things, you get W + T + F

Quick Plot: A pair of 'blood surfers' (dudes who use the word 'dude' and surf in shark-infested waters) head to a tropical paradise with their sexy Australian documentation and her sleazy producer boyfriend in order to score some ace footage in a remote area that even the locals fear. Thankfully, there's a nice native couple with a slutty daughter who are happy to take them to certain death, even though the mysteriously grizzled Aussie and his even sluttier girlfriend refuse to travel to that side of the island.

You might think I'm being a little harsh on the women in this movie, but I'm working with I got here. The young native Lemmya seduces one of the surfers before he can get an honest answer about her age. Aussie's girlfriend appears in three different shirts during the course of the film, none of which reach her waist. She's also prone to flashing her small chest with the same regularity as Judy Greer on Arrested Development, even if the looker in question is a crocodile (thus leading us to her positively RuPaulian pun, "Now THAT'S what I call croc-teasing!"). 

Worst of the three is Cecily, the token lead who seems to be dating the comically reprehensible producer only to rather quickly get over his (spoiler for something that you know is coming) death by moving on to the OTHER surfer who's name is Bog. 

No, I'm serious.

I haven't even mentioned the rapey pirates, Shark Attack 3: Megladon-esque death, or Sean William Scott impressions. All of these things are as strange as they are entertaining, for despite a good 45 minute tease before its inevitably disappointing monster reveal, Blood Surf is a pretty darn entertaining time. The movie has a certain Anaconda charm right down to its almost adorable special effects. We're talking about the kind of movie that has a 17-year-old having softcore water sex with a surfer as her parents get eaten by a giant monster crocodile. We're talking about the kind of movie that later has the same giant monster crocodile save our plucky heroine from pirate rape. 

Blood Surf's most important death scene is somehow played simultaneously for scares, tears, AND laughs and I don't know which of the three was intentional. It's as if this movie exists in its own wonderful dimension where the world is what you make of it.

High Points
I know you think I'm joking, but seriously: the slow reveal of the gigantic crocodile monster is actually executed with skill by Children of the Corn III director James D.R. Hickox

Low Points
Look, I didn't say the gigantic crocodile LOOKED good. I just said it was TEASED well

Croc-teased well

Lessons Learned
Just because you're about to rape an Australian is no reason to forget about the deadly booby traps you previously prepared

If you want your boyfriend to take a group of white people to shark-infested waters, the best way to convince him is to turn up the stereo in a local bar and dance as if you’re auditioning to be a fully clothed stripper

It's usually the ones you don't like that you end up with (especially 10 minutes after your boyfriend is eaten)

Blood Surf was streaming on Instant Watch for some time, and that's certainly the best way to watch it. Unfortunately, it recently moved out of that queue and the good person in me can't ACTUALLY recommend you put any real effort in seeking it out. This is an enjoyable goofy monster movie about pretty people getting hilariously eaten by a giant crocodile. If it comes your way, chomp down as fast as you can. Or just sit there with your giant tooth-filled mouth open with the knowledge that a sleazy chicken producer is about to grab a surfboard and float straight into your jugular. It's both the second big kill of the film AND a great way to eat your lunch.