Monday, March 28, 2016

The Carnival Is In Town

Because of its doll head poster and carnival setting, I’d always meant to watch Dark Ride.

And now I have. So now life is fully open to so many more possibilities...

Quick Plot: Five awful college students decide to drive to New Orleans for spring break, taking a detour to New Jersey (because GPS wasn’t quite all there in 2006) and spending the night in a carnival dark ride that once hosted a sadistic serial killer. Naturally, said sadistic serial killer is residing in a mental asylum run by equally sadistic and far stupider orderlies whose abuse offers him an easy exit back to his killing grounds. 

No, you haven’t seen this movie before.

Well, I mean, of course you sorta have.

Directed by Craig Singer, Dark Ride is, well, it’s a slasher set in a funhouse and not unlike The Funhouse or many another horror flick set in a funhouse. Our cast is led by Meadow Soprano as a rather unremarkable final girl trying to figure out her relationship with an on again/off again boyfriend. Ashley Tisdale’s sister is her blond friend/early death fodder/partner in slut-shaming the friendly blonder hitchhiker they pick up. Also on board is Patrick “The Sandlot” Renna as Bill, the token fifth wheel/film geek with some confusingly ridiculous secrets of his own.

It’s hard to muster much enthusiasm when discussing a movie like Dark Ride because the movie barely has enthusiasm about itself. As the token frat jerk, Alex Solowitz is the only cast member to offer anything interesting onscreen, so that’s a minor problem. The overall tone can’t seem decide if it should be serious or silly, and the story seems to not even want to tell itself. The logistics of our killer conveniently escaping from a mental institution the same time that--


The only reason I go this deep into the plot is that Dark Ride just doesn’t have much else to talk about. Since I’d rather write about messy storytelling than a woman being slaughtered while giving a dude oral sex, allow me to spoil away.

Bill, the geeky friend who wouldn’t really be the rest of our cast’s friend in real life but is required on the trip since movies have a nerd quota, is revealed to be none other than the little brother of Dark Ride’s raging maniac. Which would make sense if said raging maniac brother’s escape was planned for the same night when Bill’s caravan ended up in the out-of-the-way dark ride. But so far as we see, both were done by chance. Considering the wrap-up isn’t even wrapped up with any kind of satisfying resolution, it’s hard not to think Dark Ride was written as it moved on the tracks. 

Which, actually, don’t really exist inside the dark ride of the title. Customers visiting this attraction are apparently supposed to walk through miles of unclear path with no discernible way out. I don’t know about you, but from 1985 on, I don’t know that I’ve ever gone through a haunted house without having the illusion killed by a glowing “emergency exit” sign. But again, maybe things were just, well, 2006 New Jersey.

High Points
While the geography of the actual dark ride doesn’t quite add up, there’s certainly some interesting imagery and effective production design going on

Low Points
Aside from the rather ridiculous machinations of the plotting, Dark Ride suffers from serious tonal confusion in just how seriously it wants to take the death of its characters. Some of the gore is over the top and silly, while other deaths seem as if they’re meant to be taken with great gravitas

Lessons Learned
In the early 2000s, going to New Orleans was considered retro

Unless you're Danny Trejo, no orderly in a mental asylum is ever not a sadistic bully

Shit old towns are the best

Feeding raw steak to an insane and weirdly muscled vegetarian is like giving spinach laced with crystal meth to Popeye if Popeye were, well, you get it.

Eh. One could do worse with a breezy 21st century slasher than Dark Ride, but that’s about the highest compliment I can give. So, you know, that. 

Sometimes these reviews just THAT themselves. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Tribe Has Spoken

As we've long established, I'm an easy mark for a certain type of horror movie. Put keywords like "tropical island" or "tough chicks" or "Vinnie Jones" or "90 minutes on Neftlix Instant" in your description and you pretty much have an automatic review.
Quick Plot: Aforementioned tough chick Billie (Killer Mermaid's Natalie Burn) AWAKENs on a beautiful aforementioned tropical island being patrolled by Perfect Record Movie Enhancer* (and aforementioned) Vinnie Jones and his band of enforcers. Billie teams up with a ragtag assortment of strangers who like her, AWAKENed on this paradise with no idea how or why.

Leading the survivors is Robert Davi, creeping out the survivors is Edward Furlong, and gathering them all in secret is Jason (not Jeremy, as if that matters) London. 

Why go through the trouble of kidnapping random adults, dropping them on a small island surrounded by sharks and Vinnie Jones, and watching them from a mansion?  Well, get ready:

Remember that movie where Spartacus 1.0's wife was kidnapped and forced into a female fighting ring to determine if her baby would be adopted by a wealthy couple? Didn't that seem a little, you know, COMPLICATED? Well my dear friends, Awaken might just beat it. 

Why, you wonder, is J. London dropping hostages on an island, watching them through surveillance video, and occasionally sending a rather large team of mercenaries in to extract one? The answer is as simple as Turistas: organ theft!
To be clear, I am a huge supporter of organ donation to the point that I genuinely believe it should be illegal NOT to give your working parts to someone in need when you're done with them. But that has nothing to do with the issue in Awaken.

See, it's one thing to kidnap wandering strangers who won't be missed and harvest their parts. It's another to set up an elaborate tropical resort just so your victims are forced to take in the fresh air and eat island produce. If you're going to kidnap perfectly healthy people to save the life of Darryl Hannah's dying daughter, can't you just chain them up in a sun room and substitute coconuts for bread and water?

My point being, Awaken is pretty ridiculous movie. There are too many characters, too many mysteries, too many henchmen, (if such a thing exists) and way too little Vinnie Jones. Actual plot and sense aside, Awaken is also the kind of action/genre flick that emphasizes female strength, puts out some decent action scenes, and, well, is set on a really pretty locale. It's not a great film by anyone's definition of cinema, but it's entertaining and pretty to look at. These are not bad things.

High Points
With plenty of hand-to-hand combat, the action sequences are actually quite strong. It's genuinely enjoyable to watch Natalie Burn kick some ass

Low Points
It's just not exactly pleasing to watch anybody talk to each other in the awkward style of Awaken

Lessons Learned
Edward Furlong is really good at naked cuddling

Never have your bloodwork tested when south of Mexico

If you can't carry your own body weight, you can't do advanced technique

Look, Awaken isn't exactly a "good" movie, but it's filmed on a beautiful tropical island, it stars (mostly) beautiful people, and it features a whole lot of decent fight scenes. If you're looking for something breezy to help you kill 90 minutes, you could certainly do infinitely worse. 

*Can we all agree that if there's one actor in this world who deserves better work, it's Vinnie Jones? The man is the cinematic equivalent of peanut butter. You can add him to ANYTHING and said thing will vastly improve by at least 33%. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Belated Shortenings

It's going to be a busy bee month here around these parts, so allow me to busy bee yourselves with a few external suggestions:

Good friend of the Doll's House Elwood Jones invited me on his podcast, the MBDS Showcase, to discuss two very different, very memorable classics of vertically challenged cinema. Take a listen to his episode 36, where we discuss one of my personal favorites, Stuart Gordon's Dolls, along with the very special, very odd For Your Height Only. Just in case you didn't recognize the title, FYHO is indeed a James Bond, um, adaptation of sorts, starring 2'9 action star Weng Weng as the world's deadliest and least secretive secret agent. Check it out here!

Meanwhile, down south of the equator, good pal Chris Hewson has tackled a few family-friendly Shortening cookies over at Not This Time, Nayland Smith. Travel back to the grand ol' '90s for his review of the 18-episode Betty Davis-starring sitcom Maybe This Time.  

While you're there, take a look at his review of 1995's long-awaited cinematic Annie sequel (I know, who knew it was a thing?) Annie: A Royal Adventure.  

Joan Collins is in it, and she wears a fabulous hat. What more do you need?

That's fair. The world can never have enough Zelda Rubinstein wearing a great hat. Hence, I leave you with one more little bonus, courtesy of my podcast, The Feminine Critique. On our most recent episode, Christine and I tackle 1989's pop masterpiece Teen Witch, along with the recently released and confusing to pronounce The VVitch. Download* via iTunes or hear it here!

*Just in case it's unclear, download the podcast, not the movie. Pony up a few singles and pay to see the movie so that studios keep buying and releasing movies like The VVitch. We'll all be better off, and otherwise, I'm selling your soul to that nice lady in the woods and I won't feel a goat's eye bad about it. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Fly Away, Fly Far, Far Away

Back in 2003, I snuck into the opening of The Butterfly Effect for the sole purpose of watching the trailer for the Dawn of the Dead remake. For whatever reason, I decided to make the most of my crime and was surprised at how much I enjoyed the film. While it's not a masterpiece of modern horror, it had a fresh premise and explored its possibilities with a certain earnestness.

The idea of turning it into a franchise was quite promising. The very nature of butterfly effects gives you endless opportunities to explore, much in the way the Final Destination series had free reign over using any disaster. A person discovers that he or she can go back in time and change the past but has no real idea of what future that can bring. GREAT! How about a politician not making a decision that begins a war, a detective stopping a serial killer before the first murder, heck, even a bartender not letting an inebriated customer fatally drive home. There's a LOT of ground to explore.

So let's pick the most boring human being alive and spend 90 minutes with his career woes instead.

Quick Plot: Nick is a blandly attractive twentysomething in love with his girlfriend and married to his job. You would be too if said job was "salesman for a startup technology company."

So let's pause right there to consider the first fatal flaw of The Butterfly Effect 2. With a premise that gives a film ample opportunity to explore the many paths one's life could take, why, why dear god did we decide to start with the dullest character imaginable? Look, I have nothing against salespeople, but does anyone looking for a unique horror movie want a movie about them? Especially when he's a blandly attractive twentysomething whose only definitive character trait is, well, being a blandly attractive twentysomething?

Anyway, Nick, his girlfriend, and their two friends are enjoying a peaceful camping trip until a work call from Nick's super interesting startup company leads to a hasty and fatal car accident. Nick recovers alone and in a depressed state, learns that he can go back in time and change past decisions using photographs.

Oh, it also helps when you google such specific topics as "dreams."

Having butterfly effected his way to a living girlfriend, Nick is now annoyed with his SUPER IMPORTANT STARTUP COMPANY and how his smarmy supervisor rules with a bratty fist. Naturally, Nick butterfly effects again in a way that leads to a big promotion and the yuppie lifestyle any blandly attractive twentysomething craves.

Guys, I'm serious: this is what the movie is about.

There are loan sharks, sort of. There's a surly boss. Another car accident. Public bathroom sex. A fairly offensive gay gangster. Nick’s girlfriend has dark hair at one point. His mom visits. 

This is the movie.

Look, not every film needs to be about superheroes or Holocaust survivors or vampire hunters or minorities. I get that. But when you make the whitest movie imaginable with the whitest cast of milennial yuppies you can gather in a selfie, you have made me a very, very angry woman. I haven’t even mentioned the bizarre ending choice to have a character just (SPOILER ALERT, but you really shouldn’t care) drive off a cliff when there were just a dozen or so other ways he could have solved the situation. If that wasn’t enough, Nick is apparently reincarnated as his own baby. The less I think about that plot point the happier I am.

And just in case it hadn't succeeded in wasting my time, The Butterfly Effect 2 then Leprechaun: Origins'd its credit sequence to pad out its 71 minute running time with nearly 15 minutes of repeated imagery from the film. By that point, I realized I would have been far better off just rewatching Leprechaun: Origins. 

High Points
They made a sequel to The Butterfly Effect!

Low Points
It was this movie

Lessons Learned
Don’t drive like an idiot and you won’t have to butterfly effect your life into a boring mess

80 percent of all startups fail in their first two years

80 percent of all startups fail in their first two years

80 percent of all startups fail in their first two years

Did you get that? Because the movie REALLY wants to make sure you did


Some viewers gave The Purge a hard time for providing such a great and innovative concept for a horror movie and filling it with a standard and trite home invasion narrative. I strongly defend that film for starting small, knowing it could further develop and explore its premise in subsequent sequels (and you've seen The Purge: Anarchy, you know that they wasted no time going bigger...and maybe too much so). But f$ck The Butterfly Effect 2. This is a movie that already had the ground work of its somewhat unusual premise set. It could have used that to explore ANYTHING. And it chose to focus on the blandest of bland white guys doing the blandest of bland white guy things. Unless you're REALLY into startup business politics, this is a true waste of 90 minutes. Purge it.