Monday, June 26, 2017

Sliver Me Timbers

Ah, the early '90s, a time when R-rated thrillers were a thing, Billy Baldwin was considered a sexy thing, and Joe Esztrerhaus could make millions of dollars by writing R-rated thrillers that let Billy Baldwin tease the world with showing his thing. 

Quick Plot: Carly Norris is a successful book editor and unhappy divorcee. Things perk up when her application for a fancy modern high rise is accepted. The only catch? She's inheriting the apartment of a late lookalike who was either depressed enough to leap from the 23rd floor or unlucky enough to be murdered there.

The neighbors are an eclectic bunch: a lovably nosy old man quickly befriends Carly before dying alone in his shower. A coke-headed neighbor seems to flirt with the same men Carly fancies until she ends up murdered, possibly by one of them. The suspect list is small: either Jack Thompson (Tom Berenger), an impotent mystery novelist (whose impotence is mentioned about 17 times over the course of 100 minutes) or Zeke (William Baldwin before the goblin transformation), a hot young video game designer who also happens to own the building.

It doesn't take too long for Carly to fall hard for Zeke. Together, they work out, have load acrobatic sex, and disgust fellow diners at fancy restaurants by throwing lingerie back and forth.

They are pretty much as insufferable as they sound, only more boring.

Oh! But he's also a voyeur who has planted hidden cameras inside every apartment in his building.

And yet, he's still...really...boring.

Let's get the first problem out of the way: Billy Baldwin is sort of kind of playing the Sharon Stone Basic Instinct role, only he's no Sharon Stone. More tolerable than Stephen, and yet still a far, far cry from Alec, it's hard to ever feel much of anything for his Zeke. It's not entirely his fault. Director Philip Noyce introduces him as a sort of charming rogue, only to rather quickly turn him into a mildly obsessive creep (though the movie doesn't seem to see that itself) and maybe vicious killer, or maybe not, or maybe ...well, the truth is, by the very end of the movie, I have no idea what I'm supposed to think of him or what he did or didn't do.

Sharon Stone's Carly fares mildly better, but possibly only because if nothing else, her character is best friends with Colleen Camp's gloriously loud-talking Judy (WHY ISN'T THIS MOVIE ABOUT HER?). As I said way back with the slightly less dull Deadly Blessing, the woman has always had star power that any camera adores. She does her best with an absolute nothing of a role, but it's a shame that following Basic Instinct, this was the best she could get. 

Noyce doesn't make an incompetent film, but he sure does make a stupid one. While everything you'll probably read about Sliver will focus on its voyeuristic obsession, the film takes a full ONE HOUR AND TWENTY MINUTES before it becomes any real plot point. Worse, Sliver has no idea how to contextualize it in any way for its characters. Carly is disgusted when she discovers Zeke's habit for all of 60 seconds before she decides it's hot and something SHE'll be obsessed over until it becomes dirty and something she needs to make a grand statement against because huh? 

I won't get into the spoiler territory of the murder mysteries, only one (out of three) of which is officially solved (we're left wondering if one was an accident or murder, providing you remember anything that happens in this movie by the time you get done with it). The film is apparently very messily based on Ira Levin novel, which isn't surprisingly when you see that the screenplay comes from the pen of that sultan of class, Joe Eszterhas. Those looking for Showgirls levels of fun will be sorely disappointed.

Those looking for a heartbeat will be worried.

High Points
The only real saving grace of Sliver is its incredibly time stamped '90sness. Not only do we get the kind of darkly lit, partial-nudity containing sex scenes, but we're also gifted with choker necklaces, Pearl Jam references, and the very simple trick of having a character under 30 be a video game designer. Buy some Zima and have yourself one phat drinking game!

Low Points
Everything else?

Also, screw any movie that wastes the talents of the insanely wonderful Polly Walker, aka the underrated Rome's Atia and pre-Cersei Lannister evil goddess

Lessons Learned
Life is boring if you're not a dirty old man

Everybody has a telescope!

Women are usually not overly impressed when they first discover you've been filming them in the privacy of their apartment

If you don't want people to think that you're a murderer, wear something other than black ski caps when indoors

Oy. If you have a soft spot for sexy '90s thrillers, Sliver has a lot to offer. If you have standards for storytelling, Sliver is probably going to make you want to throw your underwear at the TV (not in a sexy way; more to make some kind of statement against VOYERISM or something). It's available to stream on Amazon Prime, and while I don't necessarily regret watching it (because I do not have standards when it comes to storytelling) I would never tell anyone I actually like to do so. It's stupid. But sometimes, that's okay (but seriously: this is stupid, and this is me speaking before the Jolly Rancher-spiked Zimas). 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Is the Grave About a Size 14?

A great voice can elevate good acting to new tiers of greatness. It can also make it impossible to ever hear an actor speak without being taken back to an iconic role.
Such is often the case for Ted Levine, the man who made generations of plus-sized women avoid helping the needy and forever changed the way we think about lotion (specifically, that it should always go in the basket). 

It's a challenging weight an actor carries, but the good ones manage to overcome it when given enough opportunity.  

Quick Plot: In 1947, a small town's sheriff and deputy toss two bodies into the sea from a precarious hilltop. Afterwards, the deputy, clearly disgusted with the situation, de-badges his superior officer.

Cut to 30 years later, when aforementioned deputy (now played by Buffalo Bill himself in grizzled form, Ted Levine) has long been in charge and now carries the title of Sheriff Waterhouse. One day, his two teenage grandchildren decide to play in that same fated spot. Older Sean leaps into the water, never to bee seen again. The 12-ish Jake (short for Jacqueline and played incredibly well by young Samantha Isler) flees in horror, blaming herself for not making the jump.

Some time passes, but wounds don't really heal. Jake soon learns that maybe, they don't have to, at least if she can trust a trio of mysterious mountain men who perform a magic trick for her and claim to have the ability to bring Sean back from wherever he may be. The only catch? No devil does anything free of charge. Jake must sacrifice her friend Will, who just so happens to be the grandson of a certain familiar former sheriff.

Dig Two Graves goes for an interesting tone, and while it suffers a little from some odd pacing, the overall effect worked for me. It almost falls in that lite "slumber party horror" subgenre that I first thought of with Vincenzo Natali's Haunter. The parallel narratives of the cursed past and soon-to-be-reaping-said-curse future work in a fairly straightforward manner. While the former sheriff's behavior is a tad too hateful villain to fully click, the way it shapes Ted Levine's character works without the writing having to hammer it out.

The heart of Dig Two Graves is Jake's relationship with her grandfather, and it adds a fantastically sympathetic weight to the story. Levine has always been a great villain, but seeing him bond with his grieving granddaughter via hunting excursions and sweet tales of watching his family on film strips before a USO show overseas truly made me forget, at least for 90 minutes, the expression on Buffalo Bill's face when he drops a pile of business cards in front of Clarice Starling. That's not an easy feat.

High Points
I'm always drooling for films to be set in different time periods, and with its late 40s & 70s timeframe, Dig Two Graves does just that with good results. Having Levine's Waterhouse be a World War II veteran allows us some deeper introspection to the character, while keeping the "present" action in the '70s (without, thankfully, trying to hard to BE too '70s) helps to ground the action in a sort of technology-free realm. 

Low Points
While I did enjoy Troy Ruptash's eerily sexy head moonshiner Wyeth, there was something lacking in the overall presentation of the film's more occult leanings that just didn't quite engage me on the same level as Jake's family stuff

Lessons Learned
Carrying a load makes you stronger (and probably a lot more tired)

Quarries are good at keeping secrets (especially when they kill you and have none to tell)

To avoid freaking our your family after accepting a black magic deal, take two minutes and a moist towelette to wipe the glob of blood sticking to your face
Many a viewer--particularly a horror fan with certain expectations--is going to find Dig Two Graves slow and anticlimactic. I, on the other hand, found it engaging and fresh. It's nice to see different tales being told by skilled filmmakers, and while I doubt I'll ever rewatch Dig Two Graves, I'll definitely remember its strengths. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

All Okay Franchises Must Come To An End (until they're rebooted one year later)

Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil series will never go down in history as being the Nightmare On Elm Street of its time, but it would be incredibly wrong to discount some of its achievements. Coming out the same year as 28 Days Later, it took an ambitious step in embracing zombies in an age that hadn't seen an undead hit in over a decade. More importantly, from the very beginning, the movies made an admirable and genuinely successful effort to include not one but always two badass female action heroes. 

Milla Jovovich has such a clear affection for this franchise, and it has shown itself onscreen for six full films. Though the actual products ultimate range in quality and never quite hit the highest tier of horror, that in itself carries them to being something special in their own way. 

Quick Plot: For a series of action horror flicks based on a video game, there's a surprising lack of easy plotting when it comes to most Resident Evil movies. This is perhaps best encompassed by Alice's narrated prologue montage...which takes a full five minutes.

Here's my incredibly concise rundown of what I remember thus far of the first 5 RE films:

Part 1: Alice has amnesia and excellent fashion sense. There's a Cube-like hallway that slices up people, zombies, zombie dogs, hologram British girl, a super angry Michelle Rodriquez, and a Day of the Dead homage at the end.

Part 2, Apocalypse: Everything and everyone is stupid in Raccoon City. No more Cube things, but still zombies, zombie dogs, some sort of zombie giant hybrid monster, and a pimp

Part 3, Extinction: Las Vegas is covered by zombies. Ali Larter helps Alice kill said zombies. I remember nothing else.

Part 4, Something: Wentworth Miller joins the group. I remember nothing.


The only odd thing? It ends, and Part 6 starts, and as far as I can tell, nothing that happened in that one matters.

So here we are, in the swan song of Paul W.S. Anderson's epic (ignoring the fact that a week after I watched this, less than a year after it debuted, it was announced that the series would be rebooted because this is 2017 and we let nothing die). Alice finally has the chance to save the world by releasing an antivirus that would kill all the undead, zombie dogs, zombie pterodactyls, and whatever other CGI creations have been unleashed. 

Alice re-teams with Claire, who now has a new band of feisty (and mostly ill-fated) survivors. Together, they scale through an army of Jorah Mormont clones, zombies, industrial fans, and the return of the Cube-inspired chamber that still makes no sense. 

Look, I'll be honest with you: I am not the person to go to for any kind of sensical recap of what happens in the Resident Evil movies. While I proudly paid to see the first three in the theaters, I've never watched them in full since. I watched parts 4 & 5 (or "the bland Wentworth Miller one" and "the clone one," as I like to call them) off of a recorded SyFy airing while doing other things, like playing Words With Friends or, you know, writing reviews of horror films. I am no expert in Alice's Adventures in Raccoon City. 

That doesn't take too much annoyance out of my sails when Part 6 opens up with no reference to what happened to the few survivors left from The One With the Little Girl From Orphan Who Wasn't the Orphan. Again, I'll fully admit that I might have just missed something, but...did I? Or does Part 6 just start fairly fresh?

I'll put that mild annoyance aside because you know what? The Final Chapter is pretty fun. Unlike most of the other ones, the plot is fairly straightforward with few complications, making it all the more pleasurable to sit back and watch Milla Jovovich wrestle genetically engineered monster thingies. Seriously, if there is one thing Milla Jovovich is good at, it's wrestling genetically engineered monster thingies.

Said monster thingies are never that special (it's been a week since I've watched the movies and I'm having a hard time remembering a thing about any of them) and most of the non-Alice/Claire/Jorah Mormont characters blend into the background so well that I'd believe it if you told me they were also computer generated. But anybody that comes into a Resident Evil movie expecting much more than that hasn't learned a lesson in the last 15 years. 

High Points
It's the high point for all six films, but come on: Resident Evil's commitment to making its female characters heroic and strong warriors is something special

Low Points
That very small part of my brain hung up on things like logic couldn't accept it 15 years ago, and still can't quite let it go: it's a chamber with the ability to laser cut living matter in any configuration, so why, seriously WHY does it not just, you know, LASER CUT IN ONE PASS?

Lessons Learned
Nail guns are cost-effective weapons when fighting zombie hordes

Skyline transportation is not an advisable means of travel in the early stages of a zombie apocalypse

The nice thing about the future is that hands are easily replaceable. The less nice thing is, you know, the zombie apocalypse

As another entry in the Resident Evil series, The Last Chapter is perfectly solid entertainment. As the grand finale of a 15 years-in-the-making 6-film franchise, it's adequate. As a chance to watch Milla Jovovich wear leather and kick ass, it's kind of glorious.  

Monday, June 5, 2017

First Day Is Always the Hardest...Right?

Lately I've been having a little trouble remembering details when it comes to movie recommends. I'm fairly certain SOMEONE I know recommended Last Shift to me, unless that was actually Late Phases or some other movie streaming on Netflix with a two-word title in which the first words started with the letter "L." 

Whoever that was, if you do exist, thanks. 

Quick Plot: Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy)begins her first day as a police officer with an overnight shift at a soon-to-be-closed station. Her mission is simple: stay on the premises until a hazmat crew arrives to remove the various needles, pipes, and other drug paraphernalia sitting in a locked evidence room. As of tomorrow, the police will be relocated to a new facility. In the meantime, all distress calls are being rerouted to another precinct. 

Of course they are.

Before Jessica can taste her first donut, things start getting...weird.

Or maybe just whatever the adjective would be for "horror movie."

There's a silent, bearded homeless man who seems to magically appear at will, only to less magically and far more grossly urinate on the floor. The lights keep going out and worst of all, a phone call keeps coming in from a young woman who claims to be held captive on a ranch. This wouldn't be so bad if, one year earlier, Jessica's veteran cop dad hadn't been involved in breaking up a homicidal Manson-family-esque cult who murdered young women on a nearby farm.

Directed by Most Likely to Die's Anthony DiBlasi, Last Shift isn't a mold breaker in terms of its construction or concept, but you know what? It's pretty darn good. Harkavy is essentially onscreen for the entire runtime, and she makes for a relatable protagonist that's easy to root for. DiBlasi and cowriter Scott Poiley's script wisely doesn't try to do too much, keeping the story tightly centered on Loren as she slowly uncovers (both for herself and the audience) the details surrounding the massacre at the Paymon homestead.

DiBlasi has a lot of sick fun setting up his scares while also keeping the situation grounded enough that it's easy for us to believe the a rookie cop wouldn't run out the doors screaming at the first maybe view of pentagram painted plastic bag wearing ghosts flashing by a darkened cell. While her father's backstory is slowly dished out, it's clear that Jessica cares about being a cop and has plenty of reason to see this night out.

The night does not make it easy.

Last Shift isn't a perfect horror film, but it's scary, interesting, and perhaps most importantly, leaves you wanting more. I could have taken another half hour learning about the Paymon backstory, and I wouldn't be surprised if the screenwriters had another fifty pages of unused material. Even the one-scene presence of a weary hooker with a tell-tale bruise leaves you seeing the world of Last Shift as an unsettled place with open-ended horror from every angle. It's incredibly refreshing in its well-defined nihilism. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to look at some adorably innocent unlikely animal friends for a while. 

High Points
As anyone who knows of my adoration for The Exorcist III is aware, I love a film that puts some care in establishing imagery through its dialog, and Last Shift is especially smart in this respect. The most impactful example for me came during one of Paymon's followers rambled on about the details of her killing, specifically describing what her victim looked like after she beat her teeth into her head with a baseball bat. Sure enough, we later see such a ghostly figure, and our minds easily make the connection. 

Low Points
Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age/state of the country being what it is, but I was really hoping for a different kind of finale

Lessons Learned
Rural-based satanists take excellent care in grooming their eyebrows

Dead people are pretty messy

When in doubt, listen to your mother

Last Shift is streaming on Netflix Instant, and while it isn't necessarily the scariest indie you've ever seen, it's certainly in the upper tier of recent ones. The film is probably best watched in one (fairly brief) sitting to make its jump scares work best. Give it a go.