October 29, 2014

October 28, 2014


Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz. Directed by George Lucas (2002, 142 min).

Who didn’t love Peter Frampton in the 70s?

Well…me, actually. I bought his ridiculously-popular album, Frampton Comes Alive, because everyone else did, back when your level of cool was partially based on the records you owned. I gave it a few spins, and there were some decent songs, but nothing that knocked my socks off. For the most part, Frampton Comes Alive remained in my collection so friends could see it.

Personally speaking, Frampton was nothing special…a decent guitar player (though not as great as Ace Frehley or Jimmy Page), but also a pretty boy whose rock-cred was shot to hell when he started appearing in the pages of Tiger Beat. Like most teen idols who get a lot of mileage from their looks, Frampton’s career flamed-out once new dreamboats like Shaun Cassidy came along. Kinda sad, really, because Frampton himself was initially a fairly respected musician. Just a few years later, he was back to playing small clubs for his remaining fans who still considered Frampton Comes Alive one of the greatest albums of all time.

In ensuing decades, I never gave Frampton a single thought until he recently returned to the national spotlight (sans the flowing locks which once endeared him to Tiger Beat tweens).

But I now have a new-found respect for the man and truly believe he deserves a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Not for his music, but a single act which cemented his status as one of the most awesome human beings currently walking the Earth...

Sir Frampton recently played a show at the Palladium in Carmel, Indiana. Even though the venue had a strict policy about cameras and shooting videos of the show, a couple in the front row didn’t get the message. Apparently, Frampton politely asked the crowd a few times to stop, but these two booger-eaters kept on shooting, oblivious to everything but their own sense of entitlement. Finally, Mr. Frampton, flashing a congenial smile, came to the edge of the stage and asked if he could take a look at what they shot. Excited that a legendary musician was paying attention to them, they handed the phone over. That‘s when Frampton stood up, turned around and, with an arm that would make a San Francisco Giants outfielder proud, flung the phone into the rafters.

I must now humbly drop to my knees and worship at the alter of Saint Peter and his clarion call, which serves as a reminder that the mere possession of a cell phone does not give you the right to be a complete douche. I might even go out and buy all his CDs. I probably wouldn’t actually listen to them, but the man deserves my undying support for having the balls to publicly perform the most awesome fuck-you of all time.

Hell, I might even forgive him for appearing in Sgt. Pepper.

Saint Peter also makes me somewhat regretful that I never finished building the time machine currently gathering dust in my garage, because I’d love nothing more than to travel back to 2002, brimming with new-found inspiration, when my wife and I went to our local theater to catch Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and sat near the biggest moviegoing shitstain we ever encountered before or since.

"Hey, we got R2...how 'bout a holographic sex tape."
The place was packed, of course, mostly with hopeful fans still reeling from the dull debacle of Episode I, but optimistic that Episode II would be better. And in some ways, it was. Episode II moves a lot faster and most of the characters display a bit more humanity then the talking heads in the previous film. However, the plot itself is harder to follow than The Usual Suspects. I’m not sure why George Lucas decided his simple tale of good vs. evil suddenly had to be as complex as a Tom Clancy novel, but more than every other film in the Star Wars saga, you really have to pay attention…

…which was extremely difficult due to the woman seated directly behind us.

You know how Pomeranians, with their bulging, bipolar eyes, give the impression they are the most mindless dog breed on Earth? That’s how I picture every dumbshit who doesn’t give a flying fuck how their egocentrism affects those around them.

Today, of course, we all agree that those who whip out their cell phones during a movie are supreme jackasses. But in 2002, people didn’t always call bullshit on cell-phone abuse because it wasn't as widespread. We simply endured it as an occasional inconvenience.

This woman’s cell phone rang five times during the course of the movie, and she felt compelled answer each time, loudly chattering to whoever was on the other end. I shot her a few angry stares, but her face was that of a bug-eyed Pomeranian. After the third or fourth time, my wife stomped to the lobby to inform management, who didn’t do jack shit other than politely ask her to shut her phone off. Of course, she nodded compliantly, only to answer her phone the next fucking time it rang. The only thing theater employees managed to do was make it obvious my wife was the one who complained. After the film was over and we filed out, this bitch, totally full of her own sense of self-importance, verbally berated my wife with “fuck you!” and “I have to answer my phone!”.

My wife, normally friendly & congenial, shot back with a retort that made me love her even more: “Then don’t go to the movies, shit-for-brains!”

For a few seconds, I feared the two might come to blows (during which time my sympathy might have leaned more toward the phone abuser, because I learned a long time ago not to incur my wife’s wrath). Despite my anger at this ass-stain back in 2002, I personally didn’t do anything about it. My wife’s bold assessment of this women's cranium was probably accurate, but most-likely did no good.

You know those moments when an ignoramus says or does something that totally pisses you off, but way too late do you come up with the perfect retort? That’s how I still feel about this moment. Despite my wife’s expletive-laden rebuttal to this woman’s fuckery, sometimes actions speak louder than words.

But what if, armed with the confidence Saint Peter recently bestowed upon me, I could go back in time? Upon the second or third ring, what if I simply whipped around to face her, grinning like Jack Nicholson in The Shining?  And what if, without a word, I snatched the phone from her hand, never breaking eye-contact as I flung it across the theater?

Do you think she’d argue back?

Personally, I’d like to think my actions would stun her silent and be met with rapturous applause (much like the delegates in Star Wars Episode III when Palpatine declared his empire). More likely, I’d end up being the bad guy, even though my indiscretion was for the ultimate benefit of everyone shelling out good money for a movie ticket.

But you know what? History is rife with great figures who were initially viewed as radicals, only to inspire others decades or centuries later. If Saint Peter, a musician four decades past his prime, can encourage someone like me to finish building my time machine (if only to confront the first cell-phone shitstain who ever pissed me off), maybe there’s hope for humanity yet. Who knows...perhaps my single wordless action would create a ripple effect, ending all cinema cell-phone abuse before it became an epidemic.

One can only dream.

October 27, 2014

Blu-Ray Giveaway: CHILD OF GOD

FREE KITTENS MOVIE GUIDE and WELL GO USA are giving away Blu-Ray copies of James Franco's latest popular independent film, Child of God.

Based on the acclaimed 1973 Cormac McCarthy novel, director James Franco’s CHILD OF GOD takes place in 1960s Tennessee, where Lester Ballard is a dispossessed, violent man – one the narrator describes as “a child of God much like yourself.” Deprived first of his family and then his home, Ballard descends literally and figuratively to the level of a cave dweller, falling deeper into a disturbing life of crime and degradation.

To enter, simply comment on this post along with your email, which will not be used for any other purpose. Contest ends 11/12!

October 26, 2014


By Nathaniel Tolle. (2014, 176 pp).
Schiffer Publishing

Author Nathaniel Tolle had me at Scarecrows, an obscure horror gem most folks have never heard of, and even fewer have seen. That it’s included among the hundreds of entries in Pumpkin Cinema shows the man has done his homework. It’s also indicative of the purpose of this book, which is not to be a definitive guide of the greatest horror films of all time (we have enough of those anyway), but to feature those which make perfect viewing (preferably in a roomful of friends) on the holiest of unholy holidays, Halloween.

Tolle lays out the criteria of what makes a good Halloween movie in the intro. First and foremost, it has to be fun, even if said-film is isn’t exactly a classic. It also has to be fairly fast-moving with a running time under two hours (Tolle makes a few exceptions to the rule with such classics as Dawn of the Dead and The Exorcist, films which don’t feel like they’re that long). The film can’t be mean-spirited or cruel, excluding the entire torture-porn genre (which, in my humble opinion, doesn’t really qualify as true horror anyway). Ultimately, it must feel like a Halloween-type movie and the season in which the holiday falls, even if it isn’t a true horror film (such as Hocus Pocus, Ghostbusters and The Witches).

So while the likes of Rosemary’s Baby, Jaws, Saw, The Descent and The Shining aren’t included, there’s a plethora of great recommendations…good & bad, classic & obscure, family-friendly & put-the-kids-to-bed-early. Sure, it’s all subjective, but Tolle also understands a lot of people read books like this for fun, and his style is wonderfully entertaining, even when I don’t always agree with him. Tolle is also incredibly knowledgeable of his subject. Few writers are able to tell me anything I don’t already know, but I truly had no idea Joe Dante was once the intended director of the much-maligned Halloween III.

Pumpkin Cinema isn’t just about movies, however. Later chapters feature TV shows with Halloween-themed episodes, annual Halloween specials like It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and anthology series like Night Gallery (which never directly included Halloween as a theme, but featured stories perfect for viewing on this night).

Among the plethora of horror-related cinema books, Pumpkin Cinema is somewhat unique, serving as both a guide to Halloween fun and an informative volume which will please even die-hard fans of the genre (who probably don't need yet-another chapter over-praising The Shining). What I really appreciate is the author doesn’t come across as pompous or overly analytical, just an entertaining writer who truly knows his stuff. That alone makes this book worth owning.

(OUT OF 5)

October 24, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: FREE FALL

Starring D.B. Sweeney, Sarah Butler, Malcolm McDowell, Ian Gomez, Adam Tomei. Directed by Malek Akkad. (2014, 90 min).
Anchor Bay

One only needs to look at the cast of this low-wattage suspense flick to know where it’s coming from. D.B. Sweeney was once one of those ‘next big things,’ whose career panned out to consist of recurring characters on TV shows and direct-to-video potboilers. Malcolm McDowell apparently accepts any role he’s offered, so long as they only take a few days to shoot. As for Sarah Butler, the actual star of Free Fall…well, she’s got great legs.

Butler plays Jane, an ambitious rising executive with the Gault Corporation (whose business is never made quite clear). After the alleged suicide of a co-worker, she discovers Gault himself (McDowell) has been embezzling money from his own company. While she’s working yet-another late night in the L.A. skyscraper that’s the company’s headquarters, Gault sends corporate assassin Frank (Sweeney) to silence her…permanently. Jane manages to escape (for a professional assassin, Frank’s a lousy shot), running into an elevator. While she’s descending, Frank cuts the power, trapping her mid-floor. The quandary is, while Jane may not be able to get away, Frank can’t get to her either.

Most of the film has Jane stuck in the elevator while Frank tries to find a way in. There’s relatively little actual onscreen action, and aside from a few secondary peripheral characters who really serve no narrative purpose, it’s essentially the Jane and Frank show.

Behind the scenes at Nordstrom.
Butler shows some spark and athleticism as Jane (especially during an introductory kickboxing scene, obvious foreshadowing for when she’s eventually forced to kick some ass). As for Frank…he has to be the dumbest individual ever hired by a sinister corporation to clean up their problems. Sweeney does what he can with the role, indulging in a bit of scenery-chewing with some cool arrogance, but his character’s boneheaded buffoonery leaves us thinking we could have taken care of Jane more effectively.

For a low budget film, Free Fall is technically competent, even managing to generate a fair bit of suspense at times. But the story is unnecessarily padded-out with plot holes, pointless secondary characters and a prolonged coda which seemingly exists to display Butler’s bikini-clad assets, long after everything has been resolved and the primary villain dispatched.

Ultimately, Free Fall might have been better off as a short subject, eschewing the peripheries to focus on the potentially awesome cat-and-mouse game this film’s premise doesn’t provide.

Featurette: Free Fall: Behind the Scenes

(OUT OF 5)

Film Review: 23 BLAST

Starring Mark Hapka, Bram Hoover, Stephen Lang, Max Adler, Alexa PenaVega, Dylan Baker, Kim Zimmer, Becky Ann Baker, Timothy Busfield. Directed by Dylan Baker. (2014, 98 min).
Touchdown Productions

My dad would rather swallow glass than eat an onion. Whenever Mom cooks her famous chili (which Dad loves), onions are essential to the recipe, but she always keeps that bit of info to herself, and he never notices. But you can bet he’d sense something wrong with her latest batch if she suddenly left them out.

I love sports movies, even those centered around a game I don’t actually care for (like baseball). I’m also a sucker for those based on true events. Sure, liberties are often taken with the actual story for the sake of good drama, but I can live with that. Even true stories aren’t supposed to be documentaries.

However, I generally can't stand religious or faith-based movies. Not that I’m an atheist or anything, but the few I’ve endured have mostly been preachy, agenda-driven and heavy-handed. So it makes me wonder if someone like my mom had a hand in making 23 Blast.

This is yet-another true story, this time about Travis Freeman (Mark Hapka), a superstar on his high school football team who’s suddenly rendered permanently blind from an infectious disease. He initially gives up on everything, but with the encouragement of friends, family, his coach and a good bit of spirituality, Travis manages to get back on the playing field.

"Feel that burning, boy? I sprayed Nair
in your jockstrap."
Despite the fact the movie is as predictable as the tide, milking every triumph-of-the-underdog trope under the sun, 23 Blast still manages to be pretty engaging. This is mostly due to congenial performances from of a cast of familiar character actors whose names always slip your mind (one of them, Dylan Baker, also directed the film). Other than Timothy Busfield, who tackles his role of a closed-minded sport-coordinator like he’s channeling the ghost of Boss Hogg, these characters are well-rounded and complex. Especially good are Stephen Lang as Coach Farris and Kim Zimmer as Travis’ somewhat overprotective mother. And for a relatively 'wholesome’ film, the teen characters are still realistic and believable.

Of course, faith is still the ultimate message, and we get a dose of it here. But those scenes are creatively interjected with enough subtlety that, if you weren’t actually looking for it, you may not even notice (yet this would be a lesser film without those revelatory moments).

The story itself consists of one sports cliché after another, but 23 Blast is far from the first film guilty of such a crime. As far as its message of faith goes, I didn’t mind the onions in the chili this time, because they blended well with other ingredients I never grow tired of. And God help me, 23 Blast would have been less tasty without them.

(OUT OF 5)

October 22, 2014

October 21, 2014


Starring Gabriel Iglesias. Directed by Manny Rodriguez. (2014, 101 min/114 min).

The telling moment in this film is the prologue, which features an actor playing a young Gabriel Iglesias, sneaking a copy of Eddie Murphy’s concert film, Raw, into the house, which supposedly inspires him to become a stand-up comic himself.

But if you’ve actually seen Raw, you might remember that it featured Murphy in true superstar mode, simply content to be Eddie Murphy, not the young comedian who once made us laugh our asses off when he was still working the comedy clubs. By this time, Murphy was more of a movie star than comedian. The concert-sized crowd appeared more enraptured by the his mere presence than any new or original stand-up material, and Murphy knew it, resulting in an act which garnered more cheers from the audience than actual laughs. While he was still sometimes amusing, it was obvious the connection between performer and audience was largely gone.

I suppose that’s to be expected with any comedian who achieves a massive level of popularity. Just ask Steve Martin, Dane Cook or Andrew ’Dice’ Clay, all of whom took their act from small clubs to 10,000 seat arenas and immediately ceased being funny, mainly because it’s a lot easier to simplify your schtick to a few trademark gimmicks, garnering more roars of approval than actual laughs.

Gabriel Iglesias is arguably the latest stand-up comic whose ascension to the big time has had a negative impact on how funny he is. In his first comedy concert film, he’s friendly, congenial and full of the various voices, goofy human sound effects and facial expressions his fans have grown to love. However, his act seems geared more toward garnering audience approval than eliciting genuine laughs. Simply put, the fire which first-made Iglesias funny is largely absent. For example, the first thirty minutes of the film is dedicated to stories of his personal weight loss struggles. For the uninitiated, it's like we walked in during the middle of the story.

The best comedians (no matter how big) never had to remind us of their celebrity status. Their stories could be appreciated by any audience, regardless of their background. Iglesias was once one of those comedians, but those days are gone. The Fluffy Movie presents Gabriel Iglesias in a concert film which confirms his superstar status, but like Eddie Murphy’s Raw, he has obviously lost touch with what made him so genuinely funny to begin with


  • Theatrical and extended versions
  • DVD and digital copies

(OUT OF 5)

Blu-Ray Review: CHILD OF GOD

Starring Scott Haze, Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Jim Parrack. Directed by James Franco. (2013, 105 min).
Well Go USA

I bitterly remember being forced to endure a college literature class dedicated exclusively to the writings of William Faulkner. To say his style is an acquired taste would be an understatement. Sure, he’s considered by folks much smarter than me to be one of the great writers of the 20th Century, but after nine weeks of pseudo-intellectual prose praised by my pompous professor, the only thing I came away with was Faulkner was a raging alcoholic who felt the accepted conventions of written English were beneath him (or maybe every punctuation key on his typewriter was broken).

If anyone could be considered a modern-day Faulkner, it’s Cormac McCarthy, who’s often equally guilty of the same mechanical malpractice. Hey, I’m all for thinking outside the box when it comes to delivering an idea in a unique way (after all, that’s what poetry is for), but McCarthy apparently thinks his genius gives him carte-blanche to vomit on paper and make the rest of us suck on it.

And to one-up Faulkner, all his shit is depressing as hell.

Needless to say, his style is a taste I’ve not yet acquired either. The same could be said for some of the films based on his novels. Sure, No Country for Old Men was great, but that was due more to the Coen Brothers than McCarthy. As a director, James Franco is no Coen brother. He seems hell-bent on reliving his college-lit days, though, warming up by adapting a few Faulkner novels himself before tackling McCarthy’s Child of God.

Scott Haze is Lester Ballard, a psychotic local who’s evicted from his home with nothing but his rifle, becoming backwoods cave-dweller. Unburdened by societal norms, he also turns out to be a semi-feral serial murderer with a penchant for necrophilia. Pretty soon, a posse of-sorts is formed by local law enforcement to track Lester down.

Lester Ballard, as seen on Match.com.
Bring on the ladies!
Despite the subject matter, little of this is as lurid as it sounds. It’s obvious Franco (who also co-adapted the screenplay) has loftier ambitions, which is fine enough. But unlike other adaptations of McCarthy’s work (which also includes the devastating post-apocalyptic The Road), there’s nothing particularly artistic about Child of God. It’s competently made and features good performances (especially Hayes, who’s amazingly uninhibited), but there’s no real style and the secondary characters are essentially superfluous… almost like Franco used Cliff’s Notes of the original novel to put this together, rather than delve too deeply into its themes and what makes these people tick.

However, one thing Franco does successfully is create a film as oppressively dreary and depressing as the novel it’s based on. If that was his goal, mission accomplished. But Coen Brothers were able to adapt No Country for Old Men, an equally-bleak story, into a film which manages to be artful, funny and entertaining in spite of itself. Franco is a competent director, but if he’s going to continue to tackle projects which don’t inherently lend themselves to adaptation, he needs to be a lot more creative.


(OUT OF 5)


Join a monster of a party with the Disney Movies Anywhere premiere of PARTY CENTRAL.  

The Disney•Pixar short is now available to view for free for the first time, and reunites everyone’s favorite monsters, Mike and Sulley, for another hilarious adventure.  Download the Disney Movies Anywhere app for iPhone or iPad to watch Party Central now, for a limited time!

Featuring Billy Crystal as Mike, John Goodman as Sulley and directed by Pixar's Kelsey Mann, Party Central features Mike and Sulley's return to Monsters University for a fun-filled weekend with their Oozma Kappa fraternity brothers. The gang is throwing their first party, but no one’s showing up. Luckily for them, Mike and Sulley have come with a plan to make sure “Party Central” is the most epic party the school has ever seen.

Go to Disney Movies Anywhere to find out more about collecting, watching, and taking your favorite Disney, Pixar and Marvel movies anywhere you go! Visit www.disneymoviesanywhere.com or download the app at http://di.sn/hvV 

Check out a clip from PARTY CENTRAL here!

October 19, 2014


Starring Alexia Fast, Lin Shaye, Joel David Moore, Alan Dale, Brett Dier, Clarke Peters. Directed by Jeff Chan. (2014, 88 min).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The problem with the demonic-possession subgenre is its built-in limitations. There’s only so much you can do with the concept, and The Exorcist did it perfectly over 40 years ago. Every film since, no matter how well-made, has simply rearranged, reimagined or regurgitated the same tropes over and over again. Sure, some enterprising filmmakers have attempted different spins on the material, such as spoofs, found-footage or those supposedly ‘based on a true story.’ But in the end, they’re just gimmicks used to tell the same old story…some poor rube becomes possessed, ominous warnings are either heeded or ignored, then the clergy arrive to mop things up.

Writer/director Jeff Chan tries a different gimmick as well. For his feature-length debut, he shoots Grace: The Possession almost exclusively from the point-of-view of the possessed. In this case, it’s Grace (Alexia Fast), a naïve teen who’s been raised by her zealously religious grandmother, Helen (Lin Shaye, deliciously hateful here). Grace tries to fit-in during her freshman year at college, which becomes increasingly difficult once a demon enters her body (and you thought sharing space with a roommate was tough).

As things go from bad to worse, Grace reluctantly ends up back home, subjected to grandma’s abuse and the stern condemnation of a perpetually stone-faced local priest (Alan Dale). Meanwhile, the demon within soon takes complete control of her (mostly depicted through scenes where Grace views herself in mirrors). It isn’t long before folks start dying and the inevitable exorcism takes place.

Chan at-least deserves some kudos for trying to put a unique spin on a well-worm formula, and there are moments when the film’s unique point-of-view actually works to build a bit of dread. But ultimately, it’s still a just gimmick which eventually negates the overall effectiveness of the film as a horror story. As an audience, we’re supposed to be Grace, but since the concept of possession is an internal battle, this is ultimately just fancy camerawork. Impressive, to be sure, but nothing which renders the story any more compelling than the hundreds of possession films which preceded it.

This may or may not be another strike against the movie, but some secondary characters are such awful people that I found myself rooting for this demon to kill them as violently and painfully as possible. In fact, Grace herself is pretty dull until these (unintentionally?) rousing moments. I identified with her more when she was possessed than the insecure waif depicted at the beginning. Does this make me a bad guy?

Grace: The Possession is far from the worst movie in this subgenre, but despite the conceit of its gimmick (one step removed from found footage), it offers nothing new. You’ve seen this movie before, many times. More than likely, it’ll mostly remind you of how groundbreaking The Exorcist really was.

(OUT OF 5)

October 18, 2014

Film Review: WOLVES

Starring Lucas Till, Jason Momoa, Merritt Patterson, Stephen McHattie, John Pyper-Ferguson. Directed by David Hayter. (2014, 90 min).

Let’s face it…onscreen werewolves haven’t been scary since…well, ever. Even the best modern films (The Howling & An American Werewolf in London) favored laughs over chills, and the most famous werewolf of the 21st Century is more renowned for his pecs & abs than his ferocity.

So it’s to writer/director David Hayter’s credit that he doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel with Wolves, a modest-but-entertaining film which will likely appeal more to older teens than longtime horror buffs…lots of hot guys, hot girls, a bit of sex and just enough bloody mayhem to distinguish it from the young-adult thrillers which typically pop up on the CW network.

Lucas Till is Cayden, star quarterback for his high school football team. He’s got a perfect life - nice home, loving family, smoking-hot girlfriend - until he discovers he’s also a werewolf after waking from a blackout to find his parents dead and mutilated. After going on the run, he meets Wild Joe, a fellow werewolf who directs him to Lupine Ridge, a small town where his kind have been living for centuries. He’s initially not welcome by the locals, especially Connor (Jason Mamoa), the leader of a pack of lycans who embrace their hunter-killer instincts.

Cayden befriends John (Stephen McHattie), an old man who gives him a job on his farm and provides most of the exposition needed to advance the story. It turns out Connor wants a child and has picked local bar owner Angelina (Merritt Patterson, who doesn‘t even look old enough to drink, let alone tend-bar) to give him one. Cayden doesn’t like this, partially because he’s smitten with Angelina, but also because Connor seems to take great pleasure in killing and eating his own kind (it's also revealed that Cayden & Connor have a much greater connection than simply being fellow wolves).

President of the Lynyrd Skynyrd fan club.
Wolves isn’t the least bit scary, nor does it really try to be. The story falls more into the realm of modern fantasy than true horror. The performances are adequate, each actor rendering their characters suitably likable or despicable. I suspect Momoa (he of Game of Thrones and soon-to-be-Aquaman fame) is a major drawing card, and since he has a lot of screen time, his fans won’t be let down.

The make-up effects are fairly impressive, though nothing truly horrific. Unlike the groundbreaking (and still hideous) transformation scenes in An American Werewolf in London, these wolves are elaborately detailed, but their overall fuzziness renders most of them more endearing than terrifying.

Still, despite its lack of scares and originality, Wolves is undemanding fun and moves at a brisk pace, only occasionally threatening to venture into Twilight/Teen Wolf territory before diving back into the bloody monster mayhem we actually paid to see. There’s nothing here that’ll knock your socks off, but it’s an entertaining enough film to warrant an hour-an-a-half of your attention.

(OUT OF 5)

October 17, 2014


Starring Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, Molly Shannon, John C. Reilly, Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines, Matthew Gray Gubler. Directed by Jeff Baena. (2014, 89 min).

Zom-Coms are a dime-a-dozen these days, but I kinda had my hopes up for this one because of the cast, Dane DeHaan in particular. In the few films I’ve seen him in, he always looks like he’s been awake for days, desperately trying to figure out what’s gone wrong in his life while clinging to his sanity. I find that interesting, making DeHaan the perfect choice for the role of a grieving kid whose girlfriend dies, only to return as a zombie.

Unfortunately, Life After Beth sort-of wastes its impressive cast (including John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon & Aubrey Plaza), saddling them with a story wildly inconsistent in tone, which ultimately might have been better off as a short subject.

DeHaan is Zach, grieving over the recent death of his girlfriend, Beth (Plaza). Zach is closer to the Slocums (Beth’s parents, Maury & Geenie, played by Reilly and Shannon) than his own family, who seem comically indifferent to what he’s going through.

Then Beth returns home as though nothing has happened, with no memory of dying or rising from the dead. Zach wants to tell her the truth so they can move forward in their relationship, but the Slocums are adamantly against it, and try to keep Beth from going outside where she might be seen.

"Really? You know Lars Ulrich?"
Even though she’s back, Beth isn’t quite her old self. She’s a zombie, of course, prone to fits of violent rage and, eventually, insatiable hunger. Others soon return from the dead as well, and there’s eventually a half-hearted attempt to depict a zombie epidemic. For the most part though, the focus is on Zach coming to the realization that the Beth he knew and loved is gone.

Despite solid performances, Life After Beth only works in fits and starts. There are some great moments of black comedy, such as Geenie’s decision to sate Beth’s hunger by cutting off her own fingers and feeding them to her. Matthew Gray Gubler is also funny as Kyle, Zach’s gun-toting, gung-ho brother. But much of the humor falls rather flat, with way too many scenes where characters resort to screaming at each other in panic as chaos ensures.

Other times, the film tries to be a tragic love story. Zach is vulnerable and charming, but we’re given absolutely no reason why he should care so much about Beth in the first place, since she’s pretty bitchy from the get-go. If she had at-least been likeable at the beginning, her eventual fits of inexplicable rage would have little more emotional impact.

Speaking of which, writer/director Jeff Baena doesn’t really adhere to a specific set of zombie rules. I have no problem with anyone thinking outside the box when depicting the undead, so long as they remain consistent. But here, only Beth is aggressive, destructive and fast on her feet. Although they can speak, the rest are passive and somewhat feeble-minded, shuffling along like the Romero zombies of old.

Life After Beth isn’t a terrible movie, but even running a scant 89 minutes, it often feels padded out. If Baena would have chosen one mood and stuck with it (comedy, tragedy, indie film or straight zombie flick), this would have been a terrific short film.

Featurette: Life After Beth: The Postmortem
Audio Commentary with writer/director Jeff Baena, Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza & Matthew Gray Gubler
Deleted scenes
Digital copy
(OUT OF 5)

October 15, 2014


Starring Ha Jung-woo, Kang Dong-won, Lee Geung-young, Lee Sung-min, Jo Jin-woong. Directed by Yoon Jong-bin. (2014, 138 min).
Well Go USA

This South Korean variation of the Robin Hood legend is a tongue-in-cheek hodge-podge of martial arts action, sword play and Sergio Leone westerns. While not quite as awesome as such a mash-up implies, Kundo is pretty entertaining.

It’s 1859, and the Joseon Dynasty has oppressively ruled the region for decades. Keeping the corrupt government paid-off, they ruthlessly steal land and rice from local peasants. Jo Yoon (Kang Dong-won) is the sole heir to the dynasty (though an illegitimate son) now that his brother is dead. He rules with an iron fist while impatiently waiting for his father to die. When Jo Yoon discovers his brother’s widow is pregnant, he fears the child might be a boy and the rightful heir, so he hires lowly village butcher, Dolmuchi (Ha Jung-woo) to track her down and kill them both. But Dolmuchi is unable to go through with it, so Jo Yoon kills his mother and sister and leaves him for dead.

"Albuquerque is that way, Bugs."
Dolumchi is eventually rescued by a clan of legendary bandits (the Kundo) who make a living stealing from the wealthy who abuse their power and giving the spoils to the poor. Within a few years, he becomes their most fearsome and notorious outlaw. Meanwhile, Jo Yoon’s tyranny is nearly out-of-control, and when word of this gets back to the Kundo, they decide to try and take back what he’s stripped from the locals punish all the crooked aristocrats involved. Dolmuchi sees this as his chance to avenge the slaughter of his family.

There are few interesting twists along the way; it turns out the widow had-since joined the Kundo and indeed gave birth to a son. Later, in a surprising - though ultimately unnecessary - revelation, Jo Yoon isn’t quite the man he seems.

"No, you can't play with it!"
Kundo features some impressive action, good performances (especially Dong-won, who looks like a live action anime drawing) and welcome doses of oddball humor. It’s visually impressive and the music score (obviously inspired by Ennio Morricone) is outstanding, which goes a long way in reminding us this isn’t really a period piece, but an homage. The same can be said about the dialogue, which is loaded with expletives and often laugh-out-loud funny, simply because we’re certain some of these terms weren’t part of 19th Century Korean vocabulary. One might even assume the director drew a bit of inspiration from Django Unchained.

However, the film is much longer than it needs to be, and sometimes takes dark turns which tend to undermine tongue-in-cheek tone established in other scenes. In addition, although Jung-woo is good in the lead, his character is supposed to be a late teen/young adult, yet he’s obviously twice that age. A small quip, to be sure, but noticeable nonetheless.

Still, Kundo is an entertaining enough way to kill a few hours, with enough sword & fist action to sate genre fans, and enough references to movies-past to please those who enjoy a well-directed homage. You won’t likely give the movie much thought afterwards, but it’s good while it lasts.

EXTRAS: Trailer

(OUT OF 5)

October 14, 2014

October 13, 2014


Starring Kevin Bacon, Shawn Ashmore, James Purefoy, Valorie Curry, Jessica Stroup, Sam Underwood, Connie Nielsen, Tiffany Boone, Natalie Zea. Various directors. (2014, 649 min).
Warner Bros.

One great thing The Following did at the end of Season One was wrap things up nice and tidy. It still ended with a cliffhanger, but came to a satisfying enough conclusion that, if they never made another episode, you felt you watched a complete story. It’s part of what made 24 so great during its heyday. While The Following is not quite in the same league, the show follows a similar formula. It tells a compelling season-long story, isn’t afraid to kill-off major characters and doesn’t assume the entire world has been keeping up with the show.

And indeed, Season Two does a terrific job bringing everyone up-to-speed before charging ahead.

It’s a year later, and serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) is presumed dead. Most of his followers are either dead or in custody. Former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), now sober and working as a teacher, has tried to put his past behind him. However, he’s still haunted by the death of Claire (Carroll’s ex-wife whom Hardy had a relationship with).

"So then the doc says, 'If this is my thermometer,
where the hell is my pen?'"
Then a wave of seemingly random killings occurs, and fingers point to Carroll cultists who are still at large. Carroll’s second in-charge, Emma (Valorie Curry) has been laying low and is pretty certain these killings weren’t committed by anyone she knows. It turns out she’s right, when she meets Luke and Mark, twin disturbingly psychotic teenagers who are doing this at the behest of their mother (a plot turn I won’t give away here).

In a rather far-fetched turn of events, it turns out Carroll isn’t dead after all, which Hardy has suspected for some time, even though the FBI is skeptical, including agent Weston (Shawn Ashmore) and Ryan’s niece, Max (an NYPD cop played by Jessica Stoup). I say far-fetched because a sizable suspension of disbelief is required to truly enjoy this season, even more-so than last year. There are times it seems like Carroll cultists are everywhere, often introduced just to keep the plot twists coming, as exemplified when Carroll insinuates himself upon a religious cult and turns members against each other until he becomes their leader. This group was already a few cans short of a six pack; with Carroll in charge, they’re suddenly bloodthirsty killers.

Kevin Bacon finally sees the remake of Footloose.
Season Two makes up for its lapses in logic and convenient plot twists through sheer audacity, amping up the violence, crazy characters and disturbing scenes. By season’s end, The Following must surely hold the record for the highest onscreen body count of any TV show ever made. We see more vicious, brutal stabbings than the entire Friday the 13th franchise combined. Despite a lull in viewer interest during some meandering mid-season episodes, if it's blood is you want, this season delivers.

Bacon (always an underrated actor) is great in the lead role. We feel his desperation the entire time, especially when his character is continually getting shot, stabbed and beaten, yet still remains obsessively focused. Purefoy is also suitably amusing as Carroll (becoming even more like a pseudo-intellectual Hannibal Lector), but he’s totally out-crazied by Sam Underwood, who plays twins Mark and Luke.

Season Two ends on a satisfying note, once again telling a complete story, yet with a coda keeping things wide open for Season Three (coming in January). We’ve seen a ton of twists, a lot of people die and a few characters whose ultimate fates are not-yet clear. All-in-all, not bad for a show with a concept that didn’t initially lend itself to multiple seasons.


  • Inside The Following: 14 making-of featurettes
  • Featurettes: Following Marcos Siega; The Religion of Joe Carroll; Bound by a Common Foe; The Joe Mask
  • 2013 Comic-Con panel
  • Alternate ending
  • Deleted scenes
  • Gag reel
  • DVD and digital copies

(OUT OF 5)