Friday, 13 October 2017

Fear and Film: A Horror Retrospective- 1900’s

And we’re back! Sorry for the delay, but now we’re back to talk horror again! Today we are jumping to 1909 and looking at D.W Griffith’s The Sealed Room in our second installment of Fear and Film.

In watching The Sealed Room, you immediately find a number of differences from our earlier entry, The Haunted Castle. The first is that there is a much larger cast in this film, with a number of background people that, while not necessarily impacting the story, give the illusion of there being many inhabitants in the castle and serving as the retinue for the king and as maids for his consort. We have also upped our runtime from three to just over eleven minutes, allowing us time for a more in-depth story. It also delivers the horror aspect of the story in a different way from The Haunted Castle, but in a way that is similar even to us today. So let’s have a look.

The first thing I noticed when trying to decide which movie to choose from this decade was that descriptions for The Sealed Room compared it to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado. As someone who has been known to enjoy the works of Poe, I was intrigued, which led me to watch it. As I said above, the horror is done in a different, more realistic way than in The Haunted Castle, which relied on its special effects to bring you supernatural creatures that provide the fright. Here, the horror comes from much more mundane, human actions and doesn’t really come into play until the end. I thought this was a really interesting change between the two, and since I want to highlight different kinds of films within the genre, it seemed perfect.

The film depicts a king who has ordered constructed a special room for his consort that has only one door and no windows. When the king and his retinue leave, she and the court’s minstrel make themselves comfortable in the room. The king finds this out and, in a fit of anger, (spoilers, I guess?) has masons wall up the only door and mocks the two as they suffocate on the other side of the wall. So the Amontillado comparisons are certainly apt ones. As I said above, I like that this film has human nature as the cause of the horror element. It makes for a bit of a slower buildup to that element, but it’s more of a sinister and horrifying payoff knowing that it wasn’t anything otherworldly, but something very familiar that brought this end to these two. And it’s something that we as modern movie goers can relate to and appreciate even today, as those human actions are no different now than they were then.

As with The Haunted Castle, this film is silent. You could see that the actors were speaking as they were acting, but unless you’re a good lip-reader, the words will be lost on you. You don’t really need them, though, as the actions tell the story well enough. The version I watched did have musical accompaniment, which was nice. It was fairly upbeat, classical music, not turning dark until the end. That really helped with the feel of the movie, and the buildup I talked about earlier. The acting is again somewhat exaggerated to make up for the lack of sound, although not to such a degree that it is goofy. The set is actually based in two rooms instead of one; the aforementioned one-entrance room and a larger one outside it. The costumes are quite elaborate and invoking a more historical time period, even for the 1900’s.

In conclusion, The Sealed Room is a very interesting film. I love the timelessness of the themes and how they still resonate even more than a hundred years later. It is a slower burn in the horror aspect, but overall still conveys the genre well. I mean it must, we’re still making films in this vein even now, looking at themes of jealousy and revenge. I would highly recommend The Sealed Room, it’s well worth a watch, even just to see the advancement of filmmaking from our first entry.

Watch The Sealed Room HERE  

Monday, 2 October 2017

Fear and Film: A Horror Retrospective- 1890's

Hey, everybody! Happy October! Since its Halloween month I wanted to do something special. And so I’d like to introduce: Fear and Film, where we look at one horror movie per decade from the past one hundred and twenty or so years until now. I’m really excited to go on this trip through time and look at these films and how they change and evolve as we progress. So let’s start back at the beginning by looking at Georges MélièsLe Manoir du Diable (The Haunted Castle), released in 1896. 

I was thinking about looking at multiple films from this decade simply given the fact that films at this time are very short. To put it in perspective, The Haunted Castle has an ‘ambitious’ runtime of three minutes, 18 seconds. But it feels like a disservice to these films to do shorter reviews of multiple entries, so we will just be talking about The Haunted Castle, considered by some film historians to be the very first horror movie.

To start things off, what I found most fascinating about watching this film was the special effects. This film is 121 years old, what we’re seeing is special effects like the stop trick (or substitution splice) at the time of discovery. And these effects aren’t used sparingly, either. Méliès starts the story off with one, as a bat transforms into Mephistopheles and ramps it up in the ensuing chaos. Even though Mephistopheles is a demon, the bat transformation and other imagery such as the specters/brides have led some to call this a vampire (or perhaps proto-vampire?) movie. If that were the case it would also be the first of that genre. As to the effects themselves, they are really well done. Méliès wasted no time in making the most of this technique with awesome results as things appear and disappear throughout the runtime, from single items or creatures to entire groups of specters. Even jaded, cynical, modern me watched it bright-eyed, exclaiming ‘this is so cool!’ to myself. 

The story of the film is pretty simple: Mephistopheles appears and he and his minion make a woman in a magic cauldron. Two ‘cavaliers’ show up and he proceeds to mess with them as much as possible until he is finally scared off by a large crucifix. The acting is very pantomime, which makes sense for the time, Méliès’ theatre and magic background, and the fact they are conveying the story without the assistance of sound. There is one actually quite funny part near the end when one of the cavaliers decides he wants no further part of this and takes his leave rather… abruptly. There’s another part that I didn’t notice until my third or fourth watch where they actually jog the set and the whole thing moves. It doesn’t distract from the whole experience, though, and kind of adds to it. I looked to see if there was a (hand) colorized version to watch, but if any were made they do not appear to have survived the passage of time. Although to be honest, I don’t think that would affect my level of enjoyment one way or the other, but it would have been neat to see.  It's not scary in any way to a modern eye, but to audiences of the 1890's? Might have been a different story.

In conclusion, this was a fantastic way to start off a retrospective on horror movies. I had so much fun watching Le Manoir du Diable/The Haunted Castle, and I would one hundred percent recommend people check it out. This is the first time I’d ever watched a movie of this kind of age, and it was a wonderful start to exploring movies at their very beginning. I hope you all enjoyed this and come back next time when we are going to look at the film from the turn of the 20th century!

Watch The Haunted Castle HERE             

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Marvel's The Punisher Trailer Reaction

The Mummy Spoiler Free Review

Well, we’re back again with another movie review. Today we’re going to look at an interesting one: the first (second? third?) revival of the Universal Monsters and the beginning of their own, new cinematic universe. I’m talking of course about, The Mummy. Now there’s been a lot of really bad buzz about this one, so we decided to see what all the fuss was about. As usual, no spoilers ahead.

I’ll be totally honest, I kind of expected this to be a hate-watch. In fact, we came prepared, just in case. I even tried something new for the occasion.

Not bad, but really sweet. Also, why do I always get pink wine for these kind of movies?

I was willing to give this movie the shot, the benefit of the doubt, even. That is despite how dumb the trailers looked. Because trailers can be deceiving. It was kind of a ‘hope for the best but prepare for the worst’ kind of scenario. And well, I’m kind of glad I did. I’m going to come right out and say it: this movie is dumb. Not the dumb fun way that I actually tend to really enjoy, but the flopping over like a disgruntled teenager while whining ‘this is duuuuumb’ kind of way.


Let’s examine this further by breaking down the exact issues with this movie. 

-Tom Cruise is horribly miscast and phoning it in. Watching this movie, you can tell that this role was written for a younger actor (Russell Crowe even says ‘you are a younger man’. Cruise is 2 years older than Crowe). So much of it just doesn’t add up with Cruise as the lead. That’s not the only reason he’s miscast, though. His character is clearly supposed to be a ‘dashing rogue’, Han Solo-ish type and Tom Cruise cannot sell that, nor can he deliver a one-liner or quip that lands. He’s an annoying asshole with none of the charm this character needs, especially with his buddy Vale, played by a grating Jake Johnson who’s worse than he was in Jurassic World. They obviously cast Cruise for the star power, but he is completely wrong for this role. 

-Annabelle Wallis’ character, Jenny. First off, her and Tom Cruise have exactly zero chemistry on screen. Their ‘romance’ arc is totally forced, unearned, and basically out of nowhere. She’s also the worst character, and that isn’t the fault of the actress. She has nothing to do but spout exposition, be a damsel in distress, and have cringe-worthy conversations about how she thinks Cruise’s character ‘is a good man’. I don’t know who she’s trying to convince more, her or us. It was a conversation that was so trite, forced, and cheesy that I rolled my eyes so hard I’m pretty sure I saw my own brain. If I wanted to watch a movie about lost ancient treasures with a loveable rogue and a useless blonde, I’ll go watch Temple of Doom, because that one’s actually enjoyable. 

damn rights

-Ahmanet’s timeline. This one really gets under my skin, and that’s putting it mildly. We have three different dates for Ahmanet, each corresponding to very different periods in history. In trailer 2, Jenny says that the tomb has been buried for 2,000 years. That would put Ahmanet in the Roman period and long after the end of the native Egyptian pharaohs. Okay, so maybe that was a flub on the trailers’ part, right? Both the UniversalMonsters Wiki and Wikipedia itself say that Ahmanet is from the New Kingdom era, or around 3,000 years ago. That date actually makes sense given what we see of her in the flashbacks. This would have been peak Pharaonic Egypt and that would have worked great. In the movie itself, Jenny says twice that Ahmanet (and her sarcophagus) are 5,000 years old. That would put her way back in the First Dynasty (New Kingdom was 18-20th Dynasties), not long after the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. That would also mean that those lovely, recognizable pyramids in the background of the flashbacks wouldn’t be there, as they wouldn’t be built until the Fourth Dynasty. So… get your dates right, guys. Seriously.

-Stupid archaeology. This kind of goes along with my last point about the timeline, but as someone trained in the field, I can’t let this go. Jenny is a terrible archaeologist. They pull out the sarcophagus, seemingly taking nary a provenance, or you know, contacting the government of the country they’re in before they just haul it away. And what about all the rest of the stuff down there? Are they just going to leave it there? They pull up the sarcophagus with two little straps tied around it and then the helicopter flies away, swinging it through the air like it’s a carnival ride. Two straps and not even a blanket or a tarp to protect it as its sails through the air and the blowing sand.
Ahmanet's gonna need some Gravol

 This is beside the fact that while the stuff in the tomb looks relatively Egyptian, Ahmanet’s sarcophagus doesn’t look Egyptian at all. I suppose they wanted a ‘horror’ or ‘monster’ theme with that, but it looks dumb and out of place. Oh, and you can’t ‘mummify someone alive’. That’s not how it works guys. You can bury someone alive, and I suppose you can start mummifying someone alive, but they aren’t going to stay that way for very long. Again, just a dumb line that stuck out to me.  

-Sexist crap. Okay, just a quick point on this. There are some gross shots of the female characters in this film. There’s one part where Jenny reaches up to get something while in the foreground and you’re basically looking down her exposed stomach and pretty much down her pants. Yuck. She also ends up in the water in a white t-shirt. Also yuck. This is added on top of how Jenny is basically just a useless, damsel character. This movie even has a butt-focused shot of the Mummy herself! And it would have been so much cooler if Ahmanet herself wasn’t so interested in bringing Set into our world, but rather was consolidating her power for herself and her own rule. Wasn’t that her whole plan in the first place? I’m not even going to go into something said at the end after Cruise has rescued Jenny that was said (and done) so much better in a movie that came out earlier in the summer. I actually had to pause the movie because I was so angry about it and how it cheapened that line. I don’t want to say what it was, because spoilers, but it was the same thing a male character said to a female one in a much better movie and with much more emotional impact. (If you really want to know, I can post it in the comments lol)

-Exposition, aka, let me tell you a story. Honestly, there are so many scenes where everything just stops and one character begins telling another what’s going on or what we need to know at that given moment. The film literally begins and ends with an exposition dump. It is ‘tell, not show’ to the nth degree, and it gets pretty tiresome. In fact, one exposition scene is telling us about things that we just had seen a few minutes ago on screen. It just grinds everything to a halt to try and flesh out this universe that they’re building, but it really affects the overall pacing. And yet with all this exposition, there are things that don’t get explained! The double iris thing, the Templars and the dagger, why she’s buried in Mesopotamia (Iraq) instead of Egypt, and so on. 

-Bad CG. It’s not very good, need I say more? Much like Tom Cruise’s performance, it felt like they weren’t even trying.

Alright, I’m not going to end this off on such a negative note. There were a couple of positives. Let’s lighten things up and have a look at them.

-Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. You can tell he’s having fun with this, and truthfully he’s one of the best parts of the movie. Think of him as the Dark Universe’s Nick Fury. 
I'm here to speak to you about the Monster Initiative....
 The differences in his character between the two personalities was pretty cool, even if most of what he does is exposition. 

-The plane crash/ zero grav stunt. I’ll give credit where credit is due, that stunt was pretty cool. The fact that they did so much of it practically is really impressive. Tom Cruise may not have fit well with this movie, but at least you get here what he does in his other films: him doing something completely nuts and doing it for real.

-At one point when the Mummy is bearing down on our main characters, my other half busts into Hall and Oates’ ‘Maneater’. It was hilarious, out of left field, and sorely needed at that point. 

So there it is, guys. This really was not a good movie. I’d say just stick with the Brendan Fraser ones, or the original Universal Monsters films. It’s really not worth your time, and will in several places remind you of other, better films that you could be watching instead. Skip it. 


Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Star Wars: Episode IX Loses Director!

So this is what I come home to. Get home from work and this video pops up in my subscriptions and the news all over my Twitter feed. Colin Trevorrow and Disney have parted ways and he will no longer direct Star Wars Episode IX, slated for release in May 2019.
This was the statement released by Lucasfilm:

"Lucasfilm and Colin Trevorrow have mutually chosen to part ways on Star Wars: Episode IX. Colin has been a wonderful collaborator throughout the development process but we have all come to the conclusion that our visions for the project differ. We wish Colin the best and will be sharing more information about the film soon." 

So, that happened. What does this mean for the future of the film? No idea at this point, given this is all we know at the moment. Trevorrow had originally co-written the script as well, which was previously announced that another writer had been brought in to do a rewrite. I'm sure we'll here more on this later on as more information us released by the parties involved.

I guess the question now is, who is going to step in and take over? There's of course lots of speculation and fan suggestion and whatnot happening already. A predominant theory so far is that Episode VIII director Rian Johnson will simply continue on and finish up the trilogy. That's certainly an option, and more likely than not we'll be hearing pretty soon about Trevorrow's replacement. As a Star Wars fan I feel that it kind of sucks for the guy, but a small part of me is not terribly sad. I've only seen one of his films (that being Jurassic World), but just given how the characters were handled in that one, I'd kind of rather see someone who can do characters better. I'd throw my hat in for the original Jurassic director, but he's already said he wouldn't do it.

More on this as it develops.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Shin Godzilla Spoiler Free Review

Hey everyone, back again with another review. This time, we’re looking at a film I’ve been waiting to see for a while now, and finally got the chance to do so. This week we’re talking Shin Godzilla, the latest installment of the long-running franchise from Toho Studios. This is in fact the twenty-ninth film they’ve made for the big guy, and the thirty-first overall. As usual no spoilers ahead.

This was a fairly highly anticipated in our house. Any new kaiju movie is, to be honest, but Godzilla… Godzilla is top of that list. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an opportunity for us to see this film in its limited North American theatrical run, as the closest place it was showing was four hours away and we couldn’t make it work. So we’ve waited for home release and now we’ve finally gotten to see it. I was surprised to see our version was a dub, also, and not subtitled. And…. I don’t know if it was worth the wait. 

Let’s get something out of the way here; this isn’t a terrible movie. There are some interesting ideas presented and satirized, mainly to do with the ponderousness of the bureaucratic system and how it can be as much of a hindrance as a help in an unusual and emergency situation. They really hammer that point home, too. There is a lot of politics and maneuvering and people in suits yelling about needing to make decisions.

like this

 And that would be a really fascinating study if the story had let you have the time to digest it. This movie flies along at an insane pace. It’s literally boom, boom, boom, with no time to let the previous point sink in before rushing off to the next thing. I’m not entirely sure why the plot needs to rush along so quickly, it’s in such a hurry to get to the end it doesn’t even stop for breath. It was honestly hard to take notes because taking time to write even quick notes made me feel like I was behind. 

I’m not really sure how to talk about the acting. The Japanese actors seemed to be good physically in their acting. The voice dub actors were fine, I mean some were better than others but it was overall good. I wouldn’t mind, if I wanted to watch this again, seeing the Japanese version to compare the two.

I wonder if in the Japanese version the woman in the left corner still talks like Velma from Scooby Doo.
The music was interesting, to say the least. They used the original Gojira theme, which was kind of nice to hear. Not that I think this Godzilla deserved it, but we’ll get into that later. That wasn’t the only re-used track, and in fact there were a number of musical callbacks to earlier films in the Toho universe. There were also a couple of parts where the music cue shifted quite abruptly into a more rock-guitar thing and seemed really out of place. It sounds pretty cool just listening to it by itself, but it was such a weird tonal shift in the film and quite jarring.

One thing I actually really liked was the camera work. There were some very inventive shots especially when the army was called out and the tanks were moving into position. I thought that was really well done. It was shot very much like one would expect a Godzilla movie to look otherwise, but I really liked what they did. There were also a few with characters using laptops and a phone that were done in a way I hadn’t seen before and was impressed by. 

Okay, last but not least, let’s talk about the big guy himself. This was a reboot movie, and as such Godzilla got a massive redesign that while still looking like him, was quite different from what we’ve seen. Not to get into spoilers, but he had more than one look in the film. I’ll be honest, I hated the way Godzilla looked. From the first trailer I thought he looked terrible and that hasn’t changed. He looks more like a zombie version of himself; like a burned, twisted, undead creature.

 I’m not a fan at all, but his final, Godzilla-proper look is miles better than how he looks when he first comes ashore, which is my absolute least favorite.
I'm only not posting it because spoilers

 I’m not sure I like the atomic breath either, it honestly was more like a laser and, without spoilers, went a little too… crazy at times. It felt like they just overdid it. It looked like the arcane enchanted baddies from Diablo III.
this was all I could think of

I feel like I may have been harder on this movie than I should have been just because Goji looked so damn bad. I get that they were going for something different but the tiny, unblinking eyes and the big, derpy, muppet mouth just didn’t do it for me.

 It also seems kind of petty that they made Shin exactly 10.5 meters taller than Legendary’s 2014 Godzilla, as if they had to one-up it. The CG was really inconsistent too, and it’s a good thing they used more than one method to bring Godzilla to life because sometimes it was downright bad. Because this is a reboot he also got a new, updated backstory. I’m not sure I like it, as it changes the symbolism and metaphor of Godzilla to something more updated. I get they wanted to do something different with him and a modern retelling of Godzilla’s origin would have to be something different, but it really feels like they’re fixing something that isn’t broken. He did have a really good roar, at least. According to my more knowledgeable other half, his roars were mainly from the Showa era (encompassing 1954’s Gojira up to 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla) except for the last roar which comes from the Heisei era (which began with 1984’s Return of Godzilla and ended with 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah). There’s also that last shot, which all I’ll say is I don’t like the implications of. 

So, in conclusion, I wasn’t crazy about this one. It’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but I wasn’t really feeling it either. This is a really polarizing movie as well; lots of people loved it and lots of people hated it. Well, outside of Japan at least, Shin Goji got glowing reviews in his homeland. If you’re a kaiju or a Godzilla fan, I’d leave it up to you to make up your own mind on it. Not a fan? I’d skip it because you’d probably find it boring. At least Toho’s next feature, Godzilla: Planet of theMonsters/Godzilla: Monster Planet looks really intriguing, and I like the idea of seeing the big guy in animated form for something different.