Monthly Archives: November 2006

Casino Royale (2006)

MV5BMTM5MjI4NDExNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDM1MjMzMQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_As so often promised, James Bond has returned.

And it’s a good return, too. Casino Royale has a Bond that, at the beginning of the movie, isn’t even a Double-Oh agent yet. I spent a little bit of time in skepticality, but there was a single moment in the first action sequence, when he jumps over the wrought-iron fence and into the [spoiler elided]; in that moment, I could tell that this new guy was still James Bond. From there on, I was able to lean back, stop analyzing and enjoy the ride. Sure, he’s the new guy, but going back to the beginning made that work pretty well. You see him making rookie mistakes and bouncing back (or not), and you get a brand new impression that he’s a human. Lately, these movies have shied away from that kind of character, and it’s refreshing to be able to worry about him and not just his sidekicks.

Bond’s mission is to follow some terrorist money and prevent it getting to the terrorists. Only, he discovers that the guy doing the laundering has accidentally lost all of it himself and hopes to win it back in a $150 million game of, well, Texas Hold’Em. (Apparently, that is now the only version of poker that officially exists.) So, Bond is bought into the game by MI6 and pursues a high stakes game of cat and mouse with the evil money laundering guy, wherein his dual goals are to find enough proof to capture the guy for questioning and, if possible, to make sure someone else wins the money. It’s actually quite a bit more exciting than it sounds, for all that there’s a lack of perfectly plotted gadgets and insane, overpowered supervillains. (Or, more likely, because of that lack. Humanized, I said.) The ending gets a little convoluted, but apparently the fault lies with the original author. (Well, sure, and some to the screenwriter for not finding a way to fix it at least a little bit.) They do win my respect, despite all that, for providing me with what will probably be the coolest thing I’ll ever see happen in Venice.

Two things I wonder, though. Will they start remaking all of the old Bond movies, and cause them to more closely follow Fleming’s work? I think that might not be a bad idea, though I doubt it’s what will happen. And, why is there such a big brouhaha over ‘James Blond’? Seriously, after putting together a solid Bond to rival the best performance of any of the previous ones, we’re focused on his hair? Lame. This must be how Reese Witherspoon feels when she reads In Style the day after the Academy Awards.

Most importantly, though, I stuck around through the credits and received the eternal promise: James Bond will return.

A brief update from the author

So, two things.

One, I’ve changed it up, to get out from under the spam. We’ll see if it works. I’m gradually going through the archives and revamping the links plus fixing the ones that are currently dead. It’s an ongoing project, but it shouldn’t take all that long. In any case, if links in older entries are broken or just barebones compared to the current crop, that will eventually get fixed. Honest. I do think it’s a lot prettier than it used to be, though, so that’s pleasant.

Two, there was a problem with the comments system, probably since I shifted over and started fiddling with things last month. It has been resolved. Sorry about that.

Wanna hear something sad? I actually have four more movies I’d like to see immediately. Would like to see, not actually want to see. Because the thought of reviewing anything else right now literally makes me cringe. Maybe in a day or two, I’ll be back on track. (I am reading, but the book is pretty long and my time lately has been even shorter than usual. So.)

Anyway, that was all. Back to your regularly scheduled reviews, once I’ve finished anything.

Hood of Horror

I have such a headache right now. I’m going to assume that it’s from reviewing too much too fast, and wrap this up as quick as I can. Assisting me in that task is our final movie of the festival, Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror. Because, well, it really wasn’t that good. Ironically, the framing device was the best part of the picture. Well, that and the rapping. When I think about, um, Snoop’s production acumen and choice of projects, I keep coming to the same conclusion: he’s a pretty good rapper. (And okay, like a lot of rappers, a pretty good actor too.)

So yeah, framing device good. Unfortunately, what it framed was several substandard streets-themed short stories you might find in Tales from the Cryzypt. In the first, a local girl learns an important lesson about the applications of power as they relate to tagging. Despite some topless hos, it was godawful. Most noteworthy, the terrible acting from the young version of Posie. In the second, a spoiled heir takes over the tenement where his father’s army buddies lived, and starts trying to drive them out. Eventually, they get fed up and turn the tables on him. This one wasn’t so bad, but it was also a ripoff of one of those old Tales from the Darkside or Amazing Stories or some such. In the third, a rap artist promises to be a good guy if God will only give him a big break. Predictably, he fails to fulfill his end of the bargain. I wonder if he’ll get some kind of comeuppance?

Oh, well. At least it had buckets of blood and gore to make up for a small fraction of the rest of the badness. Oh, and Billy Dee Williams. He makes everything better.

The Hamiltons

MV5BMzc0ODkxMDYwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjU2ODkzMQ@@._V1__SX1217_SY887_Like I said before, each night of the festival had its departure from the straight up scary monsters, psycho killers, drugs, sex and gore genre conventions in order to do something different with mood or pacing or psychology. The third night’s The Hamiltons surpassed the previous entries by combining that departure with the genre conventions and proving, as happens every so often, that a horror movie can be genuinely good in its own right, not just when measured against others of its type.

The titular family is composed of four siblings making their way in the world after their parents died recently and unexplainedly. David runs the household, though it’s clear he is not very well respected by twins Wendell and Darlene, who mostly seem to live their lives for the pleasure of the moment. And youngest brother Francis is still in school, trying to find his place in the world and trying to understand the place his siblings occupy as well. Because despite how slice of life this all sounds, the early revelation that Wendell kidnaps girls and stores them in the basement turns things on its head. The additional knowledge that everyone in the family is aware of this little secret (and that only Francis disapproves) and that the house has a mysterious fifth resident named Lenny, hidden away behind a different locked door deeper in the basement serves to change it into… well, I suppose you could still call it slice of life, but with an added, slyly macabre definition of the phrase.

Clearly, all these questions about whether nature or nurture rules sway over people and whether family is more important than external morality serve to get in the way of the story, from a drive-in perspective. But at the same time, allowing a movie that has multiple moments of genuine horror to tackle real issues in a thoughtful manner, well, that’s rare enough that I’m willing to let it slide, since the questions didn’t overshadow the story. One breast. Five bodies. Face-chewing. Lead pipe to the noggin. Red Cross fu. Drive-in academy award nominations to Kitty, for triple-daring the twins to make out during a homemade game of Truth or Dare, then saying, “I win. You guys won’t do my dare!”, and then letting her smile slip by confused degrees when she realizes that she didn’t win anything at all, as well as to Kitty’s cousin for his bit part as self-proclaimed security guard of the year. Four stars. I’m going to have to get this one on DVD, too.

Wicked Little Things

And lo, it was evening and morning, the third day. Film festivals, I just want to say, despite being awesome and filled up with good energy and generally making me feel like I’m cool for being there, are a huge ass pain when it comes to organizing and providing thoughts. ‘Cause seriously. I’ve still got three movies to go, and I feel like I’ve been doing nothing else but reviewing stuff for almost an Age of Man. But ignore the complaints, because it was awesome and filled with good energy. I drank way too much soda over the course of the weekend, though.

Anyway, the first movie of the third night was Wicked Little Things, a pretty straight vengeful spirit story. It seems that a greedy mine-owner ordered some dynamite set off under unsafe conditions, resulting in the deaths of a couple of dozen child laborers. Ultimately, the mine was closed down and the land mostly abandoned for decades, except for some of the miner families who had nowhere else to go. Enter recently widowed Karen Tunny and her two daughters, moving into her husband’s childhood home after finding an old deed buried among his personal papers. Unfortunately for our blonde and reasonably petite heroine, the zombified spirits of the dead children (with heroic effort, I am foregoing a minor miner pun here) have been more active than ever lately; the owner of the mine and surrounding lands has decided to develop it into a ski resort, and nevermind how they’d wander the mountain and killing strangers in previous years, the true object of their revenge has them working overtime this week.

No breasts. Seven bodies. Shovel to the brainpan. Pick fu. Passover fu. Pig devouring. Drive-in academy award nominations to the plumber for saying that it would only take a day to replace the broken pipes, because “I’m going to be out of here before sundown!”, to the kooky neighbor for saying, “You can thank me later [for smearing a jar of my blood all over your front door]”, and to the greedy mine heir for having the asshole equivalent of perfect pitch. Lessons learned: 1) If your youngest daughter asks if her “imaginary” friend who lured her down to the abandoned mine can play in her room, instead of saying ‘yes’, consider saying ‘only if I get to meet her first’. 2) If a mountain is known around town for swarming with zombie children, consider choosing a different mountain for Makeout Ridge. Three and half stars.

The Abandoned

Each night of the festival had a movie that was more of an artistic mood piece than a schlocky bloodfest. And that’s okay, because there are different kinds of horror, and each should be celebrated in its own way. The second night’s Reincarnation was The Abandoned, whose horror tropes were a mix of decay, inescapable claustrophobia, and Eastern European legends; but one of the types that has not readily made it across to America like vampires and werewolves have. (Although werewolves were already here; but that’s beside the point.)

Our heroine (who although blond, is not petite) isn’t having her best life ever. She was brought to America as an infant in the 1960s, her Russian name relegated to the middle so her adoptive parents could give her a name they were more comfortable with. Now she’s divorced, with a teenage daughter who has about as much respect for her as teenage daughters in the full flower of rebellion ever have for their mothers. As her forty-second birthday approaches, Milla has an urge to reconnect with the motherland, either prompting or prompted by (I forget which) correspondence with local officials from the region of her birth, who provide her with the necessary information about the Russian family who found her and her twin as infants. Well, found is a strong word; in point of fact, their mother drove up in a wrecked pickup and died in the family’s yard, leaving the squalling infants in the seat beside her to whoever might come along and take care of them. So, okay, I admit this is convoluted and I’m not doing the best job of explaining it, but the movie did fine at the same task, so good on them.

Here’s the thing, though. In horror movies, it’s always better if the past stays buried. Even from the first moments of Milla’s arrival in Russia, it’s clear that something isn’t right. The wrongness continues to grow and grow as she gets closer to the house from which her dying mother fled all those years ago, and before she knows it, she and her twin (who arrived at the same time, although they had never before met and were summoned in different ways, and obviously that isn’t a good sign) are trapped by the house to try to survive the fate that something, or someone, has in store for them. Being the moodish introspective kind of movie, the drive-in totals really don’t work here. (Plus I’m starting to feel a little plagiaristic, whether it’s been that kind of weekend or not.) But it was certainly good, as well as genuinely scary.

The Gravedancers

Let’s suppose that you’re drunk in a cemetary. Let’s further suppose that you find a sympathy card left resting against a headstone, which exhorts you to dance around on people’s graves while reading off some lines of, well, let’s call it poetry. Certainly not a magic spell of some kind. That would be crazy talk. And let’s suppose that your local cemetary has a section devoted to the graves of undesirable folks, rather than being divvied up by family plots or by the calendar. And that the graves you happen to dance on while reading the lines of the magic spell, er, I mean poem, are all in the undesirable section. That would probably turn out just fine. Right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

So, yeah, the second movie was The Gravedancers, and if the premise seems a little thin, well, let’s just say you’re not alone. But after the premise was established, the middle section turned out to be downright creepifying, with pretty well acted (and written) tension among the principles and the exact right notes of humor to relieve some of that tension from time to time. And then out of nowhere, in the final act it reinvented itself again, each new development more over the top than the one before. As it was put to me while the credits were rolling, “I’ve never seen that many people laughing at a movie that was so scary!” I’m not sure I can successfully express just how hilariously awesome this movie was. I plan to own many (though not all) of them when the opportunity presents itself. But this is just about the only one I am certain to buy, as soon as I find it.

No breasts. Four bodies. Three vengeful spirits. Heads roll, sort of. Axe to the spine. Chopin fu. Graverobbery fu. Drive-in academy award nominations to Velma the ghost hunter for saying, “I’m sorry. I had to keep them from resting so we could get some proof!”, to her boss for saying, “Could somebody take me to the hopital, please?”, and to Dominic Purcell for missing his putt. Four stars.

Penny Dreadful (2006)

MV5BOTc1Njg5NTg4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTQ2ODkzMQ@@._V1__SX1217_SY911_Day two is now past. The experience was a fair bit like day one, except with mandatory evacuation of the theater between movies so they could clean up. Despite losing the chance to maintain seats without a line rush every time, the cleaning thing made it superior. There’s nothing like stepping on someone’s old nacho tray, losing your balance, and wavering at the edge of eight rows of stadium seating to get your life flashing before your eyes. Well, I mean, other than an actual dangerous situation of some kind, clearly.

Speaking of dangerous situations bringing up painful memories, the first movie of the night was Penny Dreadful, the story of young Penny’s psychological struggle to get over her fear of cars. Which sounds stupid, until you take into account that her parents died in front of her in a horrific car accident, and that since the trip was for her, she blames herself. Luckily, she’s got a bottle full of pills, a relaxation cassette, and an overbearing psychologist to get her through her attempt to face her fears head on. If only there weren’t a psychotic hitchhiker with an inexplicable urge to toy with her by keeping her trapped inside the object of her terror, instead of killing her like everyone else who crosses his path, it probably would have been a successful trip.

Four bodies. One breast. Toe rolls. Not much else in the way of totals, because this is an edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller and hedge trimmers as murder weapons would be out of place. Drive-in academy award nominations to Penny’s mom for using her last strength to tell Penny she’d be okay and then proceeding to fountain her life out of the hole in her neck once the dialogue was over, to the park ranger for insisting, “There’s no killer. There’s nobody here but us!”, and to the relaxation tape guy for creating a relaxation method that consists entirely of closing your eyes and chanting the names of zoo animals. Despite that last bit, this has easily been the scariest movie of the festival so far; four stars. Lesson learned: never pick up hitchhikers (other than the perky, college aged, slightly crazy female variety; not that they’re any more safer, but at least it won’t have been a creepy person in a huge coat who offers you a skewer of unidentifiable uncooked meat out of his backpack; plus, she’ll probably take her shirt off), not even if it’s really cold outside and you feel guilty for having just hit them with your car.

Unrest (2006)

The third movie of the evening was easily the best. (Which perhaps says good things about the remaining six movies. …I just realized that I will have watched a dozen movies in ten days before this thing is over. Even after taking into account that I let a couple of months slip by before last weekend, that is downright unnatural.) Unrest is a medical school movie. Since med students in movies only have to take one class, it’s easy to guess that the site of the mysterious horrificness will be the gross anatomy lab. And sure enough, once the scalpels start flyin’, people start dyin’. (I made that up myself.) And only a petite blonde girl holds the key to putting the vengeful spirit to rest, which would be fine if she didn’t also have to balance an incredulous professor, a newly blossoming love interest, the groaningly unlikely placement of her living quarters in an abandoned hospital wing, and being a petite blonde girl in a horror movie.

Six bodies. At least four cadavers, some of which were actually cadavers. Six cadaver breasts. No actual breasts, which I blame on the camera-person being attracted to men. Bone saw fu. Formaldehyde fu. Pen to the neck. Feet roll. Arms roll. Drive-in academy award nominations to the dead vengeful spirit chick, for doing most of her acting without a ribcage and for not twitching a muscle even when it is explained over her naked cadaver that she’s had children because her nipples have darkened from breast feeding, and to the petite blonde heroine chick and her boyfriend for spending their second date diving for corpses in a formaldehyde dunk-tank. Three stars.


Moving right along, then. The second film of the evening was Reincarnation, another in what is certain to be a long line of J-Hor hits that get remade into American versions in which petite blonde girls face almost certain doom and then re-appear in an American sequel which has no J-Hor analog, despite that Japanese sequels exist. (I couldn’t tell you which sequels end up better, although The Ring Two was an excellent movie.) Since J-Hor movies are actually more spooky than horror, I’ll forego the drive-in totals.

Reincarnation is about… well, I think you know, right? It’s a pretty well-known word, and all. Anyhow, a director has set his sights on making an emotions- rather than plot- based movie retelling the story of the 1970 mass murder of eleven people at the Oko Kanko hotel (or something like that) by a disturbed professor who subsequently committed suicide. Seems very artistic and well outside my usual tastes, but that’s the movie he’s making, not the one that I watched, so it’s okay. And considering that it reminded me a fair bit of The Shining, it’s only fair that the director character should make me think of Kubrick. And during casting, he immediately focusses on a soft-spoken young actress to be his lead, despite any tangible skills. (She didn’t even seem to audition at all, so much as just show up in the room.) Unfortunately for her, from the moment that filming begins, she has an inexplicable connection to the subject matter, which kicks into overdrive as soon as they start filming on location. In no time at all, it’s easy to imagine that she might be (admit it, you saw this coming) the reincarnation of one of the victims. But will she survive her return to the site of her tragic end?

Well, as to that… I have a theory.