Vic’s Review – “They Look Like People” (2015)

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They Look Like People”

What’s it About?

Suspecting that people around him are turning into evil creatures, a troubled man questions whether to protect his only friend from an impending war, or from himself.

Directed by Perry Blackshear

Wyatt, in They Look Like People, hears voices. He hears them through his cell phone. Ominous, deep and disembodied voices tell, Wyatt, a singularly troubled and isolated individual, that he is one of the “blessed.” To Wyatt, this means that he is a warrior, and one of a chosen few that can really see demonic and other-worldly entities that can assimilate humans around us, to eventually bring on the apocalypse. For all intent and purposes, Wyatt has been recruited to follow instructions and figure out who is who among those around him, even if it means taking matters into his own hands. Wyatt, played by MacLeod Andrews, enters New York City and it is apparent right away, that he is lost and seems to be running or avoiding something in his past. He looks very displaced and absolutely needy.

One day, he randomly runs into an old friend, named Christian (Evan Dumouchel), on the streets of NYC, not too far from Christian’s home. Christian, very surprised and at a loss, to see his friend, eventually has mercy on Wyatt and with astute sensibility, asks Wyatt to stay with him.

Writer and Director Perry Blackshear directs this indie thriller, with help from a grant, made through New York University and Tisch School of the Arts, with these two characters very much at the center of everything. Through their re-introduction to each other, begins an intriguing journey. Christian himself, thanks to Perry’s astute script, also hears voices and the film explores parallels between the two good friends. Christian’s past saw him as a submissive, weak person lacking confidence and drive. Blackshear’s small film takes us on a trip through a world of machismo and manly conventions in the dog eat dog world of young, yuppie corporate New York City.

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All this is through Christian’s eyes, as he tries to man up and do himself some good by working up the nerve to ask his boss out on a date. The voices that Christian hears are those of positive affirmations through his headphones whenever he works out, takes the train and rests at home. TLLP explores this duality in painting him as the classic alpha male and gym rat, while still having to reconcile his past which included his friend Wyatt prominently. Christian simply is trying to re-invent himself while listening to voices telling him that he “is a mountain.”

TLLP showcases the 2 actors that play Wyatt and Christian very well. As actors they connect, feel sincere, act natural and seem very much at ease with each other. I can almost hear Blackshear’s direction: Just be yourselves, fellas! And they are. They drink, act out Lord of the Rings, play sock games and take trips down memory lane. But as they grow comfortable together and Christian’s life seems to take a cool upswing with his boss Mara (Played brilliantly by the sweet Margaret Ying Drake), Wyatt takes a turn for the worse as he continues to hear the unnerving demonic voice which now sounds like Mara herself. Blackshear, in his wisdom here, shows very little, creating a tight atmosphere which he builds suspense with. Before all of this, though, we are treated to nice moments of calm before the storm as Mara and Christian bond in nice little segments of the two interacting before a bombshell goes off for Christian at his workplace.

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Blackshear brilliantly uses sound (incredibly creepy sounds at that), tight shots and quick cuts of character interaction to incrementally build dread and despair. He also gives us a ringside seat to Wyatt’s slow decline into paranoia and despondency. Wyatt tries to seek out help but shoots it down as he suspects the worse. He also takes matters into his own hand as he begins to take more orders from those voices and prepares for war with dangerous supplies bought in a hardware (sulfuric acid included) store. Christian, otherwise, suspects nothing as Wyatt hides axes and nail guns in his basement.

One night, though, Christian begins to notice a change in Wyatt and Blackshear ramps up the whole affair in the last half hour of this incredbly succinct indie. Christian is awoken by Wyatt having a severe episode and his paranoia begins to scare Christian into a standstill. But being a quick thinker, Christian offers to help. Things get worse as Wyatt suspects Mara of being an “other.”

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There is enough subtext in Blackshear’s film for two other movies. What Blackshear does really well here, is give us likeable and real characters, and what lies beneath the skin and in their hearts first, as he also challenges us to look into ourselves and what we would do for friends in need struggling with mental illness. The film is indeed a thriller and some may package it as a horror indie but it is much more than that. TLLP is an exploration. A drama about reconnected friends with emotional baggage that need each other in a dire stretch of their friendship.

What the actors convincingly portray are 2 men that are much stronger together than individually and when real monsters appear (or are they?) the strength of trust and love endures all of that. Films about mental illness, especially in the horror genre, don’t really take the time to show us this side of things and by the very end, the movie lets us know that there is much more to this side of the issue.

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TTLP is not an overt horror film and does not use any of the more conventional tropes associated with more big budgeted films of it’s type. It is a film of impressions and implications and hits home more in a psychological aspect. It is a film to be very patient with and it is not for everyone. But Blackshear, who also served as editor and cinematographer, serves up a very unique film about people and by the end, you will look back and see what his intent was from the way he wraps the film up.

Blackshear is to be very commended for making a film that is wholly and truly his. It is beautifully shot, edited and not at any time do you see the film’s budgetary limitations bleed through. Every dollar is put up on the screen and it is a good looking production that makes NYC a character all it’s own and gives our protagonists and characters a stunning backdrop to share the story in. But be warned, if slow burn films are not your flavor of the month, then look elsewhere. If you can tolerate an 80 minute excursion into a character’s slow madness and compelling psychological neuro-drama, then They Look Like People is well worth it. The ending, while open to interpretation, is a knock out, in my opinion, solidifying both Blackshear as a storyteller and the film as a intriguing piece of original work.

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They Look Like People” is currently available to stream in high definition on Netflix.

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Vic’s Review – “Feast” (2005)

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Feast”

What’s it About?

Patrons and workers at a desolate town bar try to ward off murderous and ravenous alien beasts

Directed by John Gulager

By Vic

It’s road kill revenge”

Feast,” directed by John Gulager, is one batshit crazy movie, in the most tried and true grindhouse tradition. Let me get this out of the way now, and just admit that it attempts to provide lo fi, low brow, hokey b movie schlock, and it does it well, if at times it borders on eye rolling parody instead of admiration, respect and reverance. To do this right, the film, at the expense of any real story, decides to just administer the right combination of gory monster action, explicit situations, bar humor, vulgarities, banal dialog and plenty of “I didn’t see THAT coming” moments. Gulager’s film revels in psyching the viewer out with how the main characters (All hilariously introduced by freeze frames that include off the cuff bios with life expectancies) are randomly dispatched, leaving us to wonder if any of them are safe, who’s next, and who is going to make it out alive.

It seems that some nasty alien creatures have it in for us humans and where better to come after us (they do have a reason, I suppose) than a red neck dive bar in the middle of nowhere, or rather the Californian desert…well yeah, nowhere. After the intros and obligatory set up’s are over, we get the “hero,” (Eric Dane) barging into said dive bar, all bloody and screaming to everyone that there are murderous and ravenous creatures right behind him and that they better get ready to confront them. It’s a brief respite, then all gory hell breaks loose. The scene where a macho hero tries to save the day is something we’ve all seen countless times before (especially in horror and sci fi films) and Feast is happy to break with convention and press the reset button on how the rules hold up in these situations, and with that being said, Feast becomes an otherwise cracking fun time.

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It’s all an unpredictable, and honestly, a sometimes cliched affair, but, fortunately, between the monstrous excitement we are treated to some pretty funny bits of character interaction in the bar and some laugh out loud dialog. During a quiet moment, one character approaches an old bar hag asking about aliens and insults her by saying that: “Old people know shit!” It’s little bits of juvenile humor and tasteless-ness like this that makes this film hard to hate on some levels much like “Slither” from James Gunn.

The bar inhabitants in Feast are indeed a motley crew and I won’t go into who is who (though Balthazar Getty is pretty comical as an abhorrent pool hustler named “Bozo”) or what, since in the end, it doesn’t really matter, but we are reminded of many other films where people are all stuck together in one place fighting for their lives when an evil external force is trying to get in (Night of the Living Dead, Assault on Precinct 13, anyone?). Don’t even begin to think allegorically or metaphorically here, though, Feast IS NOT that type of flick. What it is, is a corny amalgam of sleazy alien attack flicks that permeated the late 70’s and 80’s in grindhouse theaters and of course, the already afore-mentioned films of Romero and Carpenter.

The movie does in fact feel like a sort of twisted black sheep sibling of Tarantino’s and Rodriguez’s ode to grind from a several years back. Gulager’s Feast seems to humorously take pride in the fact that almost none of it’s main characters have any redeeming values whatsoever and the story holds them in no esteem at all. They are very overtly un-likeable with most being crass, ugly, immature, boorish, blundering and cowardly. All the better, though, since we can’t wait to see who is eaten next, right?

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By the 3rd act, when the numbers of the questionable bar patrons dwindle even more, the film gains even more gusto and gets even more gross and enters really wacky territory with an unexpected turn of events. Feast writers, Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, excel in keeping us guessing and they are indeed students of all that has come before in this particular genre. No one is safe in Feast, and even if this is very familiar territory, Dunstan and Patrick know that they are out to entertain us with schlocky aplomb. They also whip up some very facetious dialog between the characters as they try to outsmart the aliens and even themselves. Director Gulager outdoes himself with the casual gore and gross proceedings showing us everything in harsh reds without batting an eye. Feast is a fun and rollicking flick but you have to be looking to have some fun indulging in this kind of affair. In the end it’s all empty calories and the cinematic equivalent of a Snickers bar.

The cast here are all enjoyable, the gore front and center, the action cliched, the monster mayhem all shaky and what not, and did I mention the gore? Oh yeah, I did. Anyway, Feast is indeed a Feast of crude, odious and off color alien monster goodness that knows what it’s meant to consent to even if that wink and nod is really a self aware dose of parody (but there is yet another funny as hell freeze frame late in the game that I didn’t see coming). Technically, Feast is a solid grindhouse fit and it’s shot and composed capably.

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The make up FX are unexpectedly well done and well rendered and it appears that it’s all done practically with no CGI to be had anywhere. Feast isn’t a smart film in any way, but it is astute in playing the conventions that have made countless grindhouse movies so much fun back in the day. Like I said, it’s frenzied analog film-making in the breakneck style of Raimi’s “Evil Dead” and it serves up basic and elemental horror film tropes that are quite comical and dreadfully low brow, distasteful and offensively gross. Yep, batshit crazy. What gets better than that?

The Late Wes Craven, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck served as Executive Producers on “Feast.” Also, look for vet actor Clu Gulager as “Bartender.” He is the father of the Director.

 

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Drive it like you stole it!”

– Bozo

Netflix Alert – “Jurassic Park” Trilogy now available to Stream

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The First 3 entries of The “Jurassic Park” films have now been added to NETFLIX for High Definition Streaming. Don’t know how long they will be available so queue them right away and enjoy! Happy Streaming, Netflixsters!

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Jurassic Park

Directed by Steven Spielberg

The Lost World

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Jurassic Park III

Directed by Joe Johnston

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Vic’s Review – “Forsaken” (2015)

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Forsaken”

What’s it About?

Kiefer and Donald Sutherland share the screen in this brooding western about an embittered gunslinger who attempts to make amends with his estranged father whilst their community is besieged by ruthless land-grabbers.

Directed by Jon Cassar

I’m a sucker for a good western. Always have been. It’s not my go to genre but when good word of mouth along with a good director, writer and cast is attached, I get even more excited about them. And with studios still a bit antsy and ambivalent about the western, it hasn’t been exactly a dry well, of late, with them. From The Revenant, Hateful Eight, Slow West (With Michael Fassbender) to Bone Tomahawk and even TV shows dressed as modern westerns, take Justified as an example, the western still appears to be alive and well. The odds of seeing one become a box office titan like any given superhero Hollywood blockbuster is practically nil, but, many movie lovers will indulge in a western periodically and not be overtly disappointed in doing so. That is the case with “Forsaken” from director Jon Cassar of “24” fame.

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Cassar’s western is so unpretentious, straightforward and completely uncomplicated that it is a bit outwardly striking at first. There is an adjustment period where one may feel that Cassar is following the playbook of “how to build a western” (the fine line between homage and just plain rip off could be debatable) but when you start to see the film is a story about an exploration and voyage then it becomes illicitly real and surprisingly charming. There is a narrow and uncompromising vision that immerses the viewer in a time capsule and transports them to the 40’s, 50’s and even the 60’s where shades of grey were sometimes less examined and scrutinized in major westerns of those eras.

In Forsaken, much of the story provided by scribe Brad Mirman (The Good Shepard), is pretty much black and white. You know who the bad guys are and you like and root for the underdogs, downtrodden and of course the protagonist, here, played by Kiefer Sutherland (24, Mirrors, The Lost Boys).

Sutherland portrays John Henry Clayton, a hardened gunslinger veteran who wanders from town to town trying to put his violent and grisly past behind him. His wanderlust brings him back home to the town he was born and raised in to find his father and town preacher, William, played by the regal Donald Sutherland (Ordinary People, Salem’s Lot, Invasion), a widower. William, who has demons of his own, is a true stoic western figure in this tale. He has never lost his faith, tends to his land and property and never lets his emotions get the better of him. Until John Henry returns home.

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The two, who have great differences to work out involving JH’s recently deceased mother and longtime dead brother, have a long road to reconciliation, which Cassar explores with JH’s disbelief in the lord and William’s unfaltering acceptance in what God has bestowed to the Clayton clan, no matter how terrible the cost. It is made very clear, during a tense dinner scene, that William is most displeased with JH but he eventually sees, in his actions, that young John in hardened by his past and seeks only to redeem himself.

The two Sutherlands, in their first on screen collaboration together, are amazing to watch. Whether it is the familial bond, or the mastery of two great actors working off of each other, the dynamic is a wonder to observe as they gradually come full circle with William accepting who JH really has become and JH reconciling what he once was with who he needs to be. But the film isn’t just about them. Brian Cox (Manhunter) brilliantly plays the foul mouthed land grabber James McCurdy who enlists a “fixer” gunslinger, named Dave, to help with his “persuasion” issues with local land owners from the town who have declined to sell their land.

The fixer is played with a serious and classy gravity that lends itself to a razor precision performance by esteemed character player Michael Wincott (The Crow, Alien: Resurrection). The restless and highly volatile “heavy,” (who also works for McCurdy and is always at odds with Dave) though, is played with smarmy, dirty aplomb by Aaron Poole (The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh).

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Rounding the character off in a surprising and refreshing bit of casting here, is the quietly powerful Demi Moore (Ghost), who plays Mary Ellen, and old flame of JH’s who could not wait for him any longer and ends up with a family of her own. John Henry’s return becomes more entangled and demanding when he discovers this, and has to remain a true gentleman, even though his heart is obviously stricken. Moore’s turn is a revelation (she disappears into the role) and proves that with solid material and a simple piece of drama that Moore can shine through drab make up and costumes to emote with the best of what the mostly male cast can muster up.

When Forsaken explores dark themes of redemption, lost love and disregarded faith, it works on a sublime level and to the credit of the filmmakers, takes place mostly during the day. The scenery and landscapes are beautifully rendered and composed allowing for exquisite cinematography to take precedent. In the first few minutes, Cassar gives us proper “prodigal son-returns-home” montages of a rider on a horse travelling across grassy plains with mountainous backdrops looming. And the film remains looking beautifully done until the final shot.

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Let’s not forget that this journey leads somewhere and even though Forsaken doesn’t up the ante until the last 15 minutes, it’s still a great payoff with everyone (with the exception of one like-able bad guy) getting their just desserts. A bloody and well choreographed shoot-out ensues and we are treated to a simple throwback experience dropped in from right out of Gunsmoke.

Forsaken does not, in any means, try to be anything other than a brief and immensely satisfying quickie. No cliché and trope goes un-turned here. You can almost count those off with both hands, but because of it’s simplicity and the impressive look, feel and work of the stellar cast, I didn’t care one bit that I’ve seen this all before. The movie, in such a short running time, delves into such emotion, raw drama, angst of the times, family and faith issues and even the price of leading a violent life in such brave fashion. It left me very impressed. It is a assured piece of western movie-making. Everything in it rings confidently and it is not overtly slick or stylized or even “updated” in any way. It gives props to those classic western tropes that disappeared and became unwanted in mainstream Hollywood, with other genres disguising as such.

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Definitely watch “Forsaken” for the strength of the Sutherlands working together and off of each other, to near perfection, and for the admirable work all around with the cast and crew. It is, in most recent memory, a prominent stand out piece of western nostalgia that relies heavily on it’s influences, as they remain where they should be…worn on it’s sleeve. Highly recommended!

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“Fright-Rags” Journeys into “The Twilight Zone”…Again!

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On sale now: bit.ly/frtwilightzone
Last year, Fright-Rags traveled to The Twilight Zone by producing shirts based on some of the show’s most memorable episodes. The release was such a hit that they’re crossing back over for a second collection of designs from Rod Serling’s classic anthology.

Paul Shipper captures the beauty of “Eye of the Beholder,” Kyle Crawford conjures the Mystic Seer from “Nick of Time,” and Coki Greenway plays with Talky Tina from “Living Doll.” If you can’t decide on an episode, Joe Guy Allard designed a baseball tee featuring the Twilight Zone logo.

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“Eye of the Beholder”

Journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination by visiting Fright-Rags.com. The Twilight Zone Vol. 2 collection is available now and ready to ship. The limited remaining quantity of Fright-Rags’ first Twilight Zone box set is also on sale.

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“Nick of Time”

Keep an eye on the Fright-Rags website, as several of the company’s popular designs will be available on baseball tees for the first time this Thursday, April 14.

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“Living Doll”

 

Vic’s Review – “Justice League vs Teen Titans” (2016)

Justice League vs. Teen Titans”

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What’s it About?

Robin is sent to work with the Teen Titans after his volatile behavior botches up a Justice League mission. The Titans must then step up to face Trigon after he possesses the League and threatens to conquer the world.

Directed by Sam Liu

By Vic

Acclaimed animation director Sam Liu helms the latest DCU effort in “JL vs TT” (Yep, it has a “vs” in the title. Wink. Wink.). This is the 24 or 25th DCU animated feature, I believe. I’ve actually lost count. As is the routine with the DCU films, the big guns, The Justice League, are brought out to start off things with a big, loud and grandiose battle in the middle of the City, with the Legion of Doom, no less. Each of our fave heroes (Cyborg, Bats, Flash, Supes and Wonder Woman), fighting their villainous counterparts, get chances to shine in the early fisticuffs with the baddies.

While all of this big, bam, boom is going on we get to witness the lastest Robin, the impatient Damian Wayne (Stuart Allan), sitting on the sidelines grudgingly taking orders from Batman. The ensuing battle manages to lead up to Damian taking things into his own hands with the Bat-Wing and some Missiles, in order to stop Weather Wizard, who is taken over by a yet unknown entity.

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After the bratty, querulous and grousing Damian is tore a new one by Batman (with humorous defending by The Flash and Superman taking place), Robin is driven by the first Robin, Dick Grayson (now Nightwing voiced by Sean Maher) to the HQ of The Teen Titans, in a sort of “exile” boarding school move by Batman. There, he is to try and and fit in, in a team environment. And Robin is none too pleased. As Nightwing tells Starfire (Kari Wahlgren), Damian has had no childhood and has spent his formative years learning to kill. And it shows. Liu shows us Damian’s baby steps into getting used to being part of the team but not without it’s roadblocks. He’s still prying, suspicious, defensive, moody and combative (he even picks a fight with Blue Beetle and gets pretty messed up) to just about every one in the group but I did like the brief “X Men” – like dynamics woven into the story and the characters.

From the film’s onset we are introduced to what will be the antagonist and main plot filament that binds the film: Trigon (Jon Bernthal). Trigon being an infernal inter-dimensional bad ass that can possess the heroes (he tries his hand at Superman as well), and after a Carnival showdown with demonoids, we eventually discover a familial connection to Raven (Taissa Farmiga), who Robin has taken to in his own inimitable way. Raven gives us some backstory and then things become quite clear, then we are off to the races. The JL are taken over by Trigon and the TT, headed by Damian as determined to help Raven at any cost.

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JL vs TT” has much to offer in terms of hero interaction, inevitable humor and clashes (watching Superman get the JL back to “normal” was rad), which are well rendered and dynamic and one could expect no less from a DCU animated quickie like this one. It’s short running time, clocking in at 80 mins or so, works in it’s favor, too. There is no real time left for too much exposition (except on Raven’s part) and even though there are some missteps in coherence and logic, the movie plays out pretty fast and furious but it all stills feels rushed and under-cooked in places where maybe catching a breath would have added more cohesive-ness. But in the end it may all just be nit-picking when you go in with tempered expectations.

Liu’s film can feel entry level at times and can come across routine in it’s execution story-wise and the secondary like trappings can distract, but not terribly. It’s a decent time waster to get your JL superhero and animation fix all rolled into one, but don’t expect another “War,” “DKR,” or even “Flashpoint Paradox.” Damian’s arc is resolved nicely but with a bit of melodramatic flourish and yeah, he’s still kind of a jerk. Plus, Batman has been given next to nothing to really do here, but lay around knocked out, which is a shame. (Oh and stick around for an enigmatic little scene during the credits)

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This DCU flick one has an ok Saturday morning vibe that is none too shabby if that’s what you need. Definitely consider as a rental first before a purchase unless you are a completist and need it in your DCU Animated Collection.