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)

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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.

Vic’s Review – “The Forest” (2016)

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THE FOREST”

What’s it About?

A woman goes into Japan’s Suicide Forest to find her twin sister, and confronts supernatural terror.

Directed by Jason Zada

“Do not leave the path”

There is an immense ocean of trees at the Northwest base of Mount Fuji, in Japan, that has been eeriely named “The Suicide Forest.” It is a place where an epidemic of sorts is taking place. According to FUSION writer, David Matthews, suicide is the leading cause of death for Japanese men between the ages of 20 to 44. Even more so problematic is that teen suicides are on the rise. In 2003 alone, 105 bodies were recovered (Source: Wikipedia) breaking the record of 78 in 2002. In 2010, 200 or so people attempted suicide there, with at least 54 succeeding, with hanging or drug overdose being the common method of self-disposal.

Jason Zada’s supernatural thriller “The Forest,” is not the first film to have the Aokigahara Forest as a location, to have a movie take place in. There has been Gus van Sant’s “Sea of Trees” (with Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe ), “Grave Halloween,” from 2013 and “Forest of the Living Dead,” from 2010. Zada’s film stars Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) as Sara, a young woman who travels to Japan to seek her missing school-teacher twin sister, who was reported to have been last seen entering the aforementioned “suicide forest.”

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Sara, once in Japan, visits her sister’s school, and speaks to the dean of the establishment as well as a student who freaks out thinking that Sara is actually Jess, her instructor. When numerous questions, inquiries and going through her sister’s apartment (where she finds a picture of them as young girls) bear no fruit, Sara decides to try Aokigahara forest next, where she checks into a small, quaint yet creepy hotel, in order to try and look for Jess on her own. She comes across and meets an online journalist, at a nearby bar, named Aiden, played by Taylor Kinney (Chicago Fire, Vampire Diaries), Aiden, interested and captivated by Sara’s search for her sister, asks if he could chronicle her search and do a story about her, Jess and the suicide forest.

Sara agrees and as a backstory to her relationship with Jess, she tells Aiden about a horrible night in the past where her and Jess suffered the loss of their parents to a terrible car accident right in front of their home (although, that is not what we see on screen, so Sara lies to Aiden about the calamity. Or is that what we are lead to believe?). The Forest does really well with the Sara / Jess dynamic and it is a strong core that lifts the film above it’s eventual and oft banal conventions, despite having such natural beauty surrounding a ghostly and psychological central character arc.

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Apparently, Sara does not see first hand what Jess saw and Jess has had to bear the burden of seeing what really happened to their mom and dad, making Jess the more stronger and darker twin. With this material Dormer manages to rise above and make a compelling case to keep watching the events unfold.

Things move forward with a good set up, decent premise, and some moody atmosphere accentuated by wonderful photography and composition from everything to Tokyo’s bright cityscapes to the lush and scenic mountain forest at Aokigahara. Zada, with dialog and exposure, keen-fully delves in cultural territory peering into differences and disparities with a quick and serious tone. But, it is all fleeting and somewhat moot once the movie changes focus to the forest. When Aiden and Sara recruit a hesitant guide to take them into the forest, the movie clearly seems to try too hard to maintain that momentum, previously set up in the first 40 minutes.

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Whatever mood and elegant insight (both with characterization and visually) the film had, is lost once Zada takes his material, written by no less than 3 people, into the forest itself. Dormer, alongside Kinney, does get a chance to emote beneficially but when J-horror tropes start to rear it’s ugly head, the plot becomes pretty rote and near damn confusing and un-intelligible. Zada and the writers open some interesting doors as the Forest becomes it’s own entity in the last act, but just about at every turn, the film is sabotaged by the pseudo-psychological, by the numbers play by play. Loud jumps scares, shrieking demon-like phantasms, fake outs, weird forest noises and “Blair Witch” like machinations abound and Dormer’s pretty solid performance turns into a sleepwalking bag of empty tricks.

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I’m still not sure what Zada and crew were going for in the last act and the so called “twist” is rather anemic, forcing the viewer to actually ponder, with no resolution in sight, the various outcomes that are supposedly open to “interpretation.” Whether Sara and Jess are actually 2 separate people or if (and this is stretch since there is very little to really solidify it) Jess is a splinter of Sara, and they are indeed just one person. And when Jess is released from The Forest (and we get NO explanation as to the rhyme or reason to her actions other than she may be suicidal, but still manages to be alive and well by the finale) and Sara becomes a ghost forest- demon or whatever, we are just too damn uninterested by everything at that point and we feel duped. But thankfully, as poorly executed and full of insinuations as it is, the running time is quite brief. Perhaps that being the problem as well. It’s as if they had half a story and it was only good enough for about an hour of our time.

The Forest” starts off solid enough, with a good performance from Dormer, some mood and atmosphere, within not only the Forest, but with the beautifully captured Tokyo and surrounding landscape. Eventually, the ball is dropped by that last act and The Forest morphs into an un-scary and un-shocking J Horror wannabe. With no bite or substance, other than Dormer and the interesting springboard of a backstory, Zada’s film unfortunately becomes a short, muddled and mediocre affair, that I really wanted to like much more.

With the forest and psychological metaphors showing so overtly on it’s sleeve, the movie just doesn’t immerse us enough into that other-worldly realm with enough gusto. There are cool ideas here, but it’s a better movie to just look at than experience. Consider only as a rental for a one and done. The only real strength is the casting of Dormer, but even she collapses from too many cliches overtaking the story and her focus. Another lesser strength, is the engaging cinematography that captures, with alarming mood and definity, the actual forest. But it is definitely a missed opportunity, in my humble opinion.

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Your life is a precious gift from your parents. Think about them and the rest of your family. You don’t have to suffer alone.”

 

“My Bloody Valentine” shirts & autographed posters available now from Fright-Rags

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Limited quantities available: bit.ly/1SbMocI

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but horror fans celebrate year-round with the 1981 slasher classic, My Bloody Valentine. Fright-Rags is heading to Valentine Bluffs to commemorate the film’s 35th anniversary with a special release.

Justin Osbourn’s killer miner design stole fans’ heart when it sold out earlier this year. It has been reprinted by popular demand, available on men’s shirts, girls’ shirts and zip-up hoodies.

The artwork is also featured on limited edition 11×17 posters for the first time, each one autographed by Paul Kelman, who starred in the film as T.J.
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The Bloody Miner shirts and posters are on sale now at Fright-Rags.com. Quantities are limited and moved quickly previously, so don’t be left brokenhearted this time around.

Fright-Rags’ other recent releases include shirts from The Monster Squad, Night of the Creeps, The Fog, The Howling, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Human Centipede and more.

“FRIGHT RAGS” is a Rochester, New York  Based Business! Go ROC!

Netflix Alert for April, 2016

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NETFLIX ALERT

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                 TITLES AVAILABLE FOR APRIL, 2016

THE MUMMY (1999)

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

THE MUMMY RETURNS

E.T. – THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL

ELIZABETH

BEST IN SHOW

THE RIGHT STUFF

V FOR VENDETTA

THE RUNNING MAN

BOWFINGER

2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY

BOYS FROM BRAZIL

MYSTIC RIVER

BOOGIE NIGHTS

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CHAPLIN

SUNSET BOULEVARD

DEEP IMPACT

CUJO

RISING SUN

THE MONEY PIT

THE FRENCH CONNECTION II

THE AWAKENING

THE PERFECT STORM

EXPLORERS

HOPE YOU ALL FIND SOMETHING WORTHWHILE TO WATCH AND STAY TUNED FOR ANOTHER NETFLIX ALERT FOR MAY!

THANKS FOR CHECKING IN,

VIC

Vic’s Review – “The Wave” (2015)

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The Wave”

What’s it About?

Even though awaited, no-one is really ready when the mountain pass of Åkneset above the scenic narrow Norwegian fjord Geiranger falls out and creates a 85-meter-high violent tsunami. A geologist is one of those caught in the middle of it.

Directed by Roar Uthaug

Roar Uthaug, the director that brought us the thrilling slasher “Cold Prey,” from 2006, thankfully delivers an astute, serious and mindful disaster film in “The Wave,” from 2015. I feel strongly that Uthaug, perhaps subconsciously, strove to prove that not only Hollywood has the corner on the big budgeted disaster film market. And Uthaug proved it rather nicely, here, in this Norweigan film from Fantefilm and Film Vast productions.

What one notices right away about “The Wave,” is it’s sincere and attentive characterizations and warm scrutiny of a family in Akneset, one of whom is a geologist named Kristian (Kristoffer Joner), who is leaving his job and Village to pursue a headier job with a big oil company. This, in turn, prompts a family move and Uthaug insects the various dynamics between his wife, Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), and kids, Sondre and Julia.

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He is a positive husband and father and likes to joke with his daughter and respectfully and paternally approaches his son while he broods about the move. Kristian, also, is a very dedicated geologist, and on his last day with his co-workers (after they toast to his new job), he shows some concern about water levels dropping in a nearby fissure on the closest mountain range to the small village.

He looks into past records and his concern increases as he delves deeper into the strange readings deep within the mountain. Worried that he may be on to something dreadful , and that an ensuing landslide into the Fjord waters may create a deadly tsunami, Kristian tries to convince his ex-co-workers that catastrophe is heading their way with the mountain about to set free a large chunk of itself into the waters below it.

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But of course, things are too late, and after 2 other geologists look into the fissure personally, the mountain fissure expands as grave tremors and quakes endanger them. Eventually, the mountain lets go of an unfathomable size of itself and plunges into the waters. Kristian desperately achieves to depart with Julia after he finds out what has happened, races to a nearby tourist Hotel where his wife works and his son is staying in a room. Idun persuades him to not go after them since they are evacuating and leaving in a bus. Kristian makes for higher ground but things do not turn out as planned and Kristian is forced to go back for Idun and Sondre as they remain trapped in the bowels of the Hotel after the tsunami hits.

Before I get to the disaster part of the review (and even then I will not spoil anything), I want to focus on how Uthaug’s films deviates from hokey cliches seen in other like minded efforts like “2012” or “The Day after Tomorrow.” The film goes more the route of “The Impossible.” There are many characters to like and Kristian is a good and mindful person, and even though his job and vocation gets the best of him sometimes, you can really feel his earnestness and you know he loves his family.

Also, refreshingly, there are no estranged characters, dysfunctional families, bad guys, or even some loony scientist that cries wolf all the time. The family dynamics are played straight and real. Another thing is the division of the family members within the story (Julia and Kristian at the house for a last night sleepover and Sondre and Idun at the hotel) makes sense and feels integral to the movie since it is a springboard to get the action and peril in motion.

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If “The Wave” is anything, it is very authentic and uses the technical geology jargon to good effect. You really feel that this is all happening and the actors convey at first a disbelief that anything dire could happen to the mountain, to then nail biting fear and a fight for survival. Uthaug builds solid suspense in the first 35 to 40 minutes with mostly dialog and exposition about the scientific aspects and revelations regarding the fissure, but when things get going then “The Wave” becomes a tried and true freight train of a disaster film.

When disasters strikes, it is just in the form of one beautifully executed sequence. The Wave is shown as a beast slowing approaching it’s prey in the form of the nearby village and it is quite a spectacle. It happens straightforward and the last hour is spent on the aftermath of the tsunami. At first, I wanted more scenes of bloated destruction since after so many years of watching things get destroyed and devastated, I was left a sort of mayhem and destruction junkie. But it is not needed here, afterwards, Uthaug delivers a harrowing search and rescue movie after the initial disaster pummels the Fjord and village. It is deeply moving in parts and very edge of your seat, in others.

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There are very scary moments in “The Wave” and the film does not glorify the destruction as much as it shows us some very sad, deadly and desperate situations making the movie all the more touching and disturbing.

The Wave,” pre-disaster, is a beautfully shot and lensed film by John Christian Roselund (Just wait until you see those wide shots of the Fjord and the mountains!). It also sports a very nice James Newton Howard – like score by Magnus Beite (Cold Prey, Ragnarok). The star is not the disaster, in which they show blessed restraint with, but instead the characters and the actors. Yeah, some cliché may be found here and there (perhaps the “happy ending” and the old “let’s not scare the tourists” ploy) but it is very fleeting and insignificant to all of the rest of the spectacle and suspense that permeates this very well done Norweigan production. Highly recommend. Enjoy, gang!

– Vic

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Brian’s Review – “Knowing” (2009)

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What’s it About?

M.I.T. professor John Koestler links a mysterious list of numbers from a time capsule to past and future disasters and sets out to prevent the ultimate catastrophe.

Directed by Alex Proyas

(Updated and Re-edited by Vic De Leon)

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I was actually pleasantly surprised by “Knowing.” I’ve wanted to watch it for some time simply because it was directed by the versatile and visionary Alex Proyas (The Crow and Dark City), and it had an interesting synopsis and story for it’s dynamic sci-fi plot.

What would you do if you suddenly found out that the world was ending gradually and you knew exactly when the actual end of the earth as we know it was going to happen? That it the heady and provocative tie that binds this film together and kept me interested during its two hour running time. Indeed, this isn’t the kind of film you want to actually think too hard about in the end. That is because there are quite a lot of implausible story choices to be had in the script.

I did wonder just how Nicolas Cage, who portrays an M.I.T Professor named John Koestler, found out the world was going to end so easily and how he managed to piece together so many clues through riddles, tomes, signs and predictions. Proyas’ film goes to great lengths to explain how he figures out the series of enigmatic numbers contained within the paper from the time capsule and how they correlate to real world events and disasters. But, when it comes to the biggest surprise, the inevitable end of the world, he simply hops on his iMac, does some poking around and….POOF!..He knows and deciphers the answer!

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Also, other than his great and absorbing performance in Leaving Las Vegas, Nicolas Cage’s acting tends to be a bit hammy, unbalanced and overly dramatized in various films that he stars in. Unfortunately, Knowing is no exception, with Cage walking a tightrope between an all out breakdown and a finely tuned, scene chewing spectacle. To my displeasure, his demeanor often times doesn’t even fit the scenes he’s actually in and it all comes across a bit detached.

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However, he is excellent at resembling a horse and drinking alcohol while looking “concerned.” One last problem before I move on to the good stuff is the special effects. It’s a tale of two movies here because the end of the world stuff looks incredible. Waves of explosions fill the sky and you see the Earth turn to instant, cinderous rubble. But, in earlier scenes involving large scale accidents (plane and train, I won’t divulge more), it looks really fake and obviously CGI. The best special and visual FX, are ones that you don’t really notice.

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The film itself has a wonderful and unique visual look to it. It’s dark without coming across as tremendously dreary and the dynamic cinematography by Simon Duggan (I, Robot, Live Free or Die Hard, The Great Gatsby) is one of the films’ stronger visual attributes. Also, Director Alex Proyas creates a great sense of suspense without having to resort to cheap and banal cliches. We are drawn in by the sheer enormity of the eventual end times and can feel it inching closer as the film progresses. I will admit that the end may turn some viewers off because of how it can feel detached from the rest of the movie, but, just keep in mind that it’s science fiction…not actual science. Recommended and enjoy!

BRIAN

Vic’s Review – “Howl” (2015)

HOWL”

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What’s it About?

When passengers on a train are attacked by a creature, they must band together in order to survive until morning.

Directed by Paul Hyett

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Howl”

Director Paul Hyett, follows up his critically acclaimed drama, The Seasoning House, with much more bite, in the werewolf thriller, “Howl.” For his 2nd film, Hyett, who has had an illustrious career as a special make up (and prosthetic) artist on such films as Attack The Block, Doomsday and even The Descent, changes up genres and takes a stab at a creature feature. Howl proves to be a decent middle of the road affair and serves up a good enough mash up of scares, gore and properly obscured monster fx. It is indeed a low budget affair and within those typical constraints, Hyett and his cast and crew keep things moving along at a cool clip.

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Hyett’s film is actually likeable and you may find yourself forgiving the cliches, the customary tropes and hokey characterizations more than once. The film knows what it is and what it wants to be and doesn’t aspire to any weighty conceits. We are talking about a werewolf movie here, no? Hyett’s movie isn’t trying to outdo more classic films like Dantes’s The Howling or even Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, but it does have one cool thing going for it and that it takes place on a commuter train in England. I also really appreciated Hyett’s take on the werewolves themselves. They are not glamorous or sublime. They are completely ferocious and deadly, and I am sure, thanks to Hyett’s experience as a make up fx artist, made to be feared and loathed.

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Howl has a few familiar faces in it, to those with a keen indie movie (and non horror) eye. The beautifully freckled Shauna MacDonald, from The Descent (which Hyett worked on), Holly Weston from The Danish Girl, Ed Speleers from Eragon, Beowulf and Downton Abbey, Sam Gittins from The Prey and Driftwood, as well as Eliot Cowan from the BBC’s Luther. Speleers plays Joe, an unassuming, quiet, nervy and irritable train guard. Having been passed up on a promotion, Joe must take on another shift to watch over a late overnight ride on the train, at the behest of his dick of a superior (who received the promotion meant for Joe). Joe accepts, especially when he finds out that a girl he likes, Ellen (Weston), will be on the train as well. Joe is a nervous and non-confrontational fellow. He doesn’t hold up too well just simply asking for the tickets of the myriad of persons (and personalities) on board the night train. Much of which are just downright rude, ugly and mean spirited.

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Hyett gives us the typical who’s who on the night train. All cliched, horror stereotypes.The slick and devilish handsome fellow, a young and loud hipster girl, a nerdy dude, a stiff upper lipped working girl, an overweight boorish kid, an older “pensioner” couple along with a younger kid who is pursuing a career in engineering (who eventually plays a big part in rescuing the hapless passengers). Joe tries his best to buck up to the circumstances aboard the train as he deals with having to interact with them all.

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But, the thing is, is that none of these characters are very like-able and we don’t really end up caring a rat’s ass about most of them. None are very relatable and we just end up trying to figure out who gets it first and next. Which I guess isnt a bad thing since it gives Joe a chance to become the one person we gravitate to as things get very bad on the train. Hyett builds maintain-able suspense as he allows the characters to interact as well as establishing that something very dangerous lurks further up the tracks. And dangerous it is.

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Joe is put to the test of having to confront the passengers after a huge bump (which almost derails the train) and subsequent power outtage causes the train to stall on the tracks. This unnerves all of the passengers, who by now, we have all been introduced to. The macho guy, sensing Joe’s inability to take charge and calm the passengers, starts to wrestle the confidence away from him by helping and taking a shine to Ellen.

Actor Sean Pertwee, who you will miss if you blink, has a cameo as the train driver in Howl. In my opinion, it’s a wasted effort even for a small cameo, since he is given really nothing to do but step outdoors to investigate what has happened to the train, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the forest and utter some unitellible lines. Oh well, maybe he happened to come across the set one day and Hyett needed a favor. Suffice it to say, after finding a crushed steer, dead and gored under the train, things don’t bode well for him.

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Hyett introduces to us a deadly looking beast that, for a low budget outing, looks pretty menacing (what we do see at the time), when rightly lit and exposed. The stalled commuters get even angrier, frenzied, and more worried when Ellen and Joe return with bad news about the Driver (which at first they keep quiet about). Situations get harried quickly when they all decide to take their chances out in the night, to walk along the tracks to the next station. A pretty damn bad idea. They run into the feral wolf – creature outdoors and eventually end up back at the train fighting for their lives.

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Howl repsectively provides the viewer with enough monster mayhem to pass a short amount of time, perhaps on an early Saturday afternoon with the curtains drawn. Hyett gives us plenty of character interaction, even though much of the dialog and the backstories (especially between the macho dude and the smart, stiff pretty lady) kind of go nowhere. It all just pretty much acts as filler. There is gore abound, gruesome attacks, commuters being tirned into feral creatures and the occasional jab or poke at stereotypes. Like the overweight guy and the nerdy, bookish fellow. Howl’s one true saving grace and the reason I truly recommend it, is the very believable monsters that Hyett creates for us. They are an interesting hybrid of wolf and man and yes, there are more than one!

The monsters are well rendered as CGI creations as well and Hyett shows restraint when revealing them. The commuters all know their lore and even when the old guy on the train gives us a “monster speech” we still don’t know where they come from and why they are there in the forests going after a train. Have they done this before? Are they seeking revenge? Or are they starting to go after humans, now that they have a taste for us? This and other questions go unapproached but Howl is still goofy creature feature fun and a decent time waster, but not anything I may jump back to see every so often, if at all. The movie is a capable “one and done” British indie monster flick with it’s tongue firmly planted in cheek and that’s not such a terribly bad thing, these days.

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It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, either though, since Howl has no real terror to speak of (despite some noisy and gory attack scenes) or any sustain-abiltiy by the end, with the make up fx (when the werewolves are seen in daylight). They just don’t hold up as well as what came before it. Do definitely consider Hyett’s film as a rental before a purchase!