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"V/H/S2" is Crazier Than the Original, but Not As Scary

I'll give "V/H/S2" credit: they went for it. There's a brazenness with respect to the scares that outdoes even the original “V/H/S” (except for "Amateur Night"). No coy leave-it-to-your-imagination stuff. But in terms of images that stick with you and make you keep the lights on, I think “V/H/S” had more impact.

The connective story, "Tape 49," involves a young PI couple investigating the disappearance of a college kid. They break into his apartment and discover a bunch of V/H/S tapes, which the woman proceeds to watch while the boyfriend explores the apartment.

The best of the bunch is "Safe Haven," from Gareth Evans ("The Raid"). It involves a documentary film crew investigating a religious cult and its leader, who is eerily and convincingly portrayed by actor Epy Kusnandar. He's to "Safe Haven" what Hannah Fierman was to "Amateur Night," and a creepy actor can go a long way to making a horror movie a memorable experience. What works here is that all the cult stuff is believably freaky and the set up is tense. Something about the fact that everyone is speaking what appears to be Indonesian amps things up a bit too. The gore factor is off the charts, but there is something about the build up to this one – not to mention the over-the-top finale – that just makes it an instant cult (no pun intended) classic. It's my favorite of the group.

Next in line would be "A Ride in the Park," about a young cyclist who is attacked by zombies during his ride through the eponymous park. He's wearing a helmet cam, so after he "turns" we get to experience his transition from bewilderment, to illness, to hunger. It's a very interesting take on the zombie genre from the director of "The Blair Witch Project." As crazy as it sounds, he actually manages to conjure up empathy for the main character who has basically forfeited a pretty rocking life to become one of the undead. When he accidentally butt-dials his girlfriend at the end and realizes everything he's lost, even in his zombie haze, it's a poignant moment that leads to tragic results.

Third in line for me would be "Slumber Party Alien Abduction." This entry is just a lot of fun and its boldness in showcasing the aliens is both a strength and a weakness. What I liked about Slumber Party was the teenagers misbehaving trope we've seen in so many horror movies. This entry is not really scary and the shaky cam aesthetic is pushed a bit too far, but it's still a solid outing. (Question: why is there a blackface Santa in this movie?)

Speaking of scary, there is a section toward the end of Tape 49 – the wrap around segment – that probably provides the most significant scares in the entire flick. Let's just say that if something comes back to life after its head has been twisted completely around, it can provide some frightful moments.

Finally, the first story, “Phase 1,” is pretty good if only because it is fast paced and entertaining. It also has a few jolts.

All of the V/H/S2 stories are kind of weak on character, but you don't have much time to set up character in a short film. Ultimately, this sequel feels like it was
trying to top the first one. But I suppose that's the curse of any sequel: whether knowingly or not, it is always attempting to surpass its progenitor.

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"Mama" - Suprisingly Effective


I really wasn’t expecting much from Mama based on the previews and the PG-13 rating, but I’m here to tell you, Mama is scarier than the Evil Dead remake. It’s not as action packed and certainly nowhere as gory, but it is spooky.

The plot involves two little girls being abducted by their father (Jeffrey) after killing their mother and several coworkers. He flees authorities into the deep woods, where his car crashes and he finds an abandoned cabin. He goes there to commit the horrible act of killing the his daughters, but unbeknownst to him the cabin is inhabited by the restless spirit of a former mental patient who lost her own baby in a bizarre suicide attempt. Unable to find the remains of her baby after jumping off a cliff, Mama has been skulking around this cabin for over a hundred years… waiting. When the wayward father arrives there, she gruesomely dispatches him before he can kill his daughters and adopts them as her own.

With Mama’s ghoulish assistance, the girls have managed to survive for five years in the wilderness alone. But when they are discovered by Jeffrey’s brother, Lucas, no one knows how they survived so long. Mama tells the story of how Lucas, his über hot girlfriend played Jessica Chastain, and an overly ambitious psychiatrist unravel this mystery, and it is a surprisingly effective chiller.

There are a couple things that specifically deserve mention. First, Mama is hideously deformed and as such is one spooky looking ghost. These guys tore a page from the “Alien” playbook - make the monster scary looking and you’re halfway to the finish line. Second, the beat where Lucas is incapacitated by Mama, thereby leaving Chastain alone in that huge house with the unnerving children and the overly protective Mama is a very good plot device. The audience can really relate to Chastain’s paranoia and fear that first night in the house alone.

Mama is certain to do well in the DVD market, and was no slouch in the theaters, bringing in over $70 million domestically. Rent it and get ready to keep those lights on.

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Resolution - Movie Review

The best horror films always have a good, believable story at their core. Resolution is about two friends who’ve become estranged because one of them, Chris, played by Vinny Curran, is now a meth addict and is squatting in the California Mountains stoned out of his mind. Meanwhile, the other, Michael (Peter Cilella) has a beautiful girlfriend and has moved on to greener pastures. But he hasn’t given up on his friend and decides to trek into the hills one weekend in a last ditch effort to save him from inevitable death.

After Michael arrives and assesses the situation, he tazes Chris, handcuffs him to a pipe in an exposed wall, and dares him to make it a week without any drugs. That’s the basic set up for
Resolution, and that alone would make for an interesting movie. But there are crazy happenings up in “dem dar hills.” Things that would scare the heck out of someone who wasn’t getting high 24/7. Oh, and did I mention the house Chris is squatting in happens to be on a Native American reservation?

As a horror aficionado, I was pleasantly surprised at the slow burn pacing of
Resolution. By that end of that movie, directorsJustin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have ensconced the audience in such a believable, crazy setting that you get the feelinganything could happen - and you really cannot tell where Resolution is going in those last 15 minutes. That’s exciting in a time when scaring people in the movies is becoming more and more difficult against a backdrop of everyday horrors that are worse than the best Stephen King novel.

There are some funny lines in
Resolution and a consistent humor that is surprising. I also liked the way the two main characters behaved believably when the danger set in. They didn’t do those things that make you shout at the movie screen, and yet, they still meet an untimely demise. It’s much scarier that way. Bravo to all in involved with Resolution. I sense good things on the horizon for Moorhead and Benson.

--> Reprinted with Permission from All Good Things TV

Check out Resolution on In Demand

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"Carnage" - Good Movie, Great Music

"Carnage," Roman Polanski's latest outing, is a talkfest with veteran actors Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winselt and Christoph Waltz. It's about a seemingly liberal, feel good couple (Foster and Reilly) whose son is brutalized in a playground fight by the son of the more uptight, conservative Waltz and Winslet. The couples meet and at first everything seems to be above board and civil, but as the foursome's time together progresses, things get increasingly tense and unpleasant and good manners fall by the way side.

I tend to like Polanski's work. He has a relaxed, measured way of telling a story that allows you to immerse yourself in the movie. The edges are never too hard; things always have a certain smoothness to them.

As much as enjoyed this movie, the real star is the 2 + minutes of score over the end credits by Alexandre Desplat. This has got to be one of best pieces of musical composition I've heard in a movie in a long time. Every note feels right. This is an exciting time in movie scoring, with people like Desplat, Michael Giacchino, Clint Manswell, Mychael Danna, Trent Reznor, James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer filling films with excellent scores. But I think Desplat, who also did the music for The Fantastic Mr. Fox, is my favorite and this soundtrack proves why.


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UFC 3 Undisputed

I've got a friend who works at THQ and he'd been talking about how good this game is. Based on this IGN score I guess he wasn't just whistling Dixie. Fight games aren't really my thing, but I have to give this one a shot.


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A Few Thoughts on "The Innkeepers" (Spoilers) - Ti West

Let's start with good stuff. Ti West may well be the best director out there right now at building suspense and dread in horror movies. The first thing I did when I was finished watching "The Innkeepers" was turn on the lights - that's a sign West did his job. And he doesn't do it with cheap scares and gimmicks. He just slowly hones in on a shot/scene without flinching. He has a keen sense of where you don't wanna be and puts you right there. The fact that he can make movies scarier and more disturbing than flicks with three times the budget and bigger name actors is a testament to the fact that he's at the top of the genre. He did couple things in "The Innkeepers" that are bona fide scare inducers...

The Frail and Vulnerable Victim

Sara Paxton plays one of two clerks working at the Yankee Pedlar its final weekend before closing. She's frail and asthmatic and scared of her own shadow, and seeing her so easily frightened, reaching for her inhaler at every turn, makes us more scared. It's like the child victims in movies like "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" or "Ringhu." Really vulnerable victims that can't protect themselves increase the menace factor.


Inexplicable Malevolence

Madeline O'Malley, the key evil spirit in "The Innkeepers," never speaks or in any way takes on human-like characteristics. She's just one really dead and scary looking spirit. We don't know her intentions, but they certainly don't seem good. Remember how much scarier Chucky was before he started talking? Humanizing the bad guy is the reason Freddy Krueger became a gag. Inexplicable evil is always more unnerving.

I'm not going to give away everything, but I will say that by the end of The Innkeepers I was spooked. In fact, from the time Pat Healy and Sara Paxton head to the basement to "contact" O'Malley's spirit until the end is pretty much a nail biter.

My criticisms of the movie are that it took a too long to get to the scares and the main character's actions didn't seem plausible or logical at several points. Whenever you have to ask why a character is doing something in a horror movie, it always takes away from the effectiveness. That happens quite a bit here with regard to Sara Paxton's character. First of all, why would someone as easily frightened as her be into paranormal investigations to begin with? Makes no sense. Secondly, she goes into the basement and other places that a character as trepidatious as she is just wouldn't go. If anything, Paxton would have been the one running out of the Yankee Pedlar, not Pat Healy's character. Because her actions have dire consequences, the lack of a logical motivation is even more annoying. (Stark contrast from the lead character in "House of the Devil," whose actions and resulting jeopardy seemed a lot more believable.)

Now, because this is a blog mainly about sexy models, I have to mention Sara "packs a lot into a small package" Paxton's bod. If you've seen the cruddy Shark Night, you know Sara has a thin but surprisingly curvy figure. There's a scene in this movie where she comes running downstairs in just a t-shirt and, even though she's looked almost androgynously asexual up until this point, she suddenly becomes pretty sexy. Just had to note it. Winking

I enjoyed The Innkeepers and will continue to watch Mr. West's movies. I definitely recommend it.

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"Young Adult" Review - Spoilers - Charlize Theron


I'm reluctant to "review" Young Adult because there has already been a lot of ink spilled on this movie. It's the type of picture people like to brag about seeing because it makes them look smart. Pic has the same feel as movies like "Juno," "Election," "Ghost World," etc. Rolfe Kent did the music, Mr. Mudd (John Malkovich's production company) produced, Diablo Cody wrote it and Jason Reitman directed. This is the crew that does the anti-formula type movies. The problem is, they've done so many that now these flicks have their own formulaic feel. Still, you gotta love a movie that champions the viewpoint of an emotionally stunted 37-year-old single woman who can't deal with embracing adulthood, as defined by getting married, having kids, and moving to the suburbs. As a single person myself, there were some moments in "Young Adults" that I could really relate to, like Theron waking up late in the day, having fallen asleep on the couch in an awkward position with the TV on all night.

Theron plays Mavis Gery, a resident of Minneapolis (considered the "big city" in this movie) and writer of young adult books called Waverly Prep. The books are no longer popular and the series is being cancelled, but Mavis is still significantly more accomplished than her former high school buddies. For reasons revealed later in the film, she's developed a fixation on her HS sweet heart, nicely played by Patrick Wilson. She decides to go back to the small town she went to high school in and try to reclaim him, despite the fact that he's married and just had his first child.

One thing that stood out to me in this movie is how, despite the filmmaker's best efforts to make Theron look dumpy and unimpressive in her everyday romps, she still managed to be stunningly attractive in just about every frame. This kind of works against the pic, because you're always aware that the plot is slightly implausible. There is no universe where guys would not be throwing themselves at Mavis Gary even on her worse day.

However, there's more to this movie than meets the eye, and there's a stand-off of sorts between Theron's Mavis and the suburban types she resents so much toward the end that is not only incredibly uncomfortable, but shows a reversal in perspectives you will not be expecting. By the conclusion, the movie has simultaneously vilified Mavis while also showing that she stubbornly refuses to change. She thinks her view point is the superior one, but the filmmakers put a big question mark over that. You will certainly be thinking about this one for a while after you leave the theater, and that's a good thing.

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Adrian Tomine - Optic Nerve #12 - Amber Sweet

Adrian Tomine is back on familiar ground with "Amber Sweet," the story of a young woman constantly mistaken for a popular online porn star. As is common in Tomine stories, the protagonist is isolated from her peers and is looking for a way to fit in. But the mistaken identity problem will not go away, so she changed schools and moves to a different area. That still doesn't solve her problems, but I'll let you read the rest.

I really enjoyed this issue of Optic Nerve. It was like a blast to the past, and it's good to see Tomine hasn't lost his touch for doing these unique stories of alienation and disappointment ("Hortisculture"). Also, the letters section is really good. I knew there were a lot of white Tomine fans who just wouldn't get ethnic identity issues in Shortcomings, and the letters confirmed as much.

The beleaguered protagonist meets the real Amber Sweet.

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Martha Marcy May Marlene

Every now and again you see a movie that reminds you of the importance of a fresh, new perspective in filmmaking. "Martha Marcy May Marlene," directed by newcomer Sean Durkin, is one of those films. Every frame crackles with Durkin's perspective, and oh what a hauntingly beautiful perspective it is. This is a movie of subtraction: it lingers on the scenes between the action/conflicts and tells its story in more of a reductive fashion. This works well for the subject, a young woman (Martha) who escapes a cult in the Catskill Mountains and is trying to put things back together after a traumatic experience with the group. The movie alternates between Martha's flashbacks to of the cult's austere environment and the modern, minimalism of her sister's home in Connecticut, where she seeks refuge.

One of the things I was most impressed with was how Durkin revealed the pros and cons of each way of life. The cult is not all bad, eschewing material excess for a simpler lifestyle, and Martha's condescendingly caring sister with all her financial security is not all good. But at the end of the day, the cult is an amoral band of criminals clinging to the sophistic preachings of their charismatic leader to justify their violent actions. Martha starts to see through these hollow philosophies, which is what leads to her wanting to escape. But Durkin lets us see things in an unfiltered way, without trying too hard to make the sect the bad guy.

I give this movie a high recommend.


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The Descendants - Not My Favorite Payne Movie

As the critics are just dying to tell you, "The Descendants" is an Oscar contender. George Clooney is fantastic. Shailene Woodley a starlet in the making. That may be, but I was not blown away by this movie. Alexander Payne is a smart guy - he uses words like "archipelago" and "reportage" to confirm as much - and all of his movies are better than your average big studio fare. But this one, about a lawyer trying to connect with his daughters after his wife goes into a coma due to a tragic accident, just kinda sat there on the screen for me. Certainly there are things to admire in "The Descendants": Woodley's scene stealing intensity, Payne's unique pictorial study of Honolulu, and George Clooney's understated yet effective performance. Payne's leisurely pacing is also enjoyable, and I was never fidgeting. But this film just felt insular and cold. I guess I couldn't relate to it. However, that's never stopped me from liking a film before if it is told in a moving and interesting way (see "Margin Call"). On the plus side, the legal phrase "rule against perpetuities" was used in this flick. I hadn't heard that since first year law school. Like I said, that Payne is a smart guy.


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