Thursday, June 30, 2011

Movie Reviews: The Resident and The Roommate (2011)

Grabbed these two movies out of the Redbox yesterday. Knew they were going to suck. Watched them anyway. Call me a glutton for punishment. Two movies about obsession. Neither one of them good. Must be hard to accomplish.

The Resident

Hilary Swank plays Juliet Devereaux, an ER doctor looking for a new apartment in New York City after separating from her cheating husband. She finds the perfect place - lots of space, nice price - with a cute landlord named Max who could become her next love interest. But when she has trouble sleeping and feels like she's being watched all the time, she starts to suspect that Max isn't as charming as he seems to be.

As a fan of Hilary Swank, I thought she might be the big highlight in this otherwise mediocre-looking movie. It started out not all that bad and overall the story is new and very creepy, but the execution and resolution are extremely disappointing. However, there is a nice turn in the narrative about halfway through. The movie stops being told exclusively from Juliet's perspective and immediately switches to Max's perspective, actually literally rewinding the movie and telling the same scenes over again as they are seen by the villain. The rest of the movie is then told by both of them which is kind of where it falls flat.

The scenes of Max sneaking into Juliet's room and other things he does to spy on her are very creepifying, if I may make up a word. And there are a couple of pretty good scenes - hiding under the bed, the needle under the toenail - but it all felt very boring to me. The suspense was minimal, if there was any at all, and at the point where things were supposed to be getting exciting, I found myself wandering around my room looking for things to distract me. Bad sign. I'm not even sure why the movie goes wrong for me. Maybe it was the dreaded anticipation of watching that final run and hide-and-seek showdown between the two main characters that I was just really sick of seeing. And whoops! Yup, there it is in this movie.

I did like the ending, though. Max is dead and Juliet throws down her weapon like a badass and walks away. One more shot of the dead guy and that's the end. There is no she's-a-much-stronger-woman-now denouement scene. The killer dies and the movie ends right away, which is the way I think most of these movies should end. Kudos to Jeffery Dean Morgan, as well. Good performance.

The Roommate

Now, The Roommate is one about which I had absolutely no expectations. It is lame and uninteresting all the way through, with situations and characters you've seen before but hopefully never will again.

Sara Matthews is excited for her college experience at the University of Los Angeles and everything seems to be going great at first. She makes friends, meets a cute boy, and gets along with her sweet roommate Rebecca. Rebecca soon becomes completely obsessed with becoming Sara's "bestest best friend," however, and Sara and everyone she knows is in danger.

Oh holy jeebus, I feel like I have seen this movie a hundred fucking times already. With Single White Female and a few Lifetime original movies, this plot is just old and done to DEATH. Getting the same tattoo is the same scene as getting the same haircut in SWF. Attacking the people who you deem unworthy of being around your obsessive friend is the same as in every other movie like this. There is nothing new here, nothing that even comes close to being a new idea or a new twist on the same old story.

Granted, the whole movie is pretty much given away in the title and the kind of movie it was marketed as. Everyone who has heard of this movie or even seen the poster - not even the trailer - can guess the major plot points without even seeing the movie itself. I kept watching the movie hoping that something unexpected would happen and at some points it felt like it might go off in a different direction but then it didn't. Disappointing that the screenwriters just fell into the same old habits.

The acting is not terrible. The girl playing Rebecca reminds me of Amanda Seyfried so I tried to imagine that it was her so I could find something about this movie that I liked. But there was just honestly not that much liking going on. The Roommate did keep me mildly interested throughout, but looking back on it as a whole, this movie is just a dud. It is ridiculously predictable and really, that's all there is to say.

A final note about this movie: Kitty in the dryer? NOT COOL, you sadistic motherfuckers. Not cool at all.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Movie Review: The Hitcher (1986)

Sometimes it's a bad idea to see a remake before the original. I've actually always liked The Hitcher
version from 2007 to some extent though it has its flaws (Sean Bean NOT being one of them) and had all those expectations in mind while watching the original version from 1986 yesterday. While the new movie is a slick Michael Bay release that ups the gore factor, the original script from Eric Red is much more subdued and cold, filled with hopelessness for the main character and apathy for the villain.

My mother told me never to do this: While driving cross-country, Jim Halsey stops for a hitchhiker one rainy night and enters a nightmarish situation he could never have imagined. The hitcher is John Ryder (haha, get it? Ryder... rider?), a cold-blooded killer who informs Jim that he will be his next victim. Jim initially escapes Ryder, but soon finds that Ryder is following him wherever he goes and even setting Jim up for his own crimes. Now on the run from both Ryder and the police, Jim's only salvation is a waitress named Nash who soon joins him.

I can't believe how people shit on this movie when it was first released. The more opinions I read from Roger Ebert on horror films, the more I despise him as a critic and almost as a human. He doesn't get these movies and he never has. The Hitcher got zero stars. To him the movie is "diseased and corrupt" and "reprehensible" simply because John Ryder is this non-discriminatory killer without a past or a reason for his menace. I just don't understand it - why does a movie have to be Oscar material to be admired? Why doesn't Ebert appreciate and respect how these movies portray the real evil in the world? Real emotive art is supposed to make us feel like shit about the world we live in, but also shows that there are people with the strength and balls to do something about stopping the evil. Notice my new tag for this movie - "Roger Ebert can kiss my ass." And indeed he can.

The suspense and twists in this movie are phenomenally well paced and every time we feel that Jim is safe, Ryder shows up again in the creepiest ways - the finger in the fries, the murders at the police station, kidnapping Nash in the bed while Jim is in the shower. These scenes are alarming in how they show Ryder's cunning and that is truly terrifying to me. When repeatedly asked why he is targeting Jim, the only explanation we get is a creepy smile.

Rutger Hauer as John Ryder is the perfect unrelenting serial killer with a bit of a twist to his character. It is this unrelenting attitude that brings about one of the film's unbelievability factors - how Ryder seems to be pretty much psychic and knows where Jim is and where he is going to be wherever he ends up - but it also adds to Ryder's menacing character and keeps Jim in danger throughout the whole movie. Otherwise, how could we believe that Jim is so trapped on this wide open highway with practically no one else around? Ryder has no qualms about brutally murdering anyone he comes in contact with, whether it be a nice family with children or even several cops, whom he viciously guns down without a second thought.

The twist on his character is that he is two completely different people at the same time. On the one hand, he is the cold-blooded psychopath on a murderous mission. Yet Hauer also brilliantly brings about his other side - that of a man who seems to want to stop what he's doing and have somebody finally kill him. He tells Jim in their very first encounter that that is what he wants him to do. He says, "I want you stop me." This is not a mind-fuck statement to make Jim feel more helpless, but rather Ryder really does want Jim, or somebody, to stop him. He makes Jim say "I want to die" when it is Ryder himself who wants to die. This is a trait of a serial killer that I have not seen before or since in a movie and it is a brilliant twist that gives this machine of a man a character that has so much more depth.

The blood in this movie is minimal and the straightforward narrative relies more on suspense and the continual breaking down of the main character. The murder of the family in the station wagon is implied but never seen - only portrayed through the blood dripping on Jim's shoes and the way he runs away in terror and throws up from what he has witnessed. The most iconic scene from the movie is of course Jennifer Jason Leigh as Nash being tied between two semis and then ripped apart, but again it is not seen. The remake shows this part with all the special effects the team can muster which I like because I like blood and stuff, but I'm not sure it was a better decision to show this brutal act rather than make the audience picture it like the original did.

The Hitcher is not without its questions. Like, if Jim is driving from Chicago to San Diego why did he take such a seemingly long detour through El Paso? Did Ryder really cut off that guy's arms, legs and  head with that tiny switchblade? If Ryder was supposedly following Jim, how could he do that on the most open highway in the world without being seen? Jim wanders aimlessly off the main road in the desert and happens upon the diner. He's not there for very long before we find out Ryder is also there. We don't see him but he manages to sneak a severed finger onto Jim's plate of fries. Whuh? Also, why would a nice family in a station wagon let a stranger hitch a ride with them and then let him sit in the back with their children? Stupid people.

Despite any errors in believability in the scriptwriting, The Hitcher is a classic thriller that I should have seen a long time ago. Seeing the remake first fuddled with the experience of watching it for the first time, but I still loved it. The acting and the pacing, the ghost-like quality of the villain and the desperation of the victim are all elements that make this movie one to see and talk about for years.

Nature is freaking scary!

Saw this link yesterday and thought some of you might enjoy it. Pictures of the nine Creepiest Trees on Earth! See them here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Movie Review: I Saw the Devil (2010)

More like I Saw a Super-Amazing Movie Called I Saw the Devil! When the credits rolled on this film, I could not wait to jump onto my computer and start raving about how fantastic it was. It is truly a superb thriller that does not hold the audience's hand through the ordeal. It shoves its face in every action and reaction and delves into the indescribable evil that lies inside some of us.

A plot for revenge: On a beautiful snowy night on a deserted road, young Ju-yeon has the misfortune of crossing paths with psychopathic serial killer Jang Kyung-chul. When her secret agent fiancee, Soo-hyun, finds out that he is the culprit, he sets out on a dangerous mission to make Kyung-chul suffer for his crimes.

The first thing that struck me about this movie was how absolutely gorgeous it is. The look of almost every scene is perfect. The colors are clear and vibrant, especially in the beginning (fluffy white snow and dark red blood) and in the scene where Soo-hyun attacks in the greenhouse place or whatever it was. The tunnel of green with the man in black barreling down on his prey - so beautiful and intriguing. The lighting and set design are also well-done - obviously the product of a very skilled hand behind the camera.

Perhaps most people are tired of the same old revenge stories. I'm not. And I don't see how anyone could call it a lesser sub-genre of horror than the typical slashers and serial killers. The basic story behind most of these films is a little tired maybe - someone gets killed or otherwise severely hurt and either they or their loved one takes revenge on the perpetrator. I Saw the Devil goes on a bit of a different path in that Soo-hyun does not just take revenge on Kyun-chul by killing him or even torturing him for a bit and then killing him. He hunts him down, using his secret agent-y skills, and  catches him. But he only plays with him really, leaving a part of his body wounded before letting him go. Then Soo-hyun catches up with him again later, and, again, only leaves him injured but still alive.

This element of the story confused me at first. In fact, it wasn't until the cannibal literally explained what Soo-hyun was doing that I actually got his motivation. Sometimes I'm slow. And this actually turns out to be fortuitous for the good guys in the movie. Kyun-chul is a pleasure killer without a conscience and along the way of him running from Soo-hyun, the audience gets to meet different kinds of serial killers (all who seem "lowly" to Kyun-chul - inflated ego much?). Soo-hyun also pisses this guy off by attacking him two times just before he can have his fun with his next victims.

The two men Kyun-chul meets in the taxi cab are perhaps just killers of opportunity or thrill seekers, therefore they are not as sophisticated as he is (to him, that is). His cannibal friend is simply a psycho who kills to eat. Kyun-chul looks down on all of these guys as if the way he kills is so much better. This helps establish his character as a veritable opponent to Soo-hyun, who must gravely admit that he has underestimated this cold-hearted man.

With revenge stories (at least well done ones like this film or 7 Days for example) we get real emotion from the characters, from both the revenge-taker and his or her victim. Horror that is devoid of emotion - grief, pain, fear, guilt - is nothing more than gore for gore's sake. Now those movies are perfectly fine in my book, I enjoy them as much as the next fan, but sometimes a movie comes around and shows us that gore and horror can be done in a different way. It can be both gratuitous and emotionally effective, sickening and cathartic. I think I Saw the Devil succeeds at all of these things.

The horrific scenes are specific in this movie and while at times it can seem like too much, I think they are so effective and well-done. Achilles tendon slicing, repeated blows to the head with various objects, body parts chopped off - you name it, this movie probably has it in all of its bloody glory. The effects work is very good at getting just the right amount of disgust and excitement for horror fans. My favorite part was the attack on the guys in the taxi. So violent and so long, with each guy getting stabbed more times than I could count. This vicious assault was superbly shot, I loved it!

Sidenote: Don't repeated blows to the head with various objects usually cause a lot more trauma than is presented here? Seriously. Several people in this movie receive such hard knocks with pipes and other hard, blunt objects and are still standing for the next scene! Surely someone should have caught on to the unbelievability of that shit.

There is maybe one thing about this movie that bugs me. There doesn't seem to be an real overall message, either about revenge or anything else. At the end, Soo-hyun's final revenge is a bit too cold for my taste as he does it in front of Kyun-chul's family, but then Soo-hyun cries after all is said and done. Does he regret it or just feel bad about it because he is not evil like his victim? Or has he become evil? None of this is really explored, and while the audience is satisfied by Kyun-chul's death, nothing has really been learned. We've been through this tragic and bloody story, but are we better people? Do we understand anything more now? Depends on how you interpret the movie's actions, I guess.

I Saw the Devil is a bit long at almost two and a half hours but it never felt long to me. Each scene takes the story to new and elevated places and there is never a dull moment. It was simply a really, really good movie. Not the most sophisticated review sentence but honestly this movie blew me away. So beautifully shot and wonderfully acted.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Worst Family Members in Horror Films

Most of us have that one member of their family that they are perhaps not too proud of. A deadbeat dad, a drug addict sister, or just a lazy and uncaring uncle, for instance, can be an embarrassing burden on the rest of the family. However, these real life relatives probably have nothing on the horrible family members in some of our most beloved horror movies. So here I give you... THE WORST FAMILY MEMBERS IN HORROR MOVIE HISTORY!

Worst Husband: Guy Woodhouse 
Any mention of John Cassavetes or Rosemary's Baby on my blog is now going to include the phrase "the worst husband in the history of the world." Hyperbole, yes, but also not too far from the truth. Guy Woodhouse's inner monologue: "Oh man, I'm a shitty actor and all I want is to feel good about myself, provide for my family and get lousy rich. Hey, these old people in my apartment say that there's a way to make that happen! All I have to do is drug my wife with chalky mousse (mouse?) and then let the old Satanists summon The Devil himself to rape my wife and impregnate her with his Satan seed! That's not so bad, right? I mean, she does really want children. I'm sure she'll be able to love Little Satan just as much as any child."

Dis-Honorable Mention: Dr. Feinstone from The Dentist for being able to turn into a psychopath a little too quickly after finding out that his wife was cheating on him. He does nasty things at his dentist office and then cuts out his wife's tongue and pulls out all her teeth, and keeping her alive afterward. Cruel.

Worst Wife: Evelyn Price 
Yes, Stephen and Evelyn Price do seem to hate each other equally but underneath the "wanting to kill you" exterior, I always thought Stephen was putting on a show. Evelyn, however, is a cold-hearted bitch who really does want her husband dead, if not by her hands, then someone else's. She even kills her lover and partner in crime to pull off the scheme of murdering Stephen. She's selfish, she cheats, she kills. I can't imagine even being friends with this high and mighty bee-otch if she were a real person.

Worst Father: Jack Torrance 
Normally I would not have said this because Mr. Torrance was under the influence of spirits when he committed the worst acts against his wife and son, but he deserves this spot because Jack acts like a prick before they even get to the Overlook Hotel. Stephen King wrote Jack Torrance as being incredibly remorseful and full of self-hatred for his alcoholism and breaking his son's arm, but Nicholson plays his Jack like a psycho right at the beginning. I never felt through the whole movie whether he even liked his wife and son at all.

Dis-Honorable Mentions: David Bower from Dolls for being a jerkweed right to his sweet little daughter's face. How rude! He actually tells her that he doesn't even like spending time with her. He's not an abuser or murderer or anything like that, but seriously, that's bad enough.

and Krug from both Last House on the Lefts for being a perverted sociopath who either keeps you hooked on heroin and then makes you shoot yourself OR for raping the girl you have a crush on and then stabbing you. From either version, Krug is a bad daddy.

Not sure why I picked pictures of both of them looking down.

Worst Mother: Margaret White 
This is perhaps the way too obvious choice but who is seriously more frightening than a crazy religious woman as only Piper Laurie could make her come to life? Aside from all the Jesus-ranting and talk about dirty pillows and red dresses, let's not forget that Margaret White brutally stabs her daughter in the back at the end of the film. Sure, Carrie's just murdered a gym full of her peers and her mother is "saving" her from her Satanic ways. She shelters her daughter from the world, tortures and abuses her, locks her in closets, and doesn't give her any means of surviving in the cruel world of high school. 

Dis-Honorable Mention: Nola Carveth from The Brood, because she is a nutjob the whole way through. She abandons her family to undergo some radical psychiatric treatment and seems to care more about her brood of deformed dwarves than her own child. FREAK.
I actually just watched this movie for the first time today - stay tuned for a review soon!

Worst Son: Damien Thorn 
Oh, come on! I know I talk about The Omen a lot around here, but for realz, what son can be worse than THE SON OF SATAN? He's a cute little bugger, I'll give you that, but with all the minions of Hell surrounding him - the Satan worshippers, the dogs, the crows - there is nobody who could stand up against this six-year-old. He can even make baboons go crazy when he's around, and those are some vicious muthas.

Dis-Honorable Mention: Gage Creed in Pet Sematary. I know that it's more his father's fault than Gage's own for why he turns out to be a cute little murdering zombie, but still. This three-year-old (in evilness, he's got at least 3 years on Damien) is able to take down two adults - including his own mother! Matricide... very wrong.

Worst Daughter: Rhoda Penmark 
The one and only, people! In Rhoda's time, children could not be diagnosed with sociopathy. No doubt they would have no problem calling her that now. Her way-too-perfect-to-be-real veneer is incredibly creepy, even before you find out about anything bad that she's done. She kills other children just for their penmanship medals and burns alive one jesting janitor. Don't be fooled by the blonde pigtails and cutesy dress and shoes - this girl is bad to the bone.

Dis-Honorable Mentions: Esther from the most recent evil child film, Orphan. Yeah, we know that she's not really a kid, but she's the perfect manipulator and does her damnedest to get rid of the mother and move in on the father. Her story is disturbing on so many levels.

and Karen Cooper, the rampaging little zombie from Night of the Living Dead. Her image is iconic and her actions legendary. First she chomps on her daddy's dead body then attacks mamma with a garden implement and stabs her repeatedly. Mmmm, brains.

Worst Brother: Otis 
Oh, this one's a real winner. Not only is Otis a sadistic pervert and serial killer in cahoots with the black-hearted Henry in this film, he's also got one strange attachment to his sister Becky. He tries to watch her undress, and eventually, when he spies on her and Henry about to get it on, gets jealous and tries to rape and murder her. Horrifying and yuck, at the same time. But have no fear because Henry, sweet guy that he is, murders both Otis and Becky so that they never have to deal with that weird uncomfortableness at family meals in the future.

Very, very close runner-up award of course goes to that ultimate unstoppable brother of evil, Michael Myers from the Halloween franchise. The hunt for little sister Laurie Strode starts in 1978 when he stalks her and her friends on Halloween night. It ends in 2002 when Mikey finally stabs and kills Laurie on the rooftop of an insane asylum, letting her fall to her death and bringing to a close their long and tumultuous relationship.
He's also going to have to stand for the Worst Uncle for his repeated attacks on little Jamie in the Halloween movies because I could not come up with another candidate for that role. So close. SO CLOSE.

Worst Sister: Mimiko Mizunuma 
There's this whole confusing curse thing going on in One Missed Call about cell phones and candy, but one must remember that the whole thing is this bad sister's fault. Mimiko was a young girl who used to torture and abuse her younger sister Nanako and then give her her favorite red candies afterward so she wouldn't tell anybody. The mother finds out about the abuse and leaves Mimiko to die of an asthma attack while she rushes the other sister to the hospital. A horrible punishment for her wrong deeds or just karma? You decide.

Dis-Honorable Mention: The mad, mad, mad, mad Jane Hudson from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. Jane Hudson is perhaps my favorite example of a "grotesque" character in film. The way she looks and acts and talks - you are just immediately put off by this crazy and unlikable woman. Jane treats her wheelchair-bound sister like crap when it was her fault that she was in the wheelchair in the first place. You'd think she'd feel bad about that, but not so much.

Worst Aunt: Ruth Chandler 
Was beating my brains out trying to think of a naughty auntie before I saw Porkhead's recent review of The Girl Next Door. Of course! Who could be worse than this insane, sadistic bitch? Ruth inflicts her own cruel beatings and torture on poor Meg and Susan, and takes it one disgusting step further by allowing her children and other neighborhood child to abuse Meg as well. Things only get worse and more disturbing. Gertrude Baniszewski, the real life Ruth, was thankfully not her victim's actual blood relative, which is a small comfort. Not much, though.