Monday, September 29, 2014

Movie Review: Motivational Growth (2013)

I hate to constantly use the phrase "this movie was not what I expected it to be" but... this movie was not what I expected it to be. In fact, Motivational Growth was much better than I could have hoped for. There have been a couple times now where movies with the dumbest premises ever have turned out to be brilliantly done, and I seriously love movies like that.

Motivational Growth is the story of Ian Folivor, a young man who is obviously depressed and has not left his apartment in over a year. After the death of his television set Kent, he tries to kill himself in his bathroom but fails - and begins to turn his life around by taking advice from a chatty growth of mold in his gross bathroom. The Mold claims to want to help Ian, but are its intentions really good, or evil?

With its small but dynamic cast and limited location, Motivational Growth is truly a brilliant film - it just chooses to deal with its subject matter in a very unconventional way, which can often lead to something much more intriguing than just a straight drama or comedy film. Though Motivational Growth was much more serious than the trailer led me to believe, I found myself really enjoying the fact that it was more than just a goofy comedy, and even more enjoying how beautifully filmed and acted the movie was. Even Ian's disgusting apartment is somehow beautiful to me because of the talent it shows for set design. In fact, there are many different talents at work in Motivational Growth, both on and off screen, and I know that this review is not going to do them all justice.

The dialogue is really the shining star of Motivational Growth. Its dry wit and cultural references made it possible for the writer to sneak in humor all throughout the film, even though the premise of the film itself should have provided enough humor. Ian serves not only as the film's main character but also as its narrator, as there are several times when he breaks the fourth wall to give some more direct character insight to the audience. He also provides some great lines of dialogue that truly made me laugh out loud - "If it wasn't for the sores, I don't think I'd have a reason to get up at all,"  "Panic is a weird state. Not like Wyoming is a weird state, either..." Each character that comes into Ian's life has their own crazy personality that is accentuated and expressed through their speech, and they were all awesome to meet.

Actor Adrian DiGiovanni couldn't be more perfect as Ian; he not only looks the part, but he plays him as so wonderfully lovable and pitiful at the same time. Genre favorite Jeffrey Combs provides the voice of The Mold, and he expertly and hilariously delivers every run-on, rambling line of dialogue that The Mold spews out. Seriously, I lost track of what he was saying half the time but it was still fun to listen to him talk. Danielle Doetsch is ridiculously cute as Leah, the object of Ian's affections, and her upbeat acting will just bring a huge smile to your face. My favorite character was actually Vanessa the grocery delivery girl, with her no-nonsense attitude and pink hair highlights. Two television repair men, a nice but scary landlord, and some very interesting fake television stars round out the rest of this oddball group of characters.

The ending of Motivational Growth is a hard one for me to figure out. The biggest reason for this is because it seems to have about three different endings at the same time so I am totally at a loss as to what really happened with Ian. (Here, I'll reluctantly give a SPOILER warning.) The emotional side of me wants to believe that The Mold and all the strange occurrences were maybe just all in Ian's head and that it was his own willpower and the inspiration of Leah that made him turn his life around and get the girl in the end. However, the logical side of me has me more believing that Ian's suicide attempt was actually successful and that that vision of his liquefying body on the bathroom floor was real. But whatever the vehicle - dream or not or whatever - Ian still walks out of his apartment at the end of the film, hand in hand with Leah, and that's really all you want to see for the character throughout the movie. And I thank the filmmakers for giving that to me.

It doesn't matter whether you get a deep message out of Motivational Growth or if you just watch it to laugh your butt off listening to Jeffrey Combs's voice coming out of an animated mold puppet thing. There are few films that can compare with the uniqueness of Motivational Growth and that is no doubt its strength and what will draw a lot of curious movie-watchers to it. Just remember: The Mold knows, Jack. The Mold knows.

Thanks to October Coast PR for the screener! Motivational Growth will be available on VOD on September 30, 2014 and its US DVD release is October 7, 2014.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Movie Review: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

This of course was not my first time watching The Blair Witch Project. It was, however, the first time I had watched the film in about 15 years, since it first came out. Despite its huge popularity, I saw the movie back when it was released, hated it, and have pretty much avoided it ever since. Texas Frightmare Weekend got me thinking about it again some months ago because the actors were reuniting as guests, so I decided that it deserved a second chance.

A plot synopsis is probably not necessary but that's what I always do in the second paragraph of my reviews so here we go: Three young filmmakers head into the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland to make a documentary about the Blair Witch, a local urban legend. Never seen again, the only clues as to what happened to them is in the video footage they shot, which was found one year after their disappearance.

Since I felt like I was basically watching the movie for the first time, having hardly remembered it from so long ago, I was actually hoping that my feelings about it would change. Not the case. Mostly, I still found the movie to be very boring and disappointing. It is not a movie about the Blair Witch at all but rather a movie about three people lost in the woods. The only tension you feel is the relationship between the characters and there is not a single scary moment in the whole movie having to do with what we are supposed to be scared of.

And actually, that is still my biggest problem with the movie - I honestly don't know what I'm supposed to be scared of. All of the interviews at the beginning about the Blair Witch, the man who murdered children, and the incident at Coffin Rock - none of these things are ever connected to be the work of one thing. The piles of rocks that appear outside of the kids' camp? The stick formations in the trees? I have no idea what that is supposed to mean, and again, no idea how it connects to the supposed Blair Witch, so how can I be scared of it? Why should I be scared of the sound of branches breaking in the woods? There are animals in the woods, if I'm not mistaken, and they can make noises - like branches breaking. Okay, teeth... yes, the teeth thing worried me a bit, but it almost comes too little too late. And I don't know if this was my bad hearing or what, but if it weren't for the closed captioning on my TV, I wouldn't have heard some of those supposedly scary noises the kids were hearing outside the tent - even with the volume turned all the way up.

One opinion that did change was the one I had about the characters. They are more likable this time around and what is really impressive is their acting when the situation gets worse and worse. Heather's articulate voice makes her a good leader, and it's less annoying because she doesn't do as many slip-ups as one would probably do in real life. Mike and Josh are not douchebags in the least, and are so sympathetic and wonderful, even when they are being mean to Heather. Their acting shows true frustration and desperation, completely believable and real, and I applaud that. It's hard to get right.

My only, tiny character problem is this: I have a bit of experience interviewing people on camera, so I can't not say anything about what a HORRIBLE interviewer Heather is. The people she is talking to are trying to tell their story and all you hear in the background is Heather going, "Uh-huh", "Right..." "Really?", and she continuously interrupts them in the middle of sentences. Shut. Up. Maybe it's a good thing they disappeared because the audio on their documentary would have sounded like shit.

I also have a bit of experience with found footage movies now, so the shaky cam didn't even faze me, and in fact, it's not really that bad to begin with. It's bad enough to look like it was shot by an amateur (and actually, I think it was) but there is some good framing here and there. For some reason I really like the shot of Heather running away from the tent. I think it's spooky looking the way the woods are so dark and she's so starkly white - very cool. Can't really say the same for the parts when Heather zooms in on a bag of marshmallows or Mike's hairy chest, but what are you gonna do.

I know that "less is more" in a horror film, but The Blair Witch Project relies too heavily on the "less" for my taste. It was unclear who or what the villain was. I understand that it is probably this very idea of the unknown that has other people scared by the Blair Witch, but it was too much of the uknown for me. Had I been given a more detailed picture of the Blair Witch and what she represented and/or was capable of, maybe the film would have had more of an effect on me. I do, however, appreciate The Blair Witch Project a lot more now for the phenomena it started and all the amazing movies that came out of it. Kudos for sure.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Movie Review: Mine Games (2014)

When I chose to click on the link to watch Mine Games, I was sort of expecting that I would be turning it off after a few minutes. I didn't have much hope for it, mostly based on the slightly cheesy title, the uninspiring poster art, and the familiar-sounding plot. But though the basic idea behind Mine Games is not the most original, this simple film is wonderfully executed and not as run-of-the-mill as you might think.

A group of friends who have just graduated college travel deep in the woods to spend the weekend at an uncle's house. They discover an old abandoned mine and decide to go exploring, which sets off a series of strange events that has them seeing and experiencing odd things that they have to figure out in order to get out of the woods alive.

Things start off nice and quick with the familiar setup you've seen a thousand times over. However, this is definitely a case where you really have to stick with the movie and give it a chance because by the time things really get started, neither the plot nor the characters are at all like what they started out to be. The editing in the first 20 minutes or so is sometimes a bit choppy with too-quick transitions, but eventually the movie finds its flow. The time loop angle of the plot (think Triangle, if you've seen it) is all about timing, and when to reveal and when to refrain from revealing certain things, and they really got things like that right in this film.

Easily the most accessible and respectful thing about Mine Games is the characters and how they change as the story goes on. The group of hot young things in this flick are both typical and not-so-typical of similar "cabin in the woods" stories - there's a hippie chick, a kind of ditzy girl, and my least favorite, a douchebag whose focus for the weekend seems to only be on drinking beer, plus some others. Once the interesting stuff really starts, though, all of these characters completely flip from my initial reaction, and actually my least favorite character in the beginning ended up being my favorite character - Lex.

In that same respect, I have to give a lot of kudos for the actors for the way they handled the material. Joseph Cross (another Law and Order: SVU alum that I recognize! I need to stop with the reruns of that show, seriously) plays the role of Michael, which was probably the most difficult one to do. A couple of the other male characters are not featured as much, which makes them seem like random extras. Seriously, I don't even remember their names. The female characters are very likable and even relatable - though Rose was the only slightly irritating one because of her supposed supernatural affiliations and all the weirdness that comes from that. On the other hand, though, her character being able to see spirits brings about some of the movie's cool makeup effects so I guess that makes it worth it.

The movie handles the time loop aspect well, though the reasoning for the time loop is not fully explained, and it is mostly left up to the viewer to believe the explanation that works for them. They bring in a lot of different possibilities for what is happening without straight out saying which is responsible - the group sees an aurora borealis, they see references to the Ouroboros in the mine, one of the characters is schizophrenic. I'm still a bit iffy about how I feel about the twist, but at least it did make for a cool ending and pretty awesome final shot. The sound of the hissing snake was another cool thing the filmmakers did to go with the Ouroboros thing and make the mine feel even creepier than it already was.

Mine Games is a cleverly crafted film even with its somewhat difficult storyline. However, it is executed with a nice, subtle genius and doesn't have to do much to be effective for the audience. A very cool surprise from a movie I didn't know anything about five minutes before I watched it!

Mine Games is currently scheduled for a DVD release on October 21, 2014. Thanks to October Coast PR for sending me the link to the screener! Watch the trailer below.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Short and Sweet: Lucid (2014)

I'm definitely becoming more a fan of short films because you can really see how much talent some people can put into such a short amount of time. Case in point, this wonderful 18-minute short called Lucid, sent to me by the writer/director himself. I was sold on watching it simply because of his passion and enthusiasm for the project, and of course, the intriguing premise.

Lucid is the story of woman who dreams every night that her husband tries to kill her. The dreams get more and more intense and graphic, as does her anxiety around her husband in real life. The tone of Lucid is wonderfully comical at times, mostly due to main actress Marion Kerr's reactions and hilarious yet subtle physicality. The editing is perfect, and utilizes a great montage-like style to provide a lot of information in a short amount of time. Scenes get a bit redundant when you see the same shot over and over again, but they do manage to change things up here and there (again, usually using comedy) to keep things punchy and interesting.

On the technical side, Lucid is beautifully shot. I love the look of the dream sequences with the bright light and soft edges, and Karen's oddly formal white dress with black waist for costuming. Shots are framed with true expertise, style, and an eye for just what looks right and what will get the right reaction from the viewer.

This is one of those short films that I would love to see fleshed out into something much bigger in order to explore all of the issues that are brought up. Her fear of possible motherhood and her fear that she's not right for the role of perfect wife (looking pretty all the time and making dinner every night) - I saw a lot of cool things about her character in particular that I just wanted to dig into more, because they were only able to scratch the surface. In fact, the filmmakers do have plans to turn Lucid into a TV series, though I think just a feature-length film would suffice.

I definitely found Lucid to be a wonderful short film that only left me wanting more by the end. Beautiful job!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Movie Review: Pieces of Talent (2012)

Thank you to Simply Legendary Publicity for sending me the DVD (with the beautiful cover art and signatures from the director and actors) for this indie horror flick, Pieces of Talent.

Charlotte is an aspiring actress whose not getting any work and has to deal with her freeloading mother living with her and stealing from her. One night she meets up with local filmmaker David, and they become quick friends when she takes care of him after a beatdown from the bouncer at the strip club where she waitresses. David is not your average filmmaker, though, and the inspiration he gets from Charlotte is of the very dangerous and bloody kind.

David Long is played by... David Long. Not sure what this is saying about the actor when he uses his own name to play a murdering psychopath, but surely he's not like that in real life, right? Anyway, Long is wonderful in the role, and easily plays equal parts adorable, curly-haired weirdo and obsessed nutjob. His cute smile and the infectious enthusiasm he has when making his movies can be read as either completely normal or completely psychopathic, and those are always the kinds of killers that are the most fun to watch and the most terrifying. The ones that can hide in plain sight are the ones to watch out for the most.

Kristi Ray is also adorable and completely natural and sweet in her portrayal of Charlotte. Her character is someone who is obviously kind-hearted and independent, but maybe not as strong as she needs to be to deal with her mother and the pressures of acting. I think perhaps her "friendship" with David will change that. Actually my favorite of the piece was Barbara Weetman as Charlotte's mom Mary. She felt the most real of all the characters to me - a woman who has scraped by with the bare minimum her whole life and is jealous that her daughter will do more with life than she ever did. Weetman is also able to pull off the dual roles of her character well, which includes a love for her daughter but also a resentment that allows her to take advantage of Charlotte in whatever way she can. Weetman does a brilliant job portraying all of this by giving Mary lots of believable and natural quirks - loved her.

The cover art above describes the film in the same way I described it after first watching it - beautiful horror. Perhaps no one but horror fans will ever understand what that means, and the makers of Pieces of Talent certainly do because the look of the film is impeccable and gorgeous throughout. It shows all the talent of a filmmaker who really knows what he is doing in terms of cinematography, coloring, and lighting. Actually, my favorite sequence is the little bit after Charlotte wakes up and realizes she's not alone in the house. Just the right amount of suspense with just the right amount of payoff. What did feel a bit out of place, though, was the title cards that say "the leech" and "the fox." The dialogue that goes with them are obviously about certain characters in the film (shouldn't Charlotte's mother have been the leech though?) and it is probably all a part of the movie that David is making, but that is not clearly stated in the movie so it all feels too random.

Obviously the most beautiful scene is David's fantasy sequence where he is covered in blood, with disembodied hands and arms caressing him. Both the visual and sound effects are amazing in this standout scene, and it is probably the thing that viewers will most remember. The rest of the gore is also bloody brilliant with nice effects and perfectly colored blood. The exploding head shot is most impressive!

By the film's conclusion, I couldn't help but feel a bit cheated out of something much more detailed and in-depth in regards to the story. Charlotte and David's interactions throughout the movie are meaningful, but not powerful enough for me. The more impressive scenes are the ones David has with his victims. The whole climax sequence is just as beautiful and well-filmed as the rest; however, it is a bit lackluster action-wise, and there is so much that is left open in regards to both main characters. The credit sequence does say that this story is "to be continued" so hopefully a sequel will happen that will explore these questions further.

Pieces of Talent is simplistic and intriguing, and with a charismatic main actor to follow, the straight dialogue scenes become just as interesting as the more exciting sequences with murder and mayhem; though this off-and-on pacing does slow down the film in a lot of places, which may underwhelm some viewers. Still, it's definitely one to check out for horror fans, who will love and appreciate the quality film work.

You can watch Pieces of Talent on Vimeo here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Movie Review: The Gore Gore Girls (1972)

There is quite possibly no entertainer like Herschell Gordon Lewis. He has brought horror fans endless joy with such films as The Wizard of Gore and The Gruesome Twosome - beautifully bad movies with ungodly bad taste, and that is exactly why we love them. The Gore Gore Girls from 1972 would be Lewis's final film for more than 30 years, but oh, what a way to go out.

Private investigator Abraham Gentry is promised a sizable sum by a reporter from The Globe, Nancy Weston, to look into the murder of a stripper named Suzie Creampuff. As Gentry rounds up a list of suspects, the body count continues to rise as more strippers are offed in increasingly bloody and gruesome ways. Who could be the one making mincemeat out of these beautiful girls' faces?

It has actually taken me a while to be able to write this review because while there is plenty to talk about with The Gore Gore Girls, it has left me rather speechless. The movie revels in its abundance of sleaze and over-the-top, unrealistic gore so much so that my experience of watching it can be broken down into the times that I busted out into such fits of laughter that I had to pause the movie before continuing on. Through the course of The Gore Gore Girls, there were many such laugh-out-loud moments, most of them having to do with the kills.

First to die is Miss Suzie Creampuff in a quick little opening scene before the credits. She's primping in front of a mirror before a black-gloved hand proceeds to shove her face into said mirror several times. It's good, but things get much, much better. The next victim is Candy Cane, a girl whom we meet again in front of mirror where she is staring at herself and caressing her body for some reason. While popping her bubble gum very annoyingly. Anyway, she actually gets the worst demise of them all where her face is hacked to smithereens with a cleaver. This induced Laughing Fit #1. Oh my goodness, how freaking excessive was that?! When the killer is done, her face doesn't even look like a face, especially when the killer sticks his/her hands all in it, pulling things apart and popping her eyeball.

Of course, this is not the best death in this movie.  Laughing Fit #2 came right at the beginning of this murder scene when the Circus Stripper (so named by me because of her dance sequence to odd circus-like music) randomly takes a cucumber out of her refrigerator (how subtle) before she has her throat cut and is bent over a kitchen table. Then the killer spanks the poor girl's butt bloody with a wooden meat tenderizer! What the hell?! That's kind of amazing and horrifying at the same time. It is made even more amazing when the killer dashes a little salt and pepper on her freshly tenderized rump. Soon after this mind-boggling scene, we are almost immediately thrown into another murder scene that is even more random. This scene includes a chick making French fries while ironing before getting her throat cut and getting said iron to her face. Laughing Fit #3 happened when her nipple was cut off and the milk was caught in a champagne glass. I about died. The girl's roommate then comes in and gets her face shoved in the boiling French fry grease. Dear goodness, Hersch, I seriously can't take anymore!

The Gore Gore Girls actually boasts some of the best acting I have seen in an HGL movie, mostly because I love Abraham Gentry. His character is incredibly obnoxious but the actor playing him does obnoxious so well that I give him a pass. Nancy is also pretty funny herself, especially in the scenes where she gets drunk. But the best character of course has to be the bar patron who just sits there, drawing faces on melons and squash before smashing them to bits with his fist. So very random, but so freaking hilarious.

When all is said and done, The Gore Gore Girls has one of the best and most delightful endings I've ever seen. Just as Abraham and Nancy are about to finally make out, Abraham breaks the fourth wall and informs the audience that they've "seen enough," and literally closes the curtain on the movie. Then this text appears:

Seriously, what's not to love with a movie that ends like this? Not only is it another example of awesome titling by HGL, but The Gore Gore Girls is also just another fantastically sleazy and crazy addition to this man's oeuvre. I love it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Movie Review: Evil Feed (2013)

I have to give my biggest thanks to Maven Publicity for giving me the opportunity to screen this movie! The gory and ridiculously awesome Evil Feed is quite simply a bloody good time from start to finish. It has a real sense of fun with itself and with the genre to satisfy any and all horror fans.

Join me for a crazy night at The Long Pig restaurant where all the delicacies of the human body are available for your pleasure! As the premiere place for cannibalistic cuisine, The Long Pig is now under new ownership and boss Steven has added his own brand of "Tendertainment" to the mix by hosting live fights where guests can watch their meals get tenderized before being served. But it seems like Steven might have bitten off more than he can chew when he kidnaps the wrong group of fighters for his restaurant!

The best comparison I have for what you can expect with Evil Feed is probably Kill Bill - lots of fight scenes, lots of kooky acting and dialogue, lots of crazy gore. With a quick and easy-to-follow pace and storyline, and a wit to match, Evil Feed's quality is top notch all around. The look of the film is sometimes dark but with wonderful touches of vibrant color to the costuming and set design. Everything is lit and filmed beautifully, giving it all a richness and vitality, and there is a very talented eye behind that camera lens. Certain scenes and shots are done in the perfect way to get the right reactions out of the audience. Sadly, there are only a couple of cute camera tricks like zooms and one wonderful use of split screen. A bit more of stuff like this would have really given the film more personality, even though it already has a lot of it.

The story follows two groups of people - those running The Long Pig and those trying to save their friends from being eaten. There is not really a main character, but you won't really find yourself caring that much because all of these crazy people are a joy to watch. The real standout among the actors is of course Alyson Bath as Yuki. Part adorable little sexpot, part insane psycho bitch - Yuki steals every single scene that she is in, and Bath acts her heart out  with this girl. They also give her a wonderful look with the extreme eye makeup and dark lips that really match the character's dementedness.

Other people of interest are the tophat-wearing, cane-wielding Steven, rival restaurant owner Madam Dragonfly, and the crazy Chinese fighting man whose name I didn't catch. The crazy Chinese fighting man thing is a bit of a cliché but this guy totally embraced that and rolled with it all the way home. Jenna is also a pretty great female character, simply because she is the daughter of a martial arts master. Every time someone tries to attack her in the film, she gets to go against the grain and just beat the snot out of them instead of screaming and running like other female victims in horror movies.

Another great element to the movie is the amazing choice of music. Many scenes and characters are introduced with the most perfect musical cues - all upbeat and fun, full of the same quirky personality as the movie itself. The gore is also delightfully over exaggerated with all kinds of fun gags - probably the best being when a crazy, beefy fighter rips off his opponent's face and then eats it. Instead of going for a huge body count, the movie chooses to make its few kills really worth it for the audience. There's a great decapitation and some characters who lose other appendages... but I'll leave that for you to see on your own. The numerous and hilarious fight scenes are impressively well-choreographed, filmed in such a way that they were both believable enough to be real, but crazy enough to be entertaining as well.

Sadly, the movie ends on way too serious a note for my liking. The story itself comes to a great conclusion but the tone in the last five minutes or so is all wrong and so different from the rest of the film. It really needed that one last great musical cue to give the ending a real punch and keep the audience in high spirits. And actually, I found out that they did do this ending, but they added it as a "credit cookie" - so be sure to keep watching after they roll. There's also a pretty funny original theme song to listen to during the end credits, as well.

Evil Feed is by far one of my favorite films I've watched in a long time. It gets everything right in terms of the acting and characters, the pacing, and most importantly, the gore and the sense of humor. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on this film as soon as possible. I'd be surprised if you didn't love it!

Also, I loved the sweet packaging for the film. The DVD was folded inside a menu for The Long Pig, with hilarious menu item descriptions and blurbs about the movie. So cute.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Movie Review: Lucky Bastard (2013)

I was sent the link for this 2013 indie found footage movie Lucky Bastard, and though it is not really in the vein of "horror," this is one of those movies that I can't let go without saying something about it. Don't let the movie's premise fool you into any preconceived notions - Lucky Bastard is well-made and smart, and done in a very respectful way.

Porn producer Mike talks his star actress Ashley Saint into participating in the "Lucky Bastard" series on his website, where a normal guy is chosen to have sex on camera with a porn star. Ashley hesitatingly agrees, and the lucky bastard is decided - seemingly shy, nice guy Dave. But when the show doesn't go exactly as planned, it seems they might have picked the wrong man.

The film almost sets itself up for disaster by having it be about the adult entertainment industry. It received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, with not really any chance to cut it down to an R without losing huge gaps in the movie. However, I was pleasantly surprised at and impressed with the filmmakers for the classy way they handled the material. Make no mistake: there is vulgar talk of sex; there is full frontal female and male nudity; and there are several graphic simulated sex scenes. Yet I never once got a feeling of sleaze or cheese from the movie.

The biggest reason for this part of the movie's success is the acting and the characters. Betsy Rue (from My Bloody Valentine and Halloween II) plays Ashley Saint. I liked that Ashley wasn't selfish or materialistic - porn is just her job, a way to take care of herself and her children. My only complaint is that when things get a bit more intense in the third act, Rue doesn't match her emotions with what is happening and she is too blasé. Also, I don't know how you can have the morals not to do anal porn, but be perfectly okay with doing rape porn! The character of Mike should be your typical sleazy porn magnate, but in the hands of these writers, and actor Don McManus, Mike actually becomes the most likable guy in the film. Despite a few moments of greedy exploitation, McManus portrays Mike as a solidly good guy who is caring, respectful, and protective of the people with whom he works. The lucky bastard Dave is played by Jay Paulson, whose look fits the character to a T. Paulson's mannerisms as a stereotypical shy geek work perfectly here, and the escalation of his nerves is natural and believable. The only real oddball character is Kacey, aspiring porn actress and Mike's current girlfriend. It's hard to get a handle on who she really is when nothing is known about her motivations or background, so while she's a good character played by a good actress, she's still a mystery to me.

The found footage aspect not only makes total sense for this situation, but it is also one of the best filmed of this type of movie that I've seen. The images are crisp and clear, and with characters that are supposed to be professional cameramen running things, the filmmakers are able to use nicely framed shots for every scene without losing the believability. The last part of the film takes place in a house once used for a reality show, so there are already cameras all over the place to catch the action that the fictional camera crew can't. Because of the use of found footage, there is no music in the film.  Also interesting about the film's style is that there are no night scenes. Everything takes place in big, bright, sunny L.A. - a very stark contrast to the actions taking place on screen. It definitely puts you into a false sense of security that nothing all that terrible is going to happen.

And really, it doesn't. The sex scenes are about as graphic as the film gets, and even those weren't bad at all by my standards. When things get bloody, it is not stylized or flashy, but rather really stays with Lucky Bastard's overall realistic feel and tone. There are some places that I didn't think the movie needed to go to, but that might just be me. They also bring in a couple of unnecessary characters that seem to maybe just be there for a body count - and you can guess that about them when they are first introduced.

The ending is a slight downer if you want something more exciting, but it is probably the most realistic ending they could have chosen. Lucky Bastard is a diamond in the rough considering what it gives itself to work with. Its subject matter might turn off some viewers, but give it the chance and I think you'll find a movie that is a pleasant surprise with its acting and technical skill.

You can view Lucky Bastard on Hulu here.
And it is available for purchase on Amazon here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Watch this trailer. Seriously.

Had to share this real quick. Here is a trailer for the forthcoming film Motivational Growth, which is basically about a guy taking life advice from a huge, talking growth of mold in his nasty bathroom. The voice of the Mold is none other than Reanimator Jeffrey Combs. I do believe that I will be seeing this movie when I get the chance!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: "Hemlock Grove" by Brian McGreevy

Werewolves and vampires come together in the right way in this odd but intriguing tale that is the debut novel of author Brian McGreevy - Hemlock Grove. The book was adapted into a Netflix Original series that premiered in April of 2013, and its second season debuted last month on July 11. If the show has the same deliciously strange vibe that I got from the book, then I will definitely be watching and reviewing it as well very soon!

Hemlock Grove refers to the town in Pennsylvania where things are anything but ordinary - including its citizens. Most recently there has been a series of brutal murders in the area, which many believe to be the work of Peter Rumancek, a Gypsy who just moved to town with his mother. The rumor around town that Peter is a werewolf is actually true, and despite this fact, Peter is befriended by Roman Godfrey, heir to the richest estate in town. Together, the two try to figure out who the killer so they can stop him/her.

Easily the most engaging element in Hemlock Grove is the wonderful cast of characters that McGreevy has created. I'm always up for anything weird, grotesque, or macabre and there is plenty of all of these types of people in this story. But though they are all definitely not normal, at their core all these characters and their relationships are just like everyone else's. They deal with love and betrayal and desire - just maybe not in the ways you or I would. With an omniscient viewpoint, we get to hear about all these strange stories from many different characters, though Roman and Peter are the two mains.

The Godfrey family is the oddest bunch of all with son Roman, his sister Shelley, and their mother Olivia. I honestly still have no idea what is up with Shelley. She is described as monstrous, with some strange medical malady, but I couldn't tell you what it was if you held a gun to my head. Something to do with the Ouroboros project at the Godfrey's biotech facility, I think, but it's never really that clear. Still, Shelley is a kind person on the inside, and I absolutely loved her relationship with Roman and his protectiveness of her. Roman has a bit of mind control power that comes from his being a vampire (or almost a vampire), and interestingly, he doesn't even know he's a vampire. He sometimes uses this mind control for good and sometimes uses it for evil. There is one really horrific scene with Roman and another person that I thought was going to make me absolutely hate him for the rest of the novel, but somehow McGreevy makes it work for his character. Olivia was definitely my favorite, perhaps moreso because I know she's played by Famke Janssen in the show, and I freaking love that woman. Anyway, Olivia is the overbearing matriarch of the Godfrey clan, portrayed as pretty much a bitch. I had a feeling though that she had some weird and mysteriously tragic past that made her that way. I was happy to read at the end that I was right, and in fact her secret ends up being so much bigger than I would have thought. It brings this whole macabre tale to a wonderful and surprising ending that you hopefully will not see coming.

Author Brian McGreevy
Sidenote: Peter always refers to Roman as an "upir" in the novel and I was hoping that at some point McGreevy would actually tell me what that meant because I didn't know. He doesn't. It means vampire. I felt dumb for not figuring that out myself, but hey. I thought this was just a werewolf book. Shoot me.

McGreevy's writing style is definitely unique. The humor is wonderfully dry and sometimes comes out of nowhere, making you laugh out loud when you least expect to. My only complaint about Hemlock Grove is that it is not really written for the layman. This is a book about weird people doing weird things and the style definitely reflects that, and also the tone and mood of the story, but sometimes things get very confusing and hard to follow. I often found myself rereading several sentences throughout the novel to make sure I got the right meaning. Much of this was from McGreevy's use of run-on sentences, a style choice that was obviously intended, and sometimes it worked by adding to the humor in the piece, and sometimes just got on my nerves a little bit.

No small style choice could make me forget how much I loved this book. Hemlock Grove is unbelievably creative and so different from the norm in either werewolf or vampire stories. It is a more than welcome breath of fresh air that is more character-driven than action-driven, but with these delicious characters, that is just fine with me. McGreevy's twisted wit and tone make Hemlock Grove and definite must-read for any genre fan looking for something completely unlike anything they've read before.