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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Buried (2010)

After having watched, "Frozen", I was almost hesitant to sit through another minimal location/minimal casting/minimal title thriller... but I'm glad I did.

Paul wakes up to find himself buried alive in a coffin.  All he has is a Zippo lighter, and a Blackberry phone. As time and air runs out, he maintain his sanity, and deal with the demands of those that placed him there... otherwise the coffin will be his final resting place...

Director Rodrigo Cortes filmed "Buried" in seventeen days, and cites Alfred Hitchcock as a major influence on the film.

I enjoy watching single location horror/thriller movies because I'm always interested in seeing how the director will handle it.  It's not easy making a single location constantly interesting, but director Rodrigo Cortes manages to do so with the simple coffin in this movie.  He uses interesting camera angles, lighting styles, and even darkness to break up what could be a very monotonous looking location.  The green colour of the glow sticks, the blue glow of the Blackberry, and the normal light of the Zippo lighter help to create a great sense of isolation and claustrophobia.  The tightness of the coffin is further enhanced by the tightness of the camera shots.  I was very impressed by the camera work.

Most movies would've shown the actions of those trying to rescue Paul as well.  Using a single actor for the entire movie was a bold move- and effective.  By staying with the character, you're left to imagine and wonder what was going on outside the confines of his prison.  Limiting our perception of the world to just the coffin, we're forced to focus on the character and share in his own worries that nobody was coming.  At the same time, by allowing limited verbal communication with others, the story is kept from getting bogged down and helps to add new elements and even develop Paul's character even more.

The premise itself is pretty simple, but very effective.  By limiting the location, cast, and props, this story stays lean and focused.  There is little to tempt a director into adding "flash" to the movie, which actually made "Buried" more enjoyable for me to watch.  The story evolves, and even helps to keep the location interesting by changing it into something more dangerous over time.

I felt that Ryan Reynolds did a fantastic job as Paul.  He managed to make Paul an interesting person, and I came to be concerned about his survival.  It had to be hard to rely on your voice, and facial expressions to tell your characters story in such a confined space.  I wouldn't be surprised if Reynolds had some trepidation during the scenes where the sand was slowly filling the coffin.  The faceless voices on the Blackberry were also well done, though I'll confess that I had some problems understanding what the kidnapper was saying at times.

Overall, I found "Buried" to be a suspenseful, tightly written story that kept me interested from beginning to end.  I cared about the main character, and was emotionally involved in the events taking place.  This is definately a movie that I would rate as one of  The Good.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Frozen (2010)

I'm not going to lie- this movie SOUNDED good and interesting, and I was intrigued to see how someone would handle a story with such a limited number of cast and locations.

Joe, Dan and Dan's girlfriend, Parker are skiing and decided to bribe the chair lift operator to allow them one last run- despite warnings of a severe storm heading in. Due to a bad timing and miscommunication, the three wind up stranded on the chair lift halfwayup the mountain. The trio soon learn that freezing isn't the only way to die in the cold night air...

This film is notable for reports of people fainting while viewing it at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and for being the opening movie of the Glaslow Frightfest.

This movie had potential, but was hampered by clunky dialouge, a lackluster cast, and stiff acting that wasn't the result of the cold. This is a dialogue heavy movie... and not very interesting dialogue. When they're not whining, they're crying, and when they're not crying, they're screaming. The dialogue doesn't really help you care about the characters, since they weren't very likable at the beginning. Dan was "The Rich Douche", Joe was the "Mooch Douche", and Parker was, "That Girl"... and of the three, Joe was the most likable.

I will give Dan and Joe credit however for showing SOME redeeming qualities when they step up and do what needs to be done in order to try and get rescue while Parker just shivered and cried. Ultimately though, I felt little sympathy for characters whose sense of "entitlement" and arrogance helped get them into such a dire situation to begin with.

The cast wasn't what I could classify as steller- and their less than natural performance probably helped to contribute to my inability to like the characters. Shawn Ashmore- you plays Joe, did a decent job compared to Kevin Zeger (Dan), and Emily Bell (Parker), but it wasn't enough to pull me into hoping he survives. I will however say, that these three were great at crying and shivering.

It's hard for me to feel tension and suspense in a movie like this when I can pretty much predict what's happening. Introduce two best friends and a girlfriend taking part in a "man's weekend"- I could see the emotional "conflict" coming and tally up a kill. Introduce a cute girl for one of the friends to chat up- I could tally up one more kill. Introduce a fat ski lift operator who wants to go home- yep, I knew what would happen. Before they even got onto the ski lift, I could tell who would die. The rest was just watching Fate unrolling for the three characters.

There are some positives to this movie however, and I HAVE to admit that it has to be tough to do a suspenseful movie with three people and a chair lift. One of the positives was parts of the camera work. The scenic shots were beautiful and helped to accent the isolation the characters were experiencing. Also, the gore- what little gore there is, was actually done pretty well.

In the final analysis, I have to give Adam Green credit for trying to create something interesting with such limited and flawed resources. Unfortunately, that effort just wasn't enough to pull into the movie on an emotional level. For a thriller, I just didn't find "Frozen" all that thrilling... and I'd have to rate this movie as part of "The Ugly"

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Let's Begin Again...

The past decade or so has seen a series of remakes and reboots shunted into theatres.  "Halloween", "Friday the 13th", "A Nightmare on Elm Street" being the biggest names put out there.  This overflow of remakes and reboots has caused a serious drop in faith when it comes to Hollywood's ability to produce original and exciting horror movies.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of remakes.  When I hear that a remake or a reboot of a franchise is being released, I'm automatically wary and sceptical.

I can understand WHY Hollywood would want to remake a horror classic- they hope that they can recapture the success of the original. They want to earn money.

The same goes for reboots.  Hollywood studio reps can say they "want to introduce a new audience" to the classic horror franchises, but ultimately what they mean is they want to feed younger people to the cash cow and milk the franchise for more money.

Do remakes really NEED to be made?  Not really.  Do they need to be hated by fans?  Not really, either.

As much as I enjoy the "Big Three" franchises, I'm not a rabid fan of them.  Rather, I'm a fan of the entire genre of horror.  My loyalty is to the great stories within it, not to a specific character.

I'm going to use Rob Zombie's "Halloween" for discussion here.  Did it really need to be made?  Not really.  Does it deserve to be called a "desecration" of the franchise, or an "blasphemy" towards John Carpenter?  Certainly not.

First of all, Carpenter himself TOLD Zombie to make the film "his own"- which he did, while staying as true to the original story as possible.  In fact, during an 2007 interview with SuicideGirls.com, he went so far as to say that he was "flattered that someone would want to take on" one of his old movies.  And let's not forget that Carpenter himself has done at least one remake- "The Thing" (1982) was a remake of the 1951 "The Thing From Another World".

As for Rob Zombie's "Hallween" itself?  It's a damn good movie, and tells a good story.

But "Halloween" fans seem to hate it for the same reason that fans of the "Friday the 13th", and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" franchises hate their reboots... change.  Hollywood dares to change the franchise.  Well, I hate to say this, but the reboots weren't made for the established fans.  If they were, they probably wouldn't have been reboots, but rather just a new installment in the series.  No, these movies are made for a NEW audience- a YOUNGER audience.  It's not people our age (I'm 38) that provide Hollywood with the largest source of income- it's the teenagers and people in their early 20's.  And let's face it- if a franchise is going to survive, it needs to adapt and change with the times.  The stuff that worked in the 50's didn't work in the 70's, and what worked in the 80's doesn't work so well now.

Although I'm wary of remakes, I'm willing to give them a chance... but if I'm to like it, it has to meet certain criteria.  First off, it HAS to bring something new to the franchise.  Zombie's "Halloween" did that by exploring the events in Michael Myers' life that made him what he was.  The "Friday the 13th" did the same thing by making Jason Vorhees faster and smarter than seen in most of his movies.  Even "A Nightmare on Elm Street" succeeded to an extent by linking Freddy Kreuger's past closer to the lives of the main characters.

Secondly, it has to tell the story well.  I felt that the "Halloween" and the "Friday the 13th" reboots did that quite well.  "Friday the 13th" actually managed to blend the first three movies into itself quite nicely, I thought.  "A Nightmare on Elm Street", unfortunately, had potential, but didn't tell the story very well in my opinion.

Finally, I have to enjoy the movie.  I found "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" enjoyable and fun, while "A Nightmare on Elm Street" left me disappointed.

But I didn't like or dislike them because they were good or bad in regards to the franchise. No, I formed my opinions of them by watching them on their own terms as horror movies.  I dropped my baggage accrued during the years of watching those franchises, and entered into them and judged them as I would ANY movie- as a fan of horror movies in general.  Rather than hating movie because it's not the franchise you grew up with anymore, watch the movies with fresh eyes- and enjoy them for the stories they offer us.

Do remkes and reboots NEED to be made?  No, though I understand WHY they're made.  Do they deserve to be hated by fans?  No, because some of them still offer us an enjoyable movie experience- and that's what they should be judged on.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Paranormal Activity

What would you do if unseen forces started to harass you in the still of the night?

Micha and Katie are a happy couple living together, when they start to experience strange noises. Using a video camera he just bought, Micha is determined to catch whatever is disturbing them each night. What they both discover is something that may be related to Katie's childhood... and the entity that plagued her family...

"The Blair Witch Project", with its success in 1999, spawned a new category of horror film- the "Found Footage" style of film making.  Using "found footage", the story is told from the more "personal" look at the characters and the events surrounding them.  One such example is 2007's "Paranormal Activity", and in a world of YouTube video watching is a great example.

This supernatural horror movie is almost as low budget as you get: hand held video camera, cast working for $500.00, and the Director's home as the set. By doing this, the crew forces themselves to focus on the storytelling, and tell it they did- old school style.

The story is lean, and smartly crafted. The dialogue, having been mostly improvises flows naturally from the characters and their relationship to each other the chemistry between Micha and Katie is obvious and adds to the plausibility of the events that occur. The story grows and builds up in subtle and not so subtle ways until it's ultimate climax and scare.  Also, the story isn't typical in that it doesn't have a clear start or end.  The haunting actually starts before the action in the film, and is left open at the end- reflecting what real life would be like if you randomly started video taping it.  We don't have the whole story, just a part of it.  There are questions left unanswered for now- just like real life.

I was quite impressed with the acting of Micha Sloat, and Katie Featherston. They created likable, interesting characters that you can believe in. Katie in particular did a good job during some of the creepier moments. The scene of her standing by the bedside simply staring down at Micha was quite effective, and sticks out in my my mind.  A friend of mine has problems watching that scene because his wife sleepwalks... and will often stand and stare down at him like that.

The use of the single video camera was executed in a surprisingly good way- especially when limited to essentially one room. It was simple, but created the feeling that you were watching the video at home on the internet. The use of the black and white "night shot" function helped to create a mood of suspense and anticipation.

As for the scares? They start out as simple little things that make you wonder if you really saw what you thought you saw, and build to more overt and un-nerving frights. A thump here... a shadow there... a light turning on and off in the background... For me, it was the subtle things that really made this film enjoyable to watch. I was also impressed, as someone that actually studies the paranormal, with how closely the escalation of the disturbances matched actual reported cases.  I often had to rewind a scene because I was like, "WTF?  Did I just see what I thought I saw?".  Unlike most North American films- which are in your face with every scare, it's the small things, and the lack of extremeness that gives you the shivers.

So, turn off the lights, gather your popcorn, watch this Good rated movie...and just remember that you may not be alone when you do...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

I have a confession to make: I'm a fan of black and white horror movies.  Why would I, a man born in the heyday of horror films like "Halloween", "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", and others be a fan of primitive black and white ones?

Simple, they're fun, and "House on Haunted Hill" is an example of that fun.

This 1959 B-movie was produced and directed by William Castle- the master of movie gimmicks like "Percepto"... the joy buzzer seats used for his movie, "The Tingler".  "House on Haunted Hill" had "Emergo"- a plastic skeleton that would "fly" over the audience at the appropriate moment in the movie.  The flying skeleton was quite popular (and is even credited in the end credits), and helped the movie to become quite successful.  The movie was so successful in fact that, Alfred Hitchcok was spurred to make "Psycho"... which in turned inspired William Castle to produce "Homicidal".  Recently, in 2010, a film revival by New York's Film Forum played several of Castle's films- WITH the original styled gimmicks included, and "House on Haunted Hill" was one of the ones played.

This is the sort of movie where you gather friends together, have a couple of drinks, share pizza and have fun.  While, the scares may not stand up to what's splashed across the screens now, the sense of fun is still there.  You can still enjoy Vincent Price's dry wit and sinister smile.  You can still have a good time watching Elisha Cook's performance as the drunken, terrified owner of the house.  You can still be entertained by "House on Haunted Hill".

The acting, sets and visuals are very theatrical in nature- almost as if you were watching a play on stage (greatly enhanced I'm sure with the use of "Emergo").  There aren't a lot of sets used, which would actually make it easy to do a play based on it.  It was simple, clean and yet provided the right theatrical mood for the story and events taking place.

The story and pacing were pretty good, and lends itself to various other interpretations if one were so inclined.  I'll admit that the suspense wasn't silky smooth, but really don't mind that the moment the "shock" moments occur.  Some of the characters were a little flat, but  Vincent Price, Elisha Cook, and Carol Ohmart, make up for it with their peformances.

When I'm in the mood for a fun, entertaining excursion into the black and white horror category, one of my first choices is William Castle's "House on Haunted Hill"... one of "The Good".  I might even rig up an "Emergo" system for it...

And please feel free to check out the ghost of William Castle's profile on Facebook.