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13 Sins (My Exclusive With The Director)

26 Apr

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Synopsis: “A cryptic phone call sets off a dangerous game of risks for Elliot, a down-on-his luck salesman. The game promises increasing rewards for completing 13 tasks, each more sinister than the last.”  (Rated R; 1 hour, 32 minutes)

(NOTE: If you haven’t already read my previous interview with Daniel Stamm, I would strongly recommend it as it is one of my all-time favorite blog-posts, linked here for you to read before or after my latest one below.)

On Thursday night I had the massively cool and enjoyable experience of gathering a group of friends to see a movie directed (and co-written) by a good friend of mine. It came out exactly one week ago, and the only problem is – you can’t find it in theaters as of today even if you tried. How can this be?

Video On Demand is a service that has been around for years which allows people to watch movies from the comforts of their home. In the past, people would pay to see movies once they were gone from theaters, sometimes before they were even officially released on DVD; but the movies certainly had their primary run in theaters before that became the backup method to see them later. There seems to have been a shift in the movie industry which has made it common for movies to be made with the complete intention of releasing them “on demand”, and at most giving the movie a token theatrical run.

To clarify, there have always been movies made with the direct intention of being “straight to video”, but what seems to be happening now is different. You have filmmakers – often successful theatrical writers and directors – who go into the process with the intention of making their movie for cinema audiences, but are then told along the way that it isn’t the intention at all.

The following are pieces of a 90 minute “interview” (let’s be honest, it was a conversation) with my talented friend Daniel Stamm (second from the left in the photo below), who also co-wrote and directed 13 Sins, NOT playing in a theater near you…

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Boaz – We just came back from seeing your movie, and had a great night out. Some of my friends now think I’m “sick” for having so much fun watching some of the more sadistic scenes from the movie, but I couldn’t help it! Where are you calling me from right now?

Daniel – I’m in Canada filming episodes of Intruders for BBC America, and will be back in a few months. So let me ask YOU Boaz, was anyone else in the theater actually watching the movie other than your friends?

Boaz – Yes, I counted and there were SEVEN other people (in addition to the seven of us). And when the next showtime started I counted THREE others entering, so that’s another whopping 238 dollars for the movie last night alone! Remind me, what was the budget?

Daniel – 4 million dollars. We’re on our way! Boaz, you’re better at math than I am, what’s the tally so far?

Boaz – Well I don’t know about the last few days, but on its opening weekend it was released on an astounding 45 screens, with a total of $9,261, giving it a per screen average of $206. I can fairly say that if there was ever an antithesis to Avatar  and Titanic, this might be it. 

Daniel – You may be right, but the movie was actually profitable, in spite of this.

Boaz – Seriously? HOW?!

Daniel – Our production company and the financiers made their money back before the movie was even made, by selling the international rights to it. Places like Japan and Germany come up with prices and pay it, and then it’s up to them if they release it in theaters or not, but the people who put up the money here lose nothing. As a filmmaker though, it still hurts to go from a movie that had a theatrical release in America, made a lot of money, and then have the next basically go straight to VOD (Video On Demand) where nobody has heard of it. 

Boaz – Why would they do this though? It just doesn’t make sense to me that you’d have your previous movie The Last Exorcism do so well, so why put nothing into this one?

Daniel – I really don’t know, these days it is becoming more and more common for studios to make movies that are either huge budget tent-poles like Iron Man and Captain they put hundreds of millions of dollars into making and promoting them, whereas more and more of the movies that cost a few million like ours aren’t worth the time or risk to promote, so they just put them out on VOD. We’re actually lucky, I was shocked when I saw we were released on 45 screens, many are on 2 or 3, and I personally didn’t see a single poster or ad for it, so I don’t think they put any money into marketing it. It was all about VOD. As I said, they already made their money on foreign presales, anything else from iTunes and (Time Warner Cable) On Demand is a bonus.

Boaz – I just don’t get it, it’s not as if you have a spotty track record, you made one movie in film school which did amazingly well in film festivals (A Necessary Death), you then were paid to make your first movie (The Last Exorcism) and made it for how much money?

Daniel – 1.5 million dollars.

Boaz – And it made how much money?

Daniel – Almost 70 million dollars.

Boaz – Right! It made over 20 million dollars OPENING WEEKEND, how do they go from that to hiring you to make something that doesn’t get a single billboard or commercial or any marketing, and has the intent of being seen on VOD only? It seems ludicrous. Do legitimate filmmakers have absolutely no safety when they sign a contract that it will actually go to theaters? Can’t you sign a contract that ensures it will get a full theatrical release?

Daniel – You could do that, sure, but it usually won’t make a difference. There are huge producers who commonly pay for movies which are “supposed” to go to theaters, but then they go VOD. If the filmmaker threatens lawsuit, then they usually lose. And even if those power-house producers lose, the amount they have to pay in penalties for breaching the contract is nothing compared to the amount of money they’d have to pay to promote and release a movie in theaters, so they accept that as a part of the business.

Boaz – This happens to people I’ve heard of?

Daniel – Absolutely, you’d be shocked how many never see the light of day; good movies that for one reason or another they decided to not release. I’ve heard that (NAME EDITED OUT TO PROTECT DANIEL’S CAREER) for example makes about 10 movies a year from successful writers and directors, but only releases a few. Some don’t even end up as VOD, they just collect dust on his shelf, so-to-speak. I don’t know why, but that’s what he does. I assume he releases less because it may maintain the success of the brand. But why make all of the extras in the first place? I honestly don’t know.

Boaz – How does the marketing work with VOD in the first place? Your movie was released in theaters last week briefly and immediately can be found on iTunes and VOD, does that mean they’re spending money to market it online for streaming at least?

Daniel – I don’t think so. They seem to just put it out there, and if enough people start to watch it, then they’ll start to put some money into marketing it. The idea of VOD seems to be that they just make the movies, throw it out there, and if people don’t see it, then they don’t put any money into marketing it. That’s how it works now.

Boaz – So this is now backwards marketing? Instead of spending money to market something and tell audiences where to catch it, now you’re supposed to catch it on your own, and only if you do will they start telling others to catch it?

Daniel – Yes, I believe so.

Boaz – That’s insane.

Daniel – They had 13 Sins in the “New Arrivals” section of iTunes, they tell me it didn’t do anything, so they won’t be marketing it… that’s just how it is. Actually, Ron Perlman (supporting actor in the movie, and pictured on the very left of the photo above) said he’d be happy to promote it, he believed in the project, but nobody reached out to him whatsoever. 

Boaz – You’re making me so upset here, as a movie-lover, and as your friend and fan.

Daniel – There’s a huge positive side you’re not seeing. Independent filmmakers who would have never been able to make movies are finally being given the chance to make something that people can see. In the past if you wanted to make a movie you needed lots of money, you needed so many different departments to back you and put time and energy into you. Now small people who have a passion for movies but no track record can make something and release it themselves for free on the internet. Those movies can get you noticed, and make it into film festivals. It’s quite incredible, and is making the entire industry more accessible to the world.

Boaz – Okay, so it’s great for people who are just starting out, but how is it good for someone who already has had success, like yourself?!

Daniel – Oh, no question that it sucks for me, because I’m coming from The Last Exorcism’s theatrical release, but for independent filmmakers there is now nothing standing in their way from making a movie for a few thousand dollars, which used to be unthinkable.

Boaz – You continue to be the world’s most positive person, I think I’m angrier about this than you are!

Daniel – (Laughs). To be fair, it’s been so long since making the movie that I’m not as much in the moment. We were shooting it in Halloween of 2012, now it’s April 2014. It’s just not as fresh or immediate as it would be if it was immediate, so that helps cushion the blow.

Boaz – What are you taking out of this experience then, mister positive?

Daniel – Listen, its not a money issue… nobody lost money on this movie… nobody put a dollar into marketing, it’s just a different movie model now. It’s crappy as a filmmaker because the public doesn’t know the movie exists, and VOD is basically a dumping ground for movies, but from a pure business standpoint it’s still profitable for everyone.

Boaz – How will this affect your future in the business?

Daniel –  I’ve benefited from making this movie, because it’s a different style, I got to use some great name-actors, and we had a great experience putting it together. But career-wise it wasn’t good; it was 3 years of me basically treading water in the same spot. It can be quite hard not to think of that way. If you’ve made a movie that didn’t make money but is a critical success, then at least you can point to that… some people will hire you for for that at least. This one is getting less good reviews and far less money than the last one. In this industry you’re only as good as your last movie. One consolation I’ve been told is that it’s not as bad as if it was released wide and bombed, then you’re considered box office poison, at least this still made people money… but it’s still not good overall.

Boaz – What’s with those reviews, anyway? I thought it was a really great idea and enjoyed it from start to finish.

Daniel – It’s frustrating actually, many of the negative reviews kept comparing it to another VOD movie that was released last year, Cheap Thrills, which got great reviews. It shares a lot of the same plot, and many critics thought we were just copying it. That’s a completely unfair comparison, because we were already making our movie before theirs had even come out. Not only that, but ours is an official remake of the Thai movie 13: Game Of Death from 2006. So it’s ludicrous to say we’re copying this other movie when we’re actually legitimately making an American remake of a 2006 movie. It’s very frustrating…

Boaz – Okay, I think we’ve beaten all of that like a dead horse, let’s get a bit more fluffy. How were the actors to work with?

Daniel – Mark Webber (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) was perfect in the role, and such a great guy. And you couldn’t ask for a nicer guy than Pruitt Taylor Vince (Identity), he was amazing.

Boaz – What was Ron Perlman like? You got to work with Hellboy!

Daniel – He was very much making his own movie. Most of his scenes were separate from the rest of the cast, looking at crime scenes. So while the rest of the crew had a very close-knit family feel, he kind of filmed everything separately and did his own thing. That being said, he turned out to be absolutely the nicest, most unpretentious and supportive man I could have asked for.

Boaz – Where did you film it?

Daniel – Most of it was actually shot in New Orleans; that was awesome.

Boaz – I couldn’t find anywhere on IMDB who played the “voice” on the phone throughout the movie? Who the heck was that?

Daniel – He’s not listed? Interesting. That’s George Coe, from Kramer Vs. Kramer.

Boaz – Oh my God, I know him, and he’s the voice of Woodhouse on Archer, that’s probably the funniest show on television!

Daniel – I haven’t seen it.

Boaz – You should! Anyway, it’s been an hour and a half of talking on the phone and you’re filming more in the morning, so I really really appreciate you taking the time for this interview, and to catch up. Zoltán (Honti) did another great job as your cinematographer as usual. Is he with you working on the BBC America show you’re doing over there now?

Daniel – No, they have their own crews set-up here for this show I’m doing, so I couldn’t bring him along. We love working together as you know!  

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Boaz – I do know, and he’s a lovely guy who I haven’t seen in years! Adi and I were so excited to see your name on the poster outside the theater, and when it came up on the screen we screamed like lunatics. The other seven people in the theater probably thought we were nuts!

Daniel – Well I certainly appreciate it! Great catching up with you Boaz, see you for some movies when I get back in June!

Thanks to the great fun I had going to see the movie with Adi, Leah, Jason, Shira, Avish and Cindy, the night was a blast. We saw it at the beautiful Sundance Sunset Cinema, which has a full bar and lounge, and at least a few of my friends wanted to kill me afterwards because they didn’t realize it was going to be a bit of a horror movie. Mwa ha ha…

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To be fair, it wasn’t a horror movie, but rather a suspenseful thriller which had some horror movie imagery. I told Daniel that it was like a cross between Hostel and Die Hard: With A Vengeance. Thankfully, he loved the comparison, though I’m sure what it was most like was the Thai movie it was remaking which I haven’t actually seen. As with The Last Exorcism, the movie didn’t end with us going our separate ways, but rather a group of friends discussing and arguing about the “what would you do” quandaries of the movie. Would you start to play the anonymous game-show that proves to give thousands of dollars for increasingly bad behavior, or would you not participate in the first place? No matter what your answer is, it’s not every movie that gets you to keep thinking about it the rest of the night.

The movie wasn’t as GREAT as Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism, which felt like an entirely original and almost flawless film. It was however much better and far more interesting than the Hostel franchise which involved sadistic behavior with no point other than to tantalize sadistic viewers. This movie was entirely about human morality, and how easily we might slip.

Quality Rating: A- (There were some technical/continuity problems which I mentioned to Daniel, and he admitted that there’s not much you can do when you have a limited budget, even when you catch the problems at the time you have to sometimes just let it go and move on because you can’t afford to re-shoot the scene!)

Boaz Rating: A+ (Was there ever any question that I was going to love the entire experience of seeing my friend’s movie with a group of other friends, and then interviewing him immediately thereafter? Of course not!)

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Evil Dead (“When Horror Met Funny”)

26 Jun

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Synopsis: “Five friends head to a remote cabin, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads them to unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods. The evil presence possesses them until only one is left to fight for survival.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 31 minutes)

There are so many different types of horror movies, it’s actually become challenging to track them all. Between supernatural horror, exorcism movies, slasher films, torture porn, even Japanese horror has become its own genre (think of The Ring or the equally terrifying original Ringu as one of many movies with pale, disturbing ghosts staring at the victims, and literally scaring the life from their bodies). Some use humor as their characters get picked off one by one (Scream was an extreme example of this, while the later Final Destination movies were gruesomely hilarious). Others go via a humorless route, hoping that where they fall short in making their audience laugh they’ll make up for it by scaring the bejesus out of you (Insidious and the aforementioned The Ring were prime examples of this).

In this piece I’m interested in discussing the humorous variety. Anyone who hates being scared would understandably ask how a horror movie could ever be funny. Allow me to describe the different ways:

Horror Spoofs – This is the most obvious kind, as movies such as the Scary Movie franchise are anything but frightening. They take the scary ideas, and use humor so silly that even if there is gore it’s absolutely absurd. These flicks are not intended to scare, chill or make their audience jump, and their genre would more aptly be considered comedy – not horror. (Examples of this include a couple of movies I reviewed this year, such as Scary MoVie and the less awful A Haunted House.)

Horror Satires – This is where the lines start to get blurred between comedy and horror. Half the people leaving these films will refer to them as horror, others laugh at the description and claim they are simply comedies with gore. They ideally are clever satires that take the genre and try to flip it on its head. It’s an interesting device because some of these movies have no intention of actually scaring you, but will have as much gore as you can imagine (Tucker And Dale Vs Evil) and others truly want to scare you, but the humor is not merely comic relief, it is central to their core (Scream).  Some of my favorite horror movies fall into this category. (Other examples: Shaun Of The Dead and Cabin In The Woods.)

Horror Camp – No, I’m not referring to the countless horror movies that take place in a summer camp, though those will often also apply to this category. I’m referring to campy horror flicks, both intentional and also marvelously unintentional. I refer to the many horror movies where the acting is so terrible and the dialogue is so lame, that when they say “I’ll be right back” you’re not wondering what will happen, but rather how the person will soon die. It’s the movies where one teenager (always played by older actors of course) goes to the forest to have sex (let’s just ignore the fact that they always seem comfortable on the twigs, bugs and rocks for a moment) and you get those fun moments of gratuitous nudity followed by a (hopefully) creative death. Bonus points for the movies that enjoy combining those two elements and include gratuitous nudity and death in the same image (use your own imagination, this is supposed to be a semi-clean blog!) Countless movies fall into this category, from some of the later Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street sequels, to the more recent Final Destination movies. Each of these started as serious horror movies, but at a certain point the mystery of WHO the killer was revealed, and the fun became more about HOW each person would be, ahem, dispatched. I used to watch these movies with my childhood friend Josh, and we’d laugh hysterically as each person would be killed in a ridiculous way, and rewind and re-watch some of the better scenes. And by better, I mean over-the-top cheesy-bad special effects, where you could see the person clearly become a mannequin as they’re killed due to lousy editing. And for any of my parents reading this blog, no we wouldn’t rewind and re-watch the nudity over and over again cracking up, of coooooourse not…Speaking of Josh, if you haven’t already read about him in my Blockbuster Video story, check it out here, trust me.

There are many other categories of horror as mentioned earlier, but those are generally not comedic. Very few people will be laughing at or with The Ring or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and they have a strong place in the horror medium, but not really anywhere in the horror comedy spectrum. Although I will note that there is some laughter that sometimes emanates from the audience even in the scariest of movies immediately after a scare has been truly effective. This is less a statement of the audiences’ sadistic pleasures, and more a catharsis of relief after the scene ends, as it generally gives you a breather until the next scary part builds up.

The Evil Dead has always been a franchise that interestingly mixed comedy with horror. Directed by the brilliantly inventive Sam Raimi, there were three movies made that would each fit into my different categories. The original was probably “Horror Camp”, since it was predominately intended to scare, and although people find it hilarious now, that is in large part due to its extremely low budget production quality, as well as the cult phenomenon that has come from it. (Think of how people laugh throughout The Rocky Horror Picture Show now, it’s in line with that same idea of cult-classic camp.) Its sequel, Evil Dead II, was more of a “Horror Satire”. It took the same ideas and story of the original, and somewhat recreated it in an intentionally hilarious way, while still maintaining the gruesome factor. The third and (until now) final one was called Army Of Darkness, and I suppose it fit into the “Horror Spoof” category, since it was really nothing but a cartoonish comedy that still had a bit of a horror theme. I actually discussed these films in a previous post you can read here, in the paragraph about Sam Raimi.

As a quick tangent, I would like to point out that the Gremlins franchise also drastically changed horror genres. The original 1984 movie was a cleverly funny horror film, and the much-maligned (but quite underrated in my opinion) 1990 sequel transformed into a comedy with only slight horror elements. The idea of a movie sequel creating a noticeable tonal shift is a discussion I will leave for another day.

For years the fans of the Evil Dead franchise had been hoping that Raimi would return to create another sequel, but he simply wasn’t ready to do so. Along came Fede Álvarez from left field (aka his house in Uruguay), and he won over the studio, as well as Sam Raimi’s blessing to make the fourth movie without him. How did this happen? It’s quite the Cinderella story…

Álvarez spent a whopping total of $300 to make a 5 minute short called Panic Attack. Let me clarify that, not 300 million dollars like the budget to huge blockbuster movies, not 300 thousand dollars like the budget of a tiny independent film, not even 3000 dollars like the budget of a little student film. No, he spent the same amount of money to make his special effects-riddled short, as it costs to buy an Xbox. He wrote, directed and edited the movie, and then created the special effects using his computer. Before you continue this article, sit back, turn off the lights, and watch the short here. (Fear not scaredy cats, it’s tense and exciting, but not scary or gruesome).

Finished yet? Now imagine watching that, realizing this man managed to make it for next to nothing, and seeing it go viral within days of being put online (in large part thanks to Kanye West tweeting it when it was first released). It definitely got him immediate attention, meetings, and a deal that eventually resulted with him directing this newest Evil Dead. Although it’s somewhat ironic that the special effects he cobbled together in the short were computer generated, considering the movie was almost exclusively not. It turns out that Álvarez finds much of CGI to be cheap and lazy (a sentiment I agree with wholeheartedly) and went out of his way to make all of the special effects old school. Nice! And there were some impressive effects here ladies and gentlemen. Hands sawed off, things flying in the air, and even the infamous nod to the original – yes, there was a tree-rape scene. In fact, thanks to my friend Shani (who went with Adi and myself to see the movie), I got tons of great information about the movie itself. Here is a great link for anyone who’s already seen it (because it CONTAINS MANY SPOILERS). If you’ve seen the movie, it will show many of the many respectful nods to the original that Álvarez included.

How did I like it? Quite a lot. It was definitely meant to be great fun to watch, but not necessarily funny like the originals. Of course Álvarez knew that he would be providing funny moments simply by association, but as a whole the movie was tense, had great timing, and a consistently awesome visual setting. He also provided a clever context to justify the typical idiocy of a bunch of guys and gals staying in the woods who clearly should get the hell out of there. The main character quickly starts doing crazy things and has clearly been taken over by some sort of evil demon spirit, and in lucid moments she begs everyone else to leave. Álvarez had to think up a way to most creatively keep them there, and he came up with a doozy. The entire plot of why they’re isolated the woods is that they’re all trying to dry her up from her recurrent drug addiction. They know she’ll lie and do anything to get out of it, so it becomes a hilarious and convincing reason to not believe anything she says or does, because she’s a lying junkie. So clearly when she’s covered in wounds and looks like a ghost and making things fly in the air, it’s all part of drug withdrawal. Awesome. That reminded me of one of the truly hilarious moments of the horror classic The Exorcist. After Linda Blair first levitates her bed and speaks in tongues, her doctor describes that this is all explained by ADHD, and prescribes her this miracle drug called Ritalin. AMAZING.

Unfortunately, my horror-loving fiancée didn’t enjoy it much, because it was simply too gruesome and gory for her. As much as she loves the genre, she can’t handle explicit (fake) imagery, which made this movie a bit of a losing battle for her. But as for Shani and myself, we loved it. A now somewhat-typical horror story, with a hefty offering of great scenes and visuals, along with some nifty film-making and editing, made for a fun night out at this rebirth of the horror franchise.

And if you’re a fan of the series, be sure to stay until the end of the credits, you’ll see…

The movie was better than Tucker & Dale Vs Evil, which was a funny “cabin in the woods” riff. But it wasn’t as amazing as THE ultimate “cabin in the woods” riff, you know, The Cabin In The Woods!

Quality Rating: A-

Boaz Rating: A

Dark Skies

10 Mar

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Synopsis: “As the Barret family’s peaceful suburban life is rocked by an escalating series of disturbing events, they come to learn that a terrifying and deadly force is after them.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour 37 minutes)

My fiancée confuses me. Adi loves even the dumbest of horror movies. Murderer going after dumb teenagers? She loves it. Demons and possessions? Those are her favorite type. Creepy children? Nothing scares her more for some reason (except possibly for spiders, she does seem to have a real-life arachnophobia that rears its girly head every week or two). But aliens? For some reason, that suddenly makes it a “sci-fi” movie, and she walks out of something like Dark Skies exclaiming, “that was kind of dumb”. Why? Because the scary premise is about aliens.

I then present her with the most logical scenario I can come up with: “Let’s pretend everything in this movie had been the same: the same family, the same actors, the same director, the same scary moments and scenes and imagery, but instead of it being caused by aliens it was all due to demons…” She laughed and responded that she’d probably love it.

So we’ve established one thing: she may not be the most logical person in the world to take over my movie blog when I need a replacement. (I was tempted to make a crack about how her lack of logic in this regard simply proves that she’s a woman, but would rather not alienate every single female reader I currently am lucky to have!)

So how was Dark Skies as a (sci-fi) horror flick? Quite good actually, and I’ll attempt to explain why: the characters. Watching a movie like this you expect the characters to be completely uncomplicated clichés, the kids are either brats or super good, the parents are either skeptical or believers, and whatever passes for character development lacks in any depth whatsoever. That wasn’t the case here at all.

I really cared about the Barret family throughout Dark Skies. The first glimpse of the older child made me assume he would play the typical rebellious tweener; but I was happily proven wrong and watched him throughout the movie maintain a relationship with his younger brother that was surprisingly touching, while he was going through his own coming-of-age awkwardness. He was played by Dakota Goyo, who most notably starred in the really fun and underrated Real Steel, as Hugh Jackman’s son. The parents had a complex and interesting marriage that I rooted for, as the father was looking for work and struggling financially, while the mother (played by Keri Russell) tried to be supportive. Unlike most horror movies where I could hardly care less about what happens to the people, and it is all about the scares, I actually wanted this family to make it through in one piece.

I credit not only the acting but of course the writing and direction, which were both done by Scott Stewart. Who is Scott Stewart you  probably wonder? It turns out he is the same director who made the dreadful apocalyptic sci-fi trash Legion, followed by another movie that looked similar (but I admittedly didn’t see) called Priest. Both starred Paul Bettany, and both bombed. It really shocks me that he went from those to making something as surprisingly nuanced as this one, and I certainly hope he continues in this direction.

The scares in this movie weren’t really “jumping out at you” horror movie moments, but more-so an escalating series of disturbing events, and a very eerie tone that certainly managed to disturb me. The plot developed in a somewhat predictable way, and the movie still had plenty of actual clichés (seeking the “expert” to help explain their horrible situation, little brother disturbingly knowing what’s going on before anyone else does). But overall I was impressed; even the side characters were well portrayed as real people actually supporting the movie, and not just there to fill time.

I do hope that writing about how much I liked the Barret family in this movie wasn’t at the expense of making fun of my own. Sorry Adi, but this movie was still quite good, even though the demons happened to be played by aliens this time around.

The movie is better than Paranormal Activity, a movie with a clever gimmick that never really evolved beyond that. I bring it up not only because it is from the same producer, but because a major part of the movie involves setting up cameras and watching what goes bump in the night – as with Paranormal Activity. The movie is not as good as Signs, an overrated but still interesting M. Night Shyamalan movie about a family dealing with scary aliens.

Quality Rating: B+ 

Boaz Rating: A-

The Last Exorcism Part II (“My Interview With The Director Of The Original”)

3 Mar

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Synopsis: “As Nell Sweetzer tries to build a new life after the events of the first movie, the evil force that once possessed her returns with an even more horrific plan.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour 28 minutes)

The thing with horror movies is that you either like them or you don’t. Does that sound like a “master of the obvious” statement? Well think about it, is there another mainstream genre that people either like or don’t like? Certainly not comedies: some people like lowbrow humor starring Rob Schneider (I do!), others enjoy clever and witty satires, such as In The Loop (me too!), but everyone likes some form of comedy.  Some people are picky about dramas and find many of them too slow-paced to watch, but everyone enjoys some of them. Even action movies and cartoons to some degree can appeal to anyone. Sure, many women will tell me that they find action movies dumb, and my father will claim he doesn’t care for cartoons, but show those ladies Die Hard and force my father to watch Wall-E and you’ll hear about how great those movies are for the next year.

This brings me back to horror movies. The same can NOT be said for them, because horror movies are not made primarily for the storytelling, nor for the development of the plot, but in large part for the visceral reaction that they give of fear and dread in the pit of your stomach. It’s as if every horror movie filmmaker is equally qualified to design a Halloween horror maze, because that’s what the movies are like: guiding the protagonist (and the viewer) through a zigzag of escalating tension (slowly creeping through house) followed by scares (ghost/slasher/monster attacks!) followed by false scares (cat screams and jumps out at the hero – a disgustingly cheap scare tactic at this point) followed by more scares again. Does this sound like something that everyone will enjoy depending on the story? Of course not!  Because whether it’s a good or bad horror movie, this visceral reaction  is simply a turnoff for many people who will quickly proclaim, “I do NOT like horror movies!” As for myself, although it’s far from my favorite movie genre, I’ve always liked haunted houses, so I have a fun time watching these movies and filtering through the good and bad ones. And it doesn’t hurt that my fiancée wants to see absolutely every one of them! And honestly, when they’re good, they often go underrated because so many people don’t like the genre; that’s a damn shame since watching a great one like Insidious or this movie’s predecessor The Last Exorcism allows you to see how the cleverness that went into them deserves just as much credit as the creation of a great comedy or drama.

This review is an especially unusual one for me, because the director of the The Last Exorcism – but NOT this sequel – is the warm and wonderful Daniel Stamm, a dear friend of mine. As such, this blog entry not only includes some glowing personal bias, but some fun tidbits of my conversation with Daniel himself that he is generously allowing me to report. As he sweetly embellished when texting with me yesterday, “I love that you are a journalist now!”

Before discussing this sequel, let me first describe the original. I would like to clarify my intentional choice of wording, because it really WAS incredibly original. The marketing made it look like a hand-held fake “found footage” documentary (or is it real?!) about a terrifying possession and as the title suggests, its scary exorcism. But really the marketing was quite misleading, and it was so much more clever and funny than you’d imagine. Yes it was “found footage”, and it followed a reverend who performs exorcisms, but the twist is that he’s actually trying to show the camera how fake all of it really is, and most of the scares that the previews showed were in fact hilarious scenes in the movie where he’s pulling back the curtain on the fraud that is demonic possessions and exorcisms, showing how none of it is real…until things start to happen, and a real possession seems to occur.  It was done with great humor, very natural acting, and although I was prepared to congratulate Daniel on the movie regardless of how bad it was, I was thrilled to tell him that I really DID like it! In fact Adi and Cindy spent the rest of the night talking about it and poring over the details and raving how great they thought it was; so this isn’t simply a scenario of fake Hollywood flattery.

Cut to the movie in question, the sequel, and it starts exactly where the first one left off. I find this technique in movies to be immediately captivating, because it rewards audiences who have seen the first one by not pandering to new crowds as most tend to do. So often you read a TV or Movie producer claim, “This season/movie is a great place for new viewers to come in even if they’ve never seen it before”, and when you watch it so much time is spent recapping things, or meeting new characters, that you feel like you aren’t watching a sequel/continuation of the story, instead you’re watching a remake. It can work, but there is no feeling of  loyalty given to those of us who have been following the story from the beginning. (Earlier this year I reviewed the newest movie in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, and touched on this point. Feel free to click here to check out that short review.)

Immediately this sequel thrusts you into the world of the supposedly possessed girl from the original (played by Ashley Bell again) but follows it from HER point of view as she tries to adjust to normal life after the craziness that had previously ensued. The filmmakers made a fascinating decision that this movie would continue as a normal scripted horror movie, and not a “documentary” style one like the original. It both clashes with the original and melds beautifully at the same time, like how I felt watching From Dusk to Dawn when the first half of the movie’s gritty Tarantino-esque style suddenly becomes a campy horror movie. It’s refreshing to see things shaken up a bit every now and then, and it felt that way from the minute this movie began. (Imagine if your favorite reality TV show was suddenly a scripted show the next season…though some critics would argue that reality TV already IS scripted so that may be an ironic example.)

The rest of the sequel was entertaining enough for horror fans, but unfortunately lacking any of the clever originality of the first one. Without getting into it, the ending was so over-the-top campy that I still haven’t decided if it was an awful finish, or a risky, brilliant move that would make Brian De Palma proud. Ashley Bell is great in a more fleshed out role as the film’s tortured protagonist, and I really enjoyed the understated performance of a caring Muse Watson (who must somehow be related to Kris Kristofferson because they look so darn alike). The scares are average, the plot deviates into a bit of hokey territory as it gets further along, but the direction by Ed Gass-Donnelly was always crisp and effective, and with a sharper plot and story this director may be someone to watch.

But now the moment I’m most excited to share: interesting tidbits from my conversation with my friend Daniel Stamm, who had written and directed the first one, as well as some interesting insight into the politics of the film industry. And yes he did see the sequel:

Boaz – Did they ask you to return to make the second one? If so why didn’t you return? If not, are you offended?

Daniel – It’s a fascinating, political thing in the film industry…if producers have a project and they offer it to a director, and that director declines and it gets out that he turned it down, it can be the end of the project. The value of the project immediately diminishes. No producer wants to say, “Hey, I have a project that wasn’t good enough for ________, but do YOU want to do it?” And no filmmaker wants to be the producers’ second choice. So they don’t actually formally ask the question.

Boaz – What happened in your specific case?

Daniel – We had an informal meeting where they told me the idea for the sequel and what they wanted to do with it. “Gauging interest” I think you’d call it. I liked the overall idea but I had another movie I had already been offered (Angry Little God, currently in post-production), and I felt I had said everything I wanted to say about Nell’s story (Nell is the main character of The Last Exorcism II, played by Ashley Bell).

The conventional wisdom is that you can only win by NOT doing a sequel to your own movie. I wanted to try to widen my horizon beyond horror, so I said I didn’t want to do it. But again, they never ASKED me to do it, and I honestly have no idea if they would have wanted me to do it if I had said that I wanted to direct the sequel.

Boaz – Fascinating politics! What did you think of this sequel when you saw it?

Daniel – I LOVED the sequel. I really did. It was just the biggest “trip” to see Nell continuing her journey (that we started). It was such a thrill. They could have sent her to Mars to grow magic broccoli and I would have loved every second of it. Ashley (Bell) is SO good! And I honestly think the director (Ed Gass-Donnelly) is pretty goddamn talented himself. All that Polanski-esque dread he built up…I am in awe of him. I couldn’t have done that. 

If only Daniel could be connected to every movie I watch, my reviews could be even more fun to write!

The movie was better than The Devil Inside, an exorcism movie from last year which was completely average and unoriginal, and lacked this film’s crisp direction and fascinating predecessor. It was worse than…The Last Exorcism. Lazy choice? Sure, but how could I NOT go with it, it’s true!

Quality Rating: B- (Good acting, crisp direction and continuing where the first left off in an innovative way bumped this from C-grade territory)

Boaz Rating: B+ (Tons of extra fun was had by watching Daniel’s movie, and looking forward to discussing it with him)

Warm Bodies

20 Feb

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Synopsis: “After R (a highly unusual zombie) saves Julie from an attack, the two form a relationship that sets in motion a sequence of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour 37 minutes)

What an unusual movie!!! Where to even start…

First of all just thinking about the amalgamation of genres makes my head hurt, but in a good way. This was clearly a comedy, but it was also definitely a zombie horror movie with gruesome imagery, but it was also mainly a romance more than anything. Yep, a romantic horror comedy. And a very romantic one I might add, that was certainly the main theme of this bizarre, quite good movie.

There were certainly slow parts to the movie; in fact about a third of the way through I began to wonder if it was a one-note film that wasn’t going anywhere other than playing with the conceit of a zombie who for some reason, begins to care about life. But then the last third of the movie developed and added a whole new dimension of fun to the story, and it went from being a fun gimmick to a very creative experience. I mean, a young, pale zombie whose voice-over constantly shows the ideas and feelings he thinks but can never express…it may be really weird, but it’s also quite funny.

I didn’t realize it while watching, but the director Jonathan Levine also made 50/50, a dramedy that really impressed me. Now I see that he’s got an interesting and impressive range. And really surprising me even more was that the central character – the zombie protagonist – was played by Nicholas Hoult. Who is that you might wonder? He was the little boy opposite Hugh Grant in one of my favorite romantic comedies of all time, About A Boy! My how he’s grown up, and apparently continued to choose quirky and interesting roles!

If you’ve seen zombie movies in the past, you will undoubtedly scratch your head and become confused as the “rules” that zombie-lore historically follow are bent, and there are certainly also inconsistencies throughout the movie. But since a major element of the story is about the development of those zombies, it kind of solves the problem of its own contradictions, and you can just smile and say, “Okay, I guess the logic of the movie works well enough!” In other words, don’t over-think things, and just accept that the movie is surprisingly sweet and only gets better as it goes along. And somehow, you will end up rooting for this bizarre relationship to succeed! (Don’t worry, the ridiculousness of the situation is played with fun tongue-in-cheek, and there is literally a tribute to Romeo & Juliet within the movie, as well as one of the funniest uses of the word “bitches” I’ve ever had the amusement of seeing.)

It may have begun as a movie that I thought would be better as a 15 minute short, but by the end I can report that Adi, Josh and myself were all quite happy with the full-length experience.

The movie was better than the Resident Evil flicks, which are a fun but lousy zombie video-game movie franchise. It wasn’t as good as Zombieland, an extremely clever and hilarious zombie horror comedy.

Quality Rating: B+ (Extra given purely for the inventiveness of the story)

Boaz Rating: B+ (I would have given it an even higher Boaz Rating, but the middle of the movie dragged a bit too much)

John Dies At The End

4 Feb

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Synopsis: “A new street drug that sends its users across time and dimensions has one drawback: some people return as no longer human. Can two college dropouts save humankind from this silent, otherworldly invasion?” (Rated R; 1 hour 39 minutes)

What in the heck did I just finish watching?! I was excited to see the followup movie 10 years later from the director who made Bubba Ho-Tep (which I recently discussed in my Stand Up Guys review), a funny and quirky monster movie comedy. This…was a letdown.

I don’t know if I can possibly describe this or defend why I didn’t like it as compared to other bizarre movies, but it just….didn’t work for me. Was it weird? Absolutely. Over-the-top silly gore? You bet. And that’s often a great combo for horror comedies. I’ve absolutely loved Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, Slither, Drag Me To Hell, Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil and more, but one thing those movies all had going for them was that I was laughing most of the time, and the plots managed to make sense even when they didn’t quite make any sense….am I making sense yet?!

This bizarre movie was as confusing as Donnie Darko, but either it never ended up making any sense, or I just didn’t care enough about it to try to piece it all together. I’ll even give the filmmakers their due and say that it was creative and maybe they did make it all work; but if both Mike & myself as movie-lovers of any genre couldn’t be motivated to figure it out, and we just wanted it to be over by the end – then that’s a real problem. To put it another way, confusing plots are welcome in movies where you’re supposed to give a damn what’s happening; dumb horror comedies are where you want to just see dumb, entertaining shit happen on the screen, and turn your brain OFF.

There were moments scattered throughout this flick that were ridiculous and funny, times where I felt like I was watching scenes from Men In Black or The Evil Dead; but that feeling only came in glimpses, and most of the movie was “clever” exposition about this strange drug that brought creatures from another dimension to their world, or something like that, and I was simply lost.

On the plus side, the creatures were ridiculous, bloody, rubbery little amusing effects, the nudity was bizarre, the plot had some nifty scenes involving humans mutated into crazy creatures, and the acting was so over-the-top campy that I think the filmmakers wanted to make an instant Saturday night cult classic, and perhaps they did. The problem is that you don’t generally make those movies intentionally, they come from earnestly made films that people later laugh at; this movie clearly knew it was trying to be that, but it was also trying to get people to laugh WITH it, and you can’t have it both ways.

The movie was better than The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a weird 80’s cult classic where the heroes fought aliens from another dimension as well. I never got into that one either, and just remember being super bored by it in spite of hearing about its strong cult following. It was less good than just about any Sam Raimi movie, as well as Slither, an under-watched horror comedy where aliens also turn people into weird mutated creatures.

Quality Rating: C (Gets points for being creative and quirky)

Boaz Rating: D+ (Loses a ton of points not because it was campy or badly acted, but because it takes a very rare horror comedy to bore me, and this one almost did)

A Haunted House (“Not To Be Confused With Scary Movie 5”)

29 Jan

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Synopsis: “Malcolm and Kisha move into their dream home, but soon learn a demon also resides there. When Kisha becomes possessed, Malcolm – determined to keep his sex life on track – turns to a priest, a psychic, and a team of ghost-busters for help.” (Rated R; 1 hour 20 minutes)

I went into this horror movie parody with reeeeeally low expectations. I thought I’d be seeing absolute trash, and it would make the upcoming spoof Scary Movie 5 look like a masterpiece. Why?
1) It’s dumped in January, and if I haven’t made it clear in my other posts, January and September are generally the months that studios dump their movies that they think will suck.

2) It’s a spoof on one single horror movie, Paranormal Activity. It’s hard enough to come up with decent material to parody when you have entire genres to exploit, but doing it all on one movie I expected nothing good.

3) I didn’t even see a preview for this one (very rare for me considering how many movies I see), and was confused because I DID see a preview for Scary Movie 5 which ALSO spoofs Paranormal Activity, so I was very confused when this came out what the heck it was.

Well, I’m happy to report that this was actually an amusing little flick. I always claim that lowering your expectations with movies can only help you enjoy them later and this was no exception. There were moments throughout the movie that actually made me laugh out loud, with ridiculous, juvenile things on the screen, and both Jared and I were amused throughout.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly stupid, and the humor is lowbrow – so if you don’t like DUMB and DIRTY humor you’ll hate this – but if that’s not the case you can do a lot worse than a movie where the haunting, invisible ghost has sex with the occupants, and turns out to be a better lover than either of them. And one scene where they utilize the spooky oscillating camera-fan from Paranormal Activity that catches glimpses of things involving the maid…let’s just say that was some pretty damn funny stuff that I could see fitting in the Harold & Kumar movies or something. (By the way, the less-seen Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas? HILARIOUS!)

One last thing I’ll reference, there was a funnier and less creepy version of what Dane Cook did with a stuffed animal in Good Luck Chuck. If you get that reference, congratulations, you watch crappy movies too!

The movie was better than Spy Hard, a spoof that I still remember being VERY disappointed by considering it starred Leslie Nielsen. It was worse than Scary Movie, which missed the mark quite often but was so jam-packed with jokes and different movie parodies that it was still more fun to watch.

Quality Rating: C-

Boaz Rating: B (Not saying it was good, just saying it was decent fun for what it is)