Shattered_Wake

IMDb member since December 2006
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Reviews

R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour
(2010)

Surprisingly good (and creepy!) show
I'll be clear here. . . I'm 24 years old, so I'm not exactly this show's target audience. However, I grew up with 'Are You Afraid of the Dark?,' 'Goosebumps,' 'Tales from the Crypt,' etc. Therefore, when I heard about this show, I thought I'd give it a shot. Even though R.L. Stine usually writes pretty standard fare, I've always enjoyed his work and still to this day have his entire original Goosebumps collection from my childhood.

My advice, if you're a fan of stuff like the shows I mentioned: Just check out the first story entitled "Really You." Technically it's two episodes, but it's really worth the time. As I'm already creeped out by dolls in general, this was really effective.

I'm not all the way through the series to date, but I'm still satisfied with what I have seen. Young or old, definitely check this out. There isn't enough good TV for kids these days, but this is something worthwhile.

Creature
(2011)

Can't even compare to the worst Roger Corman flick
Over the past decade or so, so-called "creature features" have been a bit of a rarity. They were all the rage for decades, with some of the earliest dating back into the early 1900s with films like 'The Golem' and 'King Kong.' However, as times changed, so did tastes within the horror genre. Sure, every now & again, horror fans get treated to a more popular monster movie, but they very rarely ever make it to "the next level." Recently, there have been some more popular creature features like 'Cloverfield,' 'The Host,' and 'Feast,' but none of them really rebooted the trend. Now, a new creature feature, creatively titled 'Creature,' has been released by rookie writer/director Fred Andrews. Could it be the film that reignites the love for creature features? Eh, no.

'Creature' is yet another "backwoods" (or "back-swamp," I suppose) horror, which is a subgenre that has been getting a bit more focus over the past few years, probably due to the success of Adam Green's gorefest 'Hatchet,' from which Fred Andrews clearly "borrowed" plenty of inspiration. It stars a group of young actors that you may or may not recognize from random TV roles like Serinda Swan from 'Breakout Kings' or Aaron Hill from 'Greek' (in which he played a character called The Beaver. . . seriously). Anyway, the story focuses on this group of generic young people (that you'll forget as soon as the credits roll) as they make their way into the swamps of Louisiana. As they always do, the young people come across an impossible legend of a vicious monster that, of course, turns out to be the possible. Oh no. As the monster feasts on the pretty young people, horror veteran Sid Haig randomly appears to do what Sid Haig usually does: Look gross, add humour, and send a group of dumb kids to their deaths (yeah, he was basically an unpainted Captain Spaulding in this). Little tip for realism to Fred Andrews: If you're going to have Sid Haig playing a backwoods hick, don't have him wearing freshly pressed khakis.

There are a certain few things that you should expect from the 70s/80s-style creature features. What are they? Stupidity, violence, gore, and nudity, right? Well, they're all here. So, if that's all you need, then check the film out, because from the first frame, you get to see a pasty, homely chick skinny dipping in a swamp you know is filled with leeches, gators, and hepatitis. What do you think happens next? Certainly not what happens any time someone goes skinny dipping in a horror film! In fact, any time you see any of those "horror movie moments" (going to get more beer, going to the bathroom alone, etc.) in this film, don't expect there to be much of a stray from PRECISELY what you'll expect.

Now, how about that writing? Have you ever watched a movie or TV show and sat in awe thinking, "Wow! They talk exactly like me & my friends! It's like they copied my life!" This isn't like that. In fact, if you ever find yourself saying that the people in this movie sound like your group of friends, immediately go out and find new friends. The only line of dialogue in this film that actually holds any truth came from the previously mentioned Aaron Hill when he noted, "It doesn't get any cheesier than that." Just about sums this one up.

But, hey, what importance do writing, originality, and acting have in a schlockfest? Absolutely nothing! There are really only two things that matter all that much: Creature FX and fun! And how can you ruin that? I don't really know, but somehow they did. The creature FX were lame, like a subpar ripoff of a bad Roger Corman flick. The main villain, Grimley, looked like Takka from 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.' They probably would've been more at home in a SyFy original than in a film that received a theatrical release (regardless of how short the release was). It's not as if this was a microbudget movie. They had $3 million here and couldn't produce better than the quality you see in the average film school project.

Overall, 'Creature' can't even rise to the expected quality of the classic cheesy B-flicks we've come to love like 'Lake Placid' or 'Swamp Thing.' It's a poorly written, stalely directed, and lukewarm rendition of a story we've seen done much better dozens of times before. The only redeeming factor of the film is the scenery, but that isn't to compliment the filmmakers here. It's hard to film a Deep South swamp and not have it look cool.

Final Verdict: 3.5/10. Avoid. I knew it'd be bad, but I didn't think it'd be boring.

-AP3-

The Odds
(2011)

Like a really intense 'Degrassi' episode
I'm always a fan of any movies about gambling, so I was quick to check out 'The Odds.' I was hoping for something along the lines of 'Rounders' or 'Boiler Room,' or at least that kind of tone. I knew it wouldn't be of equal quality judging by the trailer, budget, and cast. However, low-budget elements don't always mean low quality.

The story focuses on teenage gamblers & friends Desson (Tyler Johnston) and Barry (Calum Worthy). After losing a bet on a shady wrestling match, Barry decides to take out his frustration on the hulking wrestler who threw the match. Desson steps in to stop the fight, but they end up getting in trouble anyway. Soon after, Desson discovers the dead body of Barry hanging in his garage. Refusing to believe it was a suicide, Desson begins to investigate the death, thinking it was a murder connected to the world of illegal gambling they lived in.

The first thing viewers should know before they check out this movie is simple: It's Canadian. That's not to make you consider its quality or anything, but just know that it's written by Canadians and starring Canadians. I didn't know that for the first twenty or so minutes of the flick; so, when I saw people writing their money as "20$" and talking about senior year as "grade twelve," I found it a little weird. Also, there's that level of "purity" that most Canadian movies have versus American ones, even when they're about illegal gambling rings and teenage murder. Everyone's just about one level nicer than they should be (like calling a guy a "putz" when he insults your breast size, for example).

Regarding the technical aspects, the most important for a film like this is the script. Specifically, the realism of the gambling. Why? Because the most devoted target audience for a film like this will be those who are involved in the world of gambling. As someone who used to sneak into seedy underground poker games as a teen, I know what the world is really like. I know how the games go, I know how the people are, etc. For that, the film isn't too bad. It's definitely better than some, but it really shows the inexperience and poor decision- making that a lot of young gamblers have. The one characteristic that really was accurate: Young gamblers often screw up when cute girls are involved. The true gambler still keeps his head even when there's a woman involved. Unfortunately, one element of the script that really failed was the dialogue. There were multiple times that dialogue was repeated awkwardly in the same scene. Maybe that's how Canadian kids talk, but I've ever heard it like that on Degrassi (my only real experience with Canadian youth).

Other than the writing, the film isn't actually that bad on a technical level. The acting had some good elements, namely Tyler Johnston as Desson who looked like a nerdy version of a young Tom Cruise, and some bad elements. Luckily, writer/director Simon Davidson seemed to notice his weaknesses in the cast and the less talented actors had very little screen time.

As an overall film, even with the few benefits it has, it really never rises above mediocre. Frankly, the main issue is that it doesn't get involved enough with the gambling aspect. It doesn't really show the stressful situations that that kind of life shows. While it could have been 'Brick' meets 'Rounders,' it ended up being more just an intense episode of 'Degrassi.'

Final Verdict: 6/10.

-AP3-

Grimm
(2011)

Rip-off alert: 2011
Seriously, this couldn't be much more of a ripoff of Dylan Dog (which has been in publication for, what, 25 years?). Really, the only distinct difference is that the main character is a current cop instead of a former cop turned into private investigator. It's nothing more than basically a prequel, in that case, especially seeing as the main character in 'Grimm' isn't going to last long on the force with the amount of police protocol he pisses on illegally.

Couldn't they have at least cast a different lead to maybe separate the two works a bit? The guy in this just basically looks like a less attractive version of Dylan Dog.

I really hope the show doesn't last long if they don't start making strides to separate it from what they're stealing from.

Also, if your visual effects are beaten by that of 'Buffy,' you have some serious work to do. Stray from the CGI & use makeup if your CGI is going to look this pathetic.

-AP3-

A Little Bit of Heaven
(2011)

A heartfelt "dying" comedy that fails with its conventions
'A Little Bit of Heaven,' which will be the final film released by the the now-bankrupt studio The Film Department, is really a blown opportunity. Not so much the film itself, but the title. After hearing that title and seeing the great Peter Dinklage as the #2 listed cast member, I was excited. Could a movie actually take a risk and have the main character date a little person/dwarf? Now, it wouldn't be the first time that this would have happened, though the only one that comes to memory is 'Freaks' and I don't think that casts a good light on the subject. Unfortunately, the only relation the title has to Dinklage is the nickname he was given within his profession (I won't give away what that profession is, however, for sake of not ruining the best part of the film).

The film stars Kate Hudson as Marley, a slutty marketing exec who either doesn't believe in love or just enjoys gallivanting around with random men too much. After feeling rundown after a particularly intense night of said gallivanting, Marley heads to the doctor to get herself checked out. After a few tests come back with bad results, she finds out that she's suffering from colorectal cancer and has only a short while to live. This news is first broken to her by none other than God. . . played by Whoopi Goldberg. . . in an anaesthesia-induced hallucination. Her future is then confirmed by awkward, but apparently handsome, oncologist Julian (Gael García Bernal), who convinces her to sign up for a dangerous experimental treatment for no other reason than to have the film make her look more tired and give her a few more days to fall in love. Also joining Marley's side in her time of need is her best friend Sarah (Lucy Punch) and her combative parents (Kathy Bates & Treat Williams).

Instead of straying from the conformity of modern romance stories, 'A Little Bit of Heaven' grabs right onto them and holds on for dear life. It takes almost all of the elements of past "dying comedies" (like Queen Latifah's 'Last Holiday' and Angelina Jolie's 'Life or Something Like It') and stuffs them into the film, including a funny "risk-taking" scene (hang gliding here), laughing off the condition as "not so bad," and falling in love with the doctor. It doesn't bother to add much of anything new, except the use of Whoopi Goldberg as God, though there have been funnier choices to play a deity (Alannis Morisette in 'Dogma' comes to mind). After Judd Apatow released 'Funny People,' even if it wasn't universally loved, I had hoped that this small subgenre of comedy would get a push in the right direction. Unfortunately, it looks as if it's going to continue to cling onto the same conventions for a bit longer. The film does contain some heartfelt moments that may jerk some tears from the ducts of our more emotional audience members, but after the emotional manipulation ends, there isn't much else. That being said, it's not really a poorly written film. It's just not a bravely written one and that will leave it to be nothing more than a forgettable entry in the filmographies for the otherwise talented cast.

Final Verdict: 6/10.

-AP3-

Grave Encounters
(2011)

Often funny, often creepy, but blows a great opportunity
Of all the (many) paranormal investigation shows on TV these days, 'Ghost Adventures' is easily the most infuriating & annoying of the bunch. With its ridiculous equipment, overly "impressive" evidence, and block-headed frat boy host, who is the amateurish professional I've seen on reality TV, 'Ghost Adventures' is a show that needed a spoof. Here, 'Grave Encounters' did just that, but not in the overtly comedic way most send ups offer. It did have a decent amount of humour, especially for those who detest 'Ghost Adventures' host Zak Bagans as much as me. The film's version of Bagans, Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), mocks him in a way that is insulting, but still leaves room for Zak to sit at home and watch the movie thinking, "Man, that is one cool dude, bro."

To get in the horror side of the film, the story takes us to an abandoned Collingwood Asylum in Maryland, which is one of the creepiest locations I've seen in horror cinema since 'Session 9,' (which this film does borrow from on occasion, especially with the stranded wheelchair in the lonely hallway. As Preston's film crew navigates their way through the hospital, faking evidence and mocking the expedition, they begin to notice something that was not accounted for: actual paranormal activity. As the night progresses, the asylum begins to transform into a nightmarish labyrinth of endless corridors and different horrors trapping them with some of their worst fears imaginable.

Had I written this review about forty-five minutes into this film, my thoughts would be in glowing praise of a job well done by a group of amateur filmmakers on their first feature. However, as the last half of the film played out, nothing but disappointment grew realizing what could have been and how sadly wickedly named Vicious Brothers (who co-wrote, co- directed, and co-edited the film) squandered the enormous potential this little film had. The main problem 'Grave Encounters' has is that it overcomplicates an idea that, on its own, is very, very creepy and has more than enough chances to be genuinely scary. It seemed that the film, which borrowed heavily from a lot of other horror movies like 'Paranormal Activity,' 'The Blair Witch Project,' and the 'House on Haunted Hill' remake (only for one scene, thankfully), decided that it didn't want the "simplistic approach," which worked so well for, say, 'Paranormal Activity.' The writers wanted something more complex, something that could work on a different level, like 'Session 9' or 'Blair Witch.' This was obviously the wrong choice because the first half of the film, which is merely a simple haunted-house story, is easily the better of the two segments. It's only when the film decides to add in extra twists and mysteries that it becomes head-shakingly unfortunate.

Another issue the film had came from its silliness. Now, the story's not silly at all. In fact, the idea of it is actually very disturbing and is very reminiscent of Mark Z. Danielewski's novel 'House of Leaves,' which is one of the scariest books in recent memory. However, the execution of some of the film's effects was just plain lame. Take, for example, one of the first times we're shown a spirit (in a very 'Blair Witch'-ish way), it's ruined by a cheesy looking demon face that looks like it was stolen from one of those "scary" online mazes. This was the case for almost every spirit, ghost, and demon in the film. They all had some kind of strange half-makeup, half-CGI look to them that just looked funny instead of scary.

Overall, 'Grave Encounters' isn't a terrible first attempt at low-budget horror. However, the botched second half from the overly complex story paths really brings the film down. And, while it may not be as bad as a lot of indie horror these days, this one will live on as just a precautionary tale of what could have been.

Final Verdict: 5/10.

-AP3-

Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes
(2011)

Yet another awful Asylum "mockbuster"
The Asylum. Just saying the words is enough to send chills up the spine & bile up the esophagus. For years, the so-called filmmakers at this trash factory have been doing little more than churning out some of the worst movies in anyone's memories. From their so-bad- they're-completely awful SyFy originals like 'Mega Piranha vs. Who Gives a Damn' to their appalling 'mockbusters' like 'Transmorphers,' The Asylum has been able to set a new bar for just how low one can go in the film industry. And, yet, no matter how deep they dig into the septic systems of their imaginations, somehow these scam artists manage to just keep on going. This time, their target is the exorcist subgenre, especially the recent success 'The Last Exorcism.'

With 'Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes,' director Jude Gerard Prest (which is more likely than not a pseudonym since no one would want to put their real name to a film like this) and his team of misfits flat out lie, telling the world (well, the small damned percentage of the world that is unfortunate to witness this disaster) that what this film is actually real. Yeah, real garbage. From almost the first frame, 'Anneliese' tries to be simply a compilation of what made other exorcist movies work, but they just assemble their own moronic versions of those elements. Even the opening cloned, almost completely, a scene from William Friedkin's 'The Exorcist.' I suppose the writers thought this could pass because of their claim that the 'Anneliese' videos inspired Friedkin's movie. . . even though 'The Exorcist' was inspired by the book by William Peter Blatty. . . which was inspired by an entirely different exorcism of a boy. 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose' is the film that was actually based (however loosely) on the events of the Anneliese Michel incident.

Friedkin's groundbreaking horror masterpiecce isn't the only film "borrowed from" for this production. We also revisit some exciting (eh. . .) scenes from 'The Last Exorcism,' 'Paranormal Activity' (which was already mockbusted by The Asylum with 'Paranormal Entity'), and a few others. Strangely enough, the film even stretches to copy itself by randomly flashing back to its own scenes only moments after those scenes happen, almost as if the crew was so proud of their work that they just had show it twice. . . but, that can't be true, so they were probably bloating the film to hit a reasonable runtime since they didn't have the brains to actually flesh out a full script.

Visually, the film is just a mess. To bring realism (maybe?) to the otherwise ridiculous creation, three different cameras are used throughout. . . or just the same camera with three different filters: black & white, sepia, & super 8 grainy. Add this to the eye-raping cinematography and 'Anneliese' is about as enjoyable to look at Alex DeLarge's forced theatre trip in 'A Clockwork Orange.' Luckily, most viewers will probably spend more time watching the clock waiting for the movie to end thanks to the excruciatingly grueling pace of the writer's amateurish script, which was probably the only thing worse about this movie than the directing, editing, and cinematography.

Final Verdict: 1/10.

-AP3-

Something Borrowed
(2011)

A Simply Unbearable Group of People
'Something Borrowed' is based on the novel of the same name by Emily Griffin which I've never heard of. It concerns a group of thirtysomethings as they struggle through a love rectangle or trapezoid or whatever shape is made up by Kate Hudson ('How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days'), Ginnifer Goodwin ('Big Love'), John Krasinski ('The Office'), and the unfortunately named Colin Egglesfield ('Melrose Place'). It's also occasionally a love pentagon or hexagon if you count Ashley Williams & Steve Howey. As are typical in stories about differently shaped loves, there's lots of betrayal amongst friends, panicking of unfaithfuls, heartfelt conversations covered in rain, and unnecessary stupidity of everyone involved. . . but, that last bit is expected in any romance, cinematic or real.

One major problem with a film about infidelity is that it's impossible to really like anyone involved with the scandal. Here, we only have the Rachel, the woman who betrays her friend (Goodwin); Dex, the fiancé who betrays his love (Egglesfield); and, Darcy, the woman betrayed by both (Hudson). Typically, you can associate with those cheated on solely through sympathy, but that was made difficult for two reasons: 1) Darcy's a secondary character who seems to always act like that girl who always gets too drunk at college parties; and, 2) The movie constantly acts as if it's going to reveal something negative about her past (spoiler: it does). Granted, no one deserves to be hurt this way for being annoying, but she's still not an enjoyable character to watch. Maybe things would be different if Darcy and Rachel's roles were swapped, but we all know of hindsight's perfection. Left alone behind all this despicable behaviour is the typical nice guy Ethan (Krasinski) who, along only with Dex's dad, acts as a voice of reason in the film. Unfortunately, he's like an umbrella in a hurricane, unable to rescue this mess of humanity from themselves.

Now, I suppose this is a film that's not meant to be enjoyed on the level of a typical romantic comedy; but, with this cast and a sugary, generic title like 'Something Borrowed,' a viewer should not be forced to withstand the cringe-inducing behaviour like that of Dex & Rachel. Never have I so wanted the leads of a romance to be hit by a New York cabbie. Then again, I also wished that fate upon myself for a while to alleviate the misery of watching these monsters. Clearly, writer Jennie Snyder & director Luke Greenfield, who have both successfully worked in romance before this film, have talent that should carry them through their futures, but a film this unlikable was not their best step forward to that future. A romance hasn't been this depressing since last year's 'Blue Valentine,' but at least that film succeeded because of its sad nature and didn't have to battle against it.

Final Verdict: 4/10.

-AP3-

Battle: Los Angeles
(2011)

A loud & annoying spectacle with some great visual FX
'Saving Private Ryan,' 'Apocalypse Now,' 'Platoon'. . . when the great war movies are mentioned, one of the most important elements discussed is simple: the characters. Among the explosions, gunfire, and blown-off limbs, good war movies never lose track of their connection with the characters that were so intricately crafted throughout the film. Even a cheeseball blockbuster like 'Pearl Harbour,' regardless of how lame it may be, managed to flesh out its characters fairly well, even if they were insufferably whiny. Granted, when writer Christopher Bertolini and director Jonathon Liebesman started on 'Battle Los Angeles,' they probably weren't expecting to make the 'Platoon' of alien movies; but, when a phenomenal film like 'District 9' can be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, there should be no excuses about being "just a sci-fi flick." Still, that's how 'Battle Los Angeles' was treated: empty, meaningless characters running around, screaming for two hours.

Since the film threw out any chance for depth, that would mean the shallow elements should be excellent, right? Eh, not so much. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of over-the-top alien vs. Marines action with lots of big booms and loud guns that will be awesome on your Blu-ray home theatre. Unfortunately, thanks to the eye-blurring cinematography and ADHD- induced pacing, the film becomes little more than an anti-aspirin: watched only if you WANT a headache.

Now, don't go thinking the film's a complete disaster. If you load up on Advil before you press play and prepare yourself to watch the death of a bunch of people that are little more than walking mannequins in military gear, you may enjoy it. If you ignore the fact that the terrifying alien invaders are basically just a roided-up version of Alpha 5 from 'Power Rangers,' you also might enjoy it. But, if you'd rather watch a film like 'District 9' instead of a live-action video game, I'd suggest avoiding this one. Even with a reasonably talented cast, even with a $70,000,000 budget to work with, even with some of the best visual FX seen this year, 'Battle Los Angeles' can't succeed as anything more than a loud, frustrating, detached, and unoriginal popcorn flick that squanders the opportunity with its potentially 'true' source material.

Final Verdict: 4/10.

-AP3-

Hitting the Nuts
(2010)

Not quite Christopher Guest, but still a funny movie
For many years, faux documentaries (or 'mockumentaries') have been a popular form of filmmaking, especially among young or low-budget filmmakers because it offers a simple way of giving an excuse for lower-level productions while still being effective (think 'Blair Witch'). When this style of filmmaking is used in the comedic genre, there is no match for the films of Christopher Guest, whose genius has led to such great films as 'This Is Spinal Tap!' and 'Best In Show.' Because Guest is just so damn good, it seems many other directors try to imitate his style as much as possible. This is true of director, writer, actor, and producer Joe Boyd, who has transported the Guestian (yes, he deserves his own word) style of mockumentaries to the poker world with 'Hitting the Nuts.' As an avid poker player and fan, even before the ESPN-boosted 'poker boom,' I was intrigued by the idea of this film. 'The Grand,' direceted by Zak Penn' had already done a comedic mockumentary with a stellar cast, but it wasn't an overwhelming success in any real way. Here, though, as the film focused on an illegal small-town tourney, a famous cast would not be necessary. Therefore, the director could easily manage a solid film without big names. One problem Boyd did face here, though, is just how difficult it is to make a great poker movie. Out of the many, many attempts to bring the game to the cinema, only a few can really be considered great. 'The Cincinnati Kid,' 'Rounders,' and 'Maverick' made their mark, but not a whole lot more.

From the first frame of 'Hitting the Nuts,' viewers will realize not to take the film seriously. At all. That's because Joe Boyd's film is just purely silly comedy; and, even though it's not the most well written comedy one will find, the over-the-top script & acting do yield some hearty laughs. The humour is not for everyone, though, especially due to the ridiculous characters & unbelievable situations. However, many will still enjoy the film's sarcastic wit and hilarious one-liners.

Perhaps one of the most important factors that many filmmakers in the poker subgenre neglect is the actual cardplay. Make it too realistic and it can get boring fast. Take it over the-the-top and real players will be rolling their eyes before the river hits the felt. For the most part, the gameplay here struck a reasonable balance . . . except the few errors like the lack of burn cards and having a board end on the turn instead of the river. Pretty annoying.

Overall, the film does have some irritating factors that affecti t as a whole; but, for its budget and style, it is quite a funny & enjoyable poker movie.

Final Verdict: 6/10.

-AP3-

Mother's Day
(2010)

Thrilling, disturbing, and extremely well made
For almost as long as horror films have been in existence, remakes of horror films have also been made. Through the many decades of horror cinema, fans have seen plenty of very solid remakes, some of which even surpassed their source material ('The Thing'). Over the past ten or so years, however, remakes have become more prevalent in mainstream horror, and the majority of these remakes have either been completely unnecessary ('The Omen') or just downright awful ('One Missed Call'). Every once in awhile, though, there comes a gem from the pile of filth that is the remake market. The most recent diamond in the unoriginal rough comes from 'Saw'-regular Darren Lynn Bousman.

'Mother's Day,' the remake of the 1980s Troma classic, focuses on a young couple who, after growing tired of the hustle & bustle of city life, hit the real estate jackpot when they nab a lovely suburban home off the foreclosure market. Unfortunately, it's also the former home of a family of murderous criminals who seek refuge there after a botched bank robbery. Now, trapped inside during a tornado warning, the house's new owners are kidnapped & forced to nurse one of their injured captors back to health.

One thing that will always set a remake apart and give it a chance to succeed is simple originality (even if an "original remake" is quite the oxymoron). This is clear by looking at some of the top-tier remakes like 'The Thing,' 'Dawn of the Dead,' 'The Fly,' and so on. On the contrary, films like Gus Van Sant's 'Psycho' prove that cloning films only yield wasteful disasters. Darren Lynn Bousman, who has quickly become a well known name among horror fans for his work on the 'Saw' series and 'Repo! The Genetic Opera,' has created a film here that belongs to the first group. This is mainly because 'Mother's Day' is barely even a remake. In fact, it's just about completely different from Charles Kaufman's original schlock source material. It's actually a bit confusing as to why they'd call it a remake at all instead of making it its own separate entity. Granted, this has happened in the past with "remakes" like 'Day of the Dead, where the films mare almost completely unrelated. With a movie like 'Day of the Dead,' however, there's at least a built-in audience that would increase the profits of the remake as opposed to Troma's 'Mother's Day,' which doesn't exactly hold the same esteem as Romero's 1985 classic film.

Regardless of its remake status, however unnecessary that tag may be, 'Mother's Day' works fantastically well on its own. While the basic story has been done many times before, this film does it much better than most. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's one of the best home-invasion films out there. Scott Milam's script is a fantastic combination of palpable suspense, gut-wrenching violence, and shocking human drama. Darren Lynn Bousman's direction is also a nice breath of fresh air for the genre, bringing the great writing to life. But perhaps the shining light of the production is the outstandingly wicked performance by Rebecca De Mornay as the mother. Her unsettling c almness and ability to own every scene definitely makes her one of the best female horror villains ever and helps to set 'Mother's Day' apart as one of the best horror films of recent years.

Overall, if you're looking for heart-stopping thrills and masterful horror, don't hesitate to give this one a look.

Final Verdict: 8/10.

-AP3-

Fritt vilt III
(2010)

Not-so-'Cold Prey': The Beginning
A few years ago, filmmaker Roar Uthaug attempted to add a new name to the short list of legendary horror villains. While he's yet to have the same impact as past characters like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, the snow-suited Gunnar is definitely one of the most interesting horror maniacs to hit the genre in a while.

After two films of standard, yet hugely effective, stalk-and-slash fare, the 'Cold Prey' series returns with its third installment: a prequel showing the early years of the nut with the pick axe. I was a bit disappointed at first by the decision to go with a prequel, mainly because I very much liked the bad-ass character of Jannicke (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal). However, the opening scenes showing the killer as a child were interesting enough to make it a better idea. These scenes ended quickly, though, and the film returned to another installment set in the same formula as the other entries, but with a lower quality cast of victims (due mainly to just how painfully dumb they all were).

Regardless of how good 'Cold Prey II' was, one thing it did not have was originality. Viewers may have noticed the obvious similarities of it to John Carpenter's 'Halloween II.' The closeness of the two films did bother some, but the structure and style made it distinct enough to make it its own solid film (and one of the best slashers of the decade). For this third part of the series, the writers decided to become "inspired" by yet another American horror. From the start, the are some pretty obvious connections to 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning': It's a prequel, it adds in more blatant torture elements, it has the same basic story as its predecessor, etc. Hell, there's even a scene where a victim is grabbed and pulled backward through a screen in blatant Leatherface style. However, Norway has never really been big on horror filmmaking, so we should all be willing to grant them a bit of leniency when it comes to originality as they build up the genre.

Perhaps the most crucial issue 'Cold Prey III' has is one of the most obvious: It completely betrays its own title. Imagine of a 'Halloween' sequel took place on, I dunno, the Fourth of July. That'd be pretty dumb, wouldn't it? Same goes for this film. Why call a film 'Cold Prey' and have it take place when it's not even cold? Granted, this is Norway, so it's probably a little cold pretty much all the time, but one of the only reasons the series stood apart from its peers was thanks to the beautiful snow-covered mountain landscapes and the way the directors & cinematographers expertly made use of them in creating their fantastic visuals. Here, though, the film could be a part of any horror series. What makes it much different than any other forest-set torture flick, like 'Carver' for instance? Frankly, not a whole lot.

Overall, while this new sequel in the Norwegian horror franchise is entertaining enough, it just cannot stand up to its earlier entries, mainly because of the decision to trade in the well crafted suspense & tension of the first two films for an increase in torture-themed gore & violence. I hope to see a return to form in the next installment, hopefully with the help with one of the original directors.

Final Verdict: 5.5/10.

-AP3-

The Resident
(2011)

Solid performances can't save an otherwise unimpressive thriller
Decades ago, Hammer Studios produced some of the most legendary horror films in cinematic history. Their trademark style featured some truly iconic Gothic imagery, along with an almost endless amount of palpable suspense. Unfortunately, as times changed, so did the desire for Hammer Horror, sadly causing the studio to close its doors. Luckily for horror fans, however, Hammer Studios returned in 2008 after a three-decade sabbatical from movies to reclaim its rightful place in the genre. While it has yet to make its mark on its new modern audience, hope comes with the studio's latest release: 'The Resident.' The first thing many horror fans will notice ab out this new Hammer horror is its very familiar story, which seems to borrow heavily from classics like 'Psycho' and 'Le Locataire.' This is because, well, it DOES borrow heavily from those films (and others). While they do have a nice change-up featuring a developing relationship between the stalker and stalkee, it does not vary all that much from other, superior past films.

As far as the other aspects of the film, Antti Jokinen's direction is very solid, especially when paired Guillermo Navarro's wonderful cinematography (which has also been featured in gorgeous films like 'Pan's Labyrinth' and 'Cronos'). These two talented filmmakers helped to effectively craft both sides of the perverted relationship with some impressive visuals. In addition to the fine look of the film, the acting is also a pretty fantastic success. Though I've never been a huge fan of Hilary Swank, even in her award-winning roles, I do understand her talent. Her general persona has just never been a draw for me. In this film, for instance, scenes that would be very alluring with another lead simply feel cold & flat. Still, her talent is undeniable. The real deal in the film isn't the Oscar winner, though: it's 'Supernatural'-star Jeffrey Dean Morgan. His performance as ultra-creepy Max was fantastic. In a more original movie, his villainous character would have been very much talked about. Instead, it will only be remembered for what could have been.

Overall, Hammer's 'The Resident' is an entertaining & creepy suspense thriller, but does fail to impress in the long run due to its overdone and unoriginal script. But, this doesn't stop it from being easily worth at least one watch on a popcorn-fueled date night at home, especially for fans of the two leads.

Final Verdict: 6/10.

-AP3-

Gun
(2010)

Not the worst, but still not worth the time
'Gun,' which was written by Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson and directed by the guy who did 'Soul Plane' (need I say more?), tells the story the city of Detroit's crackdown on a gun-running organization run by the criminal Rich (Fitty Cent). Rich then teams up with his friend Angel (Val Kilmer) to expand business. This leads to even more problems beyond his business. . .

First things first, most people will be drawn to this film based on the supporting cast. While Val Kilmer is on a serious run of crap movies (joining the ranks of formerly talented stars like Cuba Gooding, Jr.), he still maintains at least a mild following, even if his last solid flick was 'Déjà Vu' a half-decade ago (okay, 'Felon' was also pretty good, so I'll let that pass as well). Alongside Kilmer, 'Gun' also includes a few other well known actors like John Larroquette, James Remar, & Danny Trejo (though Remar is the only one of the bunch who is featured enough throughout). Regardless of the reasonably notable cast, 'Gun' doesn't have a lot to offer. Now, it's not the total disaster that one would expect from the writer/director combination. Keep in mind, 50 Cent grew up in a life of crime with a teenage coke dealer for a mother (who was murdered when 50 was only twelve), and his own time as a dealer in both guns & drugs before he became a rapper. Therefore, he's pretty well versed in street crime, so he knows how to set up a realistic story about it. Unfortunately, even though the story does have the gritty realism of the Detroit crime world. . . it's just not implemented well by director Jessy Terrero at all. Not to mention that the overall story is completely overdone and the "twists" are anything but shocking from the early parts of the film. This makes for a bit of a lag in the thrills of the crime, and a total lack of surprise by the end.

Overall, the film isn't a complete & utter disaster. The story is interesting enough to maintain interest, but the director's failure to fully exploit the dark themes forced the film to fail. To be honest, a story chronicling 50 Cent's ridiculous life story seems like it'd be a hell of a lot more interesting than any of the movies he stars in.

Final Verdict: 5/10.

-AP3-

Exam
(2009)

One of the best indie thrillers in years
In this economy, a good job offer is hard to find. So, when an exclusive position at a high-ranking corporation opens up, a group of talented recruits are quick to jump at the opportunity. As the grueling interview process winds down, the top eight participants are chosen to partake in a final exam. This exam is unlike any of them have ever seen, however. The invigilator (Colin Salmon) explains that the test is comprised of only one question to which there is only one answer. To add to the difficulty, the question isn't actually provided to the interviewees. Instead, the final eight must work against a ticking clock to not only answer the question, but actually make it out of the test room in one piece.

A common approach that independent filmmakers will take for their low budget films is to write an entire script based out of only one or two settings. Films like the Ryan Reynolds vehicle 'Buried' or the French sci-fi horror 'Maléfique' were very successful at this style. Other films, like the 'Saw' ripoff 'Breathing Room,' are not as lucky. First time director Stuart Hazeldine, however, definitely manages to achieve success with this debut of 'Exam.' When it comes to doing a single-room film, it is very, very easy to let a film get boring or stale. To combat that, an entertaining cast, creative direction, and a well paced script are all major necessities. Take a film like 'Twelve Angry Men.' It's easily one of the greatest dramas in film history, and succeeds in its single-room premise by utilizing all of the aforementioned characteristics flawlessly. Somehow, shockingly, Hazeldine managed to expertly craft his first film, managing all of the aspects into a truly ejoyable & thrilling mystery. It will, without a doubt, guide him on his way to having a very nice future in this business.

One issue the film does have comes from the acting. While the cast is by no means untalented, they are, for the most part, inexperienced. For that reason, some of the chemistry & timing by the actors is off. However, the experienced actors in the film, namely Jimi Mistry ('Blood Diamond') and Luke Mably ('28 Days Later'), do manage to hold things together to allow for a more-than-acceptable performance by the ensemble cast.

The real power of the film, beyond Hazeldine's incredibly impressive direction, comes from his script. It is never, ever a bore, never cheesy, never overly confusing. It has a complexity in its character study while being vague in the actual storyline. The dialogue is all solidly written for the cast, always managing to be at least believable. The film is kept under a fog of mystery throughout allowing only necessary information at the exact right times. Too little information, and it can be frustrating for viewers. Too much, and it's no longer a mystery. Hazeldine kept a very nice balance here, and it definitely paid off.

Overall, 'Exam' is one of the best independent films of 2010, and easily one of the best mysteries of the past few years. It is wonderfully directed, expertly written, and contains enough thrills to entertain just about anyone looking for it.

Final Verdict: 8/10.

-AP3-

Ticking Clock
(2011)

A mundane crime thriller that revolves around one ridiculous twist
Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. has had one of the strangest acting careers in a long time. Ever since he won at the Academy for his performance as Rod Tidwell in 'Jerry Maguire,' he has been caught in a sort of downward spiral. This has sent the once-promising actor deep into the realm of straight-to-video nonsense, like his previous films 'The Devil's Tomb' and 'The Way of War.' Why he's been doing this is a mystery. No talent agent is bad enough to actually think these scripts are worth while or think they're anything more than a guaranteed failure. Maybe it's bad luck, maybe it's laziness, maybe Cuba just doesn't want the spotlight he deserves.

Whatever the reason for his failing success, it has led him straight to 'Ticking Clock.' In it, he plays Lewis Hicks, a journalist who gets put on the trail of a sadistic serial killer after his own girlfriend is viciously murdered. With the killer's journal in hand, Lewis must race against time to rescue the murderer's next victims. As the path begins to weave its way around and to a young orphan boy, Lewis begins to discover a deeper mystery surrounding the murders.

In the crime-thriller subgenre, there are really only a few good ways to go about writing a story. One maintains consant mystery, concealing the identity of the killer until a final reveal that should be a shock to the audience. The other is to reveal the killer from the start and use his intentions and motivation as the mystery. With 'Ticking Clock,' however, both approaches are mostly thrown out, revealing the killer's identity, his motive, and everything else pretty much immediately. This is a problem because the mystery is what is usually keeps a viewer watching in a film like this. If you don't have it, the audience just won't care. Here, the writers knew what they wanted to accomplish with an interesting (though ridiculous) twist, but didn't give enough reason to stick with it in the first two acts. By the third act, the audience is fairly apathetic with the story & characters and will most likely not even care about the twist, which the entire film revolves around.

This major flaw is not the only problem with the film. No, a more detrimental issue to its success comes from the extremely amateurish direction by Ernie Barbarash, a man very familiar with mediocre straight-to-video thrillers with his work on 'Cube Zero' and 'Stir of Echoes: The Homecoming.' If you look at a film like 'Se7en' (which, by the way, 'Ticking Clock' actually compares itself to on its DVD sleeve along with 'Silence of the Lambs'), you will see a perfect a example of how to craft a stunning & dark crime thriller. With 'Se7en,' David Fincher used the gritty city setting as almost another character, having the actors play off the direction in a way that added a deep realism to the film. Barbarash, with 'Ticking Clock,' blows his opportunity to do this by squandering the Baton Rouge & Las Vegas settings he had at his disposal, instead limiting the entire film to a few boring settings like living rooms & back alleys. Add this to the rather annoying cinematography by Phil Parmet and 'Ticking Clock' is just all around unpleasant to watch.

Unfortunately, there isn't much else to cling onto to try to save the film from being a total disappointment. The script is boring & contrived, providing nothing much that hasn't been done better many times before. The lack of mystery & thrills for the first two acts gives no real drive to continue watching for anyone but completionists who don't like to leave a film unfinished. Even the ridiculous, supernatural twist isn't original, and ends up hurting the film anyway due to the number of plot holes it creates. For being so crucial to the film's success, one would think the filmmakers would be willing to do what they can to seal plot holes (like a simple case of incorrect eye colour, for example). Even the once-talented Cuba Gooding, Jr. has nothing much to offer thanks to how poorly his character was written. Let's face it, an actor can only do so much with what they're given. Take De Niro & Pacino as examples in supremely disappointing 'Righteous Kill' from a couple years back. Add in some shoddy gore FX, CGI that looks like it should be in a mid-90s sci-fi flick, and a mundane cast of supporting actors, and you have nothing more than a sad excuse for a crime thriller here.

Overall, 'Ticking Clock' is just one of those films that will be stuck on the Blockbuster® shelvse for a few months trying to bait renters into biting onto the former star power of Cuba Gooding, Jr. Sadly, it will do nothing but disappoint with its unoriginal & unthrilling story and amteurish filmmaking.

Final Verdict: 3.5/10. Hopefully Cuba will get another chance in the spotlight some day.

-AP3-

Case 39
(2009)

When there's no surprise, there's no reason to keep watching. . .
Renée Zellweger stars in her first horror film in 15 years (her last one being 1994's 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation') as Emily Jenkins, a social worker who is given Case 39, a file containing a child abuse case involving a young girl named Lilith (Jodelle Ferland). As the case goes on, Emily becomes fond of Lilith and eventually decides to adopt her after Lilith's parents try to murder her. Emily, however, begins to notice strange happenings occurring around Lilith that cannot be explained.

One major issue that comes from any "big twist" type of movie is the problems with predictability. If a viewer figures out the whole secret of the film, nothing but boredom will ensue. 'Case 39' is one film that greatly suffered from this problem. The entire movie can be figured out within the first few frames of the film. From that point on, it becomes a clock-watching game until the final act when the "surprise" is supposed to be revealed. Typically, this problem can be made more bearable with an interesting cast of characters or some creative filmmaking. 'Case 39,' however, has nothing to rescue viewers from the boredom. Throw in some bad CGI, some unthrilling action sequences, and a thoroughly typical finale, and we have ourselves 'Case 39.'

Final Verdict: 4/10.

-AP3-

Twelve
(2010)

Can't believe this is what Joel Schumacher has become
After making his abominations of Batman with 'Batman Forever' and 'Batman & Robin,' Joel Schumacher lost a lot of respect from basically all of the film-going community. However, to me, he has had enough solid flicks like 'The Lost Boys,' 'Phantom of the Opera,' 'St. Elmo's Fire,' and '8MM' to at least have some credibility.

Unfortunately, his newest film 'Twelve' is one more addition to the negative side of his filmography. It tells the story of White Mike (Chace Crawford), a young wealthy drug dealer in New York City whose already complicated life becomes even more problematic when his cousin is murdered and the prime suspect becomes Hunter (Philip Ettinger), White Mike's best friend.

Perhaps the most obvious issue about 'Twelve' that negatively affects the rest of the film comes from Kiefer Sutherland's constant narration throughout. It's a common mantra among screenwriters to "show, not tell," but writer Jordan Melamed decided to throw off those typical conventions and tell every single detail of every single moment through the voice-over narration. This contributed to the other problems of the film, including the stilted dialogue & awkward acting. It's hard to deliver lines well when the actor is being forced to randomly pause mid-sentence to let Kiefer Sutherland explain what is going on in the scene.

Ignoring the issues caused by the overdone narration, it's hard to find much to like about the film. Joel Schumacher's direction is interesting enough, and the cast is nice to look at, but that's about it. The story is nothing special and is easily overshadowed by other "drug-induced youth" films like 'Less Than Zero' and 'Holy Rollers.' For this reason, 'Twelve' will never be more than just a mediocre attempt at something that's been done much better many times before. I'd like to see Schumacher return to what he was able to do in the late '80s with 'St. Elmo's Fire' and 'The Lost Boys,' but it doesn't look that will be happening anytime soon.

Final Verdict: 5/10.

-AP3-

The Lottery
(2010)

A heart-wrenching look at a flawed system
As a child of middle-class suburbs, I was lucky enough to have access to a high-level public education that served me well and helped me successfully graduate on time and send me on my way to college. When I moved out of the suburbs and into the city, I began to realize just how fortunate I was. Every day, the newspapers would shoot statistics about failure rates, budget constraints, teacher strikes, etc. In a nation such as this, the failure of public schools not only affect how our children go through their youth. It affects what happens after, and this affects all of us.

'The Lottery,' a documentary by Madeleine Sackler, faces this problem head on by showing the story of four young children and their families as they attempt to gain access into one of the few successful public schools in Harlem, NY. The school, known as Harlem Success, is a public charter school that, due to insufficient funding, can only afford to accept small numbers of children at any given time. Therefore, entrance into the school is done through a 'lottery,' in which thousands of children are entered, but only a small portion are given enrollment.

Ms. Sackler, as the documentarian behind this story, does a fantastic job of handling both sides of the situation. She shows the struggle, the hardships, and the heartbreak that goes along with being a parent of a child forced to attend inferior school systems. She also shows the other side of the story, which (for some reason) would prefer there to be no public charter schools and only the degrading current schools. While the emotional look of the film does get rather heavy handed, it is appropriate due to the heart-wrenching subject matter. To know that only a small amount of this desperate children will be able to receive a high quality education is a truly depressing notion. It's a system that must be changed, must be fixed, and quickly. If not, it's going to just continue to get worse, sending our society further into a downward spiral.

Final Verdict: 8/10.

-AP3-

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
(2010)

A visually phenomenal fantasy tale with a lacking script
Based on the 'Guardians of Ga'hoole' series by Kathryn Lasky, 'Legend of the Guardians' tells the tale of Soren (Jim Sturgess), a young Tyto owl obsessed with the stories of his youth about the Guardian owls who protect the owl kingdoms. After he and his brother, Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) are kidnapped by the evil "Pure Ones," Soren must fulfill his fantasies by searching for the Guardians to help save the owl kingdoms from the grip of the leader of the nefarious Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton).

For the past half-decade, Zack Snyder has proved himself to be one of the most talented up-and-coming young directors in the industry. Jumping onto the scene with his remake of 'Dawn of the Dead' in 2004, which is easily one of the best remakes and horror films of the decade, Snyder went on to prove his visual genius with the action epics '300' and 'Watchmen.' This time, he turns attention to the fantasy genre, making one of the most visually stunning animated films of all time.

With an artist like Snyder at the helm of 'Legends of the Guardian,' there was never any worry about the beauty of the film. His talent was easily transferable to animation because his previous films utilized quite a bit of their own stellar CGI, particularly the blood-splattered landscapes of '300.' Therefore, the one element of the film that would need extra attention is the script. And, this is what held 'Legends of the Guardian' from its chance at an all-around masterpiece, rather than just a visual one. Now, the script itself isn't bad in the slightest. However, it does not do justice to the other qualities it had along with it. The pacing is quite possibly the biggest problem. Due to it's relatively short running time, the story felt rushed through without enough much care. This also eliminated the chance to have much emotion towards any of the characters, good or bad, other than "oohing and ahhing" at the beauty & cuteness of the different owl species.

Overall, however, the minour scripting issues of the film do not detract enough from the film to hurt it completely. It is still a visual masterpiece with some of the finest animation one can find. The voice acting is fantastic, as is the scoring by Kevin Teasley. With a few changes to the script and a longer runtime, 'Legends of the Guardian' could have been a true classic in the industry. Instead, however, it will instead have to be satisfied with being solely a visual art piece.

Final Verdict: 7.5/10.

-AP3-

The Killer Inside Me
(2010)

'American Psycho' in mid-century Texas
Based on the novel by Jim Thompson, Casey Affleck ('Gone Baby Gone') stars as Lou Ford, a small-town cop in Texas who becomes tangled in a web of extortion and murder that places him at the center. As the situations worsen and the body count rises, the mask of sanity slips away from Lou, revealing him as the manipulative psychopath he truly is.

Michael Winterbottom, who has unfortunately stayed under the radar in the film industry for his twenty-year directing career, has always had a knack for the wicked side of cinema. He does it expertly well by portraying nothing but realism and allowing the darkness within man to radiate naturally. He does it again here with 'The Killer Inside Me,' which takes the typical murder-in-a-small-town story and turns it upside down by flipping the roles of all the characters into something much more dangerous. At the center of the story is Lou Ford, whose calm demeanor causes some of the most disturbing murder scenes in recent memory. Even when brutally killing those around him, Lou barely winces. The portrayal by Casey Affleck, who has thankfully risen out of the shadow of his brother Ben, was fantastic and truly made the film.

As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly uncomfortable to watch. The murders are unflinchingly filmed by Winterbottom, invading the violence without forgiveness in the slightest. His portrayal of the many, many sex scenes (some of which are quite violent themselves as well) is just as candid. For this reason, the squeamish & prudish should do their best to shy away if no offense is desired.

Overall, 'The Killer Inside Me' is a compelling & shocking crime thriller with a wonderful performance by Casey Affleck as the demented sheriff. There are some minour issues throughout that may be a problem for some viewers, but hopefully nothing that will completely distract from the all-around quality.

Final Verdict: 7.5/10.

-AP3-

Casino Jack
(2010)

"Washington is Hollywood with ugly faces."
In 2006, Washington was rocked when congressional lobbyist Jack Abramoff (played here by Kevin Spacey) was convicted for his involvement with his theft of millions of dollars from Native American tribes in exchange for his persuasive powers in government. Going down with Abramoff in one way or another and also featured in the film are his partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), Congressman Tom DeLay (Spencer Garrett), and mattress salesman Adam Kidan (Jon Lovitz).

After Jack Abramoff was convicted and sentenced to prison in 2006, it was only a matter of time before a film would be released telling the unbelievable true story. Director George Hickenlooper, who sadly passed too soon in October 2010, took charge of the story and, with the help of a brilliant cast, made 'Casino Jack' a very fun & interesting ride. Nabbing Kevin Spacey ('The Usual Suspects') to lead up as Abramoff was a superb choice and Spacey was wholly absorbed into the role. Barry Pepper, one of the most underrated actors working in the industry, was also fantastic as usual. The script by Norman Snider ('Dead Ringers') was fresh, funny, and very entertaining, all while maintaining a solid amount of focus on the truth of the situation throughout its darkly comedic tone. As the story progresses and the situations become more & more outrageous (though still true), the mood deepens some and allows the actors to get even more depth to their roles. By the time Abramoff is ready to suffer the consequences of his actions, the script, the cast, and Mr. Hickenlooper's direction are all at their tip top. This makes for one fantastic final act that, even with knowing the story beforehand, is still head-shakingly brilliant.

Overall, while 'Casino Jack' doesn't do anything new or original as a film, it is an entertaining & fascinating look behind the scenes of Jack Abramoff's scandal that rocked D.C. and set the tone for even more Congressional transparency.

Final Verdict: 8/10.

-AP3-

I'm Still Here
(2010)

Real or not, it's an engaging roller coaster ride.
Just two years after receiving an Oscar nomination for his powerhouse performance as Johnny Cash in 'Walk the Line,' actor Joaquin Phoenix shocked show business by announcing his retirement from acting to pursue a career as a hip hop musician. 'I'm Still Here,' directed by Phoenix's brother-in-law and fellow actor Casey Affleck, tells the story of the star's life change. Supposedly.

After Joaquin Phoenix's apparent mental breakdown which came in the form of a legendary David Letterman appearance and a beard to rival that of Zack Galifianakis, many people in & out of the film industry fought to uncover the validity of Joaquin's retirement. Shortly after the release of the 'I'm Still Here,' questions were answered when Phoenix & Affleck admitted their worldwide prank saying that, from the beginning, it was all a hoax. If this admission is true, this film will become one of the most believable & ridiculous hoaxes in a long, long time.

Regardless of whether 'I'm Still Here' is actually a hoax (or if the hoax is a hoax, attempting to cover up the breakdown of Phoenix), it is still quite an entertaining film. However, due to the seemingly obscene subject matter throughout the film, it's hard to truly believe that any famous person would allow it to be shown publicly, risking a hugely negative backlash. We see Joaquin snorting coke (off hookers' breasts at one point), spanking naked men with towels, ordering female escorts, and other low-grade behaviour. If all of this actually DID happen without elaborate staging, then I send full respect to Mr. Phoenix for having the courage to allow it to be shown on screen like this.

One issue that the film does have comes from the overall style. While the story, content, etc., are all exceedingly engaging, the actual visuals of the film were almost unbearable. In a low-budget documentary like, say, the recent 'Catfish,' amateurish cinematography & direction are almost expected. However, when a documentary is being produced by two successful actors and is directed by someone who has been working on film sets for twenty years, this bottom-level style just does not work when the validity of the film's content are already in question.

Overall, however, the film does work well as a whole. Joaquin Phoenix, whether he's playing himself or the insane version of himself, is impossible to not watch, even with his constant arrogant and selfish behaviour throughout. If you watch along believing it just might be real, it will be an emotional roller coaster ride. Even if it is all a hoax, though, it's still one hell of a crazy ride.

Final Verdict: 7.5/10.

-AP3-

Holy Rollers
(2010)

Entertaining & powerful film with a fantastic cast
Continuing his run as one of the best up-and-coming young actors in Hollywood, Jesse Eisenberg ('Zombieland,' 'The Social Network') stars in this true story as Sam Gold, a Hacidic Jew who mistakenly gets caught up in the world of drug trafficking for an Israeli drug cartel after accepting a "medical job" from his friend & neighbour Yosef (Justin Bartha of 'National Treasure').

After only about a decade in the film business, Jessie Eisenberg has already starred in twenty films, has headed up one of the most successful horror films ever ('Zombieland,' NOT 'Cursed'), has been pegged as a possible frontrunner for the Best Actor Academy Award (for 'The Social Network'), and has worked under such great directors as Wes Craven, David Fincher, M. Night Shyamalan, and Noah Baumbach. At only 27 years of age, this is a pretty fantastic start to a resumé. Eisenberg continues his run of successful film-picking with this little indie gem 'Holy Rollers.' Many stories are told over & over again and become repetitive & stale unless there is a distinct separation that makes the new telling worthwhile. In this case, the story of a naïve young man caught up in a world of drugs is nothing new. However, throwing this idea into the society of something so otherworldly conservative as that of Orthodox Judaism places the film on another level entirely. The story is told very well by screenwriter Antonio Macia whose only other film 'Anne B. Real,' shockingly enough, is currently residing on IMDb's bottom 100 films of all time. Macia's pacing, dialogue, and storytelling abilities must have improved vastly to rise above such an embarrassing beginning in this business.

Rookie director Kevin Asch also did a fine job with this first directorial effort. His grasp on the material and translation of it to the screen was a prime example of what young directors can do to make a film something special. Along with cinematographer Ben Kutchins, Asch superbly captured the international settings the film trots through, including the dingy areas of New York City & the Red Light district of Amsterdam. One issue the film does face comes from its drastically short runtime. Coming in at just under 90 minutes, the film does not have the length to fully flesh out everything the story had to offer.

What stands apart in this film, though, above Asch's direction & Macia's script, is the talented cast who deliver superbly engaging performances all around. Jesse Eisenberg has, for several years, been a favourite of mine among the slew of young actors. He, for instance, managed to make an otherwise dreadful film like Wes Craven's 'Cursed' into something at least a bit more watchable. Alongside Justin Bartha, Jason Fuchs (who plays Yosef's younger brother Leon), and Danny A. Abeckaser, Eisenberg truly pulls the audience into the story and greatly deepens it. Without the fine performances this cast put forth, 'Holy Rollers' would have lost a lot of the good it had going for it.

Overall, 'Holy Rollers' is an entertaining & powerful drama that goes above & beyond much of its recent independent competitors.

Final Verdict: 8/10.

-AP3-

A Christmas Carol
(2009)

A creepy & visually stunning version of the Dickens classic
Robert Zemeckis, director of such classics as the 'Back to the Future' trilogy and 'Forrest Gump,' turns his talents once more towards animated Christmas magic after his success with the Tom Hanks-driven 'Polar Express.' This time, Zemeckis brings along a stellar cast for his motion-capture version of Charles Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol.' While there have been over a hundred adaptations of this ultimate Christmas tale, the story never gets old nor does its importance ever wear away.

We all know the story like the back of our hand: Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) is a miserly old coot with a cold heart and a tight grasp on his money bag. Even with the warmth of those around him, including his worker Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman) and cousin Fred (Colin Firth), Scrooge never allows his frozen soul to ever be thawed. Trying to heal Scrooge's wicked ways, Jacob Marley (Oldman again), his long-dead business partner, returns from the grave to warn Ebenezer of his certain other-worldly fate. To save himself from an eternity of torment, Scrooge must change his ways with the help of three other ghostly presences (all played by Carrey).

Through dozens & dozens of adaptations with at least one new version each year, it seemed that 'A Christmas Carol' can't have much more life in it. However, there always seems to be something new to come along that calls for another. From the Muppets to Barbie to Bill Murray, it's almost as if everyone's had a go at the Dickens classic. This time, Disney expands the scope into a wide-ranging epic 3D adventure of sorts, something I would not have expected out of this story. Funnyman Jim Carrey was nabbed to play a dozen or so roles, and pulls of the majority of them fairly well (though, I wasn't a big fan of his rendition of the Ghost of Christmas Past). The story itself, as it is in most versions, is left essentially untouched. This is always for the best as an altered version of 'A Christmas Carol' rarely works well (other than 'Scrooged,' which is one of the best adaptations one will find). The big difference, clearly, from most versions comes from Zemeckis's direction. Adding his always-fun visual flair to the film, it is a joy to look at. The visual 3D effects are stunning, even though a bit too much time was spent showing off the special effects.

One important aspect of the film that should be realized comes from the appearance, behaviour, and general terrifying style of the spirits. From Jacob Marley all the way through (and especially concerning) the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the spirits are genuinely a scary bunch. Even as an adult with the deepest love for the horror genre, I was actually creeped out quite a few times throughout the film as Scrooge met his ghostly guides. Therefore, if children are present to watch what is supposed to be a family film, just be aware that there are several times where they most likely will be scared.

Overall, Robert Zemeckis has created a visual stunning version of Charles Dickens's beloved tale. The special effects are a joy to watch, though they are treated as the centerpiece of the film instead of a companion to the story. However, due to the dark mood & scary spirits, do not think this as a family film in the style of 'The Muppets Christmas Carol.' Final Verdict: 7/10.

-AP3-

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