Posts Tagged ‘dvd’


It may not be a “cool” thing to admit, but I’ll let you in on a little secret — it’s okay to just want to feel good once in awhile.

It is, after all, a hopelessly fucked-up world that we live in right now : our nuclear arsenal is in the hands of an unhinged, delusional madman who is clearly cracking under the strain of a job he probably didn’t even want and is in no way even mature enough to handle; a lunatic religious zealot is eagerly waiting in the wings to succeed him when he undoubtedly crashes and burns; our closest international allies seem to be inexorably lurking toward a barely-rebranded fascist nationalism themselves; rising global temperatures and sea levels probably threaten our future even more than the would-be despots do — if you think about too hard, it can all seem pretty hopeless.

Can these problems be solved? Shit, I dunno — the jury’s out on that one. But they certainly can be avoided for a couple of hours here and there, and there’s no shame in doing just that every once in awhile. For those of any age seeking temporary relief and solace, then, may I humbly direct your attention toward director Chris McKay’s borderline-astonishing The Lego Batman Movie.


I admit to never having seen The Lego Movie “proper,” but if it’s anything like this one, that’s my loss — and one I intend to rectify pretty quickly. I can’t pretend to know what it is about translating the grittiest and grimmest of costumed vigilantes into a CGI-animated toyworld that’s such a stroke of near-genius, but the truth is that it not only works, it does something that no live-action iteration of the character has been able to do on the silver screen for the last couple of decades : it makes him fun again.

Make no mistake — the increasingly Dark Knight as envisioned by Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan and, especially, Zack Snyder is the elephant in the room here, but rather than take inspiration from it, McKay and his army of screenwriters choose, instead, to offer a rebuttal to it. Sure, Batman as voiced (superbly, might I add) by Will Arnett is a brooding and dour figure — albeit one who loves, even needs, the gratification that comes from the limelight — but this film isn’t afraid to say that this is a problem. To that end, butler-cum-father-figure Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is doing his best to get the closest thing he has to a child to let other people in, to move past the loss of his parents all those decades ago and find a new family.  Too many nights alone with microwaved lobster thermidor aren’t good for anybody, after all.

Batman “purists” probably won’t be too terribly happy with some of the liberties taken here : Robin (Michael Cera) isn’t just Bruce Wayne’s ward but his (accidentally — its a long story) adopted son; Barbara Gordon assumes the role of new Gotham City chief of police, replacing her just- retired father, before she dons the Batgirl costume more or less by default; Daleks and King Kong don’t exist in the DC Universe, etc. Well, grouse away, fan-boys — no one else cares.


Perhaps the most daring and unexpected twist to the Bat-mythos offered here, though, is the refreshingly honest take offered on the relationship between Batman and The Joker (Zach Galifianakis). Freed form the constraints of continuity and editorial protectionism, The Lego Batman Movie admits what no other Bat-flick can — that these two arch-foes need each other, and that any enmity this deeply felt can only spring from a place at least vaguely approximating (strictly platonic, rest assured, nervous parents) love. You know it. I know it. And it’s high time someone said it.

If you never expected this much pathos-via-broad-brushstrokes in what is still, after all, a kids’ movie, don’t worry — it’s all couched in laugh-out-loud humor, obfuscated under mounds of “Easter Eggs” for the observant fan, and delivered with an entirely un-ironic earnestness that you just can’t help but love. This is a movie that has no qualms about admitting that it wants you to like it, and then dares you to find a reason not to.


I never did, of course, and neither will you. A world this colorful, this joyful, this smart, this optimistic, and this fun is probably one we’d all like to live in — but then we’d be made of plastic and lock onto sidewalks and streets with our feet. So, ya know, nothing’s perfect.

As the title for this review states plainly, though, this film really is about as close to it as you’re gonna get. The Lego Batman Movie is the best Batman movie ever, by far.


I’m noticing something of a trend in some of the “found footage” horrors I’ve been watching lately — a rather hum-drum and predictable (if not dull as dry toast) opening two acts, appended by a surprising, perhaps even amazing, third act that almost makes putting up with all the earlier crap worth it. Such was certainly the case with Adam Wingard’s 2016-released Blair Witch, and the pattern largely holds for the next film in the subgenre that I watched (courtesy of Amazon Prime streaming, although I understand it’s also available on standard DVD), 2012’s micro-budget effort from co-directors Ben Martinez and David Benjamin Franco, Alien Valley.

As far as set-ups go, they don’t come much more bog-standard than this : the crew from the supposedly-popular “reality” TV show “Paranormal Mysteries” (hence this film’s alternate — and thoroughly uninspired — title, P.M.) have “gone missing” after heading out to the San Luis Valley of Colorado to “discover the facts” behind a series of cattle mutilations that have plagued the area for years. There’s a bit of truth to this, apparently — the valley did, in fact, see a wave of still-unexplained cattle mutilations back in the 1960s — but the “compilation of leaked footage, documentary analysis, and material provided by the ALC network” that follows is, of course, all bullshit.


In this flick’s early-to-middle going, it’s also pretty dull bullshit — the pacing of screenwriter Kristopher Simms’ script is such a slow burn that it barely “burns” at all, largely focused as it is on the one-dimensional interactions between crew members Andrea (played by Madison Guthrie), Matt (Jared Van Doorn), Rob (John Campbell), Eric (Nathan Blackburn), and Claire (Meghan McMahon) as they go about the business of location filming and interviewing various principals and self-styled “experts” with something to say about the case, but there are at least a couple of above-average performances to be had from Nate Bakke as head cinematographer Dave and Nikki Cornejo as ostensible government liaison Rose, both of whom seem noticeably more comfortable in front of the camera than their cohorts and have a nice and easy chemistry between them that’s reasonably enjoyable to watch. Other than that, though, the first roughly 60 minutes of this 75-minute production don’t have a whole heck of a lot going for them.


Tell ya what, though, when Martinez and Franco decide to pull out all the stops for the final 15, they really go all-out. Some very effective practical effects work complements a fiercely tense and constantly surprising sprint to the finish, and when the film finally figures that it needs to live up to its name (well, one of its names) by dropping an “actual” alien into the proceedings, it not only works, it works unbelievably well. You know how things are gonna turn out, of course — that’s telegraphed from the outset — but how they end up turning out that way is definitely something to see.


Our guys Ben n’ David certainly know how to play up the sense of unease and terror that the “shaky-cam” game can still deliver when done correctly, and if they get their hands on some material that demands real creativity and gusto from start to finish, who knows? They might actually be able to come up with something that forces the studios to take notice. As it is, though, Alien Valley doesn’t really showcase all they’re capable of until the very late going — and by then, a lot of folks will have understandably hit “stop” and gone on to do something else.

I would advise you do anything but, though, if you opt to invest your time in this one. If you’re willing to be patient  — okay, very patient — Alien Valley will most definitely reward your perseverance and leave you walking away from it impressed. If your attention span falls into the short-to-medium range, though, then there’s not much chance you’ll be willing to wait around for the rather immense payoff that’s in store. I won’t hold it against you if you check out early, but I will feel sorry for you — this is a flick that tests your determination, absolutely, but  also one that is equally determined to reward its most loyal and/or stubborn (is there a difference?) viewers very generously indeed.



Adam Wingard is one of those directors that comes along every once in awhile and takes the world of horror by storm, but unlike other “flavors of the month” he seems to have some genuine a) skill; and b) staying power, so when it was (masterfully, I might add) revealed at Comic Con last year that his latest, the 2016-filmed The Woods, was actually a sequel to The Blair Witch Project that was “really” called, simply, Blair Witch, folks got understandably excited — including myself.

Anyone who follows this (hopefully) modest little blog of mine knows that I’m not nearly as “down” on the “found footage” sub-genre as some (okay, most) and still find quite a bit to like in many films that fall into the much-maligned category, but even someone who still holds out some hope for flicks of this sort such as myself will readily admit that good shot in the arm wouldn’t do any harm — and certainly if anyone could deliver it, you’d think the mastermind behind You’re Next and The Guest, together with his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Simon Barrett, would be a natural choice to do so. So, yeah, I confess — I was pumped for this one.

Not pumped enough to get off my ass and catch in when it was playing theaters, though, apparently, since Blair Witch came and went last fall before, to be brutally honest, I really even noticed. But hey, that’s why I still keep a DVD queue going at Netflix, right? And last night I finally got to see the flick (in its extras-free, “bare bones” rental iteration) that everyone was talking about — for all of about five minutes.


The basic premise, then, for those who haven’t checked it out yet : in the now-legendary Black Hills Forest just outside Burkittsville, Maryland, youthful lovers/hikers Lane (played by Wes Robinson) and Talia (portrayed by Valorie Curry) happen across an old -school digital videotape and give the curious item a look when they get home. It’s mostly static and “white noise,” but towards the end there’s some shit we all recognize — a handful of confused young folks scared out of their wits and fighting for survival against an unseen, evil force within the confines of an abandoned house. Like any and all people of their generation, they decide to upload this mysterious footage to the internet, and in fairly short order it’s seen by a guy named James (played by — here we go with the old tropes — James Allen McCune) who believes he may be witnessing the final moments in the life of his long-lost sister, Heather, of original Blair Witch Project fame. Cue our erstwhile protagonist assembling a plucky gang of friends a couple of colorful locals to head into the so-called “Blair Woods” themselves and get some fucking answers — all documented on video, naturally. The problem is, of course, that the same entity that beset Heather and her cohorts hasn’t gone anywhere, and is no more enthusiastic about welcoming visitors to its domain than it was back in 1998. Time to pluck off the interlopers, one by one —


Wingard definitely gets plenty right here, don’t get me wrong : the film’s sound design is something to see — err, sorry, hear — and his production design is skillfully authentic and accentuates the old tingles to the spine. Weirdly effective ambient music does a reasonable job of keeping you feeling somewhat uneasy, too, but in the final analysis the problem here — and you probably knew this was coming — is that the film’s entire middle section feels like the sort of tedious “hand-held-horror” romp that we’ve seen a thousand and one times before because, well, that’s exactly what it is. The cast isn’t too bad, by and large, with special “props” going out to Callie Hernandez and Corbin Reid for their over-and-above-the-call-of-duty performances as Lisa and Ashley, respectively, but some better-than-competent acting and better-than-competent production values aren’t really enough to elevate the proceedings until —-


Yeah, wow. Wingard’s third act, set within the walls of the Rustin Parr house, really shifts things into another gear altogether. It’s as frightening, claustrophobic, hair-raising, tense, and relentless as any 30-or-so minutes you’ve seen in a heck of a long time. You can literally feel people’s sanity slipping away just before their existences do the same. But you could easily be forgiven for having mentally “checked out” of the flick well before all this horrific splendor is unleashed. I loved the final 25% (or thereabouts) of Blair Witch to pieces, but its sheer mastery is something of a two-edged sword — it shows us that Wingard is, indeed, more than capable of making “found footage” horror scary again, arguably maybe even scarier than it’s ever been. But it also leaves you feeling more than a bit disappointed that he waited until so late in the film to really give it his all.





Regular readers around these parts probably figured it was only a matter of time before I got around to casting my supposedly critical eye on writer/director James DeMonaco’s summer 2016 release The Purge : Election Year given that I had generally good things to say about the first two films in this so-called “evolving franchise,” but seeing as how I never got around to catching it while it was playing in theaters, you fine folks are stuck with a “better late than never” appraisal since I just got it on DVD (a “bare-bones” rental DVD, I hasten to add, so I’m afraid I can’t discuss whatever extras the “real” disc might offer) from Netflix the other day and gave it a watch last night. There’s a better than good chance that many of you reading this have probably already seen it, I suppose, but what the heck — I’ve got a few things to say about it regardless of whether or not you’ve already had a chance to form your own opinion.

First off, let’s be perfectly honest — despite the wrinkle of having this story center on the desperate struggle for survival of anti-Purge presidential candidate Senator Charlie Roan (played by Elizabeth Mitchell), this is pretty much the “taking it to the streets” premise of 2014’s The Purge : Anarchy all over again, but frankly the tight, insular, single-location setting of DeMonaco’s first flick was probably a more successful conceit in terms of exploiting a concept like this to its fullest. I also find it highly absurd that the so-called “New Founding Fathers Of America” would allow an opposition candidate like Senator Roan to rise to prominence in the first place since they seem like an outright fascist outfit, but whatever. We’ll just file that under “Requiring Greater Suspension Of Disbelief Than Most” and move on from there.


Besides, just because they didn’t try to kill her before doesn’t meant they’re not going to give it their level best come Purge Night. Our one-woman resistance force starts out with only her loyal bodyguard, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) for protection, but in fairly short order they’re joined by tough-but-kindly deli owner Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), his protege who operates a mobile triage unit (or, if you prefer simplicity, an ambulance), Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel), and his principled-but-quiet part-time (I’m assuming, at any rate) employee, Marcos (J.J. Soria). And that’s not all — after a few near-death skirmishes, our ragtag rebels are joined by a decidedly less ragtag, and considerably larger, band of rebels who are determined to do considerably more than help Charlie win the election, they’re out to guarantee her victory by assassinating her NFFA-endorsed opponent.

Cue some pretty heavy moralizing of the “if-we-kill-him-we’re-no-better-than-they-are” variety that grates almost instantly and infects an otherwise enjoyable-if-predictable ultraviolent romp with an unwelcome strain of ineffective and largely redundant earnestness. We already know this whole “Purge thing” is some sick and evil shit, after all, we don’t need to have that viewpoint amplified in stereo.


Are you getting the distinct impression that I was decidedly less impressed with The Purge : Election Year than previous entries in this series? Well, you’re exactly right — most of the principal cast turn in competent (if unmemorable) performances, and DeMonaco hasn’t lost his flair for for visceral, bloody, dystopian action, but it really does feel like this premise has been stretched as far as it can possibly go, if not a bit further. And that’s probably this flick’s most glaring and irredeemable flaw — it’s not especially bad (or good) when taken on its own merits, but it’s what it’s not that’s actually of much more concern than what it is.


Ya see, The Purge : Election Year plays out like nothing so much as a natural conclusion to a trilogy. Not a particularly inspired conclusion, mind you (and the whole thing probably seemed considerably more relevant before the real election validated the absurd in ways no fiction could even dream of), but at least a logical one. Except it’s not. DeMonoaco is already at work on a fourth flick, and that relegates this one from the role of “big finale” to that of “mediocre stopgap measure.” I’ll be the first to admit that it’s blatantly unfair to hold the fact that there’s a future installment coming in this series against the present one, but them’s the breaks, I guess : if this had been the end of the road, it would have been essential viewing for hard-core Purge fans, at least, if no one else, but as things stand, shit — it turns out it’s one that even they can skip.


Regular readers of the blathering assemblages of non-sequiturs and stream-of-consciousness semi-tirades that I have the gall to call “reviews” already know that the distant margins is where I often find the most interesting stuff, and they don’t come much more marginal or distant than 2016’s Dolly Deadly, a brutally surreal and intentionally ugly $10,000 production lensed in the depressing backwater of Chester, California by director Heidi Moore. Simply put, if you’re looking for a flick that makes you feel like an irredeemably sick fuck for even knowing of its existence, never mind actually watching it, then you could do a lot worse than this blood-soaked serving of deeply troubled and troubling psychological unease. I know I certainly felt like I could use a good, cold shower after catching it on Amazon Prime (it’s also available on Blu-ray and DVD, from what I understand) the other day — but how, exactly, does one shower the stain off one’s brain?

The story here, written by Moore and Cassandra Sechler, revolves around the tormented upbringing of a trailer park youth named Benji (played with chilling deadpan veracity by Justin Moore), who takes the terms “sullen” and “withdrawn” to whole new levels and feels that his collection of dolls — and, yes, he’s constantly informed by his grandmother (Kimberly West-Carroll) , in-and-out (as well as out-and-out) lowlife Donald (Jay Sosnicki) and any and all other adults and youth he encounters that “boys don’t play with” such things — represents the closest things to “friends” that he has. So, ya know, when a bunch of shit piles on him in quick succession and he finally snaps, it’s only natural that he’d dress up like a “living doll” himself and kill everyone in sight, right?


Is the plot simple? Sure. The best ones usually are. But the unfathomable psychosis of the lead character is anything but, the horrors inflicted upon him are quietly depraved, and his vengeance is — well, not-so-quietly depraved, plus interest. Moore and Sechler have described their film as a kind of John Waters-meets-Troma mash-up, but in truth, Dolly Deadly doesn’t offer any sort of humorous safety valve of the sort you find in Serial Mom or The Toxic Avenger. It’s no more “realistic” than those films, to be sure — the gaudy day-glo color schemes employed throughout and OTT practical effects work see to that — but for all its unreality, it still feels, paradoxically enough, like something that could happen because, God help this society we live in, there are tons of kids this far-gone out there who are probably only one bad day away from “pulling a Benji” themselves, and often not without reason. To the extent, ya know, that their ability to reason is even functioning —

Photograph taken on the set of Dolly Deadly during a shoot in February 2014!

“Make ’em die slowly — and painfully!” seems to be the nearest thing to a “philosophy” that Benji has once he dons the mask and make-up, and I’ve gotta say, this youngster does a damn good job of living up to that, especially considering that he lacks any advance training in the murderous arts. His kills aren’t particularly original in terms of their methodology, but they are particularly brutal, and Moore stages each and every one of them with a reasonable amount of elan and considerable gusto. But for all the red syrup and fairly-convincing viscera on display, it’s what we don’t see — the inner workings of Benji’s warped mind — that holds the real scares here, and that will stick with you long after the Karo washes off. I just seriously can’t get over how memorable a slasher this intrepid little whippersnapper is, and considering that young Mr. Moore probably has zero formal acting instruction to his credit and spends much of the film with his face obscured, I’m damn near ready to give him an Oscar for producing such a memorable performance under such challenging circumstances. Unfortunately, the Academy seems to have forgotten, once again, to mail me a ballot this year.


Tell ya what, though, our gal Heidi should definitely have one delivered to her PO box, because Hollywood could desperately use her advice on how to stretch a dollar well past its breaking point. Sure, this flick has a “cheap look,” but definitely not $10,000 cheap. The hallucinatory dream sequences interspersed throughout alone look like they cost a lot more than that to make, and seldom have I seen a “micro-budget” auteur get as much bang for their buck as she does here. Granted, you can get away with a lot more when your “low-fi” film blatantly calls for an equally “low-fi” aesthetic, but even that’s a valuable lesson other ultra-indie horror filmmakers could learn from : rather than trying to pretend your limitations don’t exist, or hope you can pull a rabbit out of your hat to somehow supersede them,  embrace  them and use them to your advantage and you’ll go a hell of a lot farther.

All told, then, on levels both artistic and practical, Dolly Deadly is a solid, bordering on remarkable, achievement. It’s ugly. It’s disturbing. It’s disgusting. It’s well beyond weird. It’s unwholesome in the extreme. And it wallows in its own filth with something approaching sheer glee, minus the happiness usually attendant with that term. This is “micro-budget” misanthropy par excellene and I loved every minute of it while hating myself for doing so.


They say that practice makes perfect, and you know what? In the case of micro-budget auteur Israel Luna, that’s absolutely true — his 2011 effort The Ouija Expriement was a sorry piece of shit, and his 2015 follow-up, The Ouija Resurrection : Ouija Experiment 2  is a perfectly sorry piece of shit.

True, our writer/director obviously has a bit more money to play around with here (most of which is squandered on embarrassingly lame CGI) but this film — also known as either  The Ouija Experiment 2 : Theatre Of Death or, simply, The Ouija Resurrection — ups the ante in the terribleness department by actually having the gall to think it’s clever rather than simply stupid.


Evidently Luna has convinced himself that his first flick has somehow attained “cult classic” status — which, I assure you, it hasn’t — because the premise here in round two is that a couple of his nominal “stars” (Swisyzinna and Justin Armstrong, playing themselves) are attending a midnight screening of The Ouija Experiment where the audience is whooping and hollering, repeating  ostensibly “crowd favorite” lines, all that shit. But this film is no Birdemic or Troll 2 by any stretch, so what we’ve got here is a flick heavy on the “metafiction” that nevertheless remains completely and utterly unbelievable. And then somebody, of course, breaks out a Ouija board.


Would’ja believe the movie house is haunted? Of course you would. And soon our old “friends,” with a handful of decidedly untalented newcomers in tow,  find themselves on the run from an honest-to-goodness ghost who goes through all the usual motions, finally culminating in a scene that’s a blatant and offensive rip-off — no doubt meant as an homage, but those take skill to pull off and Luna has none — of the famous hallway sequence from Exorcist III. I wanted to laugh at this (and everything else), of course, but the sad fact is that it didn’t trigger any sort of reaction whatsoever apart from a resigned shrug of the shoulders. I expected no better by this point — and I got exactly what I was expecting.


I’ll grant you that the theater setting is a better one than the dull suburban home we got in the first flick, and that Luna is to be credited for moving away from the “found footage” trope and into more standard-issue filmmaking, but it turns out he’s no better at this, either, nor does having more funds at his disposal lead to a better handle on his part of his poorly-chosen craft. Some folks are lucky enough to just “have it” no matter what — and some never will, no matter what. Poor, hapless Israel clearly falls into the latter camp and needs to seriously consider a future at the post office, the coal mine, the landfill, the slaughterhouse — anywhere but behind the camera. Because this shit just plain isn’t working for him.

The Ouija Resurrection : Ouija Experiment 2 is streaming now on Netflix (which is how I found myself subjected to it), and is also available on Blu-ray and DVD, but seriously — even on the off chance that you liked its predecessor (hey, I hear it’s a cult classic!), this sequel has nothing to offer. Enjoy the feeling as you pass it over with extreme prejudice.


In recent weeks, Ouija : Origin Of Evil has meet with a surprisingly positive critical and commercial reception, but you know how we do things here at TFG : why review the “real thing” when low-budget alternatives are available? To that end, I plunked myself down in front of Netflix the other night and watched writer/director Israel Luna’s 2011 “found footage” horror The Ouija Experiment, as well as its sequel (which we’ll get to in our next write-up), just to say I did my part to support the current Ouija craze without putting a dime in Hollywood’s pocket. As it turns out, though, I shouldn’t have wasted my time.

Cranked out for the paltry sum of $1,200, Luna’s flick is the sort of thing I probably should have enjoyed just to maintain my reputation as a connoisseur of zero-budget filmmaking, but try as I might — and believe me, I tried pretty damn hard — I simply couldn’t find any saving graces hidden anywhere in this pile of derivative, stupid schlock. By the time it was done the only positive I could extract from the experience was the knowledge that at least I didn’t waste my time or money renting — much less buying — this thing on Blu-ray or DVD (although it is available in both formats, if you absolutely must ignore my advice), but when that’s all a movie has going for it, well, that’s less than nothing, isn’t it?


Our plot particulars are as follows : college-age self-absorbed nitwits Shay (played by Belmarie Huynh), Brandon (Carson Underwood), Calvin (Eric Window), and LyNette (Swisyzinna — who’s nowhere near talented or famous enough to be a “one-named” performer, but whatever) are headed to their friend Michael (Justin Armstrong)’s house for your standard-issue evening of debauchery and scrying. The house has a bit of a history in that a brutal crime was purportedly committed there back in 1976 (with the ostensibly “guilty” party being convicted based on the fact that he left DNA at the scene — not that they had the ability to test for such things back then), and of course they’re gonna commit whatever happens to video just in case it’s actually interesting.


And it does, of course, what follows is just a series of shop-worn horror cliches that were already well beyond their sell-by date 20 years ago. Cue strange noises. Fleeting images moving quickly into and out of frame. Shit happening to make characters jump. And the restless spirit of a little girl (Leah Diaz) at the center of the entire “mystery.” You’ve seen it all before more times than you can count, and you’ve seen it done by folks who can actually act, which is something no one in this film can do.


Luna tries to jazz things up with some pointless, hackneyed interpersonal drama between members of his principal cast, but they’re all so relentlessly shallow and one-dimensional (if that), you’ll honestly find yourself hard-pressed to give a flying fuck about any of them — a problem that escalates from being persistent and annoying to downright unforgivable when the time comes for them to start either living or dying. Despite his obvious (over-) familiarity with genre tropes, our lower-than-low rent director simply can’t figure out a way to make you care in the least about what he’s serving up here, and if you can sustain any level of interest whatsoever in this utter shit beyond, say, the 20-minute mark, then congratulations — you’re doing a lot better than I did.

Sill, The Ouija Experiment obviously made a profit — not a difficult thing to do given its budget — and four years later came back for round two. We’ll delve into that next, but fair warning : if you’re expecting this “franchise” (a term I use very loosely) to make some kind of miraculous turnaround, don’t hold your breath.