Monday, April 13, 2015

Who Is That Masked Man?

I’ll say this first: Bruiser, a film written and directed by George Romero, contains no zombies.

And now I’ll say this: Bruiser contains Peter Stormare turning the word ‘salami’ into a verb used to mean sex. Really, what more does one need?

Quick Plot: Henry is a nice guy bound to finish last. His beautiful, awful wife Janine respects her toy poodle far more than her hard-working husband, who in turn toils away at a fashion magazine run by a flamboyant womanizer named Milo Styles.

Guys, let’s talk about Milo Styles. Because he is amazing.

Peter Stormare is one of those character actors that makes most viewers perk up anytime he shows up onscreen. I don’t know if it was Romero or Stormare’s idea, but his Milo is one of the most over the top creations I’ve ever seen on film. 

It’s not just that he sexually harasses every woman (and man) on his staff or that his wardrobe consists of the kind of silk button-ups that can magically turn into v-necks at the sniff of cocaine. Or that he speaks with the kind of typical Peter Stormare accent that sounds like it comes from a small European nation where mass transit is conducted via oxen and the peasants revolt every five years. Stormare gives Milo 120% of his energy, and all of it is aimed at making the man a cruel, misogynist, oversexed, and incredibly enthusiastic hedonist. It is a glorious thing.

Not so glorious for Henry, who discovers that Janine is not only stealing from his investments with the help of his best friend, but is also shagging Milo on the side. As if things couldn’t get any worse, Henry wakes up one morning with his face covered in a sort of plastic Momenshuntz mask, similar to one his pal (and Milo’s put-upon soon-to-be ex-wife) Rosie made for him. 

Left without a face or wife, Henry embarks upon a mission of vengeance so fierce it requires the police work of the only man fit for such a job. 

Tom Atkins is no Milo Styles, but he DOES refer to women as dames, which makes me way happier than it probably should.

To seal the deal, we spend the last twenty minutes at the world’s most ridiculous late ‘90s masquerade rave. Note that the ‘rave’ in question is technically a work party required for all magazine employees and their children, which sort of explains why its dress code was ripped from The Road Warrior, the entertainment is a Misfits performance, Halloween-themed appetizers are passed about, and it all ends in lasers. 

Yup, Bruiser is an odd one, especially coming from the man better known for shuffling corpses and the occasional medieval times reenactment motorcycle gang. This is more in line with the Falling Down-type story of a mild-mannered man finding his inner badass. 

It works well enough. Henry gets us on his side quickly because his targets really are awful human beings. More importantly, we see that he’s not willing to cause collateral damage. He has a code, and it makes Bruiser much more compelling for it. There’s something strangely sweet and positive in the attitude of the film, as if Romero really wanted to tell a sordid, violence-riddled story where the good guy wins. Just with casualties.

And lasers.

High Points
Storemare for president. Storemare for the next Bond villain. Storemare for the next Pretty Little Liar. Storemare for all.

Low Points
I get that the models in the film were supposed to be dumb, but did they also have to be such terrible actresses?

Lessons Learned
You can always gauge the moral compass of a character by how he parks

Bed may be a gift from the gods, but a handicap port-a-potty is the best place to salami around

Everybody needs a bastard in their life

Fun Fact
When you Google image search for ‘Bruiser’ and ‘movie,’ you are indeed reminded that Legally Blonde happened. Because Bruiser!

Bruiser isn’t quite the treatise on male empowerment that it might think it is, but it’s a pretty darn fun little movie. As Henry, Jason Flemyng makes a likable protagonist worth rooting for, Atkins brings his signature charm, and Stormare sashays away chewing scenery as if it were the world’s most delicious Bubblicious gum. The movie is streaming on Netflix and fine for a good 90 minutes of your weekend afternoon.

Monday, April 6, 2015


Some of us were born with looks.

Some with money.

Some with incredible athletic ability.

Others with drive.

Some with a combination of everything great in the world

And many with brains.

I am by no means the smartest crayon to ever escape the box, but like many a person who relies on my knowledge or ability to obtain knowledge, the idea of losing that tool is positively terrifying. I could function without a hand, should a Jamie Lannister-esque fight ever be lost. I could work with a scarred face or slowly rebuild my bank account should I ever be swindled by a charming singing monorail salesman. I could do these things in spite of great tragedy because at the end of the terrible horrible no good very bad day, I have my mind.

Now imagine I don't.

Alzheimer’s is a terrifying, tragic condition that I hope to never experience firsthand. To lose memories to senility is one thing; to lose life moments and your very fundamental ability to piece them together is, I can only imagine, a living nightmare both for you and those around you. Of COURSE there is a horror movie centered on the disease, and I don't think it will spoil anything to say the shame is that, while The Taking of Deborah Logan is a good film, the horror story it tells can simply not come close to the terror it creates simply by documenting the disease.

Quick Plot: Psychology grad student Mia is making a documentary film about Alzheimer’s and, more specifically, its effect on the primary caregiver to the afflicted patient. With her two-man film crew, Mia heads to the countryside home of the Logans, a mother/daughter team in financial and medical trouble.

Mom Deborah (the fantastic Jill Larson) has just entered the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a tragedy made even worse when we learn that the single mom was a smart, determined working woman who ran her own switchboard business for twenty years. Grown daughter Sarah (Anne Ramsay, known forever to me as A League of Their Own's first baseman Helen Haley) copes with the age-old mechanisms of humor and vodka. 

(and the occasional double play)
Deborah's condition seems to worsen at an expedited speed, leading to midnight episodes where she awakens the household in fits of screaming and self-mutilation. Little by little, Sarah and Mia begin to piece together a bigger mystery that connects Deborah to a long-vanished neighborhood child killer who may have had a close relationship with an evil force.

The Taking of Deborah Logan is presented as a sort of cross between found footage and a documentary. Mia IS making a straight medical documentary, but later scenes that go into the 'action,' if you will, wouldn't really have ended up in the final product. So that's one minor drawback: at one point, I couldn't remember what I was supposed to be watching. Was this a documentary that spun out of control, or is this a more a Lake Mungo-esque situation? 

The confusion is one strike, and the inevitable "I can't see anything when you run with a camera in a dimly lit cave" complaint is certainly another. Those issues aside, first-time director Adam Robitel has assembled a fascinating, scary, and sad genre film that stands a good head above most of its found footage brethren. 

It starts with the performances, and in the title role, Larson is just as good as you might have heard. The actress (probably best known for soap opera work) creates something of a masterpiece in Deborah, channeling everything from the conservative Catholic mother who feels uneasy around her gay daughter to the fragile hospital patient and potentially possessed monster. We see a shockingly vivid picture of exactly who Deborah was, something made all the stronger by seeing how different she now appears. 

The shame of The Taking of Deborah Logan is that, as you might suspect, the ultimate plot is just nowhere as interesting as its leadup. The driving ghost story isn’t terrible, and would work just fine in its own movie. But when you wrap it in a narrative that’s just so much more heartbreaking and compelling, it’s hard to leave the film without feeling a little let down. First-time director Adam Robitel (whose credits primarily include editing and documentary video shorts) definitely shows a lot of strength in getting great performances, creating interesting characters, and building some decent scares, but with this film, those things never quite override the limits of the subgenre.

High Points
It’s always a good thing to see a genre film filled with multiple strong female characters (granted, it shouldn’t HAVE to be a thing to note, but it’s 2015 and still not the norm, so I shall). The Taking of Deborah Logan belongs to its women, from the mother-daughter pair to Mia, who’s presented as a capable student that doesn’t fall prey to the typcal found footage cliches, and even Deborah’s primary doctor who just so happens to be a woman

Low Points
It's petty to ask after watching a decade's worth of found footage films, but I mean, I JUST WANT TO SEE WHAT'S GOING SO CAN YOU LET ME DO THAT ALREADY?

I tried.

Lessons Learned
White people sure do love their attics

As a police officer, one should probably be prepared with the basic tools of investigation. Such tools include a standard flashlight because, you know, you're a police officer and should probably keep one handy in your glove compartment

Always expect a burlap bag to be filled with extremely venomous snakes. If you’re not living by this rule, I really don’t even know how you’ve made it this far. 

The GAH! Thing
Everyone has that 'THING' that makes them cringe. For many, it's eyeball or fingernail trauma. A shockingly large portion of horror audiences curl up into Poffle ballls as soon as an Achilles tendon is severed. Following Deborah Logan's Hummel figurine snack and Oculus's lightbulb bite, I've found my ick: chewing on non-edible objects. IT IS THE WORST.

Well, that and ventriloquist dummies.

And caterpillars. 

This world we live in is a hard world.

Streaming on Netflix at a breezy 90 minutes, The Taking of Deborah Logan is definitely one to watch. Jill Larson’s performance alone makes it worthy. Found footage style fans will find plenty to enjoy here, though I ultimately think the film falls short by not finding a way to work its more human narrative into its typical ghost one, but it’s still a strong debut for director Robitel. I wanted more, but I still managed to get a lot.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Board Now

Guys, I am totally a grownup.

This fact dawned on me recently as I sifted through my Instant Watch queue and thought, "Maybe it's finally time that I give Poultrygeist a try." Troma's low budget telling of zombie chickens had been on my radar for what felt like an eternity (back when I was in my TWENTIES, no less) but I had just never reached the point of actually watching it. 

So I did.

But I didn't.

See, I generally know what I'm getting with a Troma movie. There will be boobs. There will be crass comments (often about boobs). Silly but often sweet practical effects. And probably more boobs.

As any horror fan with a video store membership in the '80s knows, Troma is what it is, and Lloyd Kaufman wouldn't have it any other way. But as I began my journey into Poultrygeist, I found it hard to enjoy the charm. "You're the best dry humper in school!" comes the first line, which is fine and almost sweet in its own way. But as soon as a character (named Arby, and his girlfriend is Wendy, because CLEVER) responded with, "My dad's a retard," I said to myself, 

It's not that I'm above Troma dialogue. I'm angry at myself for not seeing The Boy Next Door in the theater, for goodness sake. It's just that I took a moment to realize that at this point in my 33 years on this planet, I have grown past certain things, certain things that might have been so charming (and far less offensive) in my youth.

An adult. That's what I felt like.

Naturally, I celebrated my newfound maturity by turning off Poultrygeist and queuing up what I assumed to be an Asylum cash-in on Ouija, The Ouija Experiment.

Quick Plot: Brandon is an obnoxious film student (who immediately sheds any lingering cred by claiming that not only is Twilight about ghosts, but that it actually good) hanging out with his airhead friend Shay, her beefy womanizing boyfriend Calvin, Calivn's sister L'nette and pal Michael. As most groups of twentysomethings in Dallas do, they spend a few evenings playing with a non-Parker Brothers version of a ouija board.

Not, mind you, a Wee-Ji Board, which may be the most exciting knockoff thing I've ever discovered while shopping at Five Below.

Michael lays out the rules of the oujia, which include the all-important 'Never leave the room without saying goodbye' commandment that because it's repeated no less than four times, will inevitably be broken at least twice. 

What could possibly go wrong?

In this case, the quintet releases the ambiguous spirits of a murdered little girl named Gracie, her drowning foe Joseph, and her mother Lisa. The ghosts have all sorts of mean qualities, like spilling to Shay that Calvin's been cheating her and turning Michael's manly bathroom into a pink paradise. C'mon, people, you can't expect Lions Gate-esque terror when your major special effects involve your actors moving a pointer on a ouija board and not one but TWO jump scares that are simply Halloween decorations in storage.

As you can no doubt piece together, Israel Luna's The Ouija Experiment is not going to be shortlisted for the Oscars (or heck, People's Choice Awards) anytime soon. But you know, in the realm of found footage ghost stories made for less money than was used to cater Craft Services for the REAL Ouija, it has some charm. And by the way: considering Ouija starred young good-looking actors who probably don't eat, that's saying something.

To my surprise, The Ouija Experiment was made in 2011, several years before even the Asylum would have thought to capture a name. Granted, I figured this out for less than stellar reasons: one character references Paranormal Activity 1 AND 2, and there's a scene that involves a couple laughing and mimicking what was, in 2011, the hot YouTube "Hide Yo' Kids, Hide Yo' Wife" viral sensation.

The Ouija Experiment, you can say, is kind of dated. And not actually scary. And filled with amateur actors who give it their all, but clearly didn't have the screen experience or proper direction to know how to make a line like "I LOVE  YouTube" sound even mildly believable. If, however, reports about the budget being in the $1200 range are true, then I find myself in an awfully forgiving mood. I've seen worse films made for far more money. It doesn’t mean The Ouija Experiment is deserving of your time (for most of you with kids or cats or jobs or dishes to wash, it’s really far, far less important) but eh, it could have been much worse.

Film criticism at its finest!

High Points
There's something admirable about how director Luna was able to generate ghost suspense in spite of the utter predictability of his story. We've all watched enough of these kinds of films to know that when a little girl appears at the end of a long hallway, she's going to snap and sprint towards us or that when the camera is fixed and a character is facing it, something ominous will appear far behind him in the specifically empty frame. All of these trite touches are alive and thriving in The Ouija Experiment, but I'll still give Luna credit for building to these scenes skillfully enough that the sudden jerks of action occasionally really do work

Low Points
On the flip side, I can think of a lot better ways to generate creepiness than to film an actor literally reading about spirits from the computer screen in front of him

Lessons Learned
Always say goodbye

Always say goodbye

Always say good--

Eh, it’s not like you’re going to listen to the rule the characters repeat thirty five times during the course of the film’s 90 minute run time, so why bother?

I wouldn't particularly recommend The Ouija Experiment to anyone. It's a predictable and decisively unremarkable entry in a crowded field of found footage. I feel like it's a genuine compliment to say that while I was watching it, I likened it to Paranormal Entity in being an Asylum movie that was better than it needed to be. Now that I know it WASN'T an Asylum production,I guess I'd convert that opinion to dubbing it a better movie made under two weeks with a $1200 budget than it needed to be. Make of that what you will.