Atmo HorrorX (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival]

atmohorrorxThis review must start with a warning: Even though this reviewer watched this movie attentively, getting any of it was very, very difficult; if not nary impossible, so external information sources had to be sought, mainly from IMDB and the Fantasia program book.  That being said, let’s start with its official summary on IMDB: “Through a surreal chase of spying, Catafuse, a dubiously dressed creature, hunts humans with the help of Molosstrap.  But in a world ruled by the pharma industry, reality becomes so complex, that the mastering of insanity might just be the only way out.”

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Agonie (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival]

agonieA law student starts a fling with another student.  A young ex-military trains to become stronger.  The law student works out his bedroom kinks with his girl in increasingly violent ways.  The ex-military discovers a potential new side to himself that he has difficulty accepting.  Both lash out in violent ways, one going to an unexpected extreme. David Clay Diaz creates an almost sober drama with his script writing and direction.  The film shows the lives of two early twenties men and how their lives evolve.  Both of their stories evolve slowly throughout most of the film until each of their story’s end when things take a turn with acts of violence changing everything for both of them.

Both stories are strong character studies of two very different men.  The calm and control of the first, his disconnect from most of society, lead him to being able to do despicable acts without anyone expecting it or knowing why.  The second is more volatile but also more involved with others, he has a short temper that leads him to bad decisions and violence, but for him it’s anything but cold, he is more connected to his surroundings, creating a much different character.  This dichotomy of types and style is artfully contrasted in how David Clay Diaz represents each of their lives, their surroundings, their families, and the characters themselves.

As both stories are contrasted, each has its lead character.  The law student, Christian, is played by Samuel Schneider who plays charming with a very cold side, like a calculated man who knows when to be charming but who gets satisfaction from inflicting pain of increasing intensity.  As the film goes by, his shows an increasing to complete disconnect with society, very little bring a reaction out of him.  The performance by Schneider reflects this perfectly.  Playing the other lead of Alex is Alexander Srtschin bringing a nervous, twitchy energy to his scenes, even the calmer ones to some extent.  He shows his characters inner turmoil without saying a word.  Both of them show talent and how great casting can make all the difference.

The film’s story is slow and dark, so the cinematography by Julian Krubasik matches this.  His framing showcases the grey weather, the coldness of the stories and of life.  His style fits the film and its characters, showing everything as it is, no sugar-coating, no adding any hope with happy images.

Agonie is a very cold drama with little emotions from the characters besides various forms of anger and indifference.  The little bit of love that is shown is quickly snuffed out.  According to the director’s IMDB page, his next movie is one titled Agony to come out in 2016, which sounds a lot like a remake, so see the original first if you can.

Fantasia International Film Festival ran from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016 and will be back in the summer of 2017.


The Alchemist Cookbook (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

alchemistA man trying to survive in a shack in the woods plays with alchemy to discover an ancient secret to a better life.  Inadvertently, he summons a dangerous being who doesn’t take too kindly to his dealings. The Alchemist cookbook is written and directed by Joel Potrykus who is known for independent horror films shot in Michigan and who considers his style in the vein of Jim Jarmusch which is something each viewer can judge for themselves, but this reviewer did not really see that.

Here he crafts a fairly slow boil of a film.  It starts with an alchemy cooking sequence set to a great track, giving the impression that it might be an upbeat, fast moving film, but it soon becomes clear that the lead, Sean, is a paranoid man playing with forces he doesn’t fully understand.  Unfortunately, past that opening scene, the film feels slow and like it might need some extra oomph or perhaps to be edited differently.  It’s not boring but it’s not enthralling either.

The cast for this small budget is, well, small.  The lead of Sean is played by Ty Hickson who does great as the paranoid, perhaps desperate, man trying his hand at alchemy.  His performance here is good and worth seeing and he proves he can carry a complete movie on his own as the only other actor has only a few scenes and those scenes are always with him.  In the only other human role in the film is Amari Cheaton as Cortez a typical gangbanger who tries to help his friend Sean while also getting himself into trouble.  His performance feels more exaggerated and caricatured while less on point than Ty Hickson’s.  The last cast member listed is Fiji as Kaspar (the cat), as is usually the case with cats, he does a fabulous job while remaining rather nonchalant about the whole thing.

The film has some nice bits of science alchemy and some good effects.  The last third does amp up the horror factor and what can be seen is well done and executed.  These special effects are by Jeffery Husselman with visual effects by Scott Baisden and Daniel Falicki.

Also worth noting are the cinematography and the soundtrack.  The cinematography by Adam J. Minnick does a great job at making all outdoors images feel desolate in their settings while the indoors shots feel cramped to go with small shack the lead lives in.  This adds to the atmosphere here and is very well done.

The soundtrack for this film is mostly provided by way of an old tape deck that the lead character uses.  The song choices and what is fast forwarded tell a lot about the character, which makes him feel real, more like the crazy, paranoid version of someone every viewer knows.  His musical choices also reflect his internal turmoil, by letting him “choose” those songs, something so few films do.

The Alchemist cookbook is not a bad film but it has issues with pacing and with sections of the story feeling like filler.  The acting by the lead is good and he carries the film well.  The music is his best supporting character, but it’s not enough to make this reviewer want to see it again or be able to fully recommend it.

Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016.

All Girls Weekend (2016)

allgirlsweekend“All Girls Weekend” isn’t anything that the cool poster promises. It’s an ensemble, is set in winter, and is not really a slasher movie. Lou Simon’s horror movie is actually a film in the vein of “The Descent” and “The Ruins” where a group of young female hikers going away together for a fun weekend end up getting lost in the middle of the woods. Before long their hike turns in to an endless trip in to insanity where the woods are seemingly sentient, and hell bent on driving them mad. What keeps “All Girls Weekend” lackluster and the aforementioned movies white knuckled horror entries is simple: The characters.

While the all female cast seem to do their damndest to pull in great turns (and many of them look like they can potentially dominate horror down the road), the concept of being lost in the woods and going hungry and thirsty never seems to dawn on them. At all. When another of their friends is stabbed in the leg with a branch and is seemingly so wounded she can barely breathe, the friends do nothing but apathetically mock one another. When she dies, it has no punch dramatically and adds nothing. After leaving her corpse behind one of the characters literally asks aloud “Aren’t we all upset?” to which the other replies, “Of course. God I’m thirsty. Anyone have any water?”

Compare that with the devastating claustrophobia and the delirium of running around in a dark cave in “The Descent” and the difference is apparent. What should have been a mind fuck about falling victim to a sentient natural landscape comes off as a mere nuisance to the characters most times. By the time they realize they’re in deep dung, it’s too little, too late. It’s a shame since I really enjoyed Simon’s previous horror outing “HazMat,” and I love her idea of filling these genre entries with more minority characters of great importance to the narrative. Sadly, “All Girls Weekend” is filled with truly vapid and unlikable protagonists, feels stretched thin, and is under developed.

Available on VOD.


Alone (Hongmin) (2015) [New York Asian Film Festival 2016]

AloneHongminSumin is a photographer documenting the gentrification and changes of his neighborhood.  One day, as he’s taking more photos, he witnesses the murder of a woman.  The killers come after him and he wakes up naked on what looks to be a gazebo in his neighborhood.  Odd things happen; Sumin is rendered unconscious and wakes up in odd places over and over again. Alone, or Hongmin in its original language, was directed by Hong-min Park who co-wrote it with Hye-jin Cha.

The film is built in a way where the lead character of Sumin lives many events and those events may or may not be connected to each other.  The story built with these does bring up questions but answers few of them.  The film moves at a good pace, but with no established goal or point to it, it all feels a bit useless.  Why is Sumin going through this? Is he alive? Is he dead and this is his purgatory?  Was something lost in translation?  The proceedings are somewhat interesting but not captivating which makes the film feel long even with its pace moving things along nicely.

The cast for this film is fairly small and everything revolves around Sumin who is played by Lee Ju-won.  His performance is good with some nuances but with nothing really standing out which makes his presence a bit monotone through the film.  However, it does feel like it may have been the point as his character seems to lead a bit of a humdrum life leasing to a less than exciting personality.

There is one scene with a major special effect and it’s quite good.  However, to not spot it, details will not be discussed.  The effect is, well, effective and well done.  The sound accompanying it is a bit cringe-inducing, in a good way.  A few other bloody bits are found here and there and they all look realistic as well, even when how they happen feels out of context for their scene.

As is the case with a lot of middle of the road films, neither great nor horrendous, Alone is hard to review without making it sound worse than it is.  Alone is not a bad film and it has some good ideas, it’s just that the execution comes off as rather bland and that despite all of its efforts, it fails at really captivating the attention of its viewer.  It may very well be a case of a film that is just not for everyone, so feel free to give it a try.


A Home of Our Own (1993) [Blu-Ray]

AHomeDirector Tony Bill’s “A Home of Our Own” is one of the more underrated dramas about the pursuit of the American Dream. While the 1993 family drama about poverty in the early twentieth century isn’t perfect, it does a damn fine job of portraying the consistent pit falls of poverty, and often times it’s tough to really charge forward when life is so relentlessly unfair. “A Home of Our Own” strives for inspiration and positivity despite falling occasionally in to painfully depressing material, and is a very good drama that places the brilliant Kathy Bates front and center.

Something of a second hand “Grapes of Wrath,” Bates plays the fierce widowed matriarch of the Lacey clan Frances, who has had enough of living in Los Angeles and slumming it in an apartment building. After getting fired from her factory job for reporting sexual harassment, Frances decides she wants to uproot her family and seek her fortune with her own property in the form of her dream house. The events aren’t as ideal as she pictures, as the narrator Shayne (played as a young man by Edward Furlong) chronicles how tough it was to trek across country and deal with having to become the man of the house. There’s the family squeezing in to a beat up car, sharing a big jug of Kool Aid, and Shayne’s declaration “For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we ate nothing but egg salad sandwiches.

I never ate one again, and hadn’t since.” Frances, with a quick tongue and using her children as bartering tools, manages to talk her way in to buying a skeleton for a potential house, which she begins to build with her long suffering children. Along the way they befriend land owner Mr. Moon, a tough Asian man who begins slowly taking a shine toward the family, all the while Shayne struggles with poverty, and having to endure being handed responsibility he never asked for. Furlong is very good in the role as Shayne, a young man given major responsibility who has a tough time finding his place in the family. Too often he’s given the tasks of an adult by Frances who then punishes him like a child, and this creates an eventual rift and surefire tension between him and mom Frances.

Once Frances begins meeting a new man and begins dating, the tension is dialed up as Shayne begins to resent her, prompting a family feud. Frances is at once an idealist and a realist, who wants to pursue her idea of the American dream, but has no interest in accepting charity or pity. This results in a lot of interesting sub-plots, including her trip to a church second hand store, as well as a scene where the local reverend attempts to deliver presents to the children during Christmas Eve. While I’m not a huge fan of the pat happy ending, “A Home Of Our Own” is a compelling and entertaining drama about the lower class and trying to achieve the American dream in an unfair world, as well as the power of the bonds of family.

Despite the movie finally being on Blu-Ray, this is a bare bones release with not even the original trailer from the 1993 movie. All there is is a small catalogue from Olive Films.


Adventures in Babysitting (2016) (DVD)

AdventuresInBabysittingDVDWhat a difference from 1987 to 2016, isn’t it? In the original “Adventures in Babysitting,” our intrepid heroes led by their babysitter are evading a group of car thieves anxiously trying to get back their notes that they scribbled on a playboy that one of the characters stashed accidentally. Here, the group runs afoul two inept pawn shop clerks that want the camera character Lola has after taking a picture of their illegal exotic animal. Disney’s newest stars Sabrina Carpenter and Sofia Carson are charming in their co-starring roles as high schoolers competing for a photography internship.

Both girls end up in a variety of misadventures as babysitters caring for a small group of rambunctious kids after a cell phone mix up. Over the course of the night, they cross criminals, mean car towers, and even have to talk their way out of a police station when they’re accused of committing a crime. They now have to get their car back home before midnight hoping to beat the parents of their charges home. While I’d still watch Columbus’ original with my family, Disney takes great lengths to tone down a lot of the menace and hazards from the original. This means no college party, no drunken girl hitting on one of the characters, no gang war in a train, and no one mistaking one of the babysitters for a Playboy centerfold.

Considering co-star Sabrina Carpenter is barely eighteen, that’d be painfully creepy, so that’s not a huge omission, all things considered. That said, “Adventures in Babysitting” is a solid diversion with some neat adventure and antics, even if it isn’t one of Disney’s best original films. It garners solid performances, kid friendly antics, and includes a lot of its own twists on the original film’s events, including a huge chase through a Laundromat, and an impromptu performance that results in a rap battle. With Disney Channel Original Movies, you have to take the good with the bad, and thankfully this remake offers a lot more good than bad.

It’s certainly better than “The Descendents.”

The DVD only comes with a two minute blooper reel, and a fridge magnet that doubles as a picture frame and a check list for babysitters. Frankly, I’m surprised Disney didn’t make a bigger deal out of their one hundredth television movie for this home release. If you’ve watched the Disney Channel for the last three months, they’ve had behind the scenes segments, interviews with Sabrina Carpenter and Sofia Carson, a music video with the pair, and a “making of” with the pair recording the film’s theme song.

Adventures in Babysitting (2016)

AdventuresinBabysitting2016“Adventures in Babysitting” was a highly talked about remake being developed over the course of half a decade, as there were talks of a big screen release with Raven-Symone starring, then Miley Cyrus perhaps taking on the lead. After years in gestation, it was finally dropped on to the Disney Channel as their 100th Original movie. Sure enough, now that Symone is a self-parody, and Cyrus is doing her own adult things, Disney hands the notable remake over to two of the current Disney stars Sabrina Carpenter, and Sofia Carson. Disney has been very good about casting their films for the last decade, so Carson and Carpenter aren’t just talented, charismatic actresses, but also attract their own loyal fan base.

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