Retro Puppet Master (1999)

While “Puppet Master 3” was a prequel to “Puppet Master” parts one and two, “Retro Puppet Master” is a prequel to the entire series. Rather than being chased by the Nazis, a young Toulon is facing off against mysterious undead agents working for a demonic force that wants his life serum. In “Retro Puppet Master,” the writers pay tribute to the original movies by re-casting Guy Rolfe as Toulon. Still running from Nazis, he camps out for the night in a cabin and regales his puppets with how he originally began his journey.

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Panic Room (2002) (DVD)

panicroomDavid Fincher’s “Panic Room” isn’t a thriller I’d call classic or even groundbreaking, but it takes a unique twist on the home invasion formula, and allows his protagonists a plot device that’s both an advantage and a weakness to them. Jodie Foster is very good as divorcee Meg Altman, a woman who has just gone through a bitter break up. After moving in to a large four story brownstone in the middle of New York, Meg and daughter Sarah are told their apartment has a foolproof panic room, which was installed by the previous owner. After moving in and preparing for a new life, three robbers break in and are shocked to discover Meg and daughter Sarah have already moved in.

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Population Zero (2016) [FrightFest 2016]

populationzeroShot documentary-style, Population Zero follows director Julian T. Pinder as he investigates a triple murder in a national park, a place without population, hence the title, and where some laws apply differently or not at all. Director Julian T. Pinder and co-director Adam Levins build a film about an interesting case as these three murders were never fully investigated or prosecuted.

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Psychonauts, the Forgotten Children (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

PsychonautsI think audiences will enjoy the incessantly dreary and bleak tone of “Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children,” but for me it felt a step too heavy and morose and undercut a lot of the attempts at whimsy and absurd humor. “Psychonauts” is adapted from Alberto Vázquez’s independent Spanish language graphic novel “Psiconautas,” which featured the character Bird Boy, who starred in his own award winning short film from Vazquez. Bird Boy returns in the film as a side character who is relentlessly pursued by local officers, both of whom want him dead and will do whatever it takes to kill him, despite his seemingly innocent habit with “Happy pills” he’s dependent on to keep demons at bay.

Meanwhile mouse Dinky is desperate to run away from her adoptive family that pressures her to become an engineer, oblivious to the landfills outside of their town that involve rats. These rats look for copper to survive, and the tensions rise as the space for survival grows smaller. I had a love hate relationship with “Psychonauts.” Originally I was so excited to see it since the animation is absolutely beautiful, but it’s such a heavy handed and dire metaphor for poverty and conformity I was actually not entertained all that much. Granted, when I savored the brilliant animation style, I loved what Alberto Vazquez and Pedro Rivero had to offer audiences alike.

But once I dug in to the story, it was a pretty miserable experience with tales about scavenging rats, drug addicted bird boys, and young teenage mice with dark voices tempting them to murder their friends and family. Alberto Vázquez and Pedro Rivero’s “Psychonauts” is a haunting, very heavy animated film with stark political and social overtones. Those themes hobble it in some instances, sadly, muddying up the excellent animation, and richer more complex tale about madness, and looking for a purpose in a land where opportunity involves murder and or conformity.

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Planet of the Apes (1968)

planetoftheapesIN LIMITED RE-RELEASE July 24th and 27th — It’s pretty exciting that two of the most important pieces of cinema ever released, “Night of the Living Dead” and “Planet of the Apes” would come in the same year and pack the same intellectual punch.  Written by non other than Rod Serling, “Planet of Apes” is like an extended episode of “The Twilight Zone” filled with terror, and social commentary. And much like the aforementioned George Romero horror film, “Planet of the Apes” garners an absolutely shocking ending that is still one of the best delivered finishers in film history. Though the title says it all, “Planet of the Apes” is still a rather unique genre experience, mainly for its willingness to avoid showing the apes until a good portion of the movie has passed.

Charlton Heston gives an iconic turn as Colonel George Taylor, an astronaut who crash lands on a distant planet after a space expedition and learns the hard way that apes are rulers of this world. Primitive and yet completely organized in class systems that are identified through the species of apes, much like the human race, Taylor is stuck in a world he’s completely unfamiliar with, and can barely muster the strength to rebel, as the sights startle him. Pierre Boulle’s source material is drastically different from the film adaptation, but none of the impact is lost, nor is the commentary on the way we relegate our animals to the lower echelons of our society.

There’s the irony of our primitive counterparts becoming rulers of a jungle land while humans are servants, pets, and test subjects for medical experiments. Meanwhile the various ape species garner their own system of classes and aristocracies, mulling over the structures of their own society. The gorillas are police officers, military, hunters and workers, and the orangutans are administrators, politicians, lawyers and priests, while and chimpanzees are intellectuals and scientists. As Taylor watches his friends die, he inevitably begins to fight back, and, much to the shock of the apes, speaks back defiantly. This sparks an immediate rebellion, and prompts the ape society to completely re-think the way they operate.

“Planet of the Apes” features a world and society that’s different from ours and yet perfectly similar, even alluding that the apes are still in their early stages of evolution as a species. Franklin J. Schaffner’s production from the Serling script is masterful, with a massive cast of brilliant performers offering great performances. Heston’s turn is immortal, all the while folks like Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, respectfully transcend their ape visages to convey very unique and complex characters all around. “Planet of the Apes” is a pitch perfect science fiction film, that still conveys sharp social commentary and will win over the hearts of science fiction purists old and new.

Buy Tickets now at Fathom Events.

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Pig Pen (2015)

Pig Pen posterThirteen year old Rick lives in less than ideal conditions but social services don’t seem all that worried.  After things go from bad to worse, he runs away and becomes one of many street kids.  When he witnesses a brutal murder, Rick ends up going back home where a gruesome scene awaits him.

Pig Pen is directed by Jason M. Koch who co-wrote it with Mark Leake.  The film is unrelentingly dark and creates an oppressive atmosphere that should put viewers in an uncomfortable place.  The entire film is built on negativity and what little light or positivity there is gets snuffed very quickly every time.  The feeling and atmosphere created are oppressive and depressing.  The whole film is very very effective at this.  The characters that live in this environment are sad, desperate, or evil.  These people are almost all negative people, human beings anyone wouldn’t necessarily want to be around ever.  They are damaged souls who do damage onto others.

The dialogue is basic but fits the characters and advances the story without cluttering the film with long conversations or monologues.  The people involved are unhappy and living hard lives, so their language and conversations reflect that. The cast here is fairly small, most scenes involving Rick (Pig Pen), his mother Sandy, her boyfriend Wayne, or a combination of them.  Rick is played by much older than 13 years old actor Josh Davidson who plays the early teen part very well, especially considering his age (born in 1975 per IMDB), his interpretation is sad and desperate, and making the viewer feel for him.  Sandy is played by actress Nicolette le Faye who also gives a sad turn as her character, adding sheer fear which makes the viewer worry for her, her safety, and well-being.

As her boyfriend Wayne is Vito Trigo who brings menace and violence with all his being.  His character comes off as flat out nasty and scary as the abusive asshole who makes Rick lose it.  He brings out a visceral reaction to his character, enough to make the viewer hate him as he is just evil.  The characters all do come off as unhappy people with little to live for. Pig Pen being a very independent film made with the help of an Indie Go Go campaign, the few effects there are have to be expected to be on the inexpensive side but they also look great.  The central piece of effect, which will not be spoiled here to keep its surprise as big as can be, is very well done, looking real and painful, hitting a nerve as soon as it’s revealed.

Kaleigh Brown did fantastic work with that scene and the others where her special effects talents were needed.  She shows that she can work in little time, with a small budget to deliver big budget shock and horror.Pig Pen is not only an independent film made on a tight budget, it was also made with a small crew with a lot of that crew having worked with Jason M. Koch on his previous film 7th Day.  Having not seen that film, it cannot be compared here.  Solely based on Pig Pen however, let’s hope Koch keeps making films as he has a style that works and is a talented story teller.  Pig Pen is depressing and dark, a slice of desperation from one kid’s life, almost completely devoid of any light or hope.

It’s very violent in spots, with its violence not all being physical.  Thankfully it has some moments to breathe or it would have become too much or completely lost its impact.  This is not a feel good film and it should and probably will, make most viewers uncomfortable, a sign of a successful dark film.

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The Pack (2015) [Blu-Ray]

pack-bluOnce again, “The Pack” is another in a long line of modern horror films that feel as if they were once written for the late seventies. Nick Robertson’s horror thriller is a very stripped down and simplistic survival thriller that packs in enough excitement and suspense to compensate for the lack of plot. “The Pack” is a combination of a home invasion thriller, and a nature run amok movie, where a seemingly normal family of four is attacked by a pack of large black wolves that arrive out of the wilderness of the Australian outback one night. The wolves are large and powerful as well as relentless, making the fight for survival absolutely intense.

The Wilson family are going through their troubles, as dad Adam finds out their farm is about to be foreclosed on. This creates familial tension, especially with daughter Sophie who wants to move to the city and be among actual people for once. Suddenly the pack of wild wolves burst from the woods and begin terrorizing the family, causing them to look for a way out of their farm and in to civilization. This proves to be more difficult than they could ever imagine, since they have no radio contact with the outside world, and any efforts from local authorities to rescue them results in the wolves literally tearing apart anyone that enters the threshold. A good amount of “The Pack” is built around the family spread apart and looking for a way to outwit and outmatch the wolves.

Their hunger is insatiable making them vicious and powerful in their pursuit. Robertson films some really tight and intense moments of evasion, as the characters hide in corners and small rooms trying to stay as quiet as possible while they devise a route out of the farm without being mauled. Though the budget obviously keeps us from seeing a full on attack by the wolves every minute, director Robertson works well with the limitations, making the wolves feel almost supernatural at times. Many of the best moments feature our characters making wise moves while the deck is stacked against them with these fierce clever monsters, and I was rooting for this family until the very end.

Though the final scene is a bit goofy for its blatant way of leaving the door open for a follow up, “The Pack” is a very good survival thriller and one I could definitely re-watch. The blu-ray from Scream Factory and IFC Midnight features an eight minute “Making Of” focusing on the dogs in the film, and how they worked with them, along with typical interviews about working with the director. There’s also the original theatrical trailer.

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The Present (2014)

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Based on the comic strip by Fabio Coala, director Jacob Frey adds an almost Pixar twist to the famed strip about a boy and his dog, injecting so much more emotion and a touching final scene. If the original comic weren’t bittersweet enough, “The Present” realizes the concept for a full fledged animated short that deserves a feature film. Jake is a boy who spends most of his time in doors playing video games and avoiding the outside world. One day after work his mom comes home with a present, and Jake is elated to see it’s a puppy. Initially surprised, he’s disappointed when he notices the pup only has three legs.

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