Los Parecidos (The Similars) (2015) [FrightFest 2016]

LosParecidosOctober 2nd, 1968, a group of people is stranded in a bus station by a deluge that is hitting around the world.  As tensions rise within the group, something begins to happen to them.  Something odd and possibly supernatural is happened around and to them.  As they become more and more paranoid, they start looking for a culprit, someone to blame, someone to accuse.

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She’s Allergic to Cats (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

allergictocatsLife is hard in Hollywood for a budding filmmaker who works as a dog groomer to make ends meet.  As he struggles to survive and get his career going, Mike Pinkney daydreams and makes experimental videos and meets the girl of his dreams.  As he tries to get his future to be good, he struggles through work, with his dreams, with his rat infested apartment, his landlord, and his possible relationship.

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Session 9 (2001) [Blu-Ray]

Session9Brad Anderson’s supernatural thriller is perhaps one of the most criminally overlooked genre entries of the early aughts. In a time where most audiences are embracing cinema about the supernatural, “Session 9” deserves another look and so much more praise than ever. Director Anderson doesn’t opt for cheap jump scares and shocks, so much as he does a slow boil and uneasy thriller that culminates in a rather disturbing explosion. Upon first viewing “Session 9” it’s safe to say the climax threw me for a loop and kept me thinking about it for days. “Session 9” feels so much like a real life dramatization of actual events, thanks to director Anderson’s digital photography and tendency to film in one setting for the duration of “Session 9.”

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Suicide Squad (2016)

SuicideSquad-2016Viola Davis plays a big muckety-muck named Amanda Waller who works for the government. Much like Bruce Wayne, she saw a lot of the carnage inflicted by Superman and Zod in “Man of Steel,” and now that he’s dead, she wants to ensure there’s never another Superman coming to Earth to cause chaos. So naturally, she goes to Belle Reeve prison to assemble a team of super villains, all of whom have already had their asses handed to them by Batman and The Flash. Her reasoning is that the best way to defeat another potential alien menace is by enlisting a group of super villains on a suicide mission including a man crocodile, boomerang throwing maniac, and a Joker fan girl with an obsession with bats and mallets.

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Shelley (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

shelleyIn a remote house completely off the grid, Louise and her husband Kasper hire a Romanian maid to help with house chores and take care of their chickens.  As the bond between Louise and Elena, the maid, grows, Louise asks her to carry a child for her as she cannot do so herself.  After careful considerations, Elena accepts.  Unfortunately, this is where the honeymoon phase ends and things take a turn for the odd and creepy.

The film is directed by Ali Abbasi who co-wrote with Maren Luise Kaehne.  Together they created believable characters in an interesting setting as they live completely off the grid without any technology but make due with what they have.  In this film, it’s a choice by the characters and not imposed in any way.  The characters have different backgrounds and speak different languages, leading them to speak English to understand each other which is a nice way to get a European film shot in English for a good part of it.  The differences in cultures also add nicely to the depth of the characters.

Unfortunately, these characters are given very little to do that is of interest.  Even when Elena’s pregnancy takes a turn for the weird, it’s barely enough to keep the attention which is too bad as it could have been great had it been exploited better, a great take on pregnancy horror, a sub-genre we see very little of (Grace, A l’interieur, Rosemary’s Baby), that fell flat without enough happening or strong enough happenings.

The very small cast keeps the film feeling intimate and minimal with three strong lead performances.  In the part of Louise, Ellen Dorrit Petersen brings a calm and quiet, yet strong presence.  She handles things beautifully when it would have been so easy to go into overacting in a movie with this subject.  Together with actress Cosmina Stratan as Elena, they build a visible friendship and bond and then, when things change, they show the strain between them without saying much.  Supporting these two performances is Peter Christoffersen as Louise’s husband Kasper.  He does well with the smaller part he is given.  His emotions feel rawer, less controlled. The rest of the small cast is also talented and believable in their parts.

Shelley is another film with two cinematographers working in tandem where which scene is whose is indistinguishable.  Nadim Carlsen and Sturla Brandth Grovlen do this while bringing serenity to the scenes, particularly the outdoors sequences.  The film looks peaceful, even once the creep factor is turned up.  Many scenes on the lake could be turned into a tourism add for overworked city folks.

Supporting all of this is the music by Martin Dirkov which is subtle yet effective.  Some of the scenes when things are going oddly and supernatural elements may be involved, the music bring home the creepiness while not becoming overbearing or telling viewers what to feel.

While Shelley is an interesting take on the pregnancy horror sub-genre, the film is very slow with very little going on, making it less interesting than it had potential for.  The less is more approach usually works for this reviewer, however here it was much too little and lead to an expected ending with very little pay off.

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

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Slash (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

slashA teen discovers slash fan fic and writes some about characters from his favorite series Vanguard.  After an older girl reads some of it and he gets in trouble in school for its graphic nature, she pushes him to post it online for all to see and to get feedback.  This gets him noticed by one of the moderators of the forum and he’s encouraged to go read an excerpt at a Comic-Con type convention. Writer/director Clay Liford adapts from his own 2012 short of the same name, changing the lead’s obsession from Harry Potter to a fake series called Vanguard.

Here he builds a coming of age story where the two leads, Neil and Julia, are at different points in their teenage evolution and in their sexual awakening.  Both characters feel real and have natural interactions with each other and with the adults and teens around them. The characters and situations are believable, especially for someone (like this reviewer) who has encountered many a fan fic writer and read a few horrendous and other decent bits of it.  Setting the film partially at a comic-con works here as it puts the two nerds in what feels like their natural environment, where they fit in better than in their school or home settings.

Both leads here are talented and natural at their parts.  Michael Johnston plays up Neil’s awkwardness, creating a very human 15 year old nerd with dreams, aspirations, worries.  His character is never a caricature of emerging teen writers and never a send up of nerds as is often seen in these types of movies.

Playing opposite Michael Johnston is Hannah Marks as Julia, the less sheltered and more experienced fan fic writing 16 year old who shows him the ropes in terms of getting out there and finding himself.  Marks plays her character full force, never skimping on any emotions, yet never exaggerating or hamming it up.  The viewers feel with her, go through her emotional roller coaster with her.  The supporting cast, including a great Michael Ian Black leaving his sarcastic persona behind, does a great job and let Michael Johnston and Hannah Marks shine, not over shadowing them while also turning in good performance.

The film’s cinematography by Ellie Ann Fenton makes it look a bit like it belongs on current MTV or on a big screen at a convention, which is not a bad thing as this style lends itself to the subject matter at hand.  The way the scenes are shot, their settings also add to this.  The film looks good and is well framed, making it easy to concentrate on the two leads.

Slash is a well-crafted film about teen experiences and sexual awakening for the teen nerd, mainly viewed through the eyes of a fifteen year old boy.  His experiences and feelings are relatable, making even the uncomfortable moments work.  The film is touching in parts and a bit cringe-worthy in others, which are both good things here.  The film is entertaining and a glimpse into two slash fan fic writers’ lives.

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

Seoul Station (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

seoul“If I had a place to go… I wouldn’t have stayed at Seoul Station.”

Yeon Sang-ho’s animated prequel to the excellent zombie action film “Train to Busan” is every bit as terrifying as its successor, and occasionally much more intelligent and biting in its social commentary. While “Train to Busan” is a very emotional look at class warfare and how the society divides in the time of crisis, “Seoul Station” is a very evocative commentary on the poverty crisis in the world. This horrific zombie virus is able to thrive thanks to the massive homeless population in South Korea, and it’s confronted more than once in how the government views its homeless as animals and sub-human even before the flesh eating ghouls appear.

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Sharknado: The 4th Awakens (2016)

Sharknado4At this point you kind of have to accept the “Sharknado” movies will never be as good as the novels, so going in to “The 4th Awakens” means embracing it as a movie, and a media experience. It has a slew of appearances and cameos from notable internet personalities like Andre “The Black Nerd” Benjamin, to character actors like Gilbert Gottfried. Yes, even the Chippendales dancers appear to thrust against some sharks. “Sharknado” is a virtual side show of a genre offering that holds its tongue firmly in cheek, even when turning hero Fin in to a basic rip off of Ashley Williams from “Evil Dead.”

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