January 3, 2010

Paranormal Activity: Holy Crap!

So my "don't have time to watch a movie" drought is slowly lifting. With a three-day weekend for New Year's and a $1.99 coupon for Blockbuster (glad I had one to use, because otherwise... screw Blockbuster), I decided to spend an evening with a movie. I was torn on what to rent, but I had wanted to see Paranormal Activity since it came out in theaters (never got around to it), and I love a good scary movie.

Each night's occurrence is neatly chronicled, adding a lot of tension.

I went in wanting to scoff at this movie. I really did. I was skeptical; ghost movies don't really scare me at all (The Ring, The Grudge, White Noise, and all that stuff just doesn't do it). Plus, I tend to take what some people consider to be "scary" with a grain of salt. Being that I love horror movies, I'm a bit desensitized to terror. I remained hopeful but cautious as I put the DVD in.

What did I come out thinking? Paranormal Activity is like the scariest damn episode of Ghost Hunters you've ever seen.

Word on the street is that Paramount had considered remaking the shoestring-budget film as a big-ticket Hollywood vehicle. I'm glad they didn't go that route; somehow I'm picturing Jessica Biel gasping at CGI ghosts and I'm not impressed. Going the "Bair Witch" route was such a good choice.

Micah is getting on her nerves.

The "this is real" aesthetic helps a great deal, making what might seem ridiculous completely unsettling. Bottom line: I was scared. For nearly the whole film, my palms were sweaty. I jumped. I yelled out. I waited at least an hour before going to bed.

I really dug the low-key stuff. I can't help but shake my head at anybody that complains about being bored. I let myself get immersed into the film to the point that every little bump, every gentle movement of an inanimate object, made my body tense up. The incidents start out small and keep building up, so that every time the camera is set up to film the bedroom at night, the suspense of what will happen next is paralyzing.

I think I had this same look on my face through the movie.

As much as I gush about the structure of the scares, I can't say Paranormal Activity would rank as one of my "favorite horror movies." It's not. It is flawed. While the home video angle works for the most part, the film suffers even more than "Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield" when it comes to characters who just don't know when to put the freakin' camera down. It never bothered me in Blair Witch (loved that movie, by the way). Cloverfield's "Hud" grated my nerves with his dedication to his cameraman duties. Paranormal Activitie's Micah takes the cake, though.

The psychologist doesn't like Micah, either.

It's obvious that we're supposed to be frustrated with him; as the eerie events escalate, the man is ever-stubborn in his efforts to record the phenomena. His girlfriend's fears are usually met with juvenile whit and sarcasm that only dissipate when things get really heavy. But yet, he's always holding that damn camera. This required some suspension of disbelief on my part. Plus, Micah remains stubborn and ignorant through the whole film. He keeps doing stupid things and never develops at all. You just wanna give the guy a roundhouse kick to the face.

...But I really can't expect well drawn-out characters and a perfectly fabricated "reality" here. That's not what the film was selling. What it was in the market for was scares, and it delivered.

A flippant Micah battles the demon in his swimming pool during the thrilling conclusion.

January 2, 2010

Dinner Rush (2000)

I've had a dilemma recently: I don't seem to have enough time to sit down and watch a movie! Between work and a lot of side projects, I end up having to choose between sleep or goof-off time (sleep is always good!) Luckily, Christmas break remedied this problem a bit. On Christmas morning, as I ate breakfast at my family's house, waiting for the rest of the folks to make it down, my mother (remember her influence?) turned on the TV and switched to the Independent Film Channel, because her recent favorite movie was coming on: Dinner Rush!

Duncan wishes someone would lend him ten grand to give to the sharks.

She had simply fallen in love with the film, which centers on a single night inside a popular Italian restaurant in New York City. I figured I'd like it, but the invitation to watch it came abruptly. Right in the morning? I've got things to do! I put those thoughts away quickly, because Dinner Rush is totally captivating.

The film opens with a mob hit, setting up the viewer to expect a typical gangster drama. Nope. After the credits, we settle into a fancy restaurant, owned by Louis Cropa, a former bookmaker who now considers himself "a legit restaurateur." He wants to turn the business over to his son, but doesn't like the changes he's made to the cuisine: the old-school spaghetti and meatballs of his beloved Italy have been replaced with fancy dishes that appeal to the "artsy" crowd.

Louis talks traditional Italian cuisine with his son.

The "artsy crowd," however, is keeping the business thriving. As we watch throngs of people come in and sit for hours chatting and enjoying their meals, we kind of want to pull up a seat as well.

Waitresses and cooks work diligently while chatting; people sit at the bar and play trivia games with the charismatic bartender; and two greasy-haired gangsters come for dinner and demand a "sit down" with the owner.

Wait, what?

When the capos come to eat at your restaurant, you better treat them nicely.

Seems Louis's favorite cook, Duncan, the only one who will cook him a "traditional" Italian meal, has a gambling problem, and has gotten in deep with the mob.

Don't let this plot point tease you. The film is more about setting than story, and I love this. I'm a sucker for setting, and watching "Dinner Rush" is like sitting down in your favorite hangout and enjoying some people-watching.

Anybody who's ever worked in a restaurant is likely to identify with the characters, like the waitress who wants to strangle the annoying art critic at one of her tables; or the bustling cooks who are trying not to crack under the pressure of their boss; or the hostess, who, between needed cigarette breaks, has to put on a smiling face, no matter how unpleasant the guests are.

The bar is one of my favorite spots of the restaurant, probably because the bartender is cool as hell.

Louis's crisis does come to a satisfying resolution, but the true enjoyment comes from the ride, not the destination. Sit down and enjoy Dinner Rush with your own home-cooked meal and get ready for a high-class, leisurely evening.

Screencaptures provided by www.moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

November 26, 2009

Gamera the Brave (2006)

Gamera the Brave
(Chiisaki Yuushatachi: Gamera; 2006)

There's a lot of hate out there for this film that I don't really get. I mean, I kinda know why - it's not made in the same mold as Shusuke Kaneko's acclaimed reinvention of the character in his 90s Gamera trilogy - but I think this view is pretty stupid. Taken as a totally different kind of film it is a very solid and enjoyable monster romp with a lot of heart.

Basically, the film is about a young boy, Toru, who has just lost his mother in a car accident, resulting in his relationship with his father becoming rather distant and a little tense. One day, he swims to an island just offshore the beautiful seaside village he lives in and happens to find an egg, which quickly hatches into an adorable little turtle. An adorable little turtle that also happens to grow at an alarming rate, starts hovering in midair and breathing adorable little fireballs.

You know you wish this happened to you as a kid.

Meanwhile, fishing vessels offshore mysteriously start to disappear and eventually a vicious giant monster, Zedus, makes landfall to feast upon the populace. Amidst this, Toru's father and friends begin to suspect that his adorable little turtle may actually be the juvenile progeny of the legendary monster Gamera and whether or not he might grow enough in time to defend Japan from this new threat!

Yeah, the film stars a bunch of kids and it's definitely a family film. That said, most all of the children are competent actors and the film never panders to its audience. I mean, when was the last time you saw a children's film that shows monsters devouring people like it's nothing more than Sunday brunch? Om nom nom.

The effects work does not reach the same glorious heights of the aforementioned 90s Gamera films but is still very solid and provides several nice visuals. Additionally, the slightly smaller scale of the monsters in this film allows for more detailed miniatures than are usually seen your standard giant monster production. One really cool practical effect was a full-sized, 1/1 scale model of one of Gamera's smaller forms, built for a scene in which he is wounded and carried through the streets on a flatbed truck. It's pretty great.

My only big complaint with the film is Gamera himself. I don't hate the cuter design like a lot of fans do (it suits the tone of the film) but I DO hate hate HATE the new roar they gave him. Gamera is well known for having a very unique roar but someone working on this film decided instead to give him an alarmingly generic stock roar. Especially baffling is the fact that they would do such a thing in the film made in celebration of Gamera's 40th anniversary! What gives, guys?

Overall, it isn't the best tokusatsu production to be released in recent memory but it's definitely a standout for being as solid as it is. Even if it is a little unremarkable, it has a lot of heart and a fairly unique story that puts it a head above most of Godzilla's recent entries into the genre and it is well worth watching. I'd definitely recommend it.

Sadly, the film bombed in Japan (giant monsters aren't really "in" anymore) so it's unlikely we'll ever see a sequel as originally intended.

October 7, 2009

A Num Num on Elm Street, Part 2

I lived in the south for oh, 17 years, and in those years me and my family did a lot of roadtripping. I've always found long, deserted southern highways to be the definition of creepy. It's the perfect setting for a horror film, and when Jeepers Creepers begins, it takes advantage of it at full throttle. The concept, the setup, it's just so brilliant in its simplicity: You're on this lonely highway and you see something you shouldn't have, and it sees you too. Nobody else is around to save you. Whattayagonnado? Well if you're the director of this movie, you're going to ruin everything good you've got going for it once the first act is over. The middle act manages to coast on the success of the beginning, but it's coasting steadily downhill. The minute the sibling protagonists get off the highway and go to the police, the scary sensation of isolation is gone. Introducing other characters may have given the filmmakers an excuse to increase the body count, but it's poorly handled. And then the anticlimactic reveal of a creature that looks like the bastard child of a rubber duck and Mr. Scrooge, some random crazy black lady acting like the Oracle on a bender who is trying to explain what this creature is and failing spectacularly without even offering the protagonists a cookie, and somehow all of this has to do with that old song that goes "jeepers, creepers, where'd you get those peepers?" I'd compare the finale to a car accident but that would suggest some pretty gnarly explosions and twisted metal. It's more like a car that takes a wrong turn and runs out of gas out in the boonies and sputters to a dry, wheezing halt.

A Num Num on Elm Street, Part 1

So… horror movies. That's what we're all here for. What are they if not nightmares we can visit during our waking hours with our good friend Orville Redenbacher? (I just googled Orville Redenbacher to check the spelling on Redenbacher and discovered they do a jalapeno popcorn now. That sounds potentially revolting, has anybody had this junk? Is it good?). Ok so what are they if not that? A lot of times they usually become unintentionally hilarious comedies. And that is why A Nightmare on Elm Street is such a perfect movie to kick off this year's horrorpalooza with. It's a straight-up horror film that plays with the line between what we percieve as reality and what we percieve as dreams. And it spawned a series of sequels so goobery they remind me more of romantic teen comedies (albeit gory ones) than they do genuine horror movies.

Of the Holy Trinity of slasher franchises (Halloween, Friday the 13th and Elm Street), Elm Street has been my favorite place to visit and revisit each year for the last four or five years. I'm beyond reasoning when it comes to this series… they are all my children (hoho). I'll be talking about all the others in due time, but for now let's go back to the Wes Craven original.

Here's the funny thing: even before he started cracking one liners, Freddy himself was never really scary. It's the concept that's scary: dying gruesomely in your sleep at the hands of your very own dreams. Unless you're a lucid dreamer, you're pretty much screwed unless you can manage to wake yourself up before it's lights out. This makes something as simple as taking a cat nap a life or death ordeal, a fact that's not lost on final girl Nancy, who caffienates the heck out of herself to keep from zonking out until she can figure out how to outsmart Krueger. Craven puts these ideas to good use, creating a sleepy atmosphere around the "waking" scenes that makes it difficult to discern where the real world ends and where the nightmare begins. Which makes even more sense when the film later reveals its big twist. It's a great vibe, and it's even more effective if you watch it when your eyelids are starting to feel a bit droopy too.

If I have one complaint with the film it's the tacked on extra surprise ending that New Line forced on Craven. I still don't get why they made him slap it on, it totally contradicts the logic of the film up until that point. Nancy vanquishing Freddy wouldn't have negated a sequel at all. She kicked him out of HER dream. All the audience needs to know is that Freddy was visiting the dreams of some other unlucky teenagers. Oh well, whatever. I still love this movie dearly.