Mike K Half-Assedly Reviews Things

Reviews Of Movies, Music And Other Things.

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Cage Match: The Croods


I honestly hope Nicolas Cage continues to do the CG family film voice acting thing: Sadly, it’s increasingly rare that he gets to be this goofy in live action movies anymore. There are plenty of opportunities to be ridiculous and over-the-top, but at the same time he has some more serious dramatic bits.

As for the rest of the movie: It’s pretty standard fare, but a fun enough ride with some pretty impressive scenery. I particularly like that, rather than even try to reflect the wildlife of any actual prehistoric period, the film is filled with bizarre, colorful hybrid creatures like bright green and red sabretooth tigers or swarms of piranha birds. 3/5

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31 13: Dark Water (Original Vs. Remake)

What I actually watched for the 31st movie in October was the 2005 remake of this movie. However, I subsequently found the 2002 original for cheap, so I figured I’d buy it and compare the two in different areas. I like comparing remakes to original films (or different adaptations of the same source material, etc), and might start doing such a thing as a regular “feature” here.

Main Characters:

What struck me right away was that Dahlia, the protagonist in the remake, comes off as considerably stronger emotionally and less fragile than Yoshimi, her counterpart from the original. On one hand, due to the portrayal of Yoshimi, there’s a lot more ambiguity as to whether there’s something supernatural going on or she’s just having a breakdown. On the other hand, I found Dahlia to be more likeable because she’s less likely to crack under pressure. Both characters have believably portrayed loving relationships with their daughters, which is very important to the story.

 I also like that the landlord and superintendent, two fairly minor characters, get more scenes and therefore more characterization – not that you’d come out of the original movie wishing you knew more about those two guys, but it adds some flavor to the non-supernatural elements and you get more of an idea of the motivations behind their actions. Plus, they’re played by John C. Reilly and Pete Postlethwaite. Having watched the remake first, I was amused when the superintendent in the original was portrayed by an actor who pretty much looked like a Japanese Pete Postlethwaite.


 The remake is pretty faithful to the original, but there are some notable changes. As mentioned earlier, the heroine comes off as less unstable, so instead the remake offers more concrete alternative explanations for the occurrences – for instance, when the apartment above Yoshimi’s house is flooded with every available water source running, the landlord offers the unlikely explanation that the previous tenant left the apartment with the water running for years and no one found out about it until now.  When the equivalent scene happens in the remake, it’s said to be the fault of delinquent teenagers that somehow got a hold of the key, and later on we actually meet the teenagers in question.

 Also notable is that a little more family background is given for the main character – in the original, her mother is simply implied to be neglectful, but in the remake she’s also emotionally abusive and alcoholic. Both versions deal with what TV Tropes calls “adult fear” – there’s both the fear of losing your child and the fear of failing them the way your parents failed you.

 Scare Factor:

 The original is pretty heavy on the Nothing Is Scarier principle, and the remake wisely follows suit, but adds some more extravagant water effects. Also, the iconic water stains in the remake seem to get increasingly grimy and disgusting-looking as the film goes on, whereas in the original they always look the same and are in the exact same shape, which is creepy in its own way.  Interestingly, one of the few effects shots in the original doesn’t happen at all in the remake: Mitsuko is briefly seen as the waterlogged corpse she actually would be at this point, whereas her remake equivalent Natasha always looks like a live, creepy little girl. Maybe this was forgone because a similar scene happened in The Ring and they didn’t want to invoke too many similarities (Kôji Suzuki wrote the source material for both this and The Ring).

I’m going to invoke some mild blasphemy and give the slightest edge to the remake for better characterization and a more likeable main character (though I get why Yoshimi is the way she is). Original: 3/5, Remake: 3.5/5

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Cage Match: The Frozen Ground

Though based on the real life apprehension of serial murderer Robert Hansen, this feels a bit like a Law And Order: SVU episode expanded to movie length. However, there was enough tension to hold my interest, the atmosphere of Anchorage, Alaska, where the film was shot and takes place, is suitably eerie, and there were some good performances. Nic Cage does a fine, non-embarrassing turn as Jack Halcombe, a fictionalized version of the investigator who solved the real case, though I think seeing him in these kinds of roles is always going to bring Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans now. But, more of a standout is a subtly creepy John Cusack in an uncharacteristic villain role as Hansen - he really does come off as someone you would pass by on the street and wouldn’t look twice at, yet always has something just slightly “off” about him. Vanessa Hudgens also does well in probably the most emotionally demanding role, that of teen prostitute and surviving Hansen victim Cindy Paulson. Oh, and I feel the need to mention that 50 Cent has a small part as a pimp - a pimp whose name is listed in the credits as “Pimp Clate Johnson”, as though Pimp is a formal title. 3/5

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31: 13 Movie #30: Tales From The Hood

I’m still determined to finish the blog entries for this – I decided the last two movies were long enough ago that I had to rewatch them before writing anything. Stay tuned for movie 31, a roundup of everything, and a long awaited new entry of Cage Match… Not necessarily in that order.

Ordinarily, with Horror Anthology movies, I tend to write about each segment individually. This time I’m going to spend more time talking about the film as a whole, because unusually for a film of this format, every segment has the same writers and same director. The only other movie I’ve seen in the genre that shares this trait is Trick R’ Treat, which had more of an overarching plot than your average horror anthology. As a result, though the stories aren’t directly connected, there are running themes throughout the movie: Some segments have a deliberately campy horror-comedy flavor, some are more serious, but all deal with social issues in some way.

I’m not going to talk a lot about it, but this is one of the few horror anthology movies where I’ve enjoyed the framing device itself. The actual set-up, three dimwitted, drug-seeking hoodlums finding themselves in a morgue with a creepy undertaker, is nothing special… But Clarence Williams III, who plays said undertaker, is hilariously hammy enough to make these bits worth it, and the conclusion is entertaining if only for its hilariously dated special effects.

 “Rogue Cop Revelation”, where black rights activist is beaten, murdered, and framed as a drug addict and has his revenge with the help of a black officer who was at the scene, is somewhere in the middle in terms of seriousness:  The comeuppance against the corrupt police officers is over-the-top and cartoonish, as is the zombie makeup. On the other hand, the police brutality scene is pretty graphic and disturbing, and is made particularly haunting due to the use of “Strange Fruit” as a soundtrack.

As far as premises go, “Boys Do Get Bruised” seems the most like something that would turn up in a post-Twilight-Zone anthology series: A child constantly comes to school with bruises, which he blames on “the monster”; his concerned teacher visits his family and learns the truth, but also that monsters of a sort do exist in our world. To me the main weakness of this one is that somehow all of the violence ends up unintentionally comical, when clearly only the physically impossible stuff at the end was meant to be. This may just because the abusive father figure is a rare serious role for David Allen Grier, and he can’t quite pull it off.

 “KKK Comeuppance” uses the most conventional horror tropes, but is easily the silliest of all:  a gubernatorial candidate with past KKK associations moves into a former plantation home and finds himself attacked by killer dolls possessed by the souls of slaves. There’s not a lot of nuance here, but Corbin Bernsen does well in the sleazy politician role, and the stop-motion dolls are fun to see in action.

 “Hardcore Convert”, for better or worse, is the most ambitious and sincere of the four stories. The premise is sort of A Clockwork Orange updated for the mid-90s: Lamont Bentley is Crazy K, a hardened criminal and gang member with silly sideburns who, after being imprisoned, goes under an experimental new behavior modification program. Aside from his character being placed in a holding cell next to a neo-nazi, the most memorable scene is the most blatant Clockwork Orange nod: Strapped into a device that looks like it’s designed to give Frankenstein’s monster an eye exam, Crazy K is forced to view images of his own murders juxtaposed with images of hate crimes, set to a gangsta rap song he was seen listening to earlier in the movie. The ensuing montage is genuinely unnerving, especially because while the gang violence is simulated, the photographs of lynchings and the like are genuine.

 It’s more than a little noticeable that every time a segment features a major character that is white, they’re a racist. On the other hand, a running theme for much of this film is black characters doing wrong to their own community, either through physical violence (the abusive father in “Boys Do Get Bruised”, the murderous gang member in “Hardcore Convert”) or more indirect means (the black police officer who does nothing to stop white-on-black police brutality in “Rogue Cop Revelation”, the black image consultant who works for a racist Senator in “KKK Comeuppance”). And every one of those mentioned characters meets some form of bad end – in fact, the image consultant in “KKK Comeuppance” gets killed off long before the more obviously evil politician does, and the black officer in “Rogue Cop Revelation” meets with a fate that could be considered worse than death. And of course, the whole point of “Hardcore Convert” is that black-on-black violence is just as bad as racially motivated white-on-black violence. 3/5

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31: 13: Movie #29: 6 Souls (AKA Shelter)

The initial premise for this is fairly original and creepy: Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a man diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, but his body actually changes when he’s manifesting different personalities (for instance, one personality is wheelchair-bound and x-rays reveal he actually has a fused spine when that one is manifested), and as it turns out, his personalities are actually those of real victims in unsolved murder cases. Meyers gets to show off some pretty good accent work here, and the idea of his being several people unknowingly trapped in the same body is made pretty believable. And there are some memorably unnerving special effects, such as the physically-impossible convulsions Meyers goes into whenever changing personalities, or the symbol that gets instantly burned onto the skin of the murder victims.

However, the ultimate explanation for this mystery is incredibly convoluted and silly, and the plot seems like it’s too busy trying to throw the audience off the track to actually be coherent or have any sort of message. I’ve seen this film criticized as stealth Christian propaganda, but if so, it’s incredibly muddled propaganda with a space whale aesop.* 2/5

* A new goal for the 2014 edition of “31 In 31”: No more links to TV Tropes.

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31:13 Movie #28: The Wicker Man (1973)

For the record, if you’ve been following me on tumblr and not elsewhere, I did in fact finish up watching 31 movies in October, I just fell behind on my full write-ups.

I first became aware of The Wicker Man through its soundtrack: A defunct mp3 blog (whose name I can no longer recall) was regularly posting loosely Halloween-themed music and accompanying articles, and one of their picks was “The Maypole Song”.  The soundtrack is pretty prominent to the film, and it both sets the mood and exemplifies the pagan culture of Summerisle, the setting. Music tends to factor heavily into some of the most famous scenes, such as Willow’s siren song in the lurid seduction scene, or the juxtaposition of “Sumer is Icumen In” and Psalm 23 in the climax. It’s even been called a musical, which I don’t quite think is true, because not all of the songs sung by characters directly advance the plot.

The TV Tropes page on the film calls Sergeant Howie an anti-hero, which I hadn’t really thought about, but it’s true in an unusual way: He stands for a lot of the same morals as a traditional hero would, but he’s so devoted to these values that when he encounters a culture that doesn’t have them, he becomes increasingly sanctimonious. There’s kind of an interesting dynamic between Howie and the villagers, because he’s trying to do the right thing but doing so in a way that involves preaching to everyone and trying to throw his weight around, whereas everyone else is in on a sinister plot, yet on the surface they’re nothing but welcoming, if not particularly forthcoming with information.

Some time ago, I watched the 2005 remake as part of my weird quest to watch ever Nicolas Cage movie ever made, but it wasn’t until I ended up revisiting one particular scene that I realized some of the dialogue from the remake was taken straight from the original. The differences between this and the equivalent scene in the 1973 film really help illustrate how the remake destroyed any subtlety - in particular, in the original, Sergeant Howie opens a desk in the classroom and finds a beetle tied to a nail, with one of the children explaining that she did this so that it would keep walking in circles and eventually die from tangling itself up; The idea of a child being so calculatingly cruel is what makes it creepy, and there might be some symbolic foreshadowing of Howie’s eventual fate. In the remake,  Edward Malus opens the desk and a big crow flies out: A child trapping a raven in a school desk might be sociopathic, but it’s not all that calculated, and there’s really no reason to have changed this other than to add a cheap jump scare. 5/5

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31:13 Movie #27: The Host

In retrospect, this probably doesn’t count as a horror movie, though there are some scary moments. It quickly started reminding me of District 9 - both use a plot device normally associated with a different genre as a springboard for political satire: Here instead of contact with aliens, it’s a giant mutated monster. Monster movies make a lot of sense for this treatment, because after all, in your typical film of the genre, the creatures are usually created (or at least roused from their sleep) by radiation or pollution - In this case it’s a mutant caused by the dumping of large amounts of formaldehyde in a river. You really only have to shift focus a little from the monster itself to the government and media’s handling of the situation to have the start of a political/social satire. While a lot of dark comedy is mined from the aftermath of the monster’s appearance, another main focus is the dysfunctional but loving family that serve as the main characters, whose presence makes sure there’s a human element throughout. 3/5

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31: 13 Movie #26: Dead Snow

At first I kind of faulted this movie for spending too much time on the main characters being drunken and obnoxious relative to time spent on fighting Nazi zombies. But I’ve come to realize that it was sort of important to establish their characters as sarcastic and well-versed in horror movies: A lot of the time when you’re watching protagonists getting killed off one by one, you sort of wonder if any of them have ever seen a horror movie and thought to apply it to their current situation… Here we have characters who obviously do know their horror tropes, but frequently mess up for other reasons…. Or even try to avoid common pitfalls but end up getting killed anyway. There are some definite Evil Dead allusions, and those films definitely had an influence on the self-aware humor found here. I also like that even the harbinger of impending doom is kind of a wise-ass.

The depiction of the zombies themselves is kind of unusual too. They’re more like revenants than typical movie zombies: Their rampages are specifically driven by desire to protect their gold, and while they bite, it doesn’t seem that they’re interested in eating humans, and it’s never really shown one way or the other if a zombie bite causes infection (the one character who does get bitten decides he’s not taking any chances). 3.5/5

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31:13 Movie #25: I Spit On Your Grave

I had to take a while to figure out why exactly I found this so difficult to watch, when I was at least somewhat less uneasy with the original Last House on the Left, which basically used the same formula and had roughly the same level of graphic violence and sexual assault. Part of it is that there’s much more focus on the sexual assault part, and another may even be that there’s only one woman who all this abuse is heaped upon. There’s also the fact that while all this is happening, there’s not even the slightest hope of a respite, or a sign that she’s going to be anything but a victim. Which in turn makes the eventual revenge turnaround seem like even more of an afterthought: Already there’s the fact that much more screentime is spent on the assault than the revenge, and the fact that said revenge just abruptly starts happening without any establishing moment of how she was driven to these very calculated violent acts.  It does what it has apparently set out to do, which is make the audience intensely uncomfortable, but I think a film with this kind of content should have some further point to it than that. ?/5

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31: 13 Movie #24: The Prophecy

Despite some impressive effects, there was just something missing that caused this to fall flat as religious horror. However, I was mainly watching this for Christopher Walken, and if you’re a fan, his performance is worth seeing: He plays a fallen angel Gabriel with his typical quirky creepiness, and the result is a funny yet intimidating villain. One scene of his I particularly enjoy is when he charms information out of an unattended class of grade-schoolers, even going so far as to let one play his apocalypse-sounding trumpet; It’s a darkly funny scene, but also shows that his character, while merciless and violent, is also dangerous for his ability to convince people to inadvertently help him achieve his sinister goals. 3/5

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