Tag Archives: 3 stars

The Elevation of THE DARK TOWER (2017) by Jonny Numb

Idris Elba Matthew McConaughey[95 minutes. PG-13. Director: Nikolaj Arcel]

Adaptation is a funny thing.

Regardless of what route you take, you will take heat from fans of the source material.

Someone – online or elsewhere – will accuse you of “ruining the book(s) forever” (even though that’s total bullshit).

One example in particular that galled me – Christ, 17 years ago – occurred on a Yahoo! Club for author (and professional crank) Bret Easton Ellis. The forum was sparsely-populated, yet the conversation was always active. The long-gestating film version of American Psycho had finally seen release, and the consensus among the Club members was divided. I thought it was an excellent adaptation, but one of the other members took a different track, arguing that the excised extremes of sex and violence – which comprised the novel’s crude backbone – rendered it an unfaithful telling.

Making a 95-minute version of The Dark Tower is as counterintuitive as cracking a fortune cookie with a sledgehammer. It has no reason to work. King devoted seven novels of varying girth to this epic tale, and to capture its essence in such an abbreviated amount of time is madness.

Yet…if you’re looking for that essence, it works. Somehow.

“Good enough for Government work,” as the saying goes.

People who dig on the Harry Potter novels or Lord of the Rings are often vehemently unflagging in their enthusiasm: certain diehard fans will absolve a sacred series of any transgression, while some will raise issues that nonetheless don’t detract from the enjoyment of said series. In most cases, people who begin a book series finish it, and come to view the individual volumes as a cohesive whole, to the point where it’s just plain Harry Potter, not Harry Potter and Whatever Subtitle.

I’m in a unique position with The Dark Tower series because I’m not particularly fond of all its parts. The self-indulgence and running-on-fumes storytelling evident in Song of Susannah (book 6) and The Dark Tower (book 7) turned me off, and transformed something that had begun with great promise (not to mention storytelling economy – The Gunslinger (book 1) came in at well under 300 pages) into a disappointment by its end. With a devoted fanbase that would finish the series regardless, King’s kitchen-sink, “fuck it” mentality left a bitter aftertaste.

Based on this, I was willing to give Nikolaj Arcel’s film adaptation the benefit of the doubt, and embrace the streamlined approach to the tale.

This could be a reflection of my own ongoing fatigue with Hollywood’s current daze of “blockbuster brain,” epitomized by this year’s shiny – yet awfully empty – Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. (And how long will Avengers: Infinity War be? Six hours with three bathroom-break intermissions? But I digress.) With studios operating under the notions of dwindling box-office receipts and dried-up physical-media sales, the last option, outside of 3D and IMAX, is, well, making movies longer.

Because more minutes equals more entertainment, amirite?

Yes, The Dark Tower does signify a mass condensing of King’s prose. Taking bits and pieces from up to the fifth book (The Wolves of the Calla – my personal favorite), it simplifies the plot, doesn’t take enough time to establish the quirks and rules of its interdimensional logic, and relegates some characters (such as Jackie Earle Haley’s Sayre) to cameo status.

But I didn’t mind too much.

The tale of Roland Deschain – aka Roland of Gilead, the last in a long line of Gunslingers – and his quest to defend the fabled Dark Tower (which keeps life across all dimensions in balance) from ageless sorcerer Walter (Matthew McConaughey), is engaging, old-fashioned fantasy-adventure stuff, told with a keen attention to aural and visual detail. The story begins, however, with Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a boy “blessed” with psychic visions of the titular Tower. When he discovers an interdimensional portal in a crumbling New York City mansion, he enters another world, where he quickly meets Roland and becomes an unlikely sidekick on his quest to defeat Walter, whose ultimate goal is to bring the Tower down, thus raining chaos on humanity.

The performers convey an eclecticism that’s fitting to King’s text: as Roland, Idris Elba possesses the imposing physical frame and a Spaghetti-Western stoicism, but is also tender and vulnerable – it’s a brilliant bit of casting. McConaughey is also good, resisting the urge to mug or fall back on his looks; Walter plays to his smugness in a perfectly apt way – with an incantation or a wave of a hand, he murders people without hesitation, sometimes cracking an impish one-liner after. There’s a spectral quality to Walter that adds an element of unpredictability to the proceedings, and Arcel makes fine use of simple camera pans to spring surprising reveals. As Jake, Taylor is a standout presence – never veering into precocious or obnoxious territory, he’s wise and astute and a more-than-worthy sidekick to the grizzled Roland.

In addition to Earle Haley lurking in the margins, I also appreciated the inclusion of genre faces Abbey Lee (The Neon Demon) and Fran Kranz (The Cabin in the Woods) as the grunts working behind the scenes at Walter’s lair.

Arcel handles the action with efficiency, and even the quieter character moments never feel sentimental or indulgent. Ditto his reverent winks to characters, monsters, and places from throughout King’s oeuvre. As adaptations go, Tower doesn’t lean on exposition like, say, Tim Burton’s dreary adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. We are given enough detail to keep the plot cohesive, enough character development to keep us invested, and enough action to keep us anticipating what will happen next.

The Dark Tower is not a masterpiece; it’s just enough.

3 out of 5 stars

(Photo of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey via Desktop Wallpapers.)

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb

(Aka Jonathan Weidler), he only plays favorites when it comes to review sites like Crash Palace Productions and loudgreenbird.com. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter and Letterboxd.

Crash Analysis: Attack on Titan Part I and II (Japan, 2015)

 

maxresdefaultIn the wake of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, if you love science fantasy, but want something a bit more horror ridden, check out Shinji Higuchi’s live action two-parter Attack on Titan.

The two films are based on the much loved anime series, which is based upon writer/illustrator Hajime Isayama’s renowned manga. The story revolves around the emotional and enraged Eren (Haruma Miura), his half-sister, Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara), and their friend Armin (Kanata Hongo). The three live with the rest of humanity in giant walled cities to protect them from attacks from gigantic Titans that feed on human flesh. The Titans are naked, have no reproductive organs, and are oddly stoic as they attempt to invade and consume. No one knows where they came from, what they really want, or how to get rid of them.

Sound pretty wild? It is. But for fans of the anime series, the problem with the films exists in the fact that story and characters are compressed, and some storylines have changed. In addition, thematic value is compromised. Fans of the much more explicit and gory manga are disappointed that the anime series held back, although they may appreciate the films more. What many fans fail to understand is that manga is manga, an animated series is an animated series, and a film is a film. They are three distinct artistic entities. After all, there is no way to encapsulate the animated series into roughly four hours of film, which means characters and storylines have to be altered, combined, or abandoned. The best a fan can do is take each entity as something whole and unique, and try not to draw comparisons. Screenwriters Yusuke Watanbe and Tomohiro Machiyama worked hard to bring fans and newcomers alike a solid storytelling experience (especially in Part One), and one can only imagine the difficult task they had trying to compress such a mountain of material.

“Attack on Titan” is the first series I ever binge watched. The story not only captured my imagination, but the series could have been called “Pure Rage” thanks to Eren’s drive to destroy the Titans. This intensity did spill over into both films, but to a lesser degree, which did not detract from the overall storyline.

Attack on Titan Part I is certainly the better of the pair. In this portion of the tale, we are not only exposed to the origin of renewed attacks against the city, but we soon learn that the wealthiest reside in the innermost walled territory, which means that the poor immediately inside the walls are fodder for the Titans and serve as a buffer appetizer. Although the series explores the layers of politics and military units in greater detail, new viewers should easily understand what’s happening.

The Titans are formidable and frightening – and relentless. They’re so hungry for human flesh, which must be the equivalent to us eating shrimp, that they consume souls fully clothed. Special Effects Director Katsuro Onoue certainly did an excellent job in bringing the terror on a grand scale. The special effects, combined with Shoji Ehara’s strong cinematography, helped capture a fantastical walled world that shone as something both intimate as well as terrifying.

The second part is more of an elongated action sequence as the army goes outside the walls to confront the Titans head on. Moreover, the movie becomes surreal at points as if David Lynch walked on as a consultant. Either way, we learn of the Titans’ origin, and learn of the fate of our heroes and the future of the walled cities. Once again, however, themes prevalent within the series have been sacrificed, which is a disappointment.

Both films make for a decent double feature in your own home. If you have not seen the animated series, or indulged in the manga and novels, you will most likely engage in them once Shinji Higuchi’s films capture your imagination. In that regard, the films serve as a great launch pad for the wild world Hajime Isayama created for us.

Attack on Titan Part I: 3 out of 5 stars

Attack on Titan Part II: 2.5 out of 5 stars

(Photo from YouTube.)

Crash Analysis: FUNNY GAMES (USA/France/UK/Austria/Germany/Italy, 2007)

Not Close Enough

Haneke’s shot-by-shot remake of his 1997 Austrian film establishes the Farber family as funnygames1a trio of well-off Americans residing in a gated vacation house. They go about their normal business when a snotty, Eddie Haskell-esque kid (Michael Pitt) comes in and asks for eggs. Afterwards, the story tailspins into a hellish, tension-filled story of emotional and physical sadism where the duo works hard to take down the trinity of Father, Son, and mommy as our Holy Ghost.

*** BIG TIME SPOILER ALERT ***

The always stunning and more than capable Naomi Watts plays Ann Farber, with Tim Roth as her impotent husband, George, and Devon Gearheart delivers a stellar performance as their young son. Michael Pitt (of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH fame) with his still boyish looks and Brady Corbet – his sidekick in mayhem, malice and murder – portray ever-smiling serial killers.

On occasion Paul addresses the audience directly, breaking the fourth wall, which is extremely distracting, and makes what’s happening on screen less genuine because it interrupts the otherwise steady tension. Haneke may have done this simply to taunt the audience, to let us know without a doubt that we were incapable of reaching through the screen to help the family. However, by rewinding a crucial scene, Haneke deprives the family and audience of any victory over the situation and its villains. In effect, Haneke is telling us we simply must suffer the overall experience. Worst still, Paul tells the audience that he and his cohort must leave the family for a while to create dramatic tension so the movie can be given time to reach “feature length,” which proved to be extremely irritating. Near the end, Peter and Paul discuss the gray line between fiction and reality, which means Haneke poses the question: “Does life imitate art or does art imitate life?” Since studies show that watching violent films, cartoons, and video games, as well as listening to violent music, does not encourage violence, Haneke’s already answered his own pseudo-philosophical question. Either way, Peter and Paul are the disciples that bring us the message of violence, just as Peter and Paul brought Christianity to Rome.

Many of the scenes were long, but they added to the suspense and were far from boring. In some scenes that appear to be too dark, such as when George Junior is running and hiding in a neighbor’s home, we find ourselves looking through the abyss to see if Paul is catching up to him. George Junior could not see him and neither could the audience, until Haneke deemed it necessary, making this an excellent cinematic touch. There was only one lame setup (the knife falling into the boat) that was later used to taunt the audience with another avenue of false hope near story’s end.

With Haneke’s commentary on fiction/reality and violence in film/life, he also removes “the man of the house” or “captain” from the equation. After Peter breaks George’s leg with a golf club, Father Farber is left impotent and cannot save his son or his wife. When his wife prepares to leave the home in search of help after their son is killed, he says, “Please forgive me.” Afterwards, he is left with the chore of holding a hair dryer to a wet cell phone. Even here, he fails and can not get a call out to the police. As George was emasculated, so are the men in the audience, for we are also impotent and cannot intervene to save anyone. In effect, Haneke may be asking all males: As men, whom can we really save? I am not sure if he is asking us as men to stand up to violence in our lives, or if he wants men to relinquish old world ideas of masculinity, or if he’s simply taunting for taunting’s sake. From “Films as Catharsis,” Haneke does state that his movies “are intended … for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus.” This means there may be no right answers except in the minds of those taking part in the discussion.

A couple of things are puzzling, however. Initially, the family seems to have little reaction to the young invaders. Fight or flight is virtually absent and they stand around in awe of the finely dressed young men. This may be because they are not used to violence and never expected anything to happen to them in their own home in such a well-established and wealthy lake community. They meet “the uncanny” and are left with an inactive, wide-eyed response, like deer in, well, you know. When leaving the house, Ann does not take a knife to defend herself, and she runs out onto the road where she is ultimately recaptured. Knowing the killers left in their SUV, which was the only vehicle, why did she not try the boat first or at least stay off the main road and run with the tree line?

Regarding the uncanny, Haneke has the camera following the Farbers around the house, focusing attention on what they own, from golf clubs to shoes, and gives us an inside look at their refrigerator. Though nothing horrific happens in this sequence, we are left with an unsettling feeling that what is normal and mundane will enter the realm of Freud’s uncanny. The inciting incident has to do with the dropping of eggs and the verbal altercation and attitudes that follow. Then, a golf club becomes a weapon to kill a dog and break a man’s leg. A small kitchen knife is used to torture. Moreover, the phone – the lifeline – is soaked, low on energy, and cannot be used to save the family. The two killers appear to be fine men, all in “good guy” white, ready for a tennis match; they smile often and are well spoken. Other than the shotgun, simple things we normally find innocuous are turned against the family – from inside their own home no less.

The actors, cinematographer Darius Khondji (for providing some off-kilter camera angles, which made it appear as if we were voyeurs), and unyielding tension made the grade. I was not impressed, however, with Paul playing to the audience, regardless of Haneke’s intentions, because this extracted us from that uncanny world he had fought so hard to create.

Most importantly, Haneke failed to deliver something new. But Haneke did deliver in creating elements of fear and horror for any person caught up in the illusion that home is a sanctuary.

3 out of 5 stars

(Photo from MoviePhone.)

Crash Analysis Support Team: ANTIVIRAL (Canada, 2012) – Guest Post from Jonny Numb

[108 minutes. Unrated. Director: Brandon Cronenberg]

ANTIVIRAL is many things. Above all, it’s not a film lacking in ideas.62e0973455fd26eb03e91d5741a4a3bb_500x735

On one hand, it’s a highly ironic (and apt) metaphor for our global obsession with celebrity culture: if injecting diseases carried by soon-to-be-deceased stars brings fans closer to their icons, the question is not “why” but “why not?”

Continuing this superficial attitude: for all the faux celebs mentioned throughout the film, we never know why any one is famous. In a very literal example of “conspicuous consumption,” grayish meat products derived from celebrity cells are consumed in an act of (assumed) synthesis.

Heck, even ANTIVIRAL’s notion of encrypting diseases to make them accessible only to the purchaser is like a tongue-in-cheek riff on the anti-piracy warning that prefaces every DVD nowadays.

Furthermore, the film is about subverting the conventions of beauty and masculinity that cinema has flaunted since the days before Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.

Take Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones – THE LAST EXORCISM), for instance: a homely, pale, and pony-tailed salesman for celebrity viruses, working within the bright-white walls of the Lucas Clinic, he is the antithesis of a desirable protagonist. On a moral level, this persuasive yet sleazy character is not above using himself as a vessel to smuggle viruses for distribution on the black market. When he infects himself with whatever’s befallen blonde beauty Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon – COSMOPOLIS), he finds himself entangled in a conspiracy between rival disease hucksters while trying to stay alive. The way Syd’s physical appearance gels with his moral duplicity and his eventual descent into a wheezing, blood-spitting aberration of humanity is handled with proper queasiness – he transmutes into his own distinctive metaphor.

Writer-director Brandon Cronenberg (son of David) shows great interest in satirizing common perceptions of “cool” and “sexy.” Syd is frequently seen taking his temperature with an electronic thermometer – a replacement for the cigarette as cinema’s long-loved symbol of rugged bad-assery; when a walking-cane is used, it may as well be standing in for a motorcycle; and when a hand smeared in disease-infested blood is raised to a healthy face, it’s the equivalent of a young rebel aiming a gun at a small-town store clerk.

Hell, Jones even speaks in a gravelly, Brandoesque baritone to drive the point home. It’s a physically expressive performance that signals the promise of an up-and-coming character actor.

That being said, ANTIVIRAL is sometimes too brainy – and too preoccupied with establishing its “difference” from typical genre fare – for its own good. Villainous characters hash out their conflicts with five-dollar words instead of the venereal aberrations associated with the elder Cronenberg’s films (alas, no cancer-guns to be found here). In other words: a little less talk and a little more creative grotesquery would have gone a long way. Additionally, the pacing is awkward – after a strong opening, things drag for 30 minutes before building up again (less of the ironic, water-cooler banter between Lucas Clinic employees and fewer sinister subplots would have helped tighten things up).

While ANTIVIRAL won’t make anyone forget the more renowned Cronenberg, it’s still exciting to witness the cinematic birth of an intriguing new talent. Here’s hoping this new flesh only strengthens with time.

3 out of 5 stars

 

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) is co-host of THE LAST KNOCK podcast.

Find his movie reviews at: http://numbviews.livejournal.com

Twitter: @JonnyNumb

 

(Photo from Flicks.co of New Zealand)

Crash Analysis: THE CONJURING (2013)

More like THE OVER-RATED

A ghost story you’ve seen before…

Wonderful directing, acting, editing, cinematography, special effects, and at least three Conjuringsolid scares. Sounds like a perfect movie, right? But the script came from the pens of twin brothers Chad and Carey Hayes, the duo who brought us 2007’s pathetic THE REAPING, and the laughable idiocy of HOUSE OF WAX (2005), among others. This time around, finally for horror fans, they delivered a tight well plotted tale. The only problem: We’ve seen this all before.

Though nothing was conjured in THE CONJURING, we follow the Perron family as they purchase a new home (never saw that in a ghost story before). And in short order, weird things happen to all seven of them, including the usual clichés: bumps in the night, banging, shadows, hauntings, dead animals, and possession (ala Wan’s other film, the over-rated INSIDIOUS, thanks to a hokey third act). Yes, we’ve seen all of this many times before – too many times in fact. Then again, with the multitude of ghost stories out there, maybe it’s hard to be original.

For highly spirited fair with new takes on maybe the world’s oldest genre, one must look to films that deliver a unique premise, such as THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) and its torment of a young boy by the spirit world who seeks help from a child therapist, or THE ORPHANAGE (Spain, 2007), where a mother searches for her lost son. (Other examples will arise from the grave in another post.) But the Haye’s brothers break no new ground for the genre – NONE. Then again, they supposedly captured the true tale of the actual Perron family, which took place over a ten year period (1971-1980). In an article from the Christian Post Reporter, Lorraine Warren states that the filmmakers did “a pretty good job” with the Perron family possession/haunting. However, in the past, the Warren’s have come under scrutiny, especially for their most famous case (as hinted in THE CONJURING), the Amityville horror. Many say the hauntings on Long Island never took place, and owners of the home since the 70s have stated that they never experienced one supernatural thing. In USA Today, Andrea Perron, the oldest of the five girls, “says the film is ‘a beautiful tapestry’ with ‘many elements of truth to it, and some moments of fiction.’” Why the Haye’s twins stuck to the same-old-same-old with their fictional bits, should make one wonder. (Maybe they should put down Blake Snyder’s overly abused Save the Cat, and do something less Hollywood formulaic.)

Regardless of the weaknesses of the writing team, James Wan proves he’s no George Lucas, and can definitely direct children (six of them in this case). But the strength of the tale rests in the hands of the story’s key performers: the always fabulous Vera Farmiga, who plays Lorraine Warren, rock solid Patrick Wilson as her husband, Ed, and Lili Taylor who steals the show with her emotionally driven performance as Carolyn Perron. All the actors in the film are fully engaged and keep our blood pumping at every turn.

The special effects, whether practical or CGI based, work well with the perfect lighting and color, and sometimes intriguing camera angles thanks to cinematographer John R. Leonetti (INSIDIOUS, PIRANHA, DEAD SILENCE, and others), which only enhance the off-kilter temperament of the goings-on. One of my favorite scenes involves Judy Warren (Sterling Jerins), traipsing through the Warren home in the wee hours – beautiful work. Horror music maestro, Joseph Bishara (INSIDIOUS, DARK SKIES, NIGHT OF THE DEMON, and more) delivers once again, though he and Wan make certain the music does not interfere with the spooky bits, which would have made this a truly run of the mill cheap thrill ride.

As for “scares,” the movie has three memorable ones, and two come at the equivalent of a head fake, adding to the impact. Again, however, due to the trite nature of the story, this prevents THE CONJURING from being a true ghost story standout. Since most horror movies are pure garbage, thanks to shallow-minded filmmaking, I can understand why so many fans of the genre might say this is an amazing venture when it’s only just “very good.”

If the story had offered something new and interesting, a higher rating would be warranted, but when one watches the third act, and can clearly see what’s coming, that deflates the balloon of suspense regardless of the emotional torrent conjured up by the actors. THE CONJURING certainly is no waste of money, but to place it on a pedestal is a rush to judgment simply because horror fans want something better. Sadly, THE CONJURING isn’t it.

3 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! (1962)

Fifty years later, I can’t foresee a different outcome

How bad does a good man have to become to save his family?

Okay you freaky dreamers. Forget the Zombipocalypse. That shit ain’t happenin’. Total     panic-in-year-zero-movie-poster-1962-Sodahead-1020541353  nuclear devastation? Not likely, but it could get ugly. Asteroid hit, or maybe the caldera in Yellowstone will blow? Possibly. If anything, now that our itty-bitty planet has over seven billion humans, Mother Nature’s most likely to cull the herd but unleashing a deadly virus. However, in 1962, the “Big Red Scare” still lingered, and fear kept us and them, and everyone else, in line. But what if the Eagle and the Bear had gotten into a minimal nuclear exchange? This is the item in question in a Jay Simms and John Morton screenplay, based on Simms story, and directed by the star himself, Ray Milland.

But the nuclear exchange only serves as the catalyst for Harry Baldwin (Milland) and his family (including son, Rick played by teen heartthrob Frankie Avalon), as they try to survive in a country when panic reigns supreme, and where there’s no safe haven.

After leaving Los Angeles, Harry’s in the midst of taking his family on a vacation when the city’s nuked. Once Harry and company learn that an attack ravaged several cities, the stoic, mild-mannered father turns into a human machine driven by logic. For Harry it’s simple: We’re under attack, our home’s gone, and we have to survive. His matter-of-fact nature helps his family navigate a new world where being neighborly can leave one open to getting killed – even if his wife, Ann (Jean Hagen) still clings like a neophyte to goodness and positive human behavior. Harry takes his family on an adventure to fight to see another day – at all costs.

As the story progresses, as stakes rise, Harry, our man of action, must make quick and often harsh decisions.

***** SPOILER ALERT *****

In one scene, Harry and Rick square off against two unarmed cretins. The problem is they’ll undoubtedly go after Harry’s family. What to do? As I watched the scene unfold, I remember saying, “Shoot them.” After all, the movie became a game of Scruples, or a quick presentation of choices. Harry always seemed to have at least two options, and I wonder how many people did the same thing I was doing: Contemplating my own course of action. With the scumbags sitting in their chairs, Harry just looked at the twentysomethings and shot them down. Ice cold? Murder? Or practical reasoning and common sense planning in a continually disintegrating situation?

***** SPOILER FINISHED *****

PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! presents the story in a “What would you do?” way, and it’s hard to ignore. At first, I thought the movie would be laughable, if not silly, and it quickly became a suspenseful and thought provoking thriller – because it could happen today. That’s right. If Hollywood wants to remake this one, the story will hold up. The only thing that needs to change is the costumes and cars, and that’s it.

In the movie, the nation that launched the attack is never mentioned, though it had to be the Soviets, and its Eastern Bloc sacrificial colonies. Although China also had nuclear weapons at the time, they could have reached the west coast, but not much more. In any event, PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! not only makes us ponder about what we’d do in such a shituation – but asks if we’re prepared for it.

In 1977, New York City had a major blackout. Granted, good people stood tall and helped others, but the looting was outrageous. We’ve heard of rapes in the Superdome when families did their best to hide out from Hurricane Katrina, among other horrific tragedies. After the Rodney King police brutality decision, Los Angeles went up in flames. However, after two separate tsunamis struck parts of Southeast Asia, and Japan a couple of years later, I don’t recall hearing or seeing anything about violence against others. After 9/11, the crime rate dropped in Manhattan.

What the hell will happen if we’re nuked, or if that caldera blows under Yellowstone, or if an asteroid rocks our world for real? I have a feeling, if it comes to what people deem as an “Earth ending event,” then it’s going to get real ugly – especially if government services and emergency responses are slow or unavailable (as with the blackout or the Katrina debacle. As for the LA Riots, that was a powder keg ready to erupt – and it did).

Regardless, as individuals, if the bottom fails out, and it comes down to survival, we’ll have to react quickly to protect life and property, as well as the lives of loved ones. No doubt, the result won’t be pretty, and I hope we’ll never have to find out.

In PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! the end leaves us wondering what will come next, and if things can ever be the same. As for the characters, the family can become closer and more loving than ever, or PTSD, guilt, and other psychological milieu could rip them apart. We don’t know. But again, Simms and Milland didn’t want us to leave the theatre without thinking about that one as well. And no matter how much discussion, it’s hard to say a damn thing without being tested under such calamity.

In this vein, there are many other “end of world” movies exploring similar themes, and though one can choose from virtually any of the nearly 700 zombie movies, the best may be LAST NIGHT (Canada, 1998) from Don McKellar. It’s not a horror, but David Cronenberg’s in the film.

Sleep with one eye open…

3 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Sodahead.)

Crash Analysis: KICHIKU DAI ENKAI (Japan, 1997)

Gored to death…

Demise of a political group 

Otherwise known as BANQUET OF THE BEASTS, the movie is based upon the Asama-Sanso Incident. During a ten day siege in 1972 at Karuizawa, members of the United Red Army (URA) turned against themselves, resulting in a blood bath. And in KICHIKU DAI ENKAI, the blood bath’s ultimately explored in great lengths.

Some may trash Kazuyoshi Kumakiri’s film as a slow moving student project, but that’s needlessly harsh. Yes, the movie is slow, but in a very arthouse sort of way, and what sometimes seems to be an homage to David Lynch. However, this does not mean the characters are any less compelling, even if the story does lack a bit.

As for the tale, a political group waits for its leader to return triumphantly from jail. In the meantime, his girlfriend, played by Sumiko Mikami in her only film role, keeps the home fires burning by fucking the guys in the crew and bullying them. Then she snaps, which leads to torture, blood, muck, rape, penal removal, and even more carnage.

The acting’s strong, the special makeup effects are quite impressive, and KICHIKU DAI ENKAI certainly ends up fittingly in the category of “disturbing cinema” – thanks to a few compelling scenes, especially one involving Mikami at the mercy of a fellow cohort and a ready to blow shotgun.

In a way, much like George Lucas’s THX 1138 (1971), KICHIKU DAI ENKAI attracted others upon Kumakiri’s graduation from film school, and he has gone on to helm eleven more feature projects to date. Granted, he’s not an overblown multi-millionaire out to destroy his original work, but this film brought the young director much recognition in his native country.

Before I had learned about the link to the aforementioned URA incident, I was enamored on a thematic level, and thought Kumakiri chose to comment on his generation and its lack of vision thanks to an overwhelming sense of apathy and disdain for the status quo. With the climax, it seemed to be a comment that the disintegration of intellectual youth would lead to a bloody end of Japan. Then again, even without the tie in to actual events, the themes hold up, as well as the director’s fear of Japan’s future.

KICHIKU DAI ENKAI is far from perfect, mostly due to pace and some issues regarding narrative structure, but the movie will not disappoint those who enjoy violence and gore – or want to see one of those films labeled as “forbidden fruit” by the masses.

Here’s one for the old college try.

3 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: RABIES (Israel, 2010)

Israel’s first horror – and not their last 

Different people all victims of circumstance and bad timing

Apparently, Israel’s first horror, RABIES (“Kalevet” is the Hebrew title) was such a success in its native land that more are on the way.

As for this venture, the writer/director team of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado certainly captured an element of suspense and tension, as well as idiosyncratic dialogue, sadly lost in many horrors that focus more on visuals (aka gore) instead of a good story. However, this does not mean the tale was flawless.

This low budget story is comprised of several different groups of characters that due to circumstance, become intertwined with each other, which proves not to be a good thing by any means.

An ensemble film, we follow the characters as they work their way in and out of trouble, and in and out of a forest. Not an easy task when entrapment, kidnapping, murder, sexual abuse, assault, maiming and more are on the menu. Why is it called RABIES? That is one of the movies many mysteries, however, I have seen references that state kalevet also means rage. Although that may fit the movie better, Keshales and Papushado may have had another idea. In the movie, most of the characters are non-violent yet turn to violence when, once again, circumstance dictates otherwise. The directorial team may have focused on RABIES because of the notion that violence begets violence. If one is bitten by a rabid animal and bites another, the virus spreads exponentially. This is the case here, but this is also where the duo trip themselves up.

For the bulk of the film, we are in an area with our core group of characters, but late in the third act, as the story and violence reaches its zenith, one character escapes this isolated area and makes it home, while another tries to hitch a ride with a family. It may have served the movie best to have all the characters remain in that “infected” region of forest. Granted, we can suppose the characters that freed themselves will spread the “disease” elsewhere, but this is never implied.

A couple of other problems involve the police (Lior Ashkenasi and Danny Geva). As we often see in movies of this ilk, one cop is a major handful and a half-a-frequency off, and the other is far too easygoing to prevent his partner from becoming batshit crazy. Those two characters were the most stock of the bunch with Mikey (Ran Danker) and Pini (Ofer Shecter), as the clean-cut college boys, coming in a close second.

As for the acting, it was first-rate and no one missed a beat. The standouts were Ashkenasi as off-the-rails Danny the cop, Geva as his hesitant partner, spunky and independent Ania Bukstein as Adi, Yael Grobglas as Shir and Menashe Noy as Menashe. This does not mean any of the other actors faltered, but the aforementioned had that extra-special something. Hopefully, we’ll see more of them in the future. Some in the American market may see that as a bit farfetched, but Israel has also given us the exhilarating Natalie Portman, Chaim Topol of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF fame (both stage and screen), and Daliah Lavi, known by most horror fans as Nevenka in cult favorite THE WHIP AND THE BODY (Italy/France, 1963).

Visual effects and make-up were solid for the most part, and Guy Raz’s photography was wonderful – and this was his first film. To further enhance the technical aspects of the movie, Keshales and Papushado took to editing as well and did a masterful job, though they have one too many fadeouts.

If you like grit and suspense with solid characters, a bit of gore and some sex appeal, this will certainly fit the bill.

It’s a shame the story didn’t remain self-contained, or that we didn’t witness the violence spilling over beyond the forest like the spread of rabies, but this movie is certainly worth a look.

3 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: ABSENTIA (2011)

The cold case that just gets colder 

Ever wonder why so many missing persons are never found?

Writer/director Mike Flanagan did his damnedest, but in the end, came up short.

The story revolves around Callie Russel (Katie Parker), who visits her sister, Tricia Reilly (Courtney Bell) after a five-year hiatus. What transpired during Callie’s absence is that her brother-in-law, Daniel Reilly (Morgan Parker Brown), has been missing for the last several years – and Tricia is getting ready to declare him dead. What follows is a dramatic story with very few scares and a narrative that doesn’t pay off. Yet, the acting is extremely strong with wonderful cinematography from Rustin Cerveney.

The key to this character driven tale is the acting. Callie, the drug addict looking for her footing, and the pregnant Tricia (Bell was truly seven months pregnant at the time and this was written into the script), suffering from guilt and longing are believable on a grand scale. Character wise, however, Detective Ryan Mallory (Dave Levine) is the standout. Sure, he looks like the type of cop out to bust heads, but Flanagan makes certain to avoid the stock stereotype. Instead, the good detective is the most complex character in the movie. At times, he’s love sick and confused, as for others, he’s angry yet procedural. But you can’t help feeling his predicament. Although the meditation loving and seemingly weak yet strong Tricia is compelling, Mallory’s character was far more multi-faceted and it’s a shame we didn’t experience enough of him – as well as his interchanges with his partner, Detective Lonergan (Justin Morgan). Both characters, and both actors, proved to be as strong a team as the sisters. However, James Flanagan (who played Jamie Lambert), in his only acting role to date, created a very compelling character for less than a handful of scenes.

So the director had it all: great actors, great characters and great lighting, but his own story lagged. This was a tortoise slow kind of movie, and although Flanagan went for subtlety, at times he took this to the extreme, he clobbered us ultra-hard during a couple of scenes in the third act that are weighed down with too much exposition. The movie did take an interesting turn, but Flanagan couldn’t maintain the shock and awe. And in one key moment, we’re left with one of the worst CGI effects I’ve ever seen. Granted, he had raised $70,000 with the help of Kickstarter investors to begin shooting, but he should have at least invested in a talented graphic artist for that compelling moment. You’ll know it when you see it, and when you use your remote to slowly advance through the element, you will know exactly what I mean.

If Flanagan had revised his script one more time, this should have worked. Instead, it’s a better than average also ran thanks to a plot that isn’t fully fleshed out. If he had only been invested in the themes of love and commitment he had instilled within the framework of the narrative, it might have paid off. Still the performances make it worth a rental.

3 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: THE LAST HORROR MOVIE (UK, 2003)

Didn’t take it far enough

A serial killer hijacks a horror movie to bring us the real deal…

AMERICAN PSYCHO + MAN BITES DOG = THE LAST HORROR MOVIE

That’s certainly not a bad thing by any means. The only problem for screenwriter James Handel and director Julian Richards is that they didn’t take the story far enough. And the proof may be in the many message boards about the movie, because you’ll often see this one-word phrase by naysayers: pointless.

Regardless, Max (Kevin Howarth) tapes his kills and brings them to us with his commentary. If anything, he wants to know why we watch, why we continue to look on as he maims and murders men and women for his own fix. And with Max’s musings and questions, LAST becomes quite quotable. But if many deem the movie “pointless”, what were Richards and Handel striving to bring the audience?

On one level, Max is simply calling out for answers. After all, he has a nephew he adores, and maintains both family and friend based relationships. Yet he kills others without remorse or concern. An opportunistic killer, Max delivers his musings about the horror of being predatory, before, during and after his murders. However, the philosophizing only goes so far. There are no answers for Max and for the audience, and we are only left to wonder and pontificate on why we subjected ourselves to ninety minutes of torture porn.

And this is certainly where the filmmakers missed their grand opportunity. Max’s murders are never really drawn out and he dispatches his victims rather quickly. If a page had been taken from Tarantino’s phenomenal use of suspense (at that time, RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), PULP FICTION (1994) and even his FOUR ROOMS (1995) segment), the audience would have had a hard time sitting idle. Instead, we’re never left with enough gut wrenching experiences to make us feel dirty. Then again, this does coincide with Max’s psyche. Since he doesn’t care, and kills at a fast pace, the audience, like Max, is left without any sense of attachment to the sufferers. We never get to know the victims, therefore, we can only be invested so much in their slaying. Intellectually, we know the murder of innocents is wrong, but emotionally, we are not attached to care on a deeper level. Once we realize this, maybe the movie will hold more weight. After all, shouldn’t we care more whether we know the victim or not? It’s as if we’re watching a news program and learn that a kid was killed in a drive-by. But since we’ve heard this countless times, and since we don’t know the victim, well, it’s sad, but…

Richards and Handel missed a grand opportunity because they could have gotten us emotionally involved if Max suddenly decided to take out his nephew or sister. And knowing this could have happened at any point in the story does give one pause, but since this scene never materialized, the audience is deprived of digging as deep as they should.

Yet, just because the story falls short, the zeal, vigor and intensity of actor Kevin Howarth as Max, is enough to keep us invested. Howarth owns the screen and delivers at every turn with rough and biting commentary, from a rugged, good looking man that could easily be Patrick Bateman’s brother.

Overall, the acting is quite solid and the movie is shot well. However, if we’re to gain something from this – something to rattle our brains and make us think about why we love horror, it just doesn’t work. And instead of being a horror that is truly disturbing and thought provoking, we’re left with something a bit better than average.

3 out of 5 stars