Thursday, September 26, 2013

Movie Review: Room 237 (2012)

You know, I love The Shining as much as every other horror movie fan or Stephen King fan or just plain old awesome movie fan. Stanley Kubrick was an oddball genius who created films that many people describe as "perfect." So taking into consideration Kubrick's careful filmmaking and attention to detail, is it possible that he had some much deeper meanings in mind when he created one of the most popular movies of all time?

Juli Kearns's Overlook map
The 2012 documentary Room 237 explores this issue, with interviews with several Shining fans giving their different interpretations and theories into what the movie represents. The interviewees are not seen on camera themselves nor are they given any kind of credentials other than the fact that they've obviously watched The Shining way, way, way, way too many times. Their theories are presented to the audience by way of clips from the film and other footage that sort of pertains to what they are talking about. 

This documentary was... hilarious. What, did you think I was going to say "fascinating" or something? No. If anything, I'll give the movie credit for being one of the best comedies I have seen in a while. Had me laughing the whole time. I've always known that there were some Shining fans out there who took the movie a tad bit too seriously and all, but this was my first time actually listening to them talk about this shit. Wait, I lied - I'd heard the stuff about the Native American genocide metaphor. It was funny to actually see them try to prove it to me. Anyway, though I admire the interviewees obvious dedication and perseverance, not a single one of their theories even slightly convinced me that The Shining is any more than it appears to be.

The conspiracy theorists actually do a good job of showing the "proof" of their ideas, even though they are all things that nobody else would have thought of... ever. They all say things like, "if you go frame by frame," or "you really have to look hard to find this one" when talking about their little Kubrick subliminal messages. I've seen the movie a pretty good number of times, okay? I never paid attention to what was in the background, granted. So here's a question for you - why would such a celebrated directed who obviously loved film put all the so-called "important" stuff in the background of his movie? Where did all this conspiracy shit even come from in the first place? Why can't the brilliance of The Shining just be that it is fucking awesome?

Seriously, the things they bring up about the movie are simply laughable. A baking soda can that is - gasp! - seen twice in the movie? A poster of a skier is really a depiction of a minotaur? The window in Ullman's office is improbable? Okay, yeah, I can kinda see where that one is coming from if I was anal retentive about architecture and spacial relations, but I'M NOT. Every time they mention some hidden message or whatever that looks to an outsider like a simple continuity error, the comment is always implied that Kubrick would never make such a mistake and that it has to mean something deeper. They saw what they wanted to see, and that's it. I'll give them that Kubrick was meticulous but not infallible. Continuity errors can happen to anyone. The world is an imperfect place.

My favorite theory was the one about how Kubrick used The Shining to subliminally tell the world that he staged the Apollo moon landing footage. Now that is just downright silly. It would be cool if it were true but you're really going off the deep end with that one, aren't you, sport? Okay, yes, I've always been a little curious about Danny's Apollo 11 sweater. Thought maybe it was just a 70s/80s thing that I wasn't around for and don't understand. There were lots of weird fashion trends going on then. Anyway, this is certainly the wildest theory to be represented in Room 237 and one that they thankfully did not spend that much time indulging.

In a weird way I liked the thing the one guy presented about watching the filming forwards and backwards at the same time, superimposed over one another. Yes, it does seem like you get some cool images from doing this, but seriously - stop and think about that for a second. Think about how much time and effort would have to be put into the filming and editing of that movie to make that happen like you think it's supposed to. It's damn near impossible. So that theory is definitely out for me.

Bah, if I go on thinking about this stuff anymore, I'll probably start to believe some of it myself. Room 237 is definitely something you all need to check out - whether you think you might agree with these fanatics or just laugh at them like I did. I really hate to be harsh, but it was sooooo difficult for me to even try to take any of this foolishness seriously. Maybe I'm just not as much of a deep thinker as these dudes are.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Movie Review: Leviathan (1989)

There's really no need for you to read my review of Leviathan. Nor is there any need for you to see the movie yourself, because, believe it or not, you've already seen this movie. Or at least, you've already seen every character and scenario that happens in Leviathan in some other movie. Leviathan isn't bad or anything, it's just really, really redundant and inferior to the movies it's trying to be.

In a facility at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, a group of underwater miners are on their last days of a mission to retrieve silver and other precious metals from the depths. They discover a sunken Russian ship, the "Leviathan," and unknowingly bring on board the reason the ship was sunk in the first place - the crew was experimenting with genetic mutation drugs that turn people into hideous sea creatures.

Yeah, so I'm going to say what probably everybody else says about this movie: I liked Leviathan... when it was called The Thing. Or Alien. It rips from both and doesn't seem like it's trying to hide it at all. With all the metal hallways and bulkhead doors and crawlspaces with pipes and shit, the feeling of claustrophobia and being trapped is straight up Alien. Just underwater this time. The way the creature is able to sneakily hide in air ducts (even when it keeps growing and growing) and pop out at the just the right time also made me think of Alien, so there are no feelings of suspense or surprise at any time while watching Leviathan. The Thing was suspenseful. Alien was scary. Leviathan was boring and predictable.

I was actually kind of excited to see what this creature was going to look like because we all know that science-gone-wrong genetic experiments can sometimes have awesome results for horror movies. Instead what I got was just a fishy rip-off of the alien from The Thing. After the two infected people die, the mutation keeps working in their bodies until it absorbs them both together and they look like a fleshy, bulbous mass. It's pretty gross. After it kills more people, it absorbs them too so that you can see their faces in the mass. Does that sound familiar??!! Argh, so not inventive.

The kicker is that even after watching the whole damn movie, I still don't think I've fully seen the creature. We are shown different bits and pieces of the creature as it attacks at different times but I'm not for sure how all pieces come together or what the whole thing looks like. It's got a fishy head, human-like arms, tentacles, but no legs, so how the hell does it move? The practical creature effects by Stan Winston are nice, and therefore I would have appreciated being able to see the whole thing in a wide shot or something. Actually as I was surfing around pictures to include here, I came across one that is supposedly a prop replica of the creature:

Huh. I would have never guessed. There's actually two creatures at one point in the movie I think but there's no differentiation between them so I don't know if they both looked like this or what. At the end, the creature pops up on the surface with the survivors after the facility implodes itself (because that's always fun to think about happening), and even then they only show it in quick cuts. 

They try to make all the characters real cute and endearing. They have nicknames like Sixpack and Willie, and call each other by their last names. I didn't care. They are all the standard characters that you'll find in a movie like this and nobody stands out as being more than two dimensional. Daniel Stern tries his hardest, but he's the annoying sex pervert who hits on the girls all the time so you can't really like him too much. There are some other really good names here - Hector Elizondo, Peter Weller, Ernie Hudson, Meg Foster's eyes - and they do what they can. By the third act, when the movie turns into the run-around-and-try-to-escape-the-facility-before-it-implodes movie, I think all of us, including the actors, were just looking for a way to end this thing with some dignity. And they almost do - until the last shot of the movie was Peter Weller punching Meg Foster's eyes in the face. It was funny, and you wanted him to do it because her character is an evil bitch that was going to leave them all to die down there, but seriously. That's how you end the movie?

Eh, you're not missing anything with Leviathan. The creature effects are great and I liked the practical nastiness of them, but everything else just didn't do it for me.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Movie Review: American Mary (2012)

Even after being less than impressed with Dead Hooker in a Trunk, I was still highly curious about the next venture by the Soska Twins, sistahs in horror. It was easy to see their true love for the genre with that movie, and also their willingness to have fun with it and themselves. American Mary proves that they can also be serious about horror, and that they have the talent to make it happen in their own way.

Mary Mason is a young medical student who is strapped for cash when she's offered a lot of money to perform an unusual procedure for a woman. Becoming increasingly disillusioned with her career and life after a traumatic event, Mary throws herself into becoming an infamous underground surgeon for people who want extreme body modification procedures.

American Mary is a good ten steps above Dead Hooker in a Trunk in just about every respect. They got a fantastic actress to carry the entire film; the look of the film is beautiful with many stand-out (and sometimes shocking images); and heck, I can even see the costuming as becoming somewhat iconic. Love that black jacket that Mary wears. Anyways, I'm still a little stuck on what the title might mean, as I'm of the mind that filmmakers usually try to make their work mean something. Is it Mary's gruesome journey toward the good old "American dream" of making money and being successful? That's all I can really think of. You got thoughts, let me know.

Katharine Isabelle, who worked her way into the loving hearts of horror fans as Ginger in the werewolf film Ginger Snaps, absolutely kills it in American Mary. I'm not afraid to say that I found her sexy as hell in the role, and I think it was because she played a more subtle kind of sexy, not flaunting anything.  She wears heels even while performing surgery, and tight-ish clothes that flatter her body, but there's nothing at all slutty about her. She simply comes off as a confident woman who knows and likes herself, and there's nothing more appealing than that. Mary never loses that even after what she goes through and actually seems to use it to her advantage to make other people uncomfortable, rather than make herself more confident.

Isabelle makes the character of Mary an actually pretty fascinating one - from her turn as an intelligent woman with drive to a woman who has completely stopped caring about anything. She has a sense of humor, a sense of wickedness, but also vulnerability and emotion. At first disgusted by what she does and sees of her first two patients - Ruby and the guy that Billy tortured - after Mary is raped by one of her professors, she goes deeper into the macabre than she probably thought possible. She does what she does for the money, helping other people express themselves, but she's not doing anything to help herself. Mary rejects the obvious consolations of Billy and Detective Dolor, even though she seems to have a strange sense of loyalty or something to Billy. She's sure a quirky one, that Mary.

The film was surprisingly not as hardcore or bloody as I was expecting it to be, and it wasn't even all that disturbing. Okay, that one shot of what Mary did to Dr. Grant definitely got a little yelp of shock out of me but everything else was presented in a much more emotional way, rather than a shock you way. I liked that. The rape scene is even dealt with in such a way - it's in-your-face and it's emotionally heartbreaking as you can almost watch Mary's humanity and spirit leaving her. The whole movie is strange way to tell the story, for sure, but the Soskas manage to make it work for their purposes and their personalities and I have to give them props for that.

Though I was a little disappointed at the unceremonious end of our anti-hero and in relation the abrupt end to the movie, I still have a good feeling about this movie. It is a no doubt intriguing sophomore effort from these two filmmakers who probably have a few more gems up their sleeves before they are done with us horror fans.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Movie Review: Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

Oh my goodness, if I never hear another banjo-picking, Southern hillbilly song again it'll be too soon. Gah, Hersch, that was painful. Thankfully the rest of Two Thousand Maniacs! was not. It is one of Lewis's earlier movies and the second in the so-called "Blood Trilogy" (bookended by Blood Feast and Color Me Blood Red - the next two movies on my watchlist). I don't know if it is my favorite yet, but I can definitely say that it is the most well-made and entertaining of what I've seen so far. So let's talk about it, shall we?

Two groups of travelers find themselves in the little town of Pleasant Valley, where they seem to be "special guests" for the town's centennial celebration. But the people of Pleasant Valley have some very gruesome events in store for their guests, as revenge for wrongs committed against their town during the Civil War.

One thing I'm really enjoying about Lewis's movies are the stories. With the exception maybe of The Gruesome Twosome, his films don't seem to be of the standard fare that would come in later decades - there's always something just a bit... off about them, or there's some kind of twist that is so weird but at the same time still works. I loved the concept behind The Wizard of Gore, and now Two Thousand Maniacs with its whole all-the-town-is-crazy-and-kills-these-people-in-awesome-ways things is really making love the man. The ending of this film could be seen as complete malarky to others but, dangit, I liked it. It gives the movie a sense of mystery that it might not really deserve and it sure makes a hell of a lot more interesting than it could have turned out to be.

Our victims are two different groups of young lovelies traveling the countryside in hot convertibles going... wherever the heck they're going. Two couples in one car and a woman and the man she picked up hitchhiking are in the other car - and six just happens to be the magic number that Pleasant Valley needs to carry out their evil deeds. You see, back during the war a bunch of soldiers rolled through the town and pretty much killed everybody just 'cause they could. So now one hundred years later the town is out for vengeance against whatever Yankees they can get. Our Yanks don't know any of this at first, of course, and prove to be excellent fodder for the townspeople because they are absolutely ridiculous to believe that they would be special guests for a random town's centennial. And they just completely put their plans on hold because they get put in a crappy hotel by some of the most annoying and creepy people ever? Pfft, they deserved what they got, I'm not sorry to say.

And what do they get? Well, those are the fun scenes! The people have come up with some impressive ways to kill their guests, obviously modeled after what was done to them a hundred years ago. First to go is the dumb blonde who goes off with one hillbilly only to have him cut off her thumb, and then later her arm which is then put on a spit during the festive "barbecue." The amputation is nicely done with the effects - a lot better than some of the stuff Lewis would do later. Next up is the little annoying drunk boy who would have gotten the coolest looking death of all if they had actually showed it to us. He gets his limbs torn from his body by four horses running in different directions but they cut from the good stuff - probably because they couldn't do it - so all we see is one severed leg. My favorite death comes next, when one of the other guys is put into a barrel with nails stuck into it all over and rolled down a hill. Not so sure that that would kill him so quickly but I was willing to overlook that because of the inventiveness. Lastly is the crushing by a huge boulder, made even more fun by the dunk tank-like way they rigged it up. A woman is laying on a platform underneath the boulder while hillbillies throw balls at the target that will make it fall on her. Of course it does, and spectacularly crushes her.

What the movie lacks in the blood and splatter department sometimes, it makes up for with all-around hilarity. The rednecks act just as nauseatingly cliche as you would expect them too, but the actors are so damn enthusiastic with all their roles that you can't help but love them. They are way more interesting than any of the travelers, even the two main ones, Terry and Tom, who are only a little bit smarter than their counterparts. Heck, even the kids get a chance to shine, and little Billy certainly takes advantage of it. Such a doll. Anyway, I couldn't stop laughing through most of this thing, whether it was at the acting or the dialogue or just the craziness that was going on.

Three Lewis movies down, and so far they're all winners in their own way. Can't help but be stoked about what's in store for me next (and hopefully I'll get them reviewed much sooner than I have been!) as I continue my strange and exciting journey through the works of Herschell Gordon Lewis. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Project Terrible: The War of the Robots (1978)

Well, I was hoping that my other Project Terrible buddies would just sort of forget that I still had to watch this movie for Project Terrible, but Alec sure is a persistent fellow. I had problems getting it to load all the way on YouTube so that was my initial excuse for not reviewing the movie yet. Then I made the mistake of getting my internet fixed (just took a new modem - imagine that!) so my sense of duty and honest nature made me venture into the strange, Italian sci-fi world of War of the Robots, a truly gawd awful movie if ever there was one. Thank you, Maynard. You sure know how to pick 'em.

The plot. There's an old professor and his hottie assistant who are working on creating life out of nothing. No more explanation is given on how exactly that can be accomplished or what the hell he's actually doing. Anyway, these two get kidnapped by some robot aliens and taken back to their planet, so's they can use his expertise to help their race. Captain John Boyd of the ship Trissi, who is banging the hottie assistant, and his crew are sent to go after them and get help from some other aliens in order to do that. Or something.

War of the Robots has forced me resort to a meme to accurately describe my reaction to it. I think this one will do:

Indeed, Will Smith. I'm pretty sure that was the face I was making during the whole movie. I mean, I'll give the flick some props for being a bit more involved than I expected it to be, but then again, that fact just made the whole thing about 10 times harder for me to follow, mostly because I didn't want to. The movie is an hour and forty minutes long and it's about... an hour and forty minutes too long. I tried not to space out too much, but it was damn near impossible, especially during the space battle at the end that went on for about four hours. I actually clapped for myself when the credits finally came on screen.

Despite all that, there were many things to enjoy about War of the Robots thanks to some wonderfully bad dubbing, bad costuming, bad set design, and oh yes, bad acting. I have to mention one of my new favorite movie lines, which is when Captain John is first meeting the other alien race - the bald eyeless guys - and the alien asks if John can understand him. John's response? He points to some retarded gizmo on his wrist and says something like, "Yes I can understand you... thanks to this electronic translator." Bhaha! Really?!

The rest of acting is incredibly stilted and emotionless from pretty much all involved. I don't think I can completely blame it on the dubbing because, hell, I wouldn't have put that much effort into any of these roles either. I didn't even listen to half the dialogue at the beginning because it was all ridiculous spaceship jargon that didn't even try to make any sense. The actors were obviously just saying the words without having the slightest idea what the hell they were really saying.

Bad costuming... Okay, it's understandable for the time the movie was filmed and therefore it's hilariously bad. They all wear similar skintight outfits, just that some of them are different colors and some of the women's outfits are a bit more low cut. The robot aliens from Anthor (or whatever) are all freaking clones and have wonderful Village of the Damned hairdos - as do some of the humans on the Trissi, which is slightly confusing. Their "anti-radiation suits" when they arrive on the other planet are also hilarious because it is just more shiny, skintight plastic leotards that can't possible protect them against radiation, for one because they don't wear gloves or helmets with them. Lois's hairdo when she becomes the empress of the aliens (yeah, that happens somewhere in there) is quite impressive, I must say.

The set design and the action scenes also suck a lot. My favorite thing was how all their little laser guns didn't actually shoot anything - they just had a light at the end of the barrel to make it look like something was happening. Then when somebody actually got shot, apparently all the actors went to the Elementary School Playground School of Dying which consists of your upper body going all stiff all of the sudden and then just sort of crumpling to your knees. Every single alien died this way and it was way annoying. The space battles had only the basics of effects but it surprisingly didn't bother me all that much because it could have been much worse. Though light sabers come into play later on, it doesn't really help any of these scenes, despite the fact that they actually get to cut the aliens in half and cut off their arms.

For a while there, I thought I was dead and was actually experiencing what hell was like. Then War of the Robots ended and I was gladly brought back to real life. True sci-fi buffs might actually get something from this movie just for nostalgia or history but for everyone else, it is one that you can go your entire life without seeing and not miss a thing. No, truly. It's not a good movie. And you never need to see it, believe me.