Monday, February 29, 2016

Forbidden Archaeology: The Hidden History Of The Human Race

A man talks in front of a HVAC thermostat in a hotel conference room. Occasionally, he clicks slides forward on a remote control, but the way the static camera is positioned, only a sliver of the projection is visible. He talks about the discovery of ancient human bones within various strata of earth for about 90 minutes. Sometimes he suggestive sells his book. Sometimes he takes a sip of water from a styrofoam cup. The camera moves left or right a few inches, carefully avoiding the important information projected on the wall. Then he casually discredits at least 5 scientifically accepted forms of archaeological dating.

That's pretty much it.

What is this guy taking about? I'm not sure.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mr. Jones

A couple moves to a cabin in the woods to work on a documentary film, but instead encounter nightmarish events in this psychological thriller.

Although I've had this film in my Netflix queue for quite a while, I wasn't particularly moved to watch it until several people in a horror film Facebook group complained about it. After all the negative comments, I was completed to watch it.

I also was going to pan the film. Starting with the cliches of no cellphone coverage, POV "found footage" camera work, and endless bickering and navel gazing, I didn't have high hopes. I somehow ending up liking it.

I know, I'm equally as surprised as you are.

The appearance of a hooded figure in several early scenes lurking just in the periphery caught my attention. After this figure steals the backpack of the male character, forcing him to follow the thief back to his decrepit house decorated with eerie scarecrow-like totems, the male character brings back the reluctant female character to break-and-enter into the foreboding structure. Discovering more totems in the basement, the characters realize the house is occupied by a mysterious outsider folk artist known as Mr. Jones, who has been sending these ominous totems to people around the world for decades. Compelled to investigate further, their lives become enveloped in a surreal, never-ending dreamtime that circles back on itself again and again.

Well-shot, even with the initially irritating POV set-up, eventually the camerawork in Mr. Jones adds a disorienting, intimate intensity. The art direction in the form of skeletal, candlelit, blackened scarecrows creates an unsettling atmosphere. Effective, strobe-like lighting and inventive editing, which usually is a detriment to "found footage" films, but here helps to create a circuitous, labyrinthine environment. And finally, a nonlinear storyline that touches on symbolism from Jungian archetypes of the collective unconscious and aspects of dreaming and sleep from Vedic principles and Aboriginal dreamtime mythology fills out a somewhat thin plot. Although I would've liked a bit more characterization and footage of Mr. Jones' artwork, the film is a taut, enjoyable 90 minutes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Bigfoot In Europe: Sasquatch Encounters Abroad

Alleged sightings from around the world of the elusive cryptid are discussed in this boring paranormal documentary.

Featuring computer generated images of UFOs and a poorly-realized, gyrating, dancing, shaggy, human-like beast, the tenuous connection between aliens, Robin Hood, Puck, Adonis, Osiris, Merlin, trolls, werewolves, and about a million other things is strung together ad nauseum, with very little evidence presented to shore up the claims. Voiceover narration drones on and on, and the word 'missing' is misspelled in an intertitle recounting various 'Bigfoot Facts'. I nodded off repeatedly during this 67-minute long film.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Full-disclosure: I'm totally unfamiliar with the source novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and published by Quirk Books because reading is for suckers. Seriously, who has time for that? Also, books seem to be filled with words, and movies are filled with pictures. Movies are just easier.

Darcy, Colonel Darcy, clad in a leather trench coat because it's the 19th century, carries around a tiny bottle containing carrion flies to help weed out the zombies from the regular folk because that's often difficult amongst the aristocracy. Then he kills them. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Bennet concerns herself with corseting, frowning, and concealing knives in her garters. A mysterious plague rages within the walled city of London, and the stricken are beginning to find their way into the upper classes' country estates.

Featuring good choreography, PG13-level gore, xenophobia, classicism, social intrigue, and haughty dialogue during martial arts which creates a humorous juxtaposition, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a well-mannered period drama punctuated by zombies. I particularly enjoyed the well constructed scene of martial arts and sexual tension between Darcy and Elizabeth in a wood-paneled drawing room, the scene in the potter's field where the hands of rotting corpses reach out from beneath the wet earth, and the unsettling scene as an aristocrat offers cake to the bourgeoisie to fuel the rise to revolution. Wait, was that this movie, or the French Revolution? It might have been both.

Anyway, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was cute and funny, but seemed a bit overlong due to all the romance.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Veil

A filmmaker returns to the scene of a cult's mass suicide in this atmospheric horror film. 47 members of the Heaven's Veil cult kill themselves at the insistence of Thomas Jane's scenery-chewing, charismatic faith healing character, leaving a lone survivor, a 5-year old child. Jessica Alba returns with the now-grown survivor, to the decrepit, creepy compound. Utilizing filters and fog, The Veil is well-lit and shot, with good cinematography. A tense and quiet film, it's occasionally punctuated by unnecessary jump scares, and reliance on cliches such as the lack of cellphone coverage, a suspiciously functional 25-year old generator, and slasher-film elements near the end mar an intriguing paranormal script. The locations and sets were also good, particularly the crumbling buildings of the overgrown, mossy compound. I found myself not hating The Veil, surprisingly enough.

Don't forget to check out my reviews over at Cultured Vultures.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Abandoned Mine

High school friends who don't seem to like each other very much spend the night in a somewhat haunted mine in this scare-free horror film.

A guy wears a camera on his helmet, which means a film laden with tedious found footage. Then someone edits the found footage in an attempt to create some foreshadowing. Suddenly, one of the friends gets attacked by a knife-wielding masked figure, but instead of a gore-filled death scene, someone's nasty bottle of ketchup gets punctured. I might not know a whole lot about friends, but if I had a friend who thought it was funny to knock me down and stab a bottle of ketchup with a foot-long knife narrowly missing my face by inches and covering me with nasty ketchup, that friend would be punched in the face repeatedly and we certainly would not have a musical clothes-changing montage. Then there's a costume-changing montage to generic pop/rock music.

In an effort to generate some characterization, the two male douchebags tediously joke about India, Indiana Jones, and mimes, but create some mild xenophobia instead. It's fine. Then there's more generic music, which isn't fine. While sitting around a campfire, a football player swallows a hot dog whole, then someone tells the tale of how one of the miners 100 years ago sold his soul to the devil, the other miners raped his daughters, and then entombs them alive in the mine. Suddenly, a thunderstorm drives the friends into the mine, and then there's flashlight fish-eye shaky cam, dynamite, a tarantula, struggles with a ladder, claustrophobia, bats, characters crawling through tight spaces with night vision, and lots of walking, none of which are particularly interesting.

Although I've never been in an abandoned mine, I've been in several caves. One odd phenomena I've noticed while in caves that seems to elude the characters in this film is the fact that going downhill in caves rarely ever results in an exit. It only seems to result in more cave. Also, I try to live by a rule where if you'd like to avoid death from ghosts or bats or tarantulas or killers while in a cave or various holes in the ground, only go into the kind that have a gift shop attached to them.

At the 1 hour and 13 minute mark, one of the chicks puts on an Native American headdress and bites the head off of a rat as if she thinks she is Ozzy Osbourne, which is only slightly interesting and fairly racist. Then there are some dodgy ghost effects and more ketchup. After a realistic twist, the film ends, but it's a bit of a letdown.

Abandoned Mine seems to have a whisper of a moral, but I'm not sure what it is exactly. Maybe it's never associate with douchebags from high school? Or maybe it's to never underestimate the power of stupid people underground? I'm not sure, but I'm going to go with that for now. Saddled with an uninteresting title, maybe they should have called it Tedious Mine, Yawn-Inducing Mine, Poorly-lit Mine, or Uninteresting Mine. I would've called it Leave Mine Alone.

Oops, I forgot to plug my other reviews over at Cultured Vultures:

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Alien Contact: UFO Invaders

Alien craft allegedly crash in spots around the globe in this repetitive paranormal documentary.

With nearly 3 minutes of CGI UFOs gliding over scenery, Alien Contact: UFO Invaders doesn't start out especially promising. Thankfully, some of the UFOs crash, briefly livening things up. Unfortunately, the documentary manages to slide downhill after that. After outrageous, unsubstantiated claims of Nazis reverse-engineering spacecraft, vague accounts of UFO sightings with no concrete facts, footage of crowds of people pointing at offscreen events, and talk of news reports, but with no footage to back it up, the film meanders as rambling voiceover narration caused me to forget which particular sighting was which. I don't think it really matters that much. Vaguely similar CGI UFOs drifting from one scene to another certainly didn't help. An Ed Wood-like script and a Criswell-like narrator kept me intrigued in a Plan 6 From Outer Space fashion, but I was ultimately bored by this repetitive documentary.

The Hollow

Siblings stay with their aunt on a desolate island haunted by tragic events in this disappointing horror film. After some CGI lightning, Deborah Kara Unger, the siblings' aunt, barely survives an attack from an unseen assailant. Then she doesn't, which makes one wonder why she got top billing. The three orphans bicker and have prophetic dreams as they travel to the island where their aunt lives, and one of the sisters unconvincingly smokes using an inconvenient important-to-the-plot zippo while sitting on the rear bumper of their car as it's parked in the middle of the street. Several people tell them not to go to the island at Halloween when a storm approaches, but they decide to anyway. Suddenly, cliches run rampant, as they have no cell reception and their car runs out of gas. A CGI monster made of sparking, smoldering branches and vines burns its victims alive, leaving smoking holes where their eyes used to be, but surprisingly enough, the magical creature seems to be susceptible to shotgun blast. Some disposable characters hide in an unlikely freezer, the inconvenient zippo makes a reappearance, and someone points at a vague map. Featuring OK makeup, some not-terrible CGI, and creepy sets and locations, The Hollow's whisper of a backstory about witches is unfortunately never expanded upon, which makes one wonder what the point of the film is. Its brave, resourceful female characters carry a fright-free story.

For some reason, I haven't been able to embed any videos. Sorry for the inconvenience.

ICYMI, I reviewed Sharknado 3 over at Cultured Vultures. Check it out if you get a chance.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Ghost Cases: The Lion and Swan/Bridestones and Radio Manchester Online/Churchill Mansion

Ghost hunters investigate claims of the paranormal in this somewhat dull TV program.

In the episode entitled Bridestones, the team investigates a neolithic cairn where balls of light have been witnessed, an apparition of a druid has allegedly been seen, and a nude guy claims he had a period of missing time. I would be somewhat suspicious of a nude guy claiming he was missing some time. I experienced a moment of pantless missing time once. It was called the Eighties, but I digress. Anyway, this episode consisted of interviews, shots of equipment set-up, recounting of the haunting, and nothing especially extraordinary happens.

In the segment entitled Manchester Radio Online, a Manchester radio station is investigated where the nylon carpet is filled with negative ions. After checking the wiring, it's found that the station gives off high electromagnetic frequencies, which have been known to cause unease. Again, nothing extraordinary occurs.

In the episode entitled Lion and Swan Hotel, the team investigates a bed that Henry 8th slept in, a cursed painting, and an area of the hotel that was a nightclub in the 70s. Again, there's shots of fiddling around with electronic equipment, taking atmospheric readings and ambient room temps, and quizzically ridiculing a risqué painting. This episode is still pretty dull, but it had an intriguing ending.

And finally, the team investigates the Churchill Mansion, a slightly shabby and eerie bed and breakfast in Canada. Featuring a room with a reported stabbing, claims of doors slamming and chairs rocking by themselves, and a room where no one is allowed to enter, the mansion has more than its fair share of reported paranormal activity. Lottie, a serial stabber, is believed to haunt the mansion, and when her photograph is moved, unusual circumstances allegedly occur. This episode is still pretty dull, but the locale was lively, and one unexplained occurrence happened.

Ghost Cases is an unusual program in that it seems to err on the side of the debunkers, and rarely does anything substantial occur. Unfortunately, that makes for some dull viewing.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sharknado 3

A family vacation is wrought with tension and strife in this emotional, character-driven drama.

Fin Shepard, a lumberjack decorated with the Presidential Medal Of Freedom and given an award of a golden chainsaw, and his wife April, an amputee and writer, are expecting a child. April, her mother May, and April's daughter Claudia are on a vacation in Universal Studios, Florida. May seems to resent Fin, and needles her daughter about her relationship at every turn. Claudia also seems to resent her father's accomplishments, causing palpable tension.

After Fin's award ceremony in Washington DC, he heads to Florida to reunite with his family. Along the way, he encounters Nova, a mysterious woman from his past, who is traveling with her best friend and bodyguard. Nova, powerful and resourceful, has been busy training herself militarily, but the lack of communication with over the past year Fin has created a rift between them. Burdened with the memory of friends who have died, unrequited passions burn between the trio in a classic love triangle, as sexual tension goes unfulfilled. Fin hitches a ride with them, to the annoyance of the bodyguard.

Meanwhile, tensions continue to build between April and her mother. Judgmental and overly critical, May ultimately only wants what's best for her family, although she often seems to disapprove of Fin. Claudia meets up with a old friend, and together they attract the attention of two young men, and begin flirting with them. May is overly protective of her disabled, pregnant daughter. Fin decides to contact his father, a former colonel with NASA, although Fin feels he can never quite measure up to his father's accomplishments. Fin's father gives him a hard time about his marriage difficulties. Fin's hero complex causes complications between him and April, and he must make a difficult decision.

Claudia continues her flirtation with her new beau, with all the awkwardness of navigating the perils of a new relationship, including the impulsiveness of a first kiss. Unfortunately, their first date ends in tragedy.

Gil accepts an opportunity to take a difficult and dangerous mission, much to the chagrin of his family, but this mission would fulfill a lifelong dream. Tragedy unfolds yet again as Gil makes the ultimate sacrifice for his son.

With almost no warning, April goes into labor, and delivers a son amidst challenging circumstances during an unconventional birth which leads to tragedy.

Sharknado 3 suffers from an extremely large ensemble cast in this familial drama. Emotional complexity is often portrayed in a maudlin, sentimental fashion. Romantic subtext is often too subtle, with few characters acting on their passions, their impulses stymied by conflict.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Seven Devils

An indie drama examining the seven deadly sins, Seven Devils is a well-shot, enigmatic drama featuring actors in dual roles. A hushed, quiet film, it's character-driven with intimate closeups, disorienting camera movements, and jump cuts that create an unreal atmosphere.

In the vignette entitled Lust, a blind woman has a sexual encounter with a blindfolded man, ending in a surprising turn of events. The love scene is shot through a glass of water, intentionally and metaphorically obscuring the action.
Wrath: A woman visits a psychic, but doesn't get the reading she's hoping for. Afterward, the psychic is haunted by visions of an mysterious figure lurking in the woods. A compelling vignette, it has an intriguing supernatural element.
Greed: Underground organ harvesting goes wrong, as a victim's brother turns the tables on the criminals. The least successful of the vignettes, a lengthy conversation slows down the action, with a tragic, off-camera surgery and threats of violence never acted upon.
Gluttony: In a video game-based confession, a woman looks for absolution for some vague transgressions from a priest who indulges in illicit activity.
Envy: A lonely ghost goes to extremes to keep a new tenant within the apartment she haunts. Again, a supernatural element adds interest to an LGBT love triangle with a twist.

Pride: A wealthy, neurotic woman seeks additional plastic surgery to extend her youth. A creepy plastic surgeon's office decorated with taxidermy, a woman clad in a scarf meandering through colorful carousel rides, its red horses contrasting against green tarps, adds visual interest to a subdued scene.
And finally, Sloth: A couple sleeps on flattened cardboard boxes and dances within abandoned warehouses. She seems to have TB, he scribbles her likeness on walls with chalk. There's no dialogue in this vignette, but the emotionally-acted scenes help fill in the blanks. Still, this vignette is somewhat inscrutable, but has a lovely electronic score.

Suffering from a wealth of ideas, Seven Devils is a rumination on sin, but due to time constraints, doesn't seem to expand upon them, or when it does, seems to drop short. Vice, penance, and spirituality have a modern liquidity in this film world, as the actors portray characters who both commit and are subjected to wrongdoings. Greed is the most atmospheric of the vignettes, and would make an interesting feature if fully fleshed out, while Sloth is the most avant-garde segment. I enjoyed the loose, handheld camera work, and the storylines with a paranormal bent.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Pantry Ghost Documentary

A man records a haunting in his pantry and uploads the footage to Youtube in this paranormal documentary. Every night at 12:34 a.m., a man's pantry door opens by itself. Curious as to the cause of this unexplained phenomenon, he sets up a video camera and captures the event. Upon reviewing the footage, he finds a vague apparition within the glass of the door, angry and straining to be set free from the canned goods. After some experimentation, he removes the door to the pantry, which seems to unleash the haunting to other areas of his home.

Featuring grainy, pixelated footage, The Pantry Ghost Documentary resembles any number of paranormal TV programs, but seemingly computer-generated ghost effects do little to convince. The pacing and editing creates an effective atmosphere, and the simple, absurd storyline manages a slight chill. If developed and produced by The Asylum, I'd watch the heck out of it.