Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ghost Attack On Sutton Street

A group of paranormal investigators investigates a market in this dull documentary. Amidst terrible camerawork, awful lighting, intermittent sound problems, and an overbearing, repetitive score that drowns out the endless dialogue, a team of investigators investigates a market that looks suspiciously like generic office space. The team places trigger objects, does a bit of table tipping, and conducts a seance before heading into cramped, well-lit hallways with cameras and FLIR temperature fluctuation detectors. At approximately 51:47, the FLIR operator appears to reach into his pocket and appears to throw an object down a hallway, startling the team, as they claim it was a supernatural occurrence. At 52:42, the same FLIR operator appears to reach out his hand behind him and places it on a wall, then attempts to nonchalantly point his FLIR at the glowing 'paranormal' handprint he discovers. Oddly enough, when something paranormal supposedly happens, the team abruptly leaves the scene.

Dull and ridiculous, Ghost Attack On Sutton Street is scare-free and very, very boring. It's enjoyable if you're mystified by reflections or table legs, or if you love the sound of a glass scraping the top of a table. The picture quality is generally awful, and it often resembles looking at closed circuit TV footage in the least menacing haunted location ever. Even with two camera operators present, the alleged poltergeist activity is rarely caught on camera as it happens, and it always seems to happen with a crew member standing suspiciously close to the alleged activity.


Friday, May 27, 2016

The Witch

A family living in 17th-century New England turns on one another after being forced from the safety of their Puritan community, which results in crop failure and threatening symbolism-laden livestock in this atmospheric thriller.

Amidst barren trees, dry cornhusks, empty traps, and seemingly never-ending dusk, a family settles on the edge of an impenetrable, ominous wood. Heartbreak, hunger, misfortune, lies, and accusations soon follow.

Shot in muted sepia, The Witch is a beautifully photographed, slowly-paced, dialogue-heavy film, much of which comes from period texts about witchcraft. A hushed cello score, and sporadic, discordant choral work creates an unsettling atmosphere throughout. Spartan, candlelit interiors, convincing period costumes, and whispers of an occult force surrounding the failing homestead generate an overall atmosphere of paranoia, repression, and a looming, inescapable darkness.

Like the pious catechism of its storyline, The Witch is an austere folktale, with few jump scares. It's a film of slowly building tension, with symbolism as thick as the barrow-like witch's house of tangled tree roots lying in wait in the center of the forest. A threatening hare, an aggressive goat, a forest bonfire. The ineffective woodcutter father, stripped to the waist by his oldest daughter. Mother's milk. A raven. An apple. The colluding younger twins, and the older children in the throes of adolescence, pitted against one another. All have sinister undertones, enriching a tale of survival and familial drama.

While some could argue that little happens in The Witch, there's much under the surface, particularly if viewed from a feminist standpoint and compared against Puritan values of the time. And let's not forget the role corn smut could be seen as playing, which has properties similar to ergot, argued as contributing to the tragedy and hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials.

I've seen several criticism of The Witch, pointing out how it 'isn't scary'. I have to agree, The Witch isn't scary. It's a film that doesn't illicit screams, but forces the audience into garments of uncomfortable sackcloth, a feeling which lingers far after its viewing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cathnafola: A Paranormal Investigation

Men talk in the darkness of a ruined Irish mansion and nothing really happens in this paranormal documentary. Built on a long-forgotten battlefield, tragedies, suicide and murder hastened the demise of a once great house. Cathnafola is now ruined, abandoned, over-grown, and reportedly haunted. After receiving footage of a lukewarm paranormal investigation filled with screams, breaths, and shaky-cam, a different group of investigators investigate. Neither are particularly interesting. Cathnafola: A Paranormal Investigation works best when EVPs and ambient nature sounds play over gloomy, atmospheric shots of the collapsing ruin, generating a few tepid chills. Unfortunately, the filmmakers insist on concentrating on the living, to the film's detriment.

Cathnafola: A Paranormal Investigation drags when the men stand around and talk, one of whom is an somewhat unconvincing emphatic clairvoyant, who claims to see things impossible to verify. The film picks up slightly as one of the investigators is stricken with comical terror after being inexplicably touched. After an unfortunate scene of unspectacular spiritual possession which culminates with the clairvoyant sitting in their car, the film ends anti-climatically.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Dark Shadows (2012)

The iconic 1960s vampire soap opera is ruined by a Tim Burton 'reimagining' in this dreadful horror/comedy. From its Johnathan Frid impersonation in voiceover by Johnny Depp to its overly CGI'd gothic opening, Tim Burton's film starts out as a promising, but deeply flawed, remake of the TV series. Depp's Barnabas Collins chases his doomed love Josette through eerie trees to the craggy cliff of Widow's Hill, as atmospheric shots of ocean waves crashing on rocks reference the TV series' iconic opening credits.

The cracks in the facade begin to show during the lackluster re-appearance of Barnabas, as he viciously attacks some construction workers who disturb his unmarked grave for some reason, which pales in comparison to the chilling appearance of Barnabas from the series, which surprisingly enough didn't need millions of dollars of CGI and a back-hoe to raise goose-bumps.

Unfortunately, the appearance of Barnabas is also the beginning of the groan-inducing, '19th-century fish out of water in campy 1970s' jokes, which stoop to the level of a McDonald's looming over his gravesite (when a mere 9 billion burgers had been sold to date), a secret door which leads to the discovery of hidden macrame, and the nonsensical indignity of Barnabas trying to sleep amidst packing peanuts in a cardboard appliance box to the forced, cheesy nostalgia of The Carpenters playing on the soundtrack.

Johnny Depp keeps the tics and triple-takes to a minimum for a change, and if he wasn't doing an intermittent impersonation of Johnathan Frid, his performance would almost be considered acting. Seth Grahame-Smith's dialogue for Barnabas is appropriately overwrought, and shows his talent for period language, which he used to good effect in 2016's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Helena Bonham Carter also impersonates Grayson Hall's boozy Dr. Julia Hoffman, but Carter is sadly underutilized, and whose only memorable moment is when she's french-inhaling like Fight Club's Marla Singer. Michelle Pfeiffer does the best she can with the part she's given as matriarch Elizabeth Collins. Fierce, determined, and the exact opposite of the timid, agoraphobic Collins from the TV show, Pfeiffer gives a needed bite to the role, and performs as though she isn't in the same film as the rest of the cast. She's magnetic onscreen as usual, refuses to be a cartoon character, and is the lone highlight of a dreary film. And don't get me started on what they've done to Barnabas' Renfield, Jackie Earle Haley's Willie Loomis, Bella Heathcote's dual role of Victoria Winters and Josette Dupres, and Eva Green's villainess Angelique, because the characters and accents are just too goofy and confusing to adequately describe. Let's just forget it happened.

Embarrassingly laugh-free, embarrassingly horror-free, and often just flat-out embarrassing, Dark Shadows contains only a hint of vampirism in a movie about a vampire, with a casual werewolf reference duct taped onto the ending to give angsty, miscast Chloe Grace Moretz something to do other than gnaw at scenery like a lycanthropic Lolita. Sure, Burton had his work cut out distilling 6 seasons and 1200 episodes down to an overlong 2 hours, but he didn't have to partially reinvent the wheel. Oddly enough, the cameo from rocker Alice Cooper is a lot more unsettling than Depp's Barnabas, and his musical performance nearly rivals the time allowed to onscreen vampirism.

Tim Burton's film is yet another aggressively quirky, overblown misfire, joining the ranks of Planet Of The Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The mythical reverence the Burton and Depp supposedly had for the source material should have appeared onscreen. Instead their Dark Shadows is a hokey mess.

Friday, May 13, 2016


The Merc With The Mouth hits the big screen in this funny, violent superhero movie. An unlikely love story told in partial flashback to bring the initiated up to speed, Deadpool is a standard comic book origin story where the anti-hero (Deadpool) goes after a less-interesting but much badder guy (the villain who tortured Deadpool until his latent mutant abilities kicked in) because he kidnapped Deadpool's girl. With quickly-paced dialogue, clever pop culture and comic book references, brain matter, Ikea jokes, dick jokes, acrobatic violence, explosions, a cheesy soundtrack, and at least one chimichanga, Deadpool is laugh-out-loud funny, vulgar, and wildly entertaining.

In case you still missed it, I reviewed Night Of The Wild at Cultured Vultures.

Legend Of Bigfoot

A tracker hunts the elusive cryptid in this docudrama. After bottle feeding coyote pups, pulling a growling puma from a cave, and incessant, overwrought voiceover narration, a wildlife tracker heads to Alaska to trap bears falsely accused of killing cattle. Meanwhile, bears fish in streams, wild hogs are tied up, and roadrunners and skunks pose for the camera. 700-year old bigfoot hieroglyphs are briefly examined, as well as plaster casts of footprints and Bigfoot hair samples. Suddenly, there are scenic vistas, bear entrails, dodgy foley work, a moose peeing into a hole, and handheld nausea cam decades before it became fashionable. Now we know who to blame. Then, and as if on cue, a guy wearing a Bigfoot costume limps unconvincingly into the forest. Featuring a not-so-special special effect of Bigfoot's eyes glowing in the distance and several instances of ominous cello, The Legend Of Bigfoot is very, very boring, and it plays much like an extended episode of Mutual Of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.

Speaking of wild animals, I reviewed the film Night Of The Wild over at Cultured Vultures. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Orion: The Man Who Would Be King

The tragic story of a man whose voice sounded uncannily like Elvis Presley is examined in this bittersweet documentary. After a career as a horse trainer for 17 years, Jimmy Ellis began a late career in show business, writing and recording music that sounded eerily like Elvis Presley. Unfortunately, his records didn't sell due to his vocal similarity to the King. A writer wrote a book about an Elvis-like performer who faked his own death, and after the untimely passing of Elvis Presley, this spurred Ellis to don a mask and call himself Orion. A rumor that Orion was actually Elvis in disguise simultaneously helped and hurt Ellis' career.

Featuring concert footage, interviews, and bejeweled masks of all varieties, Orion: The Man Who Would Be King is an interesting, often humorous documentary about a tragic figure. An inspiring tale of persevering in the rough-and-tumble, devil-may-care country music industry during the 1970s and a cautionary tale for lower-tier celebrities who wear masks, Orion: The Man Who Would Be King shines a light on a nearly forgotten talent who rose to popularity during the weird, surreal period following the death of the real King Of Rock & Roll.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Birth Of Sake

The laborious methods of traditional sake brewing is examined in this languid documentary. Featuring few words and naturalistic visuals, the production techniques of sake brewing is shown. Delicate clouds of koji mold, which converts rice starch to sugar, is sprinkled over large quantities of rice in wooden boxes, as intertitles explain the process amidst evocative time lapse footage of bubbling, fermenting rice and snowy rice fields. The charming camaraderie of workers, who must live at the brewery 6 months of the year, is a highlight, although the sadness they feel due to missing their families and the difficulties they face finding other jobs during the 6 months they are home is palpable. The 140-year old Tedorigawa brewery struggles to maintain market share due to decline in sake popularity from a younger demographic more interested in beer and wine, and who think sake drinking is 'old fashioned', although the brewery finds new success in foreign markets. The Birth Of Sake is a bittersweet, slowly-paced documentary about the little understood and nearly forgotten world of sake brewing.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Chuck Norris Vs. Communism

The story of how VHS tapes of popular American films narrated by a female translator helped overthrow a dictator is examined in this enlightening documentary. In culturally isolated Romania,  dictator Nicolae Ceausescu cut television programming to 2 hours of propaganda per day, which forced citizens to begin illegally screening films in homes using VHS players. One woman translated nearly all US films smuggled into Romania, which were brought into the country through clandestine deals with border patrol agents. In spite of concerns about secret police, and suspicions and paranoia from constant surveillance, American films flooded into Romania and threatened the cult of personality surrounding Ceausescu.

Using film clips, interviews, recreations, and news footage, Chuck Norris Vs. Communism details the infiltration of American film culture into the isolated communist country of Romania, and the resulting downfall of authoritarian rule.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Things I'm doing

Hi friends! Blog posts last month were kind of sparse. I've been kind of busy, and I thought you might be interested in the stuff I'm working on, or recently finished. This morning, I'm trying to finish reading the graphic novel Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy Bastian for review at Wink Books. It's an intricately drawn, black & white comic book.

I recently review the novel Warren The 13th and the All-Seeing Eye for Wink Books. Check it out.

Next up, I'm going to read the graphic novel Woody Guthrie And The Dust Bowl Ballads.

Meanwhile, I'm listening to a recording of Harry Bertoia's metallic sound cultures called Sonambient.  It's 6 hours of eerie wind chimes. It's pretty freaked out, which is why I dig it.

Speaking of being freaked out, after reading an interesting article at LA Weekly, I think I'm going to try to investigate the mythical Nurse With Wound list.


In case you missed it, I reviewed Shark Avalanche over at Cultured Vultures. There's a video, if you're so inclined.

And finally, my next review at this blog will be the documentary Chuck Norris Vs. Communism, so stay tuned for that in the next couple of days. Thanks guys!