Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Hangover Part 2 Review

With the incredible success of The Hangover, writer/director/producer Todd Phillips decided to cash in with the appropriately titled sequel The Hangover Part II . What he ends up giving audiences is a formulaic film that really doesn't steer away in any direction from the first.

 If you are a fan of The Hangover, then you will probably really enjoy The Hangover Part II because it's pretty much the exact same movie. I can appreciate when filmmakers attempt to recreate the magic of their original film when they are creating a sequel, but there is a line between keeping true to the original stories and characters, and just re-shooting the same movie. This isn't to say that The Hangover Part II is an exact shot for shot remake, such as Michael Haneke's Funny Games, but many of the jokes and situations are the same as in the original. Think Austin Powers and its sequels.

The basic story is that Stu is getting married in Thailand, and Phil decides to get the boys together for a bachelor party even though Stu is reluctant to do so. They eventually all agree to have the bachelor party, and decide to take Teddy, Stu's 16 year old future brother in law along for the ride. Again, they all wake up hung over and unable to remember any of the events of the previous night, and they also discover that they are missing Teddy. As a team they must retrace the night in order to try to locate their lost companion. Sound familiar?

Overall the comedic talents of Zach Galifianakis, who was really the funniest character in the original, seemed to be squandered away. He had occasional funny moments, but he didn't have any lines that stand out like in the The Hangover. The remaining cast appeared to just run through the motions of trying to track down Teddy, and didn't add much comedic value. Mike Tyson makes another cameo, and it was funny seeing him in the position that he was in.

I can't help but to think that telling the same story, but in a different city is a bad idea. There really is no point in doing this other than to exploit the success of the first, but I guess that was most sequels do anyways. I am sure that many movie goers that loved the first one will find The Hangover Part II to be funny. With that said, I would still recommend to wait for it to come out on DVD instead of going to the theater. There is no sense in paying the ticket price to see a movie that you have already seen.

Perhaps for The Hangover Part III the gang will celebrate the wedding of Alan in Johannesburg, he will slip ruffies into everybody bachelor party Pepsi, they will lose Phil's dog while being unable to remember the night before, have run ins with the Chinese Triads, and Mr. Chow will be nude throughout. There is your set up Mr. Phillips. Let's get to work.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Trick 'r Treat Review

Who to Know
Director...............Michael Dougherty
Writer..................Michael Dougherty

Dylan Baker........Steven Wilkins
Brian Cox.............Mr. Kreeg
Anna Paquin.........Laurie
Quinn Lord...........Sam

The Story Goes...
It's Halloween night in a small town, and we follow four spooky stories as they unfold throughout the evening. One common link for all of them is the presence of Sam, a supernatural enforcer of the rules and traditions of Halloween. The tales tell of those who are punished for breaking traditions, and those who are spared for following the rules.

My Thoughts
Trick 'r Treat was one of my recommended DVDs in my rental queue, and it just happened to be on the watch instantly feature as well. I've always been a fan of anthology horror movies, especially those put out by Amicus in the 70s such as The House that Dripped Blood, and Tales from the Crypt, so I decided to give this one a shot. Honestly, I wasn't expecting too much out of it seeing as how this is director/writer Michael Dougherty's first shot at directing a feature length film, and it is also a direct to video release. Much to my surprise, not only does Trick 'r Treat display a more than adequate level of competence in it's production, but it is also very entertaining to watch.

Unlike many horror films that use a framing device, many the characters in each of the individual stories in Trick 'r Treat encounter each other throughout the film. To get an idea of what I mean, think about how the characters in Pulp Fiction have their own separate stories, but they often run into each other as the film progresses. This isn't to say that Trick 'r Treat is anything like Pulp Fiction, but they are similar in that one aspect. 

Besides the characters bumping into one another, the one common link between each story is the presence of a demonic sack-headed trick-or-treater, Sam, who is forever making sure that people follow the rules of Halloween. The penalty for ignoring the traditions of Halloween is often the punishment of death, as per the Gospel according to Sam. The tools that he uses to kill his victims are customized pieces of candy, such as a sucker that has been bitten off to form a point, or a candy bar with a razor blade inside. 

As far as characterization goes, they are well developed, which something that can be rare in many horror movies, and they are each interesting and contribute to the story. It feels as though Dougherty actually cared about the stories and characters that he was creating, and made an effort to avoid the boring stereotypes that we've all come to know and hate. Even the seemingly played out horny college age girls add something to the story, and are not just sheep waiting for the slaughter. I personally find it more frightening when interesting people are placed in scary situations, than when stupid or tired stereotypes are.

One aspect that sets Trick 'r Treat apart from many other similar films is Dougherty's willingness to have children be killed. I honestly was somewhat surprised to see this because it seems to be considered taboo by many filmmakers to have underage victims. I'm not saying that children need to start becoming the victims of psychotic killers in every slasher film, but it really did seem work for this film. After all, in many campfire stories that kids tell each other there is usually some legend about a kid falling victim to a monster or psycho as the setup. This just seems like a visual extension of those stories. If you're sensitive to that type of thing, then just be aware that children do die in this film. 

I could honestly see Trick 'r Treat becoming a classic, as well as a yearly tradition for those who love to watch horror movies during the Halloween season that don't focus on torture. It contains a level of campy-ness, without being stupid, that feels somewhat like a throwback to the 80s, which I think many people might enjoy.  In fact, you may notice scenes that are very similar to classics from that era. I like to think that it is more of a nod than a direct rip off, but I'm sure that there are others who would disagree. 

This is one of those movies where it just seems like everybody is having fun making it, and because of that we have fun watching it. Trick 'r Treat shows that even somewhat unoriginal stories can be enjoyable when told with passion.

Trick 'r Treat should be a real treat for those who enjoy classic spooky tales, and camp-fire style scary stories. I've read other comments that say that this film reminds them of Creepshow. I can see how the comparison could be made, but aside from the fact that they're both anthologies, I don't really find them to be that similar. I am more reminded of the HBO series Tales From the Crypt from the late 80s and early 90s because to me they have a similar look to them. 

For those of you with smaller children, this is definitely an R rated movie because of violence language, and there are a couple of quick topless shots. Also, for those of you who are sensitive to scary material, there is really nothing terrifying about Trick 'r Treat. It does have creepy moments, and there is a scene where Sam and the cranky old Mr. Kreeg are having a battle, but it is far from slasher type material. It's really just a fun movie with a good mix of atmosphere and comedy. 

Trick 'r Treat is definitely worth seeing. Just kick back with a nice cool glass of pumpkin ale, and enjoy the ride.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Dead Above Ground Review

Who To Know
Chuck Bowman................Director

Stephen J. Cannell.............Writer

Stephen J. Cannell............Carl Hadden - Nerdy teacher who can't get the girl.
Josh Hammond.................Jeff Lucas - Weird goth kid. Claims to be George Lucas' nephew.

Don Michael Paul..............Tom Donaldson - Pot smokin' gym teacher. 
Antonio Sabato Jr..............Sgt. Dan DeSousa - The Barney Fife of modern homicide detectives.
Lisa Anne Hadley..............Dr. Brenda Boone - She has a thing for incompetent policemen. 

The Story Goes...
A disturbed student at a high school has a series of encounters with both students and faculty members. After one altercation he is accidentally killed when he drives off of a cliff while being chased by another student. It is one year later and students and teachers begin to die at the hands of an unknown vicious killer. Together they must discover who the killer is, and how to stop them.

My Thoughts
I originally watched Dead Above Ground  because I saw that Corbin Bernsen had top billing in this. "Hmm," I thought to myself, "Corbin starring in a teen horror movie? Sounds like fun." Well, I'll be honest, I was a bit let down. Corbin only has a very small roll, and he is in the movie for about five minutes or so. However, being the trooper that I am, I decided to keep watching, and I discovered that it wasn't as bad as I had thought that it would be based on other reviews.
Corbin Bersen and Cindy Margolis(?)
First off, Dead Above Ground is a low budget, by the numbers, straight to video b-horror flick. There is no real originality, or even much interesting dialog being used throughout it. To give you an idea of the quality of writing that this film has, it helps to be aware of the fact that it was written by Stephen J. Cannell (who also plays the role of Carl Hadden). If you're not sure who that is, just be aware that he is responsible for writing such classics as the tv shows Renegade, 21 Jump Street, The A-Team, and The Greatest American Hero. If you prefer this level of cheesiness in your favorite productions, and consider them to be high quality entertainment, then you may enjoy Dead Above Ground. 

One great aspect of this film is Josh Hammond's over the top performance as the psychotic Jeff Lucas. Jeff is the goth of goths. Everything that he wears and says is about the occult, especially when he's sputtering what sounds to be total nonsense about equinoxes and things. I won't go so far as to say that Hammond's acting is on par with Eric Freeman's from Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, but it's pretty darn close. Subtlety definitely isn't in this young man's vocabulary, but I have a feeling that he knew what kind of movie he was taking part in, and he just decided to go all out.
Josh Hammond as Jeff Lucas
Most of the other actors are just playing the standard "we're just here to help drive up the body count," roles. Though, another standout is Antonio Sabato Jr. as the not-so-observant detective. This guy just throws around accusations all willy nilly, all the while never having any real proof of his claims. He likes to detain and release suspects based on the results of polygraph tests. Personally, I like Mr. Sabato because he helps prove the argument that it isn't only women that are chosen for roles based on their looks. After seeing him in this film, I can't help but get the impression that he is actually daring future casting directors to not hire him. Dude got balls(!), but not much talent.
Antonio Sabato Jr. as Sgt Dan Desousa
My favorite character, and one that I would like to see in other movies, is coach Donaldson. He gets fired from his coaching position, and instead of looking for another job like a normal person would, the only response that he could think of is to park his van, which I assume he lives in, in the school parking lot, and to smoke lots of Jane while taunting Carl Hadden. Perhaps I have a fondness for him because in my personal life I try to surround myself with losers like him to help boost my confidence and self esteem. In any case, this character is a winner in my book, and I'd love to see him in a spin-off...possibly costarring Stephen Baldwin.
Don Michael Paul as Coach Tom Donaldson
The movie does an ok job of concealing who the killer is, but you probably will not be blown away when he is revealed. Part of me believes that it was the intentions of the filmmakers to make this a mystery/horror, but it fails in that respect for the most part. Dead Above Ground almost seems to be an amateur's imitation of what horror movies in the later part of the 90s were like.

All in all, I would say that Dead Above Ground is a comedy with elements of horror. I know that Cannell has produced some questionable material in the past, but I just find it hard to believe that he wrote this dialog without realizing that it was incredibly unrealistic, and often times unintentionally funny. When I hear characters relating their internal struggles to others with lines like "sometimes I feel kind of out of place around here. Everybody here drives BMWs or Acuras. I drive an old Camero. I don't belong," I can't help but think that their stupidity is entirely intentional.

On the brighter side, the quality of this film is definitely better than the majority of what The Asylum has put out. Though I'm not sure that's an accomplishment to write home about. It's corny, cheesy, and is definitely not to be taken seriously. I didn't find it to be terribly boring, but I would say to rent it or watch it on Netflix. Unless you're a huge fan of ineptness, in which case I would say to buy it. And yes, there are quite a few unintentionally funny moments in this film.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Graduation Day Review

Who to Know
Herb Freed................Director

Anne Marisse.............Writer
Herb Freed.................Writer
David Baughn.............Writer

Christopher George.........Coach George Michaels
Patch Mckenzie.............Anne Ramstead
E. Danny Murphy...........Kevin Badger

Carmen Argenziano........Insp. Halliday
Vanna White.................Doris

The Story Goes...
A high school track runner dies from a heart attack just as she's finishing the race because her unrelenting coach continues to push her way beyond her abilities. The girl's sister, Anne, returns to their town, I assume to pay her respects, and at the same time the other members of the team are being murdered by a masked killer. He uses a stopwatch to time the murders to ensure that death occurs at 30 seconds. It's up to inspector Halliday to discover who the murderer is, and save the remaining team members.  

My Thoughts
It's no secret that the late 1970s and early 1980s were a magical period for films in the horror genre. With the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, it was just a matter of time before any and every wanna-be film maker with a super low budget and access to a camera would make copy cat movies to feed on the success of these two classics. Graduation Day is one such film.

The lack of a budget does not necessarily mean a film will be bad, and I will go so far as to say that Graduation Day is not bad at all. In fact, most fans of this period of horror films will probably enjoy the amount of cheese this movie has to offer. Actor Christopher George, who you may remember from such classics as Enter the Ninja and City of the Living Dead (god rest his soul), practically bled cheese with his "subtle" acting style. And, from the inclusion of the entire 7 minute (hit) single "Gangsters of Rock" by Felony, to the hypnotic disco music in the opening sequence, we know that we're in for a rockin' good time that many films of today cannot provide.
Patch Mckenzie as Anne
I admit that the killer in Graduation Day isn't nearly as imposing as champions of the genre such as Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees, but his creativity is enough to keep the movie entertaining. He clearly enjoys coming up with interesting, and highly implausible, ways of taking out his victims. The amount of prep time that it would take to rig a pole vaulters landing mat with spikes had to have been a lot, and that shows just how committed our killer is. That's what I look for in a homicidal maniac!

The overall story is probably fairly cliche for most of today's audience, but honestly, it's a slasher film, and really shouldn't be subjected to in depth scrutiny. The real reason to watch Graduation Day is for the kill scenes, and the few breasts shots that we get. Realistically, isn't that what we watch any slasher movie for?

All of the actors seem to enjoying their time, and they all seem to ham it up in their own little ways. Linnea Quigley doesn't disappoint with her "assets." Hey, she needs to pass in order to graduate, and she'll do anything to make sure she does. Vanna White also has a part, and I can honestly see why she chose Wheel of Fortune over acting. 

Graduation Day is a fun horror flick, especially for those who are fans of the classic slashers from the early 80s. Casual fans of horror may find the pacing somewhat slow when compared to many of the popular horror movies that came out in the later part of the decade. If you like the feel of the first Friday the 13th, then you would probably like this movie.

The old blade in the football trick.
If you're a hardcore fan, then this movie is a great way to spend any evening with some friends and some beer. There are plenty of good kills, and also plenty of laughs to keep you interested throughout the duration of the movie. Rent it to see if you like it.


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