Category Archives: Film Reviews

Avengers: Age of Ultron Somber Revisit to the Verse Here be Spoilers

Poster for Avengers 2

After having to wait for iTunes to stop offering Avengers: Age of  Ultron for purchase (sorry but if it’s to own, Blu-Ray with a load of extras is how this reviewer rolls) and giving punters the chance to just rent Joss Whedon and Marvel’s follow up to The Avengers (Assemble) the viewing experience turned out to be a somber revisit to the Marvel verse. The sobering sequel introduces two new characters, one lasting much longer than the other (Scarlet Witch aka Elizabeth Olsen) who becomes a member of the home team before the end credits roll.

This sequel is darker than the first. It also has less of the obvious Whedon touches. There are, most likely, a number of reason for this holding back of the Joss effect.

Firstly, it is not news to anyone who loves the Avengers films that Joss “Is Boss” Whedon  is bowing out of the business of forging the films.  As Whedon also has a small screen version of the Marvel world to produce weekly, it makes a huge amount of sense to leave the big screen shenanigans up to another director/writer to play with.

Secondly, things in the comic book world of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man (Tony Stark) Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk, et al are due to become very dark indeed with the next installment dealing with the infinity war, civil war, the death of Cap and any number of dark and disturbing issues in Marvel land.

The Avengers did have  Joss Whedon all over it, a clear stamp of his wit, framing, dialogue and directorial genius. Avengers: Age of Ultron feels grim, in comparison, and dangerous. The overly clever wit has been toned down and is less Joss than usual. (Although the Iron Man scene where Stark says, after shooting all the bad guys in the room is, “Good talk,” and an obviously in-pain shot guard moans, “No it wasn’t.” Pure unadulterated Whedon.)

*Sidenote* Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury gets what may just be the best, i.e. funniest, line of the film. Speaking about Ultron’s building up of an army, he says that he is producing quicker than a “Catholic Rabbit.” While this may not necessarily go over very well with the Pope, is it very, very funny. Although Spader’s Ultron comes a very close second with his “I can’t physically throw up in my mouth, but …”


Well, as stated above, Whedon is due to hand over the reins of power to Joe and Anthony Russo for Avengers 3 Part one (due out in 2018).  Also, as mentioned above, fans of the comic books for each of the main characters know that dark days are coming and this has also, apparently necessitated a change in style. The franchise should not have a huge shift in directorial influence with some transition. Hence the darker feel.

The film is not, however, without its amusing moments but the banter is either missing or toned down to near nonexistence.  The entire storyline is sobering, so much so that even the re-emergence of Samuel L. Jackson‘s Nick Fury fails to elicit  a cheer.  James Spader, who plays Ultron, kills it, sounding uncannily like Tony Stark, with the way he delivers many of his  lines  and feeling like the ultimate rebellious teenager who wants desperately to overpower/outperform  his father (Stark).

The plot in the second Avengers film has Tony Stark doing what he does best,  acting independently, although he has Dr. Banner (the Hulk) helping him. He develops an AI peacekeeper to help defend earth. Ultron, his creation, is flawed and ultimately decides that mankind must evolve to survive. Unfortunately his idea of evolution is an enforced extinction of the species therefore allowing  one to take over.

All of the Avengers must reform and evolve  in order to face and defeat this threat, in the process, Tony and Banner create Vision (Jarvis with an infinity stone in his biotic forehead).  While the film feels a bit sobering, there are a still a few moments of levity and a couple of things that tell us these uneasy team members were meshing very well, until the rise of Ultron.

Hawkeye and The Black Widow are Clint and Nat. Bruce and Natasha have “a thing” and we learn a whole lot more about Barton. For instance, he has a house in the country with kids and his wife Laura is played by  Linda Cardellini.   Clint also has DIY fever and constantly remodels the house.  

This iteration of the Avengers has our heroes fighting an even bigger army with a huge threat going on all about them. A huge section of ground that, when released from its ever increasing height, will annihilate life on earth is the battleground setting where all the heroes fight Ultron’s mechanized troops.

Andy Serkis has a  brilliant cameo and he is not in a mo-cap suit for once. Elizabeth Olsen kills it as the Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff)  as does Aaron Taylor-Johnson who plays brother Pietro (Quicksilver). Paul Bettany finally gets to show off more than his dulcet tones and he proves to be just as impressive in the “flesh.”

The ubiquitous Stan Lee cameo comes at the start of the film and is said to be Stan’s favorite one to date. “Excelsior” aside, the film has a lot of memorable moments.  The scenes are on par with the first foray into the big screen world of Marvel heroes.  We have some backstory for Natasha, courtesy of the Scarlet Witch, and we learn what Tony Stark really fears.

By the time the film ends, we have a new group of Avengers, Stark has stepped away from the new “S.H.I.E.L.D.” and Cap is still heading up the organization.  Vision looks to be the new “in the trenches” leader of the group and Earth is still under threat.

As a sort of PS type sidenote, the whole Captain America schtick of “Language” was amusing as was Stark in his Hulk suit beating the Hulk’s head into the pavement while  repeating desperately “Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to…” Almost as good as Tony then knocking out one of the big guy’s teeth and saying in a very little voice, “I’m sorry.”

Even though the overall feel of this Avengers outing was  a little less Joss and more transitional, the film is, like the first, an exciting experience.  There were, however, no goosebumps inducing moments, as in the first film.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a 5 out of 5 stars for entertainment value and because (Duh!) it’s Joss Whedon, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chis Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Cobie…

Her First Black Guy (2015): Christopher T. Wood Strikes Again Film Review

Poster for Her First Black Guy

In his second short, and second time up to bat as writer, producer and acting in his own creation, Christopher T. Wood strikes once again but not out, hitting another homer with his spot on comedic story telling and performance.  Previously Wood starring in the short, award winning, film Time to Kill (2014).

His first foray into the short film arena had Wood as hitman with too much time on his hands, a look at what might really happen in those killer for hire scenarios.  This time, it is accountant Kevin, that Christopher portrays.  A single man who wearies of blind dates who all fall in love with his perfect skin coloring.

Kevin wants a woman who has done something with her life, has a meaningful job and travelled outside the Los Angeles city limits. Most importantly, he does not want to be “Her First Black Guy.” Directed by Sam Auster (The Return of Joe Rich) and set in what looks to be Los Angeles’ Formosa Cafe, or a reasonable facsimile, this short film is as funny as Wood’s first offering but for different reasons.

This is a tour-de-force on the actor’s part in reacting to the ever increasing build up going on around him. The same can be said of Caroline Fogarty (Waitress, As High as the Sky) as the blind date Claire.  This performer kills it with an incredible delivery that is funny, awkward, and compelling, she gives Wood plenty of input for his mounting confusion to feed off of.

Her First Black Guy is a definite case of a “be careful what you wish for” cautionary tale.  The punchline, that his character is actually  not as “lofty” as his requirements for a date, works brilliantly. Claire’s reaction to his less than impressive resume is ironic to say the least. Clearly both people are looking for something different, although Kevin is unsure of just how to react.

The gag is a variation on the old comedy routine where  someone keeps getting increasingly bad news,  but in this instance, the “bad news” is only bad because this blind date of Kevin’s  is akin to “Superwoman.”  Kevin is stunned by each reveal of the woman who took  the bus to Formosa for their date.

Equally funny is the fact that this blind date is not the only one bowled over by his “perfect skin tone.” Each person she knows in the club remarks upon this asset, much to Kevin’s discomfort and chagrin.  All the cast deliver in this comic look at blind dates and the real (or unreal) expectations and fears of the participants.

The cast also includes: Chris WilliamsJames BlackJohn Eric Bentley and Matt Riedy who gets the closing gag at the end of the film.  Cinematographer Kris Denton delivers in terms of framing and lighting on a set consisting of a darkened bar area which would defeat many. The film looks crisp and tight thanks to this veteran’s efforts.

Her First Black Guy opens the Austin Film Festival, October 29, at 7 p.m. and will premiere at the Rollins theatre.  For more information and a chance to sign up for the event follow the link here

This is another cracking short film from Christopher who proves that his humor in Time to Kill was not a one off. Keep an eye out for this festival film and be prepared to laugh as Wood strikes again.  A 5 out of 5 stars for comic delivery and exquisite timing.

The Lone Ranger (2013): Disney and Depp

Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp

Filmmaker Gore Verbinski was dragged over red hot coals by critic’s the world over when his version of The Lone Ranger hit screens in 2014.  Equally hauled over the same coals were stars Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp. At the time of release as Hammer himself pointed out, the issue was not the film, the acting, the plot or even the cinematography, but the budget alone that seemed to raise all that vitriol.

Like an earlier Disney release, the 2012 film John Carter, The Lone Ranger had a more than colossal  production cost. “Carter” had an estimated budget of over $263 million and was deemed a flop as its world wide box office did never surpassed $73 million. Verbinski’s film cost an estimated $215 million (somewhat less than the John Carter budget) and recouped $89 million. At the time  Gore’s vision of the western classic was considered more of a flop than the Andrew Stanton film.

In hindsight, neither  movie was a bad as all that. The public were not overly interested to be sure but both films had a fairly good premise, great source material for a start, and did entertain. Sadly, the Mars based film failed to ignite and the western icon movie was misunderstood.

Watching Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer (in his first starring role, yet under Johnny Depp in terms of billing) the two actors worked well together and while Depp may have been doing yet another quirky character, he did so with his usual aplomb and dedication to detail.

Where things get cloudy is in the film’s various homages and numerous nods and winks combined with the manner in which the tale is told.  Critics apparently got too caught up in the John Ford and Sergio Leone tributes and forgot the basics of the story.  (There were plenty of homages made in this Disney film. Depp appeared to do a number of Buster Keaton type stunts/gags that would be lost to all but other cinephiles. This over indulgence on  Verbinski’s part may have also helped to torpedo his efforts with critics, as well as audiences.)

The movie begins in 1933 San Francisco when  a young boy enters a tented exhibit of “yesteryear” a part of a Wild West Show. Inside he meets a “live” part of the show, an anciently old Tonto (Depp) who mistakes the youngster for “Kemo Sabe.” The old sidekick of The Lone Ranger retells the legend of the masked man’s origin.

Therein lies the problem. The tale which has various anachronistic clangers and things that just do not fit regardless of time period do so because it is a story told to a child by a very old man. In other words told in away that a “modern boy” can understand.  For instance, in the gunfight sequences, no one needs to reload whilst they are participating in the heat of battle.

Their guns seem to have unlimited ammunition until, that is, it becomes a plot device or a shift in scene. On top of the train, Hammer (The Lone Ranger) and Butch Cavendish (a wonderfully wicked William Fichtner) have shot hundreds of rounds of ammo yet when Ruth Wilson, as Rebecca Reid is held hostage, by Butch,  both men’s weapons come up empty.

The more ridiculous parts of the film, like the magic guns of the players, do not detract when one remembers the “old”  Tonto telling his story to a boy idea. A number of the events then make perfect sense: The horse being ridden on the train or across the roofs of buildings, Tonto falling an incredible height onto a rolling rail car full of silver and not being injured, the masked man being pulled out of the ground by his teeth and a horse eating scorpions after capturing them with its tongue…The list goes on.

Comically the film works beautifully, even the odd inclusion of Helena Bonham Carter as the one-legged madam with a Planet Terror “gun for a leg” gag works. (To be fair, Carter’s character had a gun hidden in her ivory prosthetic leg.) All in all, despite the “juvenile” scope of the film, it works.

The Lone Ranger does have problems, but not with its score, cinematography or its story. Where the real issues lay have to do with the film’s length and its director’s self indulgence.   The performers do a good job, Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper, Depp, Wilson, Hammer and Fichtner do justice to their parts. None of these performers need hang their heads in shame.

Gore Verbinski’s film may one day be more appreciated and become much less vilified for its budget. The film is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and via streaming services.  It is worth a look, even if it is an overly long viewing experience, the film does what it is meant to do. It entertains. A 4 out of 5 star film, it loses a full star for those abysmal buffalo shots around the train.


Skin Trade (2014): Dolph Lundgren and Tony Jaa A Message Action Film

A message Action Film

Thai action films have been ruling the martial arts film market for some time now. Movies like  the 2008 martial arts action feature Chocolate with JeeJa Yanin as an autistic martial arts prodigy are almost eternally popular. ( Yanin was being groomed to  be a female version of Tony Jaa.) JeeJa’s film followed the Ong Bak and other, more recent, Thai action films’ formula where stunts are real, painful and make each fight sequence something special.  Jaa is, in the world of Thai film enthusiasts, an icon.

Dolph Lundgren, who has made a bit of a comeback since Expendables 1,2,3, ad nauseam, provided a story, and a screenplay, which was doctored by several writers, including the wildly talented John Hyams (Z Nation, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning). The storyline was prompted by a real skin trade incident that the actor witnessed while working on another film.

Lundgren’s message film, delivered via the action film genre, has a pretty impressive cast. Peter Weller, Tony Jaa, Michael Jai White, Dolph (of course) and the ultimate (type-cast) baddie in the guise of Ron Perlman. Apparently the film took some time to come together enough for production to start and apart from the dynamite fight scenes, it shows. Unfortunately despite the Asian setting and the inclusion of the legendary Tony Jaa,  the film cannot match “ordinary” Thai action movies.

Sadly, compared to Ong Bak or even the somewhat disappointing follow up to Chocolate, 2009’s Raging Phoenix , the fight scenes are not too overly impressive. That said, his presence alone elevates any action choreography set up by maestro coordinator and choreographer Dian Hristov,  who has nearly a hundred features to his credit. While the fights are not as spectacular as the ones featured in, for example, Chocolate, they are pretty convincing.

A Message Action Film
Tony Jaa mid-air shotgunning…

When Lundgren fights Jaa and later White fights the Ong Bak star as well, the efforts of the men and their stunt doubles feel almost real and painful. Certainly one assumes there were a few injuries incurred, but it is the actor’s who sell the altercations. Each performer makes the action that bit more convincing by slowing down as the fight goes on.

Dolph, despite looked darned good for 57, the same age as this reviewer, is old enough now that these types of films must be harder for him to pull off physically. Lundgren may look 30 years younger in the muscle department, but this type of exertion at over-50 is harder than it was at over-20.

The story is a multi-national set up, where Serbian baddie Perlman has a family business that entails stealing girls, or buying them (Life is very cheap in the skin trade world where Vietnamese, Thailand, and other impoverished Asian countries will sell their children to the sex trade.) from poor families.

These drugged up, and uncooperative, recruits are used in a Cambodian club or shipped out all over the world. One container ship lands in America with a shipment of long dead girls. Police Officer Nick Cassidy (Lundgren) goes after the leader of the skin trade Viktor (Perlman) and loses his family as a result.

Peter Weller does a more than competent cameo as a narcotics detective, Michael Jai White is the turncoat who tries to have Cassidy killed and Tony Jaa is the “local” cop in Cambodia whose girlfriend is an inside informant at the club.

The storyline is almost boringly formulaic, a by-the-numbers drill where Dolph’s character loses his wife and daughter (the latter “loss” is set up to enable a sequel presumably) and the bad guys buy out law enforcement and government officials.  After Lundgren is badly injured by Viktor’s Serbian mobsters, he goes out to kill the mafia leader.

Director Ekachai Uekrongtham (Beautiful Boxer, Pleasure Factory) does a good enough job with the story handed him. This film went almost straight to VoD and a few years back would have been relegated to the ‘B” picture slot at the local participating drive-in.

Skin Trade is a solid 3.5 star film. Nothing too exciting, but it is never boring and the film earns a half-star for 57 year-old Lundgren’s ability to still look and act like a cinematic action-man.It is streaming on US Netflix at the moment. Check it out, if for no other reason than to enjoy Peter Weller’s cameo or the ability of Tony Jaa to amaze outside of the Ong Bak verse.

Exeter (2015): Horror for the YouTube Generation

Party levitation

The 2015 horror film Exeter, directed by Conan the Barbarian and Friday the 13th remake helmsman Marcus Nispel, ( who also provided the story which was turned into a script by Kirsten McCallion nee Elms) feels like it was produced exclusively for the YouTube generation. Not that this is a bad thing.

Far from it.

There are moments that feel like some viral video wanna be which work very well. It has been noted that this is the first film Nispel has helmed that is not a remake, this may explain some of the rougher elements of the movie as well as some of the holes.

The film boasts Avatar baddie Stephen Lang who may just have more screen credits than Carter has little pills, and a group of younger actors with impressive CV’s (resume’s) and a young actor, Michael Ormsby who looks like a tweenie version of Jason Mewes. (Considering the character played by Ormsby manages to overdo his consumption of pharmaceuticals it seems strangely apt, no reflection on Mewes but rather on the type of characters’ he plays.)

Lang does have what amounts to an overly large cameo but his presence is appreciated, feeling a little like the adult chaperone who has been hired to look after the younger performers. Still, his “father figure” is not quite what he seems and later becomes a part of another “homage” a la I Know What You Did Last Summer sans hook.

There are some parts of the film that are slyly funny.

The young adults (Older teens?) looking up exorcism on the Internet and finding a YouTube video which is a DIY step-by-step instruction manual for novice exorcists. (The best bit about the whole “you can find anything on the web schtick” is the warning to ask your “priest” if you have difficulties.)

After an introductory sequence where a young partially clad woman kills herself, the film segways into  faux news footage in a documentary that tells of abuse that mentally challenged children suffered at the Exeter institution.  The property is under the purview of Father Conway and the building is falling apart and being scavenged for materials.

A group of young people have a party at the dilapidated structure and a smaller group decide to experiment on levitation, something they see on YouTube, and  while the rest of the  participants get their freak on, a young boy becomes possessed by something evil. His big brother sets out to save his younger sibling but things quickly get out of hand.

The film has a lot of moment where things make no real sense or the timeline is a bit shaky but there are many other things in the film that feel impressively spot on. In one instance it is a piece of dialogue.

Patrick and his new female friend Reign (Kelly Blatz and Brittany Curran respectively) share a moment where one of Patrick’s friends, Brad (played by Brett Dier) storms off on is own. Patrick starts to follow him and Reign says, quite realistically, “Just let him go.” 

The scene has the same solid ring of truth that exists in Tremors when Reba McEntires tells her character’s husband, “I know they think they know every thing.” [sic] In each instance it is less about the script and more about the delivery. the lines feel and sound as matter of fact as ordering extra mayo for your burger.

Another scene in Exeter that feels spot on is the cupboard (wardrobe) scene. Patrick and Reign are looking for Rory and hear the newly possessed Amber (Gage Golightly) coming down the hall after them. They open a cupboard door and all manner of junk falls out, including an ironing board. 

When the two hear Amber getting closer, they stop and push all the rubbish that tumbled out of the cupboard back in before entering the thing and closing the door after them. A moment that feels truthful and works. Even the dumbest possessed creature would notice a mound of junk that obviously just fell out a cabinet/cupboard.

Some of the scenes are blackly comic, such as the demise of one character in a manner that seems to proves that when your mother told you about running with sharp objects in your hands, she was right. Another, perhaps inadvertently, amusing moment is when the possessed Amber is knocked down into a load of fire extinguisher foam and in her “death throes” begins to make a foam angel…

Nispel pays homage to a few films and at least, apparently, one iconic film maker. There is a clear nod to Takashi Miike and Ichi the Killer and another to the 1999 film House on Haunted Hill.  Despite these nods and winks to other films at 91 minutes, despite the “cleverness of the homages” the movie feels longer. It does not drag, per se, it just feels overly long.

Perhaps it is the culmination of annoying things. Such as the repeated camera lingers on the lawn mower, or the oddly amusing “shake and bake” death of the baddie at the end.

Still, this first move away from doing remakes of other films, the director, overall, does a satisfactory job. The movie entertains and mangoes to balance humor and horror quite nicely. The focus on the internet generation works very well and the film is a decent attempt at horror.

Exeter is a 4 out of 5 stars, earning an extra half star for the nods/homages in the film and those few stunning moments of truth. Streaming on US Netflix at the moment it  is definitely worth a look.

The Suicide Theory (2015): Australian Karmic Gold

Steven Ray and Percival bonding over Terminator Salvation game

Directed by Dru Brown (helming his second feature length film) and written by Michael J. Kospiah The Suicide Theory is pure Australian “karmic” gold.  After a 2014 festival run, the film was released in 2015 (in the USA).  The film is set in Australia and starts in a convenience store. 

A man complains to the proprietor about his pregnant wife as another customer enters and interrupts the two men. The first customer tells off the newcomer who responds sarcastically and leaves. Outside the shop, as the disgruntled customer walks away, the man with the pregnant wife, beats the sarcastic customer to death.

Steve Mouzakis is Steven Ray. A violent man who works as a professional hitman. Steven is the man in the shop who beats the other customer to death. Leon Cain is Percival, a gay artist who has repeatedly tried to take his own life and failed. He hires Steven Ray to kill him, but with the proviso that Steven wait till Percival does not want to die. Otherwise, he tells the hitman, it will not work.

The two men meet in a train and after the artist pays Steven a huge amount of money, the killer pumps three rounds into Percival’s chest at point blank range.

Percival survives.

The Suicide Theory is Australian cinema at its finest.  The cast, the storyline and the character arcs of each main player are just brilliantly done. Mouzakis is an odd cross between Steve Buscemi and Tim Curry. A perfect fit for the tortured and violent man whose first memory is of his own father throwing him through a glass coffee table.

Steven is an epileptic whose wife dies when a car careens through a crosswalk and hits the woman as the couple leave the opera. The hitman develops a phobia about crossing the street and each time he tries, Steven collapses in a fit.

Ray and Percival interact repeatedly as the hitman attempts to fulfill his contract on the painter. As they continue to meet and talk through the reasons that Percival wants to die the men begin to bond.

Dru Brown’s offering is a film of many colours. In parts black comedy, film noir, drama, buddy film,  thriller and social commentary The Suicide Theory proves that a movie can be far fetched and still work splendidly.

There have been charges that the film is contrived, and certainly this is the case.  As is the fact that Percival could have surely been killed by some other means than those employed by himself and Steven Ray (such as decapitation for example) but despite these obvious “shortfalls” the film works.

This can be seen as a cautionary type tale where one’s actions (that prompt epic and long reaching karmic repercussions) result in one’s own fate.  Scenes in the film are striking and memorable.

Steven Ray, wearing his dead wife’s opera “outfit” of a little black number and wearing her lipstick, listens to opera on a scratchy old-fashioned vinyl album.

Later, wearing the same outfit, he puts a gun to his chin to kill himself when a bullet crashes through his window barely missing him. Looking out to the street, he sees a policeman in a gun battle with a thug, who is about to kill the cop. Steven kills the armed thug and the camera pans over to his standing in the road, a hero dressed in a black slinky dress and wearing “lippy.”

The movie was filmed digitally; with the Red Scarlet X for high definition, and despite this deviation from celluloid, looks brilliant. There is an issue of lighting in a couple of scenes but this does not detract from the film.

Mouzakis gives a brilliant performance as the odd-ball hitman who grieves for his dead wife. Leon Cain gives a wonderful slant to his tortured artist with a guilty secret that drives him to repeatedly attempt suicide. These two are an excellent odd couple who end up intriguing the viewer.

At 98 minutes the film moves well, never lagging and compels the audience to keep watching. Oddly entertaining and completely absorbing, this one has Hollywood remake written all over it. If tinseltown do re-imagine this film, Steve Buscemi as Steven Ray would be casting perfection.

A 5 out of 5 star film that show why Australian cinema is one of my top favorites in the world of film making. Streaming on US Netflix at the moment watch this and learn why cinematic offerings from the land down under can be much more than Mad Max and horror films.

Apparition AKA Remorse (2014): Confusing Disjointed and Disappointing

Katrina Law as Lori

Perhaps the name change was appropriate for Apparition. The  2014 film, directed by Quinn Saunders was originally titled Remorse and that is the feeling one has after spending 100 minutes watching this confusing, disjointed and disappointing attempt at horror. Written by Pete Cafaro and Andrew Kayros  the film follows Doug, who inadvertently  cuts short his idyllic vision of life with fiancee Lori. 

After a surprise engagement party, he and his fiancee have an argument about an old flame of Lori’s who turned up uninvited. There is a car accident and Lori dies. The film starts out very promising. Lori (Katrina Law) and Doug  (Jody Quigley) feel like a real couple. The performers have a natural interaction and chemistry that makes their relationship come over brilliantly. 

The writing in this portion also helps to facilitate the film’s promising start. Sadly, after the introductory bit where we instantly like this prank playing couple, the script and Saunders’ direction let the side down badly.

The film is meant to follow Doug’s descent into madness. The lack of logical plot lines and events allows the story to wander and leaves the viewer lost. Apparently the director could not decide what sort of film he wanted to make. Either a “haunted house tale” or a “descent into madness film.”

Early on in the film Doug has “moments” where the obligatory “shadow” moves across the camera. These incidents appear to signal a move to haunted house territory. Meant to scare, the insistence of having overly loud and discordant music accompany the movements irritates instead. On a positive note, the loud shadows soon leave the film and with their departure comes a change  for the intent of the  movie.

There seems to be several different sub-genres floating around in this muddled film. Shortly after Doug’s fiancee dies, there is a tale related by the local “crank” to the grief stricken Doug. A story of a female serial killer who lured young maiden Irish girls to the house and then murdered them.

The “hero” of the piece then interacts with the ghost of an Irish servant girl. (Possibly one of the better scenes in the film with the young working girl yelping at Doug after he startles her, “You scared me to pieces!” Sadly, like the interactions with  Lori at the start of the film, this was a “one off.”) This thread runs through the film appearing occasionally, with one clear nod to the superior  2012 Daniel Radcliffe film The Woman in Black.

Suddenly, amid all this haunted house malarky, Doug decides Lori has returned as well and the film charges off in a different direction. There is at least one other reference to the “Irish maiden murderer” later on in a dream sequence. The film suffers from a clear lack of direction in terms of editing, theme of the story and  exactly what the focus is meant to be.

This cluttered mess affects performances as well. Lili Bordán (a talented actress who looks like a cross between Famke Janssen and Courtney Cox) struggled with a role that was never allowed to reach fruition as the director kept changing the goals of the film. One never really believes the attraction between Jaime (Bordan) and Doug. Because of this it makes no logical sense that she would keep coming back to “comfort” him. 

The set of the film changes constantly and while that may have been intended to enhance the story, the differences had no attachment to the line of events.  Other problems had to do with introductions of plot devices that “appeared” out of thin air with no explanation.

The room of masks that, apparently, Lori made. The “secret” that the ghost of Lori leads Doug to find (At the time of her death she was pregnant – a fact which would have been revealed at the autopsy so it should not have been a surprise to Doug at all.) and reappearance of several specters toward the end of the film from the dropped thread of the “haunted house.”

Apparition is a real mishmash of storylines that are mixed up and plopped into the film with no real logic or attention to detail. Like the various “stages” of the house that Doug is “fixing up.” The time line, which needs to follow a logical progression regardless of the main character’s “descent into madness” is all over the place.

[For a good example of a main character losing, or having lost, their mind, it is recommended that the viewer, and Quinn Saunders,  check out the 2005 Robert De Niro and Dakota Fanning film Hide and Seek directed byJohn Polson ]

While the intent is there, the film cannot deliver on any front. As it is so confusing and fails to  follow any one full thought process the ending leaves the viewer feeling annoyed and irritated. Apparition feels like a movie made after the film’s makers watched several subpar horror films and felt they could do better.

Unfortunately, they could not…

A 2 out of 5 star film streaming on US Netflix at the moment. A hearty recommendation to give this one a miss, despite the two stars for a couple of genuinely good moments and one honest jump scare. Oddly enough, it appears this film was  made again with the title The Nesting and once again directed by Quinn Saunders.  Written, also once again, by Peter Cafaro this new version will most likely be a disappointment as well.

Burying the Ex (2014): Anton Yelchin and Joe Dante Comedy Gore

Anton Yelchin and Ashley Green, Max and Evelyn Director Joe Dante, who brought the world Gremlins back in 1985, teams up with Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Odd Thomas) to deliver a hysterically funny comedy horror with more than a little gore and a lot of genre references. Written by Alan Trezza (who wrote and directed the 2008 short film of the same name) the film is about nice guy Max (Yelchin) whose girlfriend is needy and clingy, even after death.

Max works in a “Halloween” horror shop and while unpacking a “Satan Genie” he and his girlfriend agree to be together forever. The genie glows and later when Max asks Evelyn (Ashley Greene) to meet him at the dog walking park to break up, she is hit by a bus and dies.

Olivia (Alexandra Daddario), the owner and proprietor of the “I Scream” ice cream parlor asks Max out on a weird date, they go to the cemetery and pass by Evelyn’s grave. She climbs out of her coffin to return to her boyfriend and things quickly spiral out of control.

Soon, Max has his zombie girlfriend controlling his life from beyond the grave. True love becomes difficult for him as he fights to keep seeing Olivia and tries to put Evelyn back into the ground.

This is an honest to goodness laugh out loud film. Dante has lost none of his directorial touch with the horror/comedy genre. While this film has none of the unique creepiness of Dante’s 2009 film The Hole he has shown that the return to his comic roots was a brilliant move.

Anton Yelchin may have become a household name with his portrayal of Chekov in the new Star Trek film franchise but he is no stranger to the horror genre. Odd Thomas in 2013 had Yelchin playing the title character and doing a decent job. Arguably, this film (based on a Dean R. Koontz novel of the same name) was less comedic and more of a foray into the world of fantasy/horror.

The actor does a brilliant job playing the hapless nice guy who inadvertently ends up with a zombie girlfriend. Just as impressive is Alexandra Daddario as the girl who is his real soul mate. A young lady who loves all the things he does and is a walking pop cultural reference book. Dante fills the movie with references to other horror films and even appears to tip his director’s hat to Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead at the end of the movie.

Real kudos go to Ashley Greene as Evelyn, the girlfriend from hell. Her comedic timing is brilliant and she is perfect as the “zombie in denial” still in love with her perfect boyfriend. Greene sells it, full stop.

Burying the Ex is not meant to be high art, it is a bit of fun and Dante shows his familiarity with the genre that he does so well. Dick Miller even shows up and film fans will remember Miller from Gremlins, Small Soldiers and a number of other Dante projects, including the director’s stint on the Eerie, Indiana television series (Dante directed several segments)  episode The Losers in 1991.

Fans of the genre will have a heyday picking out the different references and the various clips from horror films. This is a 4.5 out of 5 star film, not completely original enough for a full five, but funny enough to warrant the almost full complement. Great entertainment that is streaming on US Netflix at the moment. There is not too much gore, it is a comedy horror after all, just enough to keep it from being too “kiddy.” A real Dante delight.

The Dead Lands (2014): Maori Mysticism and Bloodshed

Lawrence Makoare as The Warrior aka The Monster

As anyone who ever watched the New Zealand rugby team, All Blacks do their synchronized stomping routine will find the ritualistic “theatre” of the Maori warriors in The Dead Lands familiar. Directed by Toa Fraser (it is his fourth feature length film) and written by Glenn Standring this New Zealand film is full of action, mysticism and bloodshed. While not overly gory, the film features enough of the claret to satisfy most action film aficionados.

Starring James Rolleston as Hongi and Lawrence Makoare as The Warrior, the film is a tale heavily laden with thoughts of life, death, family tradition (in the form of one’s ancestors) and honor. Perhaps the biggest let down in this variation of a coming of age/revenge film is the long philosophical slant. 

There are so many dialogue heavy moments where the protagonists speak with their dead ancestors that the film becomes too wordy in all the wrong places. In some instances, like the overly chatty interchanges and monologues of the leads and their enemies, it seems that Fraser could have been influenced by the old Japanese samurai films. (Seven Samurai, which is the ultimate samurai film is so dialogue heavy that the fighting and action take second place to all the verbal rumination. While this does not take away from the film overall, the point is that all Japanese films of that era are “talky.”)

The film follows the story of Hongi, whose Chieftain father is murdered after an old ally’s son first tries to trick Hongi’s tribe into a war and then comes in the night with warriors and slaughters the tribe as they sleep. The only male survivor is Hongi and between the few women who accuse him of cowardice and his dead grandmother the Chief’s son goes to avenge his tribe’s death.

The murdering faction go through haunted lands and Hongi appeals to The Warrior who protects and guards the area. Known as a monster, the man is also the only survivor of his people. The two team up to chase down  the treacherous and egocentric Wirepa, played by Te Kohe Tuhaka, and his warriors. 

Along the way Hongi learns what is means to be a man and a warrior (he is but “16 seasons” in the film) and The Warrior earns a sort of redemption. The “monster” has a truly tragic backstory and it is revealed that his own actions, required by his father as a point of honor, drove the man mad.

The scenery is, of course, beautiful as the film is filmed in New Zealand. (Sidenote: In one scene, at what should be a splendidly mystic and touching moment, as the character straightens up one can clearly see what appears to be a car, or other motorized vehicle, zooming behind the actor on a road. This is just a split second but enough to spoil the intent of the scene.)

There are many battles between the protagonists and Wirepa’s men, which all have the participants gesturing wildly and includes much eye rolling and sticking out of tongues, which are meant to be either taunting or threatening or a combination of both. If one looks at pictures of the Maori God of War; eyes large, tongue sticking out, it seems this is the appropriate posturing to assume before attacking one’s enemy.

The fights themselves are impressively brutal, bloody and prolonged. Choreography has been done with particular attention to reality versus theatricality. The blows landed by the antiquated weapons look deadly, painful and debilitating. Were the fight scene’s longer and the monologues and philosophizing shorter the film would have flowed better and not felt so long.

Kudos to the stunt coordinators on the battle between Mehe (played by Raukura Turei) and The Warrior in the creek. This looks brilliant, further kudos to the cinematographer as the scene takes place in near dark. Great choreography and camera work make the scene feel right and real.

All in all, The Dead Lands  is solid entertainment. The cinematography by Leon Narbey is nigh on perfect with his framing of scenes working brilliantly. Narbey also lights the set pieces very well, the “at night” scenes or ones set at dusk or in the afterlife are clear enough to make out almost every detail, something that many other cinematographer seem to mess up badly.

The actors all do a brilliant job, despite the dialogue heaviness of the script. Makoare’s pathos and inner agony are shakespearean in scope and Rolleston’s teen sole survivor is touchingly tragic and determined. Te Kohe Tuhaka impresses as the hubris filled Chief’s son whose treachery and bloodthirsty quest for honor leads him astray.

This Kiwi treat is a 4 out of 5 stars for story and those impressively choreographed fights. It loses a full star for the verbosity of its main actors. Streaming on US Netflix at the moment, this one is well worth a look for those who do not fear sub-titled films.

Bad Building (2015): Just Plain Bad

Still from Bad Building
Directed and co-written by Philip Granger (Jeff O’Brien was the other scribe for the film) this 2015 Canadian offering, titled Bad Building is just plain bad. Nothing about the film works and at one hour 14 minutes long, it feels three times longer. Despite the filmmakers deciding not to go the “found-footage” route, this short feature bores, frustrates and annoys.

The plot has a group of ghost hunters who are going all out to keep their program from being cancelled. The first scene in the film is indicative of the rest of the movie. The “producer” who threatens the host with cancellation appears to have been brought in off the street to play the part.

Like the bad acting in the first frames, after a five minute opening credit sequence, all of Bad Building is bad. Bad editing, bad continuity, bad acting (again), bad lighting, bad sound…the list goes on. Sadly, the premise could have been good, although the “reality-TV-paranormal-team -investigating-the-haunted-asylum” has been overdone.

The catalog of things done badly, poorly or just wrong is long. Many could have been fixed with pickup shots or a bit of ADR or just having a good grasp of continuity. Most of the mistakes are not even laughably bad. A scene with a disappearing door (which leads to a stairwell) has a glaring mistake visible when the camera moves back for a long shot.

After the door vanishes, which is in the middle of a long row of doors, the camera angle changes for a long shot from behind the action. The missing door scene is now suddenly at the end of the hallway. There is no explanation for this sudden change. It is just there.

Another instance is when the group first go into the building. A member of the team places what is clearly tape on the wall behind a pipe where they enter. As the team pass, and the camera follows, the “tape” has been replaced with a green “magic marker” cross that then fades.

Clearly, this was, at one point, meant to be a plot device for the film which is never used or followed up on. Among the long list of things done badly are special effects which are either so blatantly computer generated or very poorly constructed practicals.

For instance, a member of the crew attempts to call for help from an upper floor window. Outside the window there are rows of metal “tines” used to keep pigeons from landing on the ledge. The character is forced onto the spikes and presumably dies. The gag does not work as the pigeon proofing is clearly rubber and so flimsy that it moves easily.

Other stunts make no sense and still more “action” scenes are either poorly filmed, or edited; leaving the viewer wondering what they have just seen.

The young actors in this horror film sound like their lines have all been improved on the spot rather than scripted dialogue. One can quite imagine these young professional performers leaving this credit off of their CV (resume). In a gesture of compassion, the actors will not be mentioned by name in this review. They should not be punished for a bad script and confusing edits.

In terms of editing, there are scenes which appear to be “out of sequence” and let things down badly. For example, after the host has a meltdown, he fires a gun to threaten the urban explorers who helped him and his team get into the building. Once his weapon is taken away (and he is thumped by the urban leader) he then goes back to acting as though nothing has happened.

Bad Building is just bad. Apparently, the film first appeared (via YouTube as a trailer) in 2011. Presumably the film sat unfinished or undistributed for four years. After spending 74 minutes watching this execrable mess, one cannot help feel that the film should have stayed on the shelf.

Literally .5 out of 5 stars. The film earns a half star because I refuse to give anyone’s hard work a zero and there was one halfway decent line, maybe two, in the film. Bad Building is on Hulu at the moment, avoid this one unless you really like badly done movies that leave you frustrated, bored and irritated.