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Category Archives: Movies

2AM: The Smiling Man

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As a frequenter of a subreddit called NoSleep, I was delighted to find that one of the most memorable creepypastas I’ve stumbled across was interpreted in film format last year. 2AM, directed and edited by Michael Evans of Go For Broke Pictures and starring Sean Simon and Paul Foltz, is based on a supposedly true account by user tidal_wave of what happened during one of her sleepless nights out and about in a big American city.

Tidal_wave, a self-described night owl, had made a habit of strolling through the streets late at night while her (she doesn’t explicitly state her gender in the story, but as she pointed out in the wake of the release of 2AM, she dropped some pretty obvious clues) non-nocturnal roommate was asleep. This went well for four years until she encountered the now-notorious Smiling Man and resolved never to walk out at night again.

The major creep factor here is that the story is realistic. Insane people exist, drugged out people exist, and people who just enjoy messing with strangers in the middle of the night exist. Whether or not creepy supernatural beings from hell exist is debatable, but a story like The Smiling Man sure makes some of the more terrified minds wander.

The most glaring inaccuracy in 2AM is the protagonist, who is most likely female in the original. But seeing as that’s not exactly a crucial element in the story, I think it’s fair to say that the film team did The Smiling Man justice — though the visual portrayal of the smiling man might actually be a tad more hilarious than horrifying while the written description is 100% spine-tingling, but that’s just my opinion. Here’s what tidal_wave has to say about the adaptation of her story: “This is pretty cool. It’s really well shot, and the actors did a great job. It’s not particularly accurate in terms of how it actually went down, but a few things were very close.”

Read the story, which was originally posted to r/letsnotmeet and later re-posted to r/nosleep, here (listening to “Surfin’ Dead” by The Cramps while reading helps if you scare easily) and watch the short film below. I recommend proceeding in that order.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

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It’s safe to say that the Paranormal Activity franchise went radically downhill after the first film. Given the mediocrity of the second and third instalments I didn’t even bother with the following release, which, according to reviews, turned out to be a wise move. But here they are, still milkin’ it Saw-style, and on a rainy Saturday with nothing to do except lounge around I decided to pass the time with some mindless entertainment and deemed the newly released Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones by Christopher Landon perfect for the afternoon.

The Marked Ones isn’t technically a sequel (the fifth part of the series is coming out in October), it’s more like a spin-off. It is supposed to solve some of the mysteries surrounding the paranormal forces at work and touches on aspects of the previous PA films, all the while telling a new story.

I expected it to be stale as a corpse, but it is actually much more entertaining than every post-PA1 flick I’ve seen. The storyline centers around two best friends, Jesse and Hector, who are just living for the day and horsing around like teenagers do until Jesse’s weird neighbour dies and spooky occurrences start piling up. The first half of the picture is uncharacteristically humorous. The main characters are likeable goofballs and there are some genuinely funny scenes (minuscule spoiler ahead: the entire audience chuckled when Hector slid down the stairs in a laundry basket with a GoPro attached), which is a change I embrace. The movie feels relatively authentic and not like a big budget Hollywood production in general, and it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously.

The jump scares are fun and actually made me jump. Admittedly, that’s not exactly a shining accomplishment because I am a huge scaredy cat, but judging from my fellow cinemagoers’ reactions, they do work. Even so, I didn’t find the film all that scary in terms of suspense, but that didn’t strike me as a problem.

My major criticism is that for every question answered, The Marked Ones raises another, presumably to make sure that the machine can continue milking the franchise for every last penny until the end of all existence. Cliffhangers are annoying when the intention of the makers so obviously isn’t to let people reflect on the story on their own, but to make more money off sequels.

Other than that, The Marked Ones is a solid popcorn flick. For me, its strong points are the protagonists and the humour. You don’t necessarily have to have seen PA2, PA3 and PA4 in order to understand and enjoy this one, but I recommend watching PA1 so you’re not missing the key links (and besides, it’s inarguably the best of the bunch and you should totally check it out if you were hiding under a rock and somehow missed it in 2007.)

First Blood

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Every single movie fan has probably seen First Blood (1982) aka Rambo at least once in their life. Personally speaking, First Blood is one of these films which has been on my to-watch list for ages and which, either because of lack of time or because of lack of interest, I saw now for the first time at the age of 28.

As there is not much to say about the movie this review will be a rather short one. Basically, the film is about an ex-green beret, physically and psychologically marked by Vietnam war, who goes on a GTA-like rampage in and around a small American town after he was mobbed and maltreated by the local police.

The movie is fantastic. I even claim that it is the best 80’s action movie I have seen until now but, to be honest, I had one problem with the movie, or let’s rather say with the main character. I am not sure if it was on purpose or not but I never really felt any sympathy for the reticent anti-hero, John Rambo.

There may be some people who claim that First Blood is an (attempt at an) anti-war movie about an American hero who gets completely lost in the real world after the atrocities he experienced during war. That the traumatized John Rambo actually is the real victim (of the brutalized American war-past) and that his excessive brutality is actually his personal form of dealing with problems, just as he learnt it from war. First Blood then can be seen as a film about a mentally broken hero prisoner of war whose mind is still confined in it and who is not able to handle his traumatizing experiences.

I am not sure if I can agree with the above or if the movie simply is nothing more than a perfect example of a well-staged, brutal and thrilling action movie with great dialogues, lots of explosions, guns and gore. In the end I really don’t give a damn because Rambo is entertaining, a classic which set new standards and if you, just like me, are one of the few people who haven’t seen it, you should do it. Rambo is without question one of the best popcorn movies I have ever seen. A must!

Kondom des Grauens (Killer Condom)

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Beware of carnivorous condoms in New York! The ravenous little bastards feed off of male genitalia and no one knows what their deal is. The first known case takes us back to the Quicky hotel, where a corrupt teacher took his student to let her “work” her way up to better grades and eventually ended up with a mutilated penis. Unfortunately, what started as an only moderately regrettable hit of karma quickly spiralled way out of control.

Enter Luigi Mackeroni, the hero, the cop investigating the case. He is a chain-smoking badass with Sicilian roots who happens to be gay and has his trans ex-lover call him “Lutschi” whenever she pops up. Like everyone else, he initially thinks that the girl bit off the teacher’s penis, but is proven wrong when he witnesses a schlong-devouring wrapper in action at the notorious hotel. He then proceeds to take us on a hilariously bizarre journey that leads to the origin of the killer condoms.

Kondom des Grauens is the first Troma-distributed film (based on an equally screwed up cartoon by Ralf König) I’ve seen, and I loved it. Ridiculousness and excess are defining characteristics of the trash genre, and this jewel sure delivers. Just from the title and above summary you should be able to tell that taking it too seriously won’t allow you to enjoy the viewing experience.

But while you do have your cheesy one-liners, overblown characters and primitive sexual jokes, Kondom des Grauens also carries a very real message. It’s depressingly rare to see an openly homosexual lead in any film, and even rarer to have one as un-stereotypically gay as Mackeroni. Conservative views and general bigotry are challenged throughout the whole flick and especially in a big moment toward the end.

A special mention goes to the cast. Trash works are often ridiculed for the bad acting performances, and this might be the case for Kondom des Grauens on a technical level, but holy Mackeroni (sic), are these people charming. It actually reminded me that good characters are an indispensable foundation for a good trash/comedy film. Also, some of you Germans and Luxembourgers might spot one or two familiar faces. (Spoiler alert: look out for Hella von Sinnen and Iris Berben!)

So I was mightily amused and occasionally touched, which means that the movie fulfilled its purpose in my eyes. I’m sure it’s not without fault, but I was too entertained to pay attention, and that’s the way it should be.

Cargo

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Little gets me like father-child relationships, and nothing gets me like father-child relationships in bleak post-apocalyptic settings. This has to do with father-child dynamics (which I find fascinating), but mostly the concept of unconditional, selfless love in the face of a woefully hopeless future. I was bawling my eyes out 10 minutes into both the book and film adaptation of The Road when nothing had even really happened because the subject touches me so profoundly.

So when I tell you that Cargo by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke is about just that — a father-child relationship in a bleak post-apocalyptic setting — you can probably guess the way this review will turn out. Yes, a tear or two were shed. Heartstrings were pulled. But Cargo doesn’t go for the cheap drama shots and moral lessons. It isn’t a boastful, manipulative film. It’s gentle and cautious, and its brilliance lies in its impartiality. Except for some subtle musical accompaniment that rears up toward the end, there’s nothing to direct your emotions, not even dialogue. The raw tragedy of the storyline does the job.

I think many of us are a tad sick of the zombie genre by now because it seems like covered ground for the most part, but this picture is a must-watch. It’s hugely popular with over 5 million views on YouTube despite not winning any awards at the Tropfest festival, where it was originally screened. And with good reason. Watching it is a rewarding way to spend 7 minutes and 4 seconds of your day, I promise, and about 76 811 people are backing my claim as we speak. Beware, though, for it might also shatter you emotionally, especially if you’re a dad/parent yourself.

Find it embedded below, and let us know what you think if you’ve seen it or decide to do it now.

Miami Connection

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Last week I finally found some time to watch a movie and while I was thinking about what to watch I came across the Miami Connection trailer. I loved it and still do. There is a 80s rock band (with a pretty front woman) playing, there are motorcycle ninjas, gang fights, there is fire, cocaine and even some gore. You can’t go wrong with that, right? Well, you can. As much as I love the trailer and the fantastic movie poster, the movie is absolutely disastrous in its entirety.

Miami Connection (1987) is an indie martial arts film which was ignored and basically remained unseen for years, until Drafthouse Films decided to restore the movie in 2012 in order to give it a release.

Writer, producer and co-director Y.K. Kim, who is a taekwondo martial artist, clearly had no idea what he was doing and neither did the rest of his team. Film director Richard Park discovered Y.K. Kim when he was on a Korean talk show to promote a book about taekwondo. Park thought it was a good idea to convince a man who had no previous experience in the field to bring to life one of his storylines, and that’s how Miami Connection was born.

So, as I said, it’s painfully obvious that Y.K. Kim has no cinematographic knowledge or skill at all. The story is confusing as is (“A martial arts rock band goes up against a band of motorcycle ninjas who have tightened their grip on Florida’s narcotics trade“???), but on top of that, there are too many superfluous subplots which don’t add anything to the movie. The chronological order of the scenes is all over the place, there is no structure behind it. The whole movie is like a trailer: it doesn’t want to reveal too much about the actual plot, which is obviously suboptimal for a feature length film.

All in all, what I took away from this viewing experience was, once again, that the term “cult film” can be misleading. Many people don’t understand that even trash films can be inspirational and worthy of respect. Miami Connection, however, does not fit the bill.

Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County

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This is my first time ever reviewing a movie about aliens. Out of the long list of human-invented monsters and entities, I find our fabricated image of aliens to be the least scary and/or interesting, so I don’t seek out stories involving them. I am tired of seeing the same old pale inverted triangle heads parading around the earth with their long limbs, technologically advanced spaceships and shady intents. I have yet to see a movie that deals with them in an exciting way and doesn’t use the worn-out stereotype of the extraterrestrial tyrant with supernatural powers.

Sadly, Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County does not challenge our idea of extraterrestrial life, either. But it did capture my attention because it is a straight to TV movie that came out one year before The Blair Witch Project and was marketed as real footage, as well. (By the by, the fact that this actually worked is hilarious. Aside from the fairly obvious movie mistakes, like glaring audio/visual asynchrony and the like, the makers included the alien actors in the credits.)

The film, which features interviews with all sorts of “professionals” in between the found footage, is told through the lens of a kid who wants to document his family’s thanksgiving get-together with his new camera. They’re all having a medicore time until the three brothers go out to check what’s wrong with the electricity. They notice strange lights in the distance, decide to investigate and end up witnessing a strange ritual performed by aliens in front of their spaceship. Things go downhill from there.

The acting struck me as substandard and very distinctly amateurish (except for the little girl, who managed to unsettle the ever-living hell out of me), which shattered hopes of the film feeling real and dangerous for me right off the bat. As entertainment, “okay” is the word I would use to describe it in a nutshell. Truth be told, this is far from the worst outcome. I actually do think it is suspenseful, and the alien intruders have some pretty creative methods to mess with the family. The psychological manipulations, especially towards the end, are seriously unnerving. I’d love to spoil a specific scene here, but I’ll keep it as vague as possible by revealing that people end up putting their tongues where they don’t belong, and it leaves you… puzzled. There are very few jump scares, which I appreciate, as well. The film tries to build to a climax of terror by using tension and subtly disturbing occurrences.

I’d say that watching Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County can serve as a nice Friday evening pastime for found footage/suspense/alien fans. The movie is not groundbreaking or challenging in any way, but it’s one of the more tolerable alien flicks I’ve seen, if that counts for anything coming from an alien flick avoider.

Plan 9 from Outer Space

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The (film) world surely does not need another extensive Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) review and that’s exactly why I won’t do one. The following few lines simply include some subjective thoughts and views about the mother of all “The worst movie ever made” films.

First off: there is no way in hell that Plan 9 from Outer Space is the worst picture ever made. Even though it commands the top slot in most of the “worst movie” lists throughout the internet, it does not occur in my personal top ten and I am not even sure if it would appear in my top twenty. Why? Because it entertained me. I didn’t expect an intellectual, social drama about life and death with a multi-million budget, directed by Woody Allen. I expected a b-movie science- fiction thriller film which I hoped would amuse me for the next 80 minutes, and it did.

For the few among you who haven’t seen this classic: Edward D. Wood Jr.’s Plan 9 from Outer Space is about Aliens who try to contact the human beings on earth because they fear that the human race will destroy the whole universe by creating a doomsday bomb. In order to get the desired attention, the aliens implement Plan 9: resurrect 3 dead people, aim to create chaos and plan to kill humanity in order to save the universe.

Ok, Plan 9 brims over with movie mistakes, the plot is cohesionless and consists of inconsistencies. The dialogues are just damn brilliant and most of the time make absolutely no sense. The budget should have been around the price of a Tata Nano involved in an accident. The special effects are antic, even for the year 1959, and the requisites probably come from the local toy department. The acting is lousy and even the “old” silent Lugosi stock-footage, which the story is built around, is far below average.

To be honest, the movie is a disaster on every level, BUT it fascinates me and I couldn’t have cared less about all this cinematic incompetence mentioned above. Plan 9 is an amiable alien/zombie Z-Movie made by people who loved cinema. You can argue about their talent and they may have had no cinematic knowledge but you can’t deny the enthusiasm and the movie’s charm.

I kinda love it. Watch the movie for free:

Knife Point

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It is Friday, and I am back with a new short movie review — although, to be fair, Knife Point doesn’t technically qualify as “short” if you consider the fact that all my previous picks did not exceed 10 minutes. With its 24 minutes runtime, it takes a little more time out of your day than the others, and definitely demands more of your attention. Director Carlo Mirabella-Davis himself calls it a “horror short”, but I’d categorise it as a thriller because of its slow development and emphasis on tone rather than action.

Mirabella-Davis completed his Masters degree at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and now teaches directing and screenwriting at the New York Film Academy. He teamed up with Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, stars of the renowned movie Once, and directed a documentary about their real life romance. He’s a prolific and knowledgeable filmmaker, no doubt, and Knife Point is another testament to his prowess. It makes for a terrific visual experience with its striking cinematography, gripping atmosphere and pretty soundtrack. The talented cast adds to its quality, as well (special mention goes to Kate Lyn Sheil, who deservedly won Best Actress for her poignant performance at The Brooklyn International Film Festival.)

I have my share of problems with the story, though. Knife Point is about a knife salesman who travels with an evangelical Christian family, and of course, trouble looms on the horizon and some serious shit goes down later on. Firstly, I have read reviews that called the plot twist “unexpected”, and I have to disagree. Vehemently. I could predict the way this movie would turn out from miles away, and it’s not because I’m a fortune teller/Sherlock reincarnate/intuitive genius of some kind. Secondly, and this ties in nicely with my first point, the message is so unbelievably morally judgemental and lazy. I find it hard to elaborate here because I would have to spoil the entire plot, but let’s just say that while I understand the damage religious fanaticism can do, there are smarter ways to treat the subject. The portrayal of the devout family (specifically the father) struck me as far too rigid and caricatural, and I’m not a fan of unfair stereotyping, even if I personally disagree with the worldview of said group.

So that rubbed me the wrong way, and I ended up staring at the screen with a raised eyebrow as the credits rolled. To me, Knife Point feels like a personal vendetta against religious people, and it made me too uncomfortable to savour the otherwise fantastic viewing experience to the fullest. I’m sure other people won’t see a problem with it, though, and if you think you can see past it, I can let you sit down for half an hour to absorb the beautifully shot and acted film with a clear conscience.

[vimeo 74499750 w=480&h=281]

Bubba Ho-tep

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I have been looking for Bubba Ho-tep (2002) for some years now but I, somehow, always kept on procrastinating which may be due to the fact that I do not enjoy horror comedies and that I am not a big Bruce Campbell fan.

As already mentioned, Bubba Ho-tep is an American horror-comedy. It was co-written and directed by Don Coscarelli and is based on a homonymous short story by Joe R.Lansdale. The film stars Bruce Campbell as the impotent Elvis Presley or some kind of ageing, mentally retarded impersonator, who resides at The Shady Rest Retirement Home. One of Elvis’ fellow lodgers is Jack (Ossie Davis), an elderly black man who insists he is President John F. Kennedy. Jack/John claims that “they” dyed him black after the “missed” assassination in Dallas and that Lyndon B. Johnson abandoned him in this retirement home. Due to some mystical events and killings, Mister President decides to team up with the King in order to destroy the evil, which would release the trapped souls of their dead friends.

As you see, the film has exceptionally great potential but take a wild guess: yes, they ruined it, or let’s rather say that they partly ruined it because of the decision to turn this brilliant and funny concept into a superfluous horror movie. I have never read Lansdale’s short story but the film hits the skids pretty soon and the whole terrorizing soul-eating mummy stuff goes astray.

In the end there are only the two main characters and the actors who play them who are able to turn Bubba Ho-tep around. When it comes to B-Movies it is an absolute rarity that I finish the film only because of the actors. Campbell/Elvis and Ossi/Jack/JFK are absolutely amazing and their acting is close to perfection. They are funny when they are supposed to be funny, they are sad when they are supposed to be sad and they are congenially weird throughout the whole film and every single emotion is put across with concentrated passion and devotion.

The characters not only work on their own, the actors are also able to create a fair and beautiful interplay. They are more than simple synthetic constructs, they come alive by endearing authenticity and I immediately fell under the spell of Elvis’ and John’s charisma.The writers and actors did a great job and it is nice to see that although the rest of the movie is rather weak, there were at least a few people who gave it some thought.

In the end, the movie doesn’t work as a horror comedy and we don’t need a sequel (as Ossie is dead and Bruce refused the role) but when it comes to Bubba Ho-tep, you can certainly give it a try.