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Killer Mermaid
Killer Mermaid
DVD ~ Franco Nero
Price: $9.79
17 used & new from $5.79

3.0 out of 5 stars A promising micro-budget movie about a man-eating sea nymph by a dawning filmmaker; a little slow, but still fun and worth it, December 12, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Killer Mermaid (DVD)
Although suffering from a slow pace and over-exposition, this was a promising little micro-budget movie by a filmmaker early in his career. After seeing this man-eating water nymph story, I look forward to what he can do when paired with better writers and a meatier budget.

Opening, in all straight-faced seriousness, with a soulful Moby Dick quote only to transition into a cute couple's vacation montage scored by promiscuously-themed club music and by the fourth minute baring breasts upon us…this movie is clearly all about balancing mood. Maybe more about balancing one ominous introductory quote with lots of bikinis, butt-angled camera shots and mermaid breasts to come.

Kelly (Kristina Klebe; Breadcrumbs, Chillerama, Halloween) and Lucy (Natalie Burn; In the Name of the King 2, The Expendables 3) go on a Mediterranean adventure vacation to a small, uninhabited island with Lucy's Serbian ex-boyfriend Alex, who is bringing his fiancée…awkwaaaaaard. Needless to say, some lovelines get crossed. Also needless to say, this is hardly pertinent to the story.

Our young attractive group of vacationers encounter a super creepy old man (Franco Nero; The Woods, Django Unchained) who tries to warn them away from the island they wish to visit (Mamula) and of the man-eating nymph Scylla, who evidently "ate" this old man's entire diving crew. I wonder why they didn't buy into his totally credible story about an aquatic chick eating six grown men. So they go despite these warnings.

After he opening scenes and meeting the characters, things move at a sluggish pace and the acting is nothing to brag about. The good thing about that is that we more than sufficiently get to know the characters and maybe even care about some of them. The bad part is that we came to see a movie called "killer mermaid" and an hour into the movie we still haven’t seen this flesh-gnawing fish girl!

Nothing like The Little Mermaid's Ariel, our "monster" in this movie is a mix of Greek mythology's singing siren and an anthropophagous mermaid. But to compliment this we also get a psychopathic fisherman pick-axing people with a grappling hook. When we eventually see the mermaid with her latex suit and CGI-tail it is, in fact, satisfying. I just wish we got to see a lot more of her throughout the movie. And no, I'm not talking about mermaid boobs…but they're there as well.

The gore in this fantasy-horror is hardly present, minimal and infrequent. A bucket of chum made of severed hands, an impaled neck (but we don't see it happen), some corpse butchering (but we don't see it happen), and a single satisfying axe to the back make up everything leading up to the equally ungory finale. No good mermaid-related kills though. And that just ain't right!

Directed by Milan Todorovic, who is credited as the creator of the "first Serbian zombie movie" (Zone of the Dead) and now the "first" Serbian sea creature movie. I'm not so sure that these "firsts" should be considered noteworthy, but this movie wasn't awful. It was really only "bad" in "good" ways and it certainly showed us what Todorovic can envision and do with a tiny budget. The storytelling suffers from over-exposition, especially in the very end, but this is fixable with experience and is nothing I'd advise skipping the movie over.

Give this flick a chance.


The Monkey's Paw
The Monkey's Paw
DVD ~ Stephen Lang
Price: $13.14
41 used & new from $3.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A cautionary tale warning us to be careful what we wish and even more careful if considering watching this movie, December 9, 2014
This review is from: The Monkey's Paw (DVD)
Based on the classic horror story and cautionary tale based on the short story by W.W. Jacobs, The Monkey's Paw tests the waters of mixing distorted wish-granting with "be careful what you wish for" notions. In this iteration Jake (C. J. Thomason; Husk, Sutures) comes into possession of the ill-fated magical talisman at a local watering hole from his embittered ex-boss who seems a little too glad (in almost a vindictive way) to be rid of the fate-twisting trinket.

It's a little silly, but not necessarily unrealistically approached with the wish-making. The first (rather skeptically made) wish was for a car: "I wish for that bitchin' GT outside." The second saves the life of Jake's rough-around-the-edges co-worker Tony (Stephen Lang; Conan the Barbarian, Avatar, Salem). And if Pet Sematary (1989) has taught us anything, it's that people who are magically saved from death tend to continue life as a homicidal husk of what they once were. In this case, that husk of a man also really wants the last wish from the Monkey's Paw.

The weakest point of this movie is that it relies on a homicidal pseudo-zombie for its kills instead of several uniquely distorted and gorily treated wishes. It makes the story about Tony, as if he were a motivated killer instead of one of many victims of a Monkey's Paw. This fails; we don't care, Tony isn't interesting, and we're looking for more creative death scenes.

At one point Jake goes to see a fortune teller. That, of course, is melodramatically treated and to no satisfaction of us viewers. Jake tries to rationally explain his situation to people…that NEVER goes well in these movies either. Then we get the explanation of how the paw works from the former owner. Again, none of these storytelling or harbingering devices work remotely well for us. Triple storytelling fail. But, hey, that's okay because the acting is great…no, scratch that…wrong word…appalling is what I meant. Yup. That's it. The acting is appalling.

Normally direct-to-DVD flicks like this will at least possess the saving grace of an effort towards excessive gore. Negative again! Evidently the filmmakers were relying on their heavily flawed, soap operatic storytelling to sell DVDs. I wonder if they sold enough DVDs to buy a tank of gas yet.

The fun of these "wishes gone wrong" flicks is all in how the gory, funny, ironic deaths are handled and how creative the wish distortions are. We see neither such redeeming quality for even a moment. Contrastingly, clever writing can make these supernatural stories feel feasible when the ancillary characters of course disbelieve the magic and find the protagonist crazy (if even dumb eough to try to explain their story to, say, a police officer). No clever writing either. Nope. This flick was crappy through and through.

All of this was gleaned after 60 minutes of the movie. Just imagine how bad then the final 30 minutes must have been. NOT GOOD, folks. Let's skip this movie. Don't buy it, rent it, on-demand it, Netflix…don't even watch this on the Scy-Fy channel at 2pm laying on the couch on a rainy sick day half asleep from cold medicine. Yeah, it's that kind of lame.


Returned
Returned
DVD ~ Kris Holden-Reid
Price: $11.45
30 used & new from $4.49

5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect, relationship-driven zombie movie that doesn't at all feel like a "zombie" movie in the best possible way., November 27, 2014
This review is from: Returned (DVD)
From the opening credits we are presented powerful imagery from the past of a brutal, traumatic, and even plausible domestic attack in which a wife and kids are cannibalized by a loved one-turned-zombie.

Shifting to the present, we meet Alex (Kris Holden-Ried; Underworld: Awakening, Lost Girl). He appears in every way to be a regular guy in a regular happy relationship talking about regular things…"it's time we told them," he says to Kate (Emily Hampshire; Good Neighbors, The Cradle). The kind of thing you'd say about informing your family of good news or bad; a pregnancy, an engagement, or even cancer.

Cut to a hospital and we see Kate treating people in the "Returned Unit." Patients, small talk with co-workers, kind bedside manner, "good news" from doctors…everything seems normal until a doctor's advice to parents taking their recovered child home seems just "a bit abnormal," as we are introduced to the fact that this "returned" child is being returned to his parents with instructions to give him an injection every day…an injection for which it is rumored that supply will soon fail to meet demand. Kate assures the parents that everything is fine, then secretly stockpiles the drug at home. A drug that keeps the virus at bay for no more than 24-36 hours.

"Returned" is a household term met with adversity--much like abortion. And likewise, it has it's protestor demonstrations, financial interests and political conflict. Whether "returned" or not--people are scared…people are angry…people are in denial…people are desperate…and people want to live normal lives. Eventually, some people even turn on the people they love.

In this world the threat of zombies is real, and it truly "feels" real. This film's approach to the "zombie" is perfect and, in essence, this feels nothing at all like a zombie movie. The premise is shockingly plausible and I was immersed. Only during the most limited "turned-zombie scenes" does this feel momentarily like a zombie film--but such scenes were handled well and fail to challenge my investment in the realness of the story. The gore was very little and very, very rare. What we see is done well. But even as a totally camp-tastic, rubber-guts-ophilic gorehound I still absolutely loved this film.

As we observe the downward spiral leading to the much feared "next epidemic," the cast does a fantastic job infecting us with urgency. The relationships between the characters are palpably strong. We feel them, we empathize for them, we want them to be okay and, when things grow dire, we feel it tugging at our heart strings.

Shift your expectations appropriately away from horror to very human, relationship-driven drama and you, too, should love this film. It had me totally committed from beginning to the very powerful end. Very powerful.


The Machine [Blu-ray]
The Machine [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Toby Stephens
Price: $12.19
22 used & new from $7.64

4.0 out of 5 stars Far from a dystopian robot film, this elegantly depicts the development of artificial sentience and deserves your attention, November 22, 2014
This review is from: The Machine [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
MY CALL: Hardly an action movie at all, this clever sci-fi film is much more about the gracefully naÔve evolution of sentience in an artificial being. And at that, it does a fantastic job! You hardly notice the humble budget, which was handled very well.

During a Cold War with China in the future, a new kind of arms race begins to create artificial intelligence. And like SkyNet (Terminator, T2), HAL (2001: A Space Odyssey), ARIIA (Eagle Eye), David (Prometheus) and VIKI (I, Robot) have taught us, this never tends to turn out well. Kind of has me wondering about this Siri phone voice chick now. Speaking of which, there is a lady Cyborg in this movie named Suri.

This film captured my interest right away. In the first act of the story our lead scientist Vincent's (Toby Stephens; Black Sails, Robin Hood) approach to assessing a program's self-awareness and human-like cognizance involved thought exercises that are brilliantly simple, they make sense to us (the viewers), and we can tell when they're successful or not. Adding conflict to the story, Vincent has a dying young girl with brain damage who lacks even the self-awareness of the programs he is assessing. But great things can emerge from conflict. And whereas this family-centric conflict finds little development through the course of the story, the film remains quite successful in its greater aims.

Vincent's place of employment is a research facility littered with early prototype cyborgs made from brain damaged ex-soldiers that have lost their capacity for oral speech…and they all seem shady, untrustworthy and dangerous. They also seem to house a mystery.

Vincent takes young scientist Ava (Caity Lotz; The Pact, Arrow) under his wing to develop next-gen artificial intelligence and she is much more sympathetic to their Cyborg subjects. Ava is very curious, and that's not good in an industry loaded with secrets.

Long story short, Vincent makes a Cyborg with Ava's consciousness. Cyborg Ava is smarter, more aware, and more compassionate than past prototypes and has an immediate attachment to Vincent. But she is also naÔve, scared, easily manipulated, and modifiable. Caity Lotz does an even finer job playing the enchantingly child-like Cyborg as she does the scientist.

When the action begins (towards the end), Caity Lotz convincingly moves with robotic precision in brilliant contrast to an elegant and tastefully shadowed nude dance scene humanizing her early in her development. The action is nothing special, but it's every bit as good as it needs to be to keep our attention--with a few brutally cold, robotic, and entertaining moments.

Written and directed by someone (Caradog W. James; Little White Lies) of little experience in the sci-fi genre, I feel this film was extremely successful in concept execution, did a solid job of world-building (despite the limited sets and budget), a nice job in story development, and a perfect job in depicting Cyborg-Ava's mental development.

This is surely a must-see for any fan of Sci-Fi. Just don't go in expecting laser guns and six-armed monsters. This one is a bit more subtle.


Deadly Friend
Deadly Friend
DVD ~ Matthew Labyorteaux
Offered by SOUTHWEST MEDIA
Price: $14.90
16 used & new from $9.50

4.0 out of 5 stars A modern teenage Frankenstein meets Weird Science, Short Circuit and Re-Animator…all of which featured creations behaving badly, November 11, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Deadly Friend (DVD)
The 80s loved robots… The Terminator (1984), Short Circuit (1986), Chopping Mall (1986), *Batteries Not Included (1987), Short Circuit II (1988)… and here's another one! This playful creation-gone-wrong film by a young Wes Craven brings back a wonderful 80s nostalgia to this lifetime horror lover. Just enough zany gore, silly scenarios and a wack-tastic ending to overcome a severely limited budget.

A teenager on a university scholarship studying the human brain, young inventor Paul (Matthew Labyorteaux) creates artificial intelligence.

We meet Paul's cute neighbor Samantha (Kristy Swanson; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Swamp Shark) and her uber-creepy sweaty abusive dad (Richard Marcus; Enemy Mine, Tremors, The Being), his creepy old neighbor Elvira (the mean old villainess from The Goonies), and some local punks who get their man-parts squeezed by a protective BB. Speaking of which, BB is super cute but he seems to take note to those who have wronged him.

Paul's robot "BB" is nothing short of absolutely adorable and he sounds like Disney's Stitch or a Star Wars Jawa. At one point when he was meeting the teenage neighbor boy I think he said "Houtini." BB is always getting upgraded and, as a result, smarter. Meanwhile Paul is making decades of scientific progress in mere weeks, already developing the circuitry to jump-start the nervous system of a cadaver.

When a prank-gone-wrong results in creepy Elvira shotgun-blasting BB to robot Heaven, Paul loses his robo-bestie. Worse yet, the very night of his first kiss with Samantha, a domestic dispute with her father sends her to the hospital with a fatal injury. So naturally Paul steals Samantha's body, surgically implants BB's "spare brain" (a motherboard, basically) into Samantha, and then Weird Science meets Re-Animator as he reanimates BB-Sam complete with remote control. Why there is no button to turn his Cyborg-girlfriend into a sex droid is beyond me. I guess as a teenage neuro-robotics prodigy he gets plenty of play already.

Let's just say that the remote control doesn't work out as effectively as Paul would like, because BB-Sam goes on a killing spree to snuff out everyone who ever wronged BB or Samantha. This in mind, maybe it's a blessing that he didn't go the sex droid route. Although it would have made for a great death scene! LOL.

Director Wes Craven (Scream 4, Deadly Blessing, Cursed) was playful with his low budget-limited few moments of gore. A violent dream sequence has Samantha killing her father and then being doused by his blood as if pouring from a spout. We also witness the exquisitely goretastic use of a basketball for a detonation-like decapitation. Not to mention the unreasonably stupid but equally super-fun gory surprise ending.

The basketball scene and the ending alone are worth owning this movie, but it offers a lot of 80s horror nostalgia and a story that works in its own zany way. I really enjoyed it.


Deliver Us From Evil
Deliver Us From Evil
DVD ~ Eric Bana
Price: $9.99
21 used & new from $4.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Deliver Us From Evil (2014), and deliver me from this uninteresting, boring possession movie., November 11, 2014
This review is from: Deliver Us From Evil (DVD)
MY CALL: I wasn't sold, scared, or really even interested in this possession film whose scenes lacked any sense of synthesis and whose story never maturely developed.

********************************************

New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana; Deadfall, Hanna) has recently started getting some strange cases. A woman in a drug-induced manic craze, a call of "strange sounds" coming from the basement in a "possessed" house, a crucified cat, some self-mutilated crazies in animal enclosures at the zoo…but that's New York, right? As Sarchie investigates further, these strange incidents appear to be darkly connected.

During his investigations Sarchie is approached by a drinking, smoking, edgy Jesuit priest named Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez; Wrath of the Titans, Zero Dark Thirty) who offers his help, but is met only with skepticism. No clue why. I often solicit the advice of leather jacket-wearing Jesuit priests who wander into my place of work unannounced and offer assistance. There's nothing weird about that.

As we slowly accumulate clues Sarchie starts hearing things, seeing things, weird things are happening in his home, and everything gets really… "satanic." Scratching sounds abound, lights burn out as if extinguished by evil, chiseled bloody fingernails on perps, insane Latin babble, and dark etchings on walls set an abyssal tone and it is effective for the most part. Realizing the darkness that has befallen him, Sarchie chooses to work with Mendoza, who is (of course!) well-studied in demonology and exorcism.

I really like writer/director Scott Derrickson's (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) past work and I admire his ability to recruit mainstream actors into his horror casts (e.g., Olivia Munn of Magic Mike, The Newsroom playing Sarchie's wife and Joel McHale of Community). Olivia Munn handles her very minor role well and Joel McHale brings some often out of place yet totally welcome humor. But despite the cast and all this cool "evil satany" stuff I just never found myself caring about this movie…like, at all. There was just something--something big--about the whole story, the characters and composition that didn't work for me. I wasn't sold or scared and, not to sound mean but, I was never really even interested. I mean, some individual scenes were sort of working for me. They just didn't have anything close to the kind of synthesis I needed to suspend my belief and immerse myself in the movie.

Ultimately, I found this film boring. Even during the exorcism scene, which I'm sure was meant to be intense and climactic, I was legitimately bored and waiting for the movie to end.

I won't say don't see this movie. A lot of Amazon reviewers loved it. I'm just clearly not one of them. And on a totally random note, this movie made me hate Jim Morrison. Watch it and you'll learn why.


WER
WER
DVD ~ A.J. Cook
Price: $15.19
21 used & new from $10.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A fresh and realistic take on the werewolf concept...but this film still could use some work., November 3, 2014
This review is from: WER (DVD)
To start, let's set a few things straight. I see "found footage" mentioned in a lot of reviews. This is absolutely not, nor even mistakable for, a found footage film. Second, despite the setting and some of the cast, this is not a French horror film…it's just a horror set in France.

After a hirsute Frenchman of unusual dimensions is taken into custody under suspicion of the "brutal animal attack-like" slaughter of an American family, skeptical attorney Kate Moore (A. J. Cook; Final Destination 2, Wishmaster 3) steps to his defense in this unusual case claiming "there's no way he could have committed these crimes."

Written and directed by William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside, Stay Alive), our story revolves around the possibly porphyria-stricken Talan (first-time actor Brian Scott O'Connor). Porphyria sufferers have long weak bones and, if proven to be afflicted, he could not have possibly caused the bone-crushing fatal wounds of which he is accused. But when the soft-spoken Talan is "triggered" during a medical exam for his defense, the plotty tone phases out and the violence is graphic and intense.

Of course, we can't talk about a werewolf movie without addressing the transformation scene. You "hear" it as the bones violently shift in Talan's back and wince. Some may complain that this scene is far too brief (perhaps 8 seconds), however I defend it in the spirit of subtlety and appreciate that Talan does not "grow" by a hundred pounds before our eyes nor shift form apparently. Rather we witness a truly "realistic" take on the werewolf explained by the "dog boy disease" porphyria, epileptic seizures, seizure-induced superhuman strength and lunar cycles (e.g., full moon's effect on tides or water).

This film's flaws lie in the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon wire-stunt jumps and throws. Talan leaps like a superhero in a manner unmatching all things surrounding his character and throws bodies such distances that remind me more of Hulk or Thor than a seizure-strengthened mad man. Talan also seems to evade a few hundred bullets from dozen-man SWAT team by sheer fleet of foot and runs 60-70 mph in one scene…again, this just didn't "fit" in this movie. I also really wasn't fond of the ending--but I won't ruin anything for you.

But today I say "let's forgive this film these flaws" and just enjoy it for a very different take on the werewolf movie. The first hour of this film was pretty damn cool and in the best possible taste the word "werewolf" is hardly used.


Tusk
Tusk
DVD
Price: $9.99

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A risky failure in over-the-top shock horror becoming more farcical from beginning to crazy end. Not even for Kevin Smith fans., October 1, 2014
This review is from: Tusk (Amazon Instant Video)
Ever wonder what happened to that kid who saw dead people in The Sixth Sense (1999; Haley Joel Osment)? Well search no more. He's right here! Sure, he's been doing some other stuff (Alpha House, A.I., some videogame voice work), but that was the big victory for me here--recognizing him. Otherwise Tusk largely disappointed me over and over again. Why? Because I thought I was buying a ticket to an envelope-pushing, body modification horror laced with torture and festooned with off-putting perversions of human frailty and fixation. That stuff was in there, but I feel that the execution did not do the theme justice.

From crude, hilarious dialogue and interactions with Canadian customs agents to excellently ominous scoring, this film's tone yoyo'd between serious (with funny introductory themes) to farcical…leaving me most perturbed as to what I was in for as I watched. We start by meeting shock podcaster extraordinaires Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) and Wallace (Justin Long; Drag Me to Hell). They tell the dirtiest jokes, have fun with ridiculous Youtube clips, and interview goofy internet sensations. Tusk's story finds its unsure flippered footing in one of Wallace's trips to interview a Canadian Youtube clip star who had cut off his own leg with his clumsily geeky katana skills. Wallace treks to Manitoba, all the way making Americans look like ignorant jerks to our friendly northern counterparts, only to find that his interviewee has killed himself.

Hoping not to return home empty handed, Wallace seeks some other "Canadian weirdo" to interview for his podcast. And in the restroom of a Canadian bar he finds an ad for a living arrangement with an old man who has "many stories to tell." He has found his man!

Our villain (Michael Parks; Django Unchained, Death Proof) was largely appropriate for an over-the-top horror film. From the moment we meet him things feel weird. He was zany and sometimes twistedly funny, but just plain sick and insane. Only a few times did his character lose his footing and misstep from over-the-top to farcical (e.g., the "walrus fight" scene or the "walrus suit" itself).

I felt that the effects met the gross-out expectations of the audience and that the body modification (or surgery) scenes succeeded at conveying a sense of sick hopelessness, torture, futility and a truly twisted mind. We see Wallace suffer in complete terror and we believe it. We see our villain take sick joy in Wallace's transformation…and we believe it. Unfortunately, the later in the film we find ourselves, the more frequent and long-lasting are the farcical aspects…to the point that the last 20-30 minutes feels purely farcical while trying to maintain its unsure grip of a very serious concept (i.e., that one can be stripped of his humanity and made into a monster).

Director Kevin Smith (Zack and Miri Make a Porn, Clerks II) has always been amazing at capturing his northeastern audience (and quickly the rest of the nation) with his well-crafted, oft-off color comedy. And whereas I felt that Clerks II (2006) showed a notable drop in quality in his work, I still loved it and formerly considered his only failure to be his most risky and quite off-genre undertaking of Red State (2011). Red State succeeded at being brutal and intense, but I just didn't feel that the delivery was there with the characters. But still, kudos for taking the risk. I like dipping my toes into risky movies.

This was another big risk on Smith's part. I consider it a failure, but I appreciate the risk that was taken. The failure came in keeping the tone consistent. I should add that if I walked in expecting something farcical (and was in the right mood for it) I probably would have enjoyed it MUCH MORE. I'd still wish it was "consistently" farcical, though. Whereas expecting something serious and sick, I left annoyed and feeling cheated.

It felt like Smith couldn't steer clear of his old ways (a la Mallrats and Clerks) as he painted his characters in this film. Wallace's too-gorgeous-to-be-true girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez; Identity Thief, The Last Stand) felt a little forced and their relationship issues didn't really fit in the story. Johnny Depp (Transcendence, Dark Shadows) felt horribly misused and so farcical (compared to his surroundings) that I found his character to be nothing but annoying every minute he spoke or could be seen. And the shift from mostly serious at the story's inception to entirely cartoon-farcical at its close…well, that's what broke me. That was where my interest suffered.

This does not at all address my problems with the shift from serious to farcical. But an Amazon reviewer made a good point: "There’s really only one thing you need to know about this movie: It’s about a guy that kidnaps another guy and starts turning him into a walrus. If that sounds interesting to you, then you can stop reading this and go watch the movie. If it doesn’t sound interesting to you, then you can stop reading this and don’t go watch the movie." I wanted to see it knowing that, and I was disappointed. Just FYI.

Lots of risks were taken in this off-farcical film. And this is not a slam-review, it's just a review from a disappointed viewer who can still appreciate a risk-taker even if I don't like the product. My advice to you…don't see this until it's free for you to view and even then think twice. My advice to Kevin Smith…please keep taking risks outside of your comfort zone, but ask for some help (like a co-writer or co-director with experience in the genre but who also appreciates your style).


Tusk [Blu-ray]
Tusk [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Michael Parks
Price: $17.99

13 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A risky failure in over-the-top shock horror becoming more farcical from beginning to crazy end. Not even for Kevin Smith fans., September 30, 2014
This review is from: Tusk [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Ever wonder what happened to that kid who saw dead people in The Sixth Sense (1999; Haley Joel Osment)? Well search no more. He's right here! Sure, he's been doing some other stuff (Alpha House, A.I., some videogame voice work), but that was the big victory for me here--recognizing him. Otherwise Tusk largely disappointed me over and over again. Why? Because I thought I was buying a ticket to an envelope-pushing, body modification horror laced with torture and festooned with off-putting perversions of human frailty and fixation. That stuff was in there, but I feel that the execution did not do the theme justice.

From crude, hilarious dialogue and interactions with Canadian customs agents to excellently ominous scoring, this film's tone yoyo'd between serious (with funny introductory themes) to farcical…leaving me most perturbed as to what I was in for as I watched. We start by meeting shock podcaster extraordinaires Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) and Wallace (Justin Long; Drag Me to Hell). They tell the dirtiest jokes, have fun with ridiculous Youtube clips, and interview goofy internet sensations. Tusk's story finds its unsure flippered footing in one of Wallace's trips to interview a Canadian Youtube clip star who had cut off his own leg with his clumsily geeky katana skills. Wallace treks to Manitoba, all the way making Americans look like ignorant jerks to our friendly northern counterparts, only to find that his interviewee has killed himself.

Hoping not to return home empty handed, Wallace seeks some other "Canadian weirdo" to interview for his podcast. And in the restroom of a Canadian bar he finds an ad for a living arrangement with an old man who has "many stories to tell." He has found his man!

Our villain (Michael Parks; Django Unchained, Death Proof) was largely appropriate for an over-the-top horror film. From the moment we meet him things feel weird. He was zany and sometimes twistedly funny, but just plain sick and insane. Only a few times did his character lose his footing and misstep from over-the-top to farcical (e.g., the "walrus fight" scene or the "walrus suit" itself).

I felt that the effects met the gross-out expectations of the audience and that the body modification (or surgery) scenes succeeded at conveying a sense of sick hopelessness, torture, futility and a truly twisted mind. We see Wallace suffer in complete terror and we believe it. We see our villain take sick joy in Wallace's transformation…and we believe it. Unfortunately, the later in the film we find ourselves, the more frequent and long-lasting are the farcical aspects…to the point that the last 20-30 minutes feels purely farcical while trying to maintain its unsure grip of a very serious concept (i.e., that one can be stripped of his humanity and made into a monster).

Director Kevin Smith (Zack and Miri Make a Porn, Clerks II) has always been amazing at capturing his northeastern audience (and quickly the rest of the nation) with his well-crafted, oft-off color comedy. And whereas I felt that Clerks II (2006) showed a notable drop in quality in his work, I still loved it and formerly considered his only failure to be his most risky and quite off-genre undertaking of Red State (2011). Red State succeeded at being brutal and intense, but I just didn't feel that the delivery was there with the characters. But still, kudos for taking the risk. I like dipping my toes into risky movies.

This was another big risk on Smith's part. I consider it a failure, but I appreciate the risk that was taken. The failure came in keeping the tone consistent. I should add that if I walked in expecting something farcical (and was in the right mood for it) I probably would have enjoyed it MUCH MORE. I'd still wish it was "consistently" farcical, though. Whereas expecting something serious and sick, I left annoyed and feeling cheated.

It felt like Smith couldn't steer clear of his old ways (a la Mallrats and Clerks) as he painted his characters in this film. Wallace's too-gorgeous-to-be-true girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez; Identity Thief, The Last Stand) felt a little forced and their relationship issues didn't really fit in the story. Johnny Depp (Transcendence, Dark Shadows) felt horribly misused and so farcical (compared to his surroundings) that I found his character to be nothing but annoying every minute he spoke or could be seen. And the shift from mostly serious at the story's inception to entirely cartoon-farcical at its close…well, that's what broke me. That was where my interest suffered.

This does not at all address my problems with the shift from serious to farcical. But an Amazon reviewer made a good point: "There’s really only one thing you need to know about this movie: It’s about a guy that kidnaps another guy and starts turning him into a walrus. If that sounds interesting to you, then you can stop reading this and go watch the movie. If it doesn’t sound interesting to you, then you can stop reading this and don’t go watch the movie." I wanted to see it knowing that, and I was disappointed. Just FYI.

Lots of risks were taken in this off-farcical film. And this is not a slam-review, it's just a review from a disappointed viewer who can still appreciate a risk-taker even if I don't like the product. My advice to you…don't see this until it's free for you to view and even then think twice. My advice to Kevin Smith…please keep taking risks outside of your comfort zone, but ask for some help (like a co-writer or co-director with experience in the genre but who also appreciates your style).
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 7, 2014 12:09 PM PDT


Sharknado 2: The Second One
Sharknado 2: The Second One
DVD ~ Ian Ziering
Price: $9.99
23 used & new from $6.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Clearly the most creatively named sequel to a weather-induced shark attack movie OF ALL TIME!, September 7, 2014
This review is from: Sharknado 2: The Second One (DVD)
The utter bonkersness of this movie, by comparison, makes Snakes on a Plane feel like a perfectly reasonable action movie that could totally happen…and that's a good thing for the adventurous dumb-movie lover who doesn't mind a zany flick with a low budget and shamefully abundant past-gen CGI.

Now heroes, Tara Reid and Ian Ziering's (Beverly Hills 90210, Sharknado) returning characters are no strangers to the over-exposition that plagues Scy-Fy's movies-of-the-week, including Sharknado ("the first one"). But fret not, it's all in good fun and we don't get five minutes into the movie before paying homage to William Shatner's (or John Lithgow's) Twilight Zone short Terror at 20000 Feet! Even using the famous line "There's something on the wing!!!!" Only now..there are sharks on the wings of the plane! This is basically how I knew this would be worth a watch….that, and part one was bonkers amaze-balls fun!

Director Anthony C. Ferrante (Boo, Sharknado, Sharknado 3) lays on the stupid fast and heavy…and by stupid I mean stupidly awesome! The utter bonkersness of this movie, by comparison, makes Snakes on a Plane (2006) feel like a perfectly reasonable action movie that could totally happen.

Is this movie fast paced? Well, it has plenty of slow parts where we are forced to watch the cast try to act their way through to the next scene. But when the action is happening all is forgiven, lots of funny dumb stuff happens, and festive CGI gore abounds.
Are the effects good? It's a ScyFy movie-of-the-week…so NO. No they're not. But the movie is still fun and there were some choice gore effects.

Is EVERYONE in this movie? Absolutely! Fantastic cameos include The Today Show's Matt Lauer and Al Roker, Kelly Ripa, ex-Sugar Ray singer Mark McGrath, scream queen Tiffany Shepis (The Hazing), Judah Friedlander, Billy Ray Cyrus, Perez Hilton, Vivica Fox (Kill Bill Vol. 1/Vol. 2, Independence Day), Judd Hirsch (Independence Day), Jared the Subway guy, Kelly Osbourne and Andy Dick.
Much to my surprise I must say this movie taught me a few things…

1) Based on more than one scene I can safely say that the best way to fight a shark is with a baseball bat. That, and Ian Ziering has an amazing swing whether wielding a bat, chainsaw, fire axe, sword or that wooden thing they use to get pizzas out of a pizza oven. 2) Sharks hate physics and take every opportunity they can to defy its lame laws. As you watch this movie you'd swear the sharks were "aiming" themselves at their victims harnessing the propulsive force of the tornado. 3) Not only is Ian Ziering tougher than a CGI shark, but his butt is so rock hard that he doesn't even feel it when a baby shark is biting it! He probably taught The Rock how to be tough. 4) Judd Hirsch is actually Jason Voorhees! Bare with me for a second. Whenever you don't see him he transports unreasonable distances almost instantaneously and he's always where you least expect him. The only real difference is that there are no drug-using, fornicating teens around to trigger his urge to kill.

This movie is pure, mindless fun. Just watch it and stop being so judgy.


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