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Ben "Pizza Enthusiast" RSS Feed (Minnesota)

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DVD ~ Liam Hemsworth
Offered by Sparks DVD Sales
Price: $7.98
34 used & new from $1.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Outstanding, November 1, 2014
This review is from: Triangle (DVD)
"Aeolus was the Greek god of the winds and the father of Sisyphus, the man condemned by the gods to the task of pushing a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down again."

"That's a s---ty punishment. What did he do?"

"He cheated Death. No, he made a promise to Death that he didn't keep..."

This is Triangle's big hint about Jess, its protagonist. Without spoiling anything- which makes it really difficult to say, well, just about anything about the film's plot- I can at least reveal that nothing is what it seems in Triangle, and everything has to do with the above quote.

Billed as a horror film, Triangle is just as much a thriller, or a "mind-bender" if you will, as it is terrifying. Even then, it is not your typical jump-scare, slasher fare- it's a horror movie in the truest sense of the word: when you put everything together at the end, you will be utterly horrified.

I originally caught Triangle on late night television expecting it to be rife with cheese and good only for "this-is-so-bad-it's-good" laughs. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be one of the best movies I have seen all year. Every aspect of Triangle- from the cast to the writing to the acting to the sets- is extremely well done and executed with precision. Even better, it is so thought-provoking you will almost certainly have to watch it again.

Again, I have to refrain from talking about Triangle's plot or analyzing it at all because it is impossible to do so without spoiling anything (and I hate spoilers with every fiber of my being). What I can say is that this is a must-see film. Whether you are a fan of horror or a fan of mind-benders, I cannot imagine too many people will be disappointed with Triangle.

Triangle probably will not make you jump out of your seat, and it is not likely to gross anyone out, but the sense of impending doom throughout the film and the utter futility of everything seen on screen makes it hugely impactful. Forget the big-budget, plotless tripe; Triangle is an exceptional indie film that is well-paced, interesting, and intelligently written. Don't miss it.

Frankenstein's Army
Frankenstein's Army
DVD ~ Karel Roden
Offered by westcoastmedia
Price: $14.51
11 used & new from $4.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Russians, Nazis, Monsters, and Gore!, November 1, 2014
This review is from: Frankenstein's Army (DVD)
Despite the hokey title (really, did anyone see that cross a television screen and think something other than "I bet THAT one's worth some laughs"), Frankenstein's Army is surprisingly entertaining. I was immediately intrigued when I read that it focuses on a group of Red Army soldiers in World War II who stumble across a disgusting Nazi experiment, yet I was also quite skeptical. Almost without exception, history and horror do not mix. Filmmakers rarely put any effort into making sure props are historically accurate and characters use appropriate language to the period, which is more or less understandable (since the horror is the focus, not the history) but also never fails to greatly irritate a snob like myself.

To their credit, the filmmakers clearly put some effort into making sure the soldiers had appropriate weapons and uniforms, which in itself is a treat. Some of the language used was too modern, and the Russian accents were not always pronounced, but some of the Germans actually spoke German, and picking apart the accuracy of such things is being far too critical of a film titled Frankenstein's Army in the first place. Ultimately, the fact that noticeable effort was put into the historical accuracy of props, uniforms, and language at all is enough for me to kindly excuse small shortcomings in those departments.

In fact, the best part about Frankenstein's Army is that it is a period piece. The Red Army soldiers are entertaining, and it is hard to go wrong with a horror film featuring wicked Nazi experiments. Unfortunately, the worst part about Frankenstein's Army is that it is only interesting because it takes place in World War II. If the same plot were executed in a modern setting with Marines instead of Red Army soldiers, it would be just another Hills Have Eyes knock-off. Nothing about Frankenstein's Army breaks new ground, and even though the variety of monsters is cool, it never does anything truly unexpected. Additionally, the "found footage" style is unnecessary; Frankenstein's Army could have been just as effective, if not more effective, shot regularly.

Still, the execution of Frankenstein's Army is superb. It does more with less than most horror films. CGI is kept to a bare minimum; the film relies on elaborate costumes and make-up instead, which is a huge plus for me. There is a healthy amount of gore for those viewers who want to be grossed out as well as scared, but it is not overdone. Watching the Russian soldiers hose monsters with SMGs is also wildly entertaining, but the handful of shootouts never take center stage- that is rightfully reserved for the man behind the monsters themselves.

All in all, I genuinely enjoyed Frankenstein's Army. It is not totally original, but it offers something distinctly different than the majority of other "found footage" films, most of which are too cliche to entertain or scare anyone. Well executed historically based horror is quite rare, so I take my hat off to writer/director Richard Raaphorst. I highly recommended Frankenstein's Army to fans of the "found footage" genre and anyone interested in a good history-horror film.

My Little Eye
My Little Eye
DVD ~ Bradley Cooper
Price: $8.71
68 used & new from $1.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Not Half Bad, October 31, 2014
This review is from: My Little Eye (DVD)
My Little Eye (2002) is an under-the-radar independent flick that is worth watching despite appearing a little dated twelve years after its initial release. The cinematography is good despite some grainy cameras; the acting is adequate overall, and little known actor Kris Lemche is impressive as Rex, the token jerk who drives a lot of the conflict in the film.

The plot is simple: five strangers must live together in a house for six months to win a million dollars. If any contestant leaves, none of them get paid. We don't get to see much of the first 5 months, 28 days. The last three days are the focus of the movie. Things start going wrong; the heat in the house stops working, one character gets a mysterious letter claiming a relative has died, and the group's supplies are not dropped off as scheduled. Events escalate rather quickly, and nothing is as it seems.

Characters in My Little Eye are typical. We have the awkward guy, the easy girl, the goody-two-shoes, the guy who chooses not to reveal any personal details, and, as mentioned previously, the jerk (who also serves as the cynic and the "smart" character). As far as the plot is concerned, some of the cliches in My Little Eye likely were not cliches when it came out- while not totally original even in 2002, My Little Eye still preceded Saw and other like-minded films. For that reason, it is difficult for me to be too hard on it for using devices I now considered pretty tired. Still, understanding that does nothing to improve the viewing experience. Fans of the genre aren't going to be surprised by anything here.

Nonetheless, My Little Eye is executed fairly well. The buildup is well done, and it has a twenty minute stretch that gets really intense. The climax, however, leaves something to be desired. In the end, My Little Eye is not ground-breaking in any way, nor is it exceptionally enjoyable, but you could do a lot worse for horror. Give My Little Eye a chance; I imagine most people reading this will enjoy it more than I did.

Apartment 1303
Apartment 1303

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't Bother, August 28, 2014
I firmly believe that to be scared by a film the viewer has to give it a fighting chance. Put the internet away, text your friend back after the film is over, and don't let your smartphone ruin the movie experience. There just are not that many pieces of legitimately terrifying cinema out there; most horror films cannot overcome these petty distractions unless we give them a chance.

Having said that, a depressingly high number of modern horror films, especially remakes and those of the low-budget variety, are so contrived, poorly acted, and pitifully derivative that no amount of effort or willingness on our part will ever make them scary. Apartment 1303, sadly, is exactly that type of film.

Apartment 1303 might have had a chance if the cinematography wasn't absolute crap, if the acting was up to snuff, or if it didn't rely entirely on the same horror devices that have been used to scare audiences since the motion picture was invented. There's a creepy little girl who stares at people. The lights go off randomly. The neighbors are unfriendly. Janet, our soppy lead, dramatically approaches a closet door because it sounds like- *gasp*- something is inside of it. And that's just the first 15 minutes.

These kinds of devices are used so often in horror movies they no longer have any power. We've seen them all before. In the case of Apartment 1303, the banality of these slumber-inducing "scares" is exacerbated by the fact that nearly every scene is shot from the same distance. The limited use of CGI is a plus, but the ghosts and monsters that do appear aren't very scary-looking with or without computer aid.

The acting is also quite bad. Julianne Michelle is entirely unimpressive in her limited screen time, and Mischa Barton is surprisingly lame, failing to show much emotion despite the frequent trauma that befalls her character. Watching her anxiously urge a drunken Rebecca de Mornay "we need food, we need food!" like she's part of the Donner party was painful (not that the script did her any favors here). For de Mornay's part, she pulled off the has-been, alcoholic musician act well enough to make me want to turn her off.

Despite all of the criticism I just slammed on Apartment 1303, I'm still forced to admit it isn't a total failure. That there are worse horror films out there (quite a few of them, actually) is incredibly sad, but the truth is often uncomfortable. Still, Apartment 1303 isn't the lowest of the low. It contains a few interesting scenes, and the tie-together at the end was as appropriate as it was predictable. Nevertheless, you needn't waste your time on this flick unless you're aching to watch Mischa Barton in a leading role.

DVD ~ AnnaLynne McCord
Price: $6.49
36 used & new from $2.82

2.0 out of 5 stars Not as Advertised, August 24, 2014
This review is from: Excision (DVD)
Billed as a horror flick, Excision would be more appropriately labeled a black comedy. For this reason, my review is probably more critical of the film than it truly deserves.

I went into Excision expecting it to scare me; at this, it failed entirely. There are no scares to be found, no horror to experience (at least not until the very end of the movie). Instead, Excision plugs in numerous dream-fantasies throughout the film. These brief scenes are overflowing with blood, gore, and should be quite disturbing to anyone watching. Regrettably, the randomness with which they're inserted into the story removes all of their potential power and they thus do little to affect the viewer in any way.

Besides the wasted opportunities to pull off some over-the-top shock and awe (again, not achieved until the final scene), the comedic aspect of Excision is not executed much better. In fact, the entire time I was watching all I could think about was how closely the protagonist, Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord), resembles Napoleon Dynamite both in her demeanor and her social interactions- not the cinematic hero anyone should aspire to be like.

By the middle of the film, the on-screen family strife grows old. Good for a sad chuckle or two at first, it becomes quite tiresome before long. McCord's schtick wears thin pretty quickly as well, as does the "ugly" make-up that only works part of the time. Excision is a pretentious film that asks its viewers to take it much too seriously. The end result is a product that is neither scary nor entertaining. Don't bother.

The Last Exorcism Part II
The Last Exorcism Part II
DVD ~ Ashley Bell
Price: $4.99
86 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Little Continuity, Fewer Scares., August 22, 2014
This review is from: The Last Exorcism Part II (DVD)
Gone are the tawdry home video cameras from the "found footage"-themed first Last Exorcism film (doesn't that have a nice ring to it?- "first last exorcism film"), a movie that left me wholly unimpressed. That in itself is a positive, but it certainly was not enough to guarantee this sequel any success.

Although Part II doesn't rely as heavily on tired possession-movie cliches as Part I, it's still a crockpot full of bad horror devices. Our main character (played by Ashley Bell) is still embarrassingly trusting of every adult stranger she comes into contact with, all of whom claim to want to help her but never actually do, and the secondary characters lack any semblance of depth. The whole movie lacks continuity, going this way and that way before finally arriving at the ridiculous, contrived finale.

Even more frustrating is Part II's frequent use of jump-scares, a lazy substitute for actual horror. Disappointing as it is to see these cheap startles so overused, it isn't particularly surprising. Everything about Ashley Bell is average, and as I already hinted, none of the secondary characters are interesting. And, once again, everyone with a religious affiliation is secretly in cahoots with Satan while various pagans hold all the secrets to freeing Ms. Bell from the devil. Yaaaaaawn.

The shame about Part II isn't that it ultimately failed (it was neither scary nor entertaining) but that it had potential to leave Part I in the dust. A main character who escaped death and torture at the hands of a cult could have been very alluring; instead, the filmmakers decided to roll with an unclever "let's take the audience in a dozen different directions!" approach that ruined the little bit of tension they created at the beginning. Sadly, The Last Exorcism Part II is just another boring, big-screen bust that isn't worth anyone's time. Don't waste yours.

Fourth Plague: Flies
Fourth Plague: Flies
Offered by ExpressMedia
Price: $4.97
28 used & new from $0.04

3.0 out of 5 stars Quick, Wild, and Wicked., August 18, 2014
This review is from: Fourth Plague: Flies (Audio CD)
The Fourth Plague: Flies (2001) was my introduction to A Life Once Lost, a seasoned metalcore act from Philadelphia. Clocking in at a meager 12:31, The Fourth Plague crams a lot of metal into a very small space, often to the overall detriment of the EP. Still, the five short offerings on the record are worth checking out.

Vocally speaking, you'll need a lyric sheet to understand what singer Robert Meadows screams at you. The vocals are also curiously buried in the mix at a few different points on the EP, and the production as a whole isn't anything to get excited about (but what else can we realistically expect from an unknown metalcore band in 2001?). The raw tone ends up being strangely appropriate for such a wild conglomeration of riffage, though.

The opener, "Chileab," combines a couple of pulsing, pounding riffs with some melo-death-esque shredding to create a formidable guitar attack. Its successor, "Our Second Home," is a more traditional metalcore cut. Its main riff chugs along savagely, and its fast riffs are absolutely wild. Regrettably, though, some of the fast riffs on the second track are built solely for speed, lacking any melodic relationship to the rest of the song. This phenomenon is evident again on "The Dead Sea"; melody is sacrificed for pure speed. Though the guitarwork is admittedly impressive on both of these tracks, I would much rather have seen a slower riff that serves the song inserted as opposed to the chaotic riffs that end up feeling out of place.

The good news is that there are a decent number of melodic riffs on The Fourth Plague. "Prepare Yourself for What Is About to Come" opens with one before exploding into another chaotic shred-fest with a breakdown thrown in at the end for good measure. "The Tide" is the real diamond in the rough on the EP. Like "Chileab," it, too, is very melo-death-esque and contains a barrage of interesting riffs before turning into a galloping instrumental at the end.

Despite its short duration, The Fourth Plague has something for everyone. It packs multiple stomping metalcore riffs, vicious breakdowns, melo-death riffs, and even a sole acoustic guitar into 12 minutes of disc space. Metalcore fans are clearly the target audience, but there are significant mathcore elements on the EP as well. Personally, I feel The Fourth Plague suffers from poor song-structures and a lack of overall direction (each song is more chaotic than the last), but it is nonetheless an enjoyable effort from a band that was still finding its way when it was recorded.

Price: $7.97
21 used & new from $1.98

5.0 out of 5 stars An Oft Overlooked Gem, May 31, 2014
This review is from: Sap (Audio CD)
Released a mere 7-and-a-half months before Dirt, Sap captured a side of Alice in Chains that had not previously been shown: the soft side. Known as a grunge band that put on a powerful, rockin' show, no one expected AiC to go acoustic. I don't imagine too many people would have bet AiC could pull off a successful acoustic approach, either, given their affinity for the electric guitar on Facelift.

Then again, Alice in Chains have never been a band to let any outside forces dictate the musical direction they take.

Us fans are certainly better for it, too, because Jerry Cantrell and the boys have yet to release a bad record. Sap, a 5-track EP named after drummer Sean Kinney dreamed the band released an EP by the same name, is no exception. Though often overlooked, it is every bit as classic as any of AiC's other 90s material.

It begins with "Brother," a simple, beautiful song that features an emotional vocal delivery from Cantrell. Its successor, "Got Me Wrong," is the one song on Sap most fans know because it has been a live staple for years. Much like "No Excuses" from Jar of Flies, "Got Me Wrong" has a curiously happy air about it even though the lyrics are quite depressing.

Of great interest is the third track, "Right Turn." Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Mark Arm of Mudhoney make guest vocal appearances, and the result is a delightful grungy number with four of Seattle's best on vocals. The combination is unofficially referred to as Alice Mudgarden; the only fitting description for such a group is "flipping awesome." "Am I Inside" is a very mellow track that does not stand out but is nonetheless a solid addition to the EP. The last track is a strange, untitled ditty written by Sean Kinney. It's not that "good" per se, but it defies description.

Sap is criminally underrated and unappreciated. Despite containing only five songs, one of which is very odd, three are clear standouts and hold their own against material from any of AiC's other releases. Sap is a testament to Alice in Chains' musicianship, showcasing their ability to write diverse, appealing material without marrying the electric guitar (as so many other bands do). Think of it as Jar of Flies' younger brother. You'd do well to give it a listen.

Beast & the Harlot
Beast & the Harlot
6 used & new from $22.40

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Decent 2-track Single, May 24, 2014
This review is from: Beast & the Harlot (Audio CD)
1. Beast and the Harlot (radio edit)
2. Burn It Down (live in San Diego)

Those who own Avenged Sevenfold's City of Evil record might be disappointed in the radio edit of "Beast and the Harlot" that appears on this single. The first 30 seconds are chopped out, and it also ends prematurely. All said and done, it's over a minute and a half shorter than the album version of "Beast" and is not especially interesting, but if you really want it, this is the only (legal) place to get it.

Fortunately, the live track is excellent. "Burn It Down" is one of the better songs on City of Evil, and the live version on this single remains the best rendition I have heard. The "Beast and the Harlot" artwork is also pretty filthy (I mean that in the most complimentary, metal way possible) and looks nice on the shelf. I lucked out and snagged my copy at a used record store for $1.95. If you have the same good fortune as me I would highly recommend adding this rare A7X gem to your collection.

Price: $7.00
24 used & new from $2.89

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Complete Waste of Time and Money, May 21, 2014
This review is from: Icon (Audio CD)
To date, this will be Megadeth's fourth greatest hits collection in the last 14 years. As if the frequency with which these stupid collections are released isn't bad enough, this Icon collection doesn't even bother to offer anything you can't find on the other three existing greatest hits. The Icon tracklist:

01. Holy Wars...The Punishment Due
02. Symphony Of Destruction
03. Wake Up Dead
04. Trust
05. Hangar 18
06. Sweating Bullets
07. A Tout Le Monde
08. Skin O' My Teeth
09. In My Darkest Hour
10. Kill The King
11. Peace Sells

All but one of these songs ("Wake Up Dead") also appear on Capitol Punishment: The Megadeth Years (2000), a collection that includes three more songs than Icon, and every single one of them appears on the 17-track Greatest Hits (2005). Obviously, all of the Icon cuts are featured on Megadeth's 2-disc Anthology: Set The World Afire (2008) as well.

In essence, there's no rational reason to buy the Icon collection unless you're just now testing the Megadeth waters for the first time. Even then, you'd be better off purchasing one of the other aforementioned greatest hits collections because they all contain more songs than this one at a comparable price. Icon is a stupid release with no appeal to established Megadeth fans. There's nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 12, 2014 1:43 PM PDT

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