The Caller (2011)–review

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Rachelle Lefevre (Twilight) is Mary, a recent divorcee who has just moved into a new apartment. She also has a stalker problem. Her abusive ex-husband doesn’t acknowledge that there’s a restraining order issued against him, and Mary is also getting unwanted phone calls that are from a woman named Rose, calling from 1979.

Rose’s boyfriend once lived in Mary’s new apartment, and the old rotary phone that came with the place somehow works as a connection to its past. At first the calls just get on Mary’s nerves, but after some bonding regarding the respective ladies’ troubles with the men he their lives, Mary says something that she lives to regret. Rose takes it to heart, though, and after there’s a disturbing change to the apartment both ladies realize that whatever Rose does in the past can change the future. Shocked by this new turn of events, Mary unplugs the phone to block out Rose’s daily calls. This doesn’t sit well with Rose. When Mary finally plugs the phone back in-she can’t get a signal on her cell phone-she finds that Rose has discovered Mary as a child. Now the threats begin. And they turn deadly.

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Even though, at times, what Rose does can be predictable that’s really not what makes this film thrilling and terrifying. It’s the question, “How can one battle a monster from roughly thirty years distance?.” Screenwriter, Sergio Casci has not only presented this interesting premise, he’s created believable and likable characters. Lefervre, True Blood’s Stephen Moyer, Luis Guzman (Boogie Nights) and the rest of the cast breathe life into their roles. They all seem like real people. Even Rose, who we barely get to see, comes to life when played by Lorna Raver (Sylvia Ganush herself from Drag Me to Hell). She’s even scarier here than in Raimi’s film, and let’s not forget the director, Matthew Parkhill. He handles the film with a sure hand and he never falters. I believe he’s a talent worth watching out for.

This thrill ride of a film had me sitting on the edge of my seat ‘til ending. An ending that is both triumphant and tragic.–Charles T. Cochran

Rating: 4 out of 5

Silent House (2011)–review

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Three family members are cleaning up a summer home before it is to be sold.  Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene), her father John (Adam Trese, Zodiac), and her Uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens, As the World Turns) make up this team. As Peter leaves to run an errand, John gets on his daughter to do a better job than she’s been doing. A crash and a large strike on the wall from the room her father went into sends Sarah to investigate. She finds her father bloodied on the floor but not dead; just unconscious. She is unable to leave the house for all the doors are locked from the inside and she is without a key. She also becomes aware that there’s someone else in the house. After some toil, Sarah makes it out of the house and down the road. Here she spots a young girl just before being hit by her uncle’s vehicle. The little girl then seems have disappeared. Peter makes it back into the house as Sarah stays in the car. This is until someone tries to grab her there. Both Sarah and Peter discover that John is now missing. Saying more would give too much away.

Of course, that bit up top makes it sound like a home invasion flick. But, during the course of the film I wasn’t sure if it was that or something supernatural. Directors, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) maintain a somewhat level balance of things between the different possibilities. At one point things lean heavily toward one over the other; but later the rug is pulled out from under you. Silent House is a well-executed mystery that moves at a breakneck pace. And, it has a very satisfying ending.

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Silent House is a remake of a film from Uruguay called La casa muda. I’ve yet to see the original so I can’t say anything in regards to it. But, it’s my understanding that both films use a technique that make the film appear to be shot with one continuous take. I was going into the film believing this would be nothing more than a gimmick. But, Kentis and Lau use it as a tool to describe to the audience Sarah’s altered perceptions during the whole ordeal. The limited viewpoint with the one camera and a heavy use of extremes in focus are rather successful in maintaining an off-kilter feel. The choreography of actors (mostly Olsen) and the camera was so well done that  there seemed to be no misstep.

Even though both Trese and Stevens do very well with their respective parts, the show really belongs to Elizabeth Olsen. She’s on camera all of the time. She plays a believable mature young woman that witnesses horrible things and is trying to survive and escape. After this performance, along with the one she gave in Martha Marcy May Marlene, I do believe we have a true talent here with Miss Olsen.–Charles T. Cochran

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

 

Godzilla 2014–movie review

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This review is late on two different counts. Firstly, I have not written anything for this blog in a long time. Also, it’s a late review of the American version of Godzilla. I had planned on doing a review of this film long before its release. So, even though I’ve been busy with life I stuck with this plan.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the plot. But, I’ll point out that this film is closer to one of the sequels from the original Japanese films than a true remake. It could be viewed as a sequel to an altered past for this character; or a reboot using a structure of a standard sequel where the Big G is a sort of hero battling a bigger menace than he is. And, this is one of the things that this film gets right. It really feels like a Godzilla film. I don’t believe that there’s a single scene or action in this film that wouldn’t be out of place in a Japanese Godzilla film. It has that going for it.

Before I saw the film I heard a friend complain about how long it takes for Godzilla to make an appearance. A wait like this is not uncommon in any of the Japanese films. I had no problem with the wait. But, this introduction leads to the first of two battles Big G has with the Muto; a battle we only get a glimpse of on a live TV report. Even though I didn’t mind the wait, I ended up feeling cheated of some great kaiju action. In fact, we all did. We see a lot of the Muto, which is great. But, it was time for something big to happen with the title character and all we get is a tease. Oh come on!

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Thankfully, the second battle was what I really wanted, even though it was a bit too dark.

I think director, Gareth Edwards has successful moved up from his small low-budgeted kaiju flick, Monsters to this big epic kaiju flick. But, the biggest problem that it has is that the film seems bigger than the main attraction, Godzilla himself! I’m not saying that whole scenes should’ve been cut from the film; I’m saying that most of the scenes could have used some trimming. This has a steady pace and does not really seem to be slow moving. But, this is a big style B movie that runs two hours long. A little tightening up would’ve have helped, big time.

I went to see this film two times. I actually felt that I would liked it better the second time since I didn’t have to worry about my expectations. I was wrong. All the problems I had with it in the first viewing stayed with me and seemed to be amplified. In the end, I think I’ll stick with Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

Film rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Insidious: Chapter 2–review

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I had mixed feels about the first Insidious film. I thought the scary scenes were very effective, but the family in the film came off as rather bland and uninteresting. In other words, I was bored between the good stuff. Very bored. In Insidious: Chapter 2 the family isn’t any less colorless. But their exploits are a little more interesting. Sadly, my feelings regarding this new film are about the same with me in the end.

The movie start off with a flashback to the 1980s when Patrick Wilson’s character Josh Lambert is have his troubles with the creepy old lady in black. This sequence sets up the menace for the new Insidious chapter. No more Darth Maul-looking demon dude.

As the present day events start we find that Josh is suspected in the death of medium, Elise (Lin Shaye). His wife Renai (Rose Byrn) at first denies his involvement in her death. But his odd behaviors start to make her feel otherwise. At the same time, she and their eldest son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) start seeing and experiencing supernatural manifestations of increasing intensity. Josh angrily denies anything is happening and wants the family to just move on.

While Renai deals with the craziness at home, Josh’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) comes to the rescue. She contacts Elise’s sidekicks, Specs and Tucker (Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson, respectively) to help investigate. Along with an old cohort and friend, Carl (Steve Coulter), this group go seeking answers.

I can’t remember the first film too well, but I believe this split in the action may be the reason the film comes off as less boring. But, the scare level is much less here. There are two or three good scares in the film–mostly of the jump variety—even though it seems like they were trying for more. The split may have been a good thing at first; but in time the film started to seem a little messy with the handling of it. This problem and it having the look of a direct to DVD film–much like the first Insidious–hurts this movie for me.

I was hoping that director James Wan was going to be on a roll after The Conjuring. That film was excellent. But now with news that Wan moving away from horror, it’s a pity he can’t do so on a high note.—Charles T. Cochran

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Star Trek Into Darkness-film review

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Star Trek Into Darkness turned out to be an outstanding science fiction film adventure that will be hard to top for any of the sequels to follow. I enjoyed the first J. J. Abrams outing in this universe (despite having a song from the truly dreadful Beastie Boys on the soundtrack), but this new one leaves the previous film in the dust.

The film opens up as two figures are being chased through a forest of red trees. This turns out to be Kirk and Bones being pursued by a tribe whose sacred scroll has been stolen by Kirk is an attempt to lure said tribe away for a volcano that’s about to blow. At the same time Spock is being lowered into the volcano to set off a device to stop the eruption and effectively save the entire planet. Spock becomes trapped in the volcano. Kirk, once back on board the Enterprise, orders the ship to go in plain view of the planet’s primitive population to save Spock in clear violation of Starfleet’s Prime Directive.

Once back on earth, both Kirk and Spock are summoned before Admiral Pike. Kirk thinks it’s for the five year mission that’s pending. But, this actually leads to Kirk’s demotion and Spock being transferred to another starship. The Enterprise is given back to Pike and he makes Kirk his first officer. He still sees promise he the young man.

Meanwhile, a mysterious man triggers a terrorist attack on the London England branch of Starfleet. This later leads to an attack on the home base of Starfleet in San Francisco leaving Pike dead. Emotions run high as Kirk asks and gets the enterprise back as well as Spock as first officer. He agrees without question to go to the Klingon homeworld, where the terrorist had beamed himself, to kill him. This could lead to all-out war with the Klingon Empire, but Kirk and Admiral Marcus (the man who sends him on the mission in the first place) don’t seem to care. In fact, Marcus feels that an all-out war with the Klingons is inevitable anyway. So, Kirk and company go off to get the bad guy given torpedoes whose contents are a mystery to all. But, Kirk doesn’t care. And even though this mission goes against what Starfleet stands for Kirk’s revenge-minded and nothing else matters.

This film has everything that its audience could ask for: great action, a well-plotted storyline, some moving melodramatic moments, and humor (mostly coming for Simon Pegg’s Scotty). I loved the over the top performances by both Benedict Cumberbatch and Peter Weller (Admiral Marcus). Chris Pines’ Kirk is still on target most of the time. But the character is too wide-eyed at times for my taste. Karl Urban’s Bones should be used more. His character has been pushed aside to make room for the Spock and Uhara romance (which frankly doesn’t make sense within the context of the Star Trek universe). But, as the main cast goes, the one on top acting-wise is Zachary Quinto. His portrayal of Spock is more emotional than Leonard Nimoy’s. But, he’s been through a lot more than the original character, so he lets the human side of Spock out more often. Quinto simply steals every scene he’s in. He’s that good.

Overall, this is outstanding studio tent-pole summer popcorn munching science fiction flick. See it in IMAX 3D if you can. It’ll knock your socks off.

Film Rating: 4.5 out of 5

–Charles T. Cochran

Grave Encounters-movie review

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One more “found footage” horror flick comin’ at ya. Grave Encounters is the name of a television show much like Ghost Hunters. A team of investigators are exploring an abandoned insane asylum that had a rep for the mistreatment of their paitents. The footage is presented in its raw pre-editted form to show the viewers the full story regarding the disappearance of said team. This is how the audience discovers that this reality show doesn’t always go for what’s real. Their psychic (Mackenzie Gray, The Hitcher 2) is actually just an actor. The producer/host Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson, Underworld: Evolution) would love for some real paranormal activity to happen. But, if it doesn’t, faking it is just as good. The aim is mostly for good TV. And, when it does all seems to be real, at first it’s thrilling. But, terror soon creeps in when the team realizes they can’t leave the asylum and time seems to have stopped completely. Also, one team member (Juan Riedinger, Jennifer’s Body) turns up missing. Panic ensues. This is where the film falls apart for me.

This movie is by far the closest at mimicking the tone and overall feeling of The Blair Witch Project since the “found footage” wave of flicks began. It also shares one of BWP’s problems: over-acting–in this case a lot of yelling–due to under directing. Heather Donahue–who I believe is a fine actor–did most, if not all of the over-acting in that film. In this one we don’t get just one actor over doing it once in a while; we get two of them pouring it on pretty thick. First, T. C. the cameraman (Merwin Mondesir, Godsend) starts up and never tones it down. Then Lance chimes in at a later point. It started to seem like these two were in a contest to see who can out do the other in hamming it up. I was getting annoyed with just one of them doing it. Just imagine what I felt when a second actor decided he needed to do the same. There’s a point when a director–in this case two directors, the Vicious Brothers–needs to rein in their actors. Take charge. Or, trim it down in the editing room. And, honestly, fellow cast member Ashleigh Gryzko has her hammy moments as well.

This all starts roughly around the half way mark in the movie. This is also where it seems to lose its structure. We are treated with running around and yelling by cast members. Some quiet moments sprinkled in between these. If you really want to say there’s a structure here, it would have to be the ever increasing intensity of encounters the team is subject to. There are good moments in the film, with the right intentions from the makers; but, I found it mostly tedious to sit through. I kept on thinking it would’ve been better if this was done as a proper film and not a “found footage” POV movie. Much of the light sources are the lights on the cameras. This causes an effect that appears like one is watching the movie through a keyhole. I hated the feeling I got from this style of shooting.

I believe the Vicious Brothers writing/directing team do show promise. But, Grave Encounters was mostly an unpleasant experience for me.

The Film Rating: 2 Stars out of 5

–Charles T. Cochran

GUT-movie review

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As the opening credits run across the screen before the image fades from black we can hear the sounds of grunts. It could easily be the sound of sex as it’s performed. But, as the image is revealed we see Tom (Jason Vail, Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies), the lead character of Gut, shirt bloodied, holding someone down on the floor off camera. There’s struggling, as you might expect. And then the scene cuts short, flashing back to an earlier time, which soon leads to the moment of brutality.
This is where we are properly introduced to Tom, a seemingly happy family man. He has a lovely wife and cute as a button little daughter. Tom works in an office seated next to his longtime best friend, Dan (newcomer, Nicholas Wilder). Dan is single, living on his own and still obsessively watching horror movies. A past time that Tom seems to want to outgrow.
When Tom brushes Dan’s invite to hang out and watch a shared favorite horror flick, Dan’s jealously of Tom’s wife and daughter become obvious. To make matters worse, Dan finds out that Tom plans on quitting his job and moving his family out of the area. A fact Tom was keeping from his friend. Dan’s response is much like a jilted lover.
After these incidents, there seems to be a change in Tom: he lies when he can’t climax during sex with his wife; and his mood seems dark much of the time.
After some awkwardness between them, Tom agrees to check out an underground horror movie Dan procured from a website. The movie seems to only be a single shot of a woman’s belly as it is sliced open. After which, a hand is pushed in and out of the wound in a sort of brutal mockery of a sexual act. Upon seeing this, Tom storms out of Dan’s apartment apparently offended. But, late that night Tom masturbates thinking of a similar scenario beside his sleeping wife.
At this point, Tom’s moodiness becomes increasingly darker as he starts to obsess over the movies Dan supplies from the original source. He even goes so far as sneaking off to watch them late at night while his family lies sleeping. Dan, on the other hand, is brighter of mood and becomes outgoing. He even gains the waitress at the pair’s favorite lunchtime location as his girlfriend. Things look up for Dan, as things grow dark for Tom.
There’s been a boom in outstanding horror films in the independent film community recently with titles such as Absentia, The Pact, and Excision. Sorry to say Gut doesn’t live up to this new wave of quality horrors. After two acts that had me excited that we had another winner, the third seems to lose stream and leads to an ending that is lackluster, simple, and rather uninspired. In fact, this third act and ending revealed to me that the first two acts weren’t as interesting as I originally thought. Complexities that I thought were there had been placed there by me and not the filmmakers.
One thing that could be said at this point is that the director simply known as Elias does have talent in creating suspense, even if it doesn’t lead to much. I think he does have a future, but he shouldn’t view Gut as a bright spot on his resume.

Film Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

–Charles T. Cochran