September 12, 2016

All Four Jaws'es

You're gonna need a bigger blog!
(Hey-ohhh, sorry but I couldn't resist.)

I've been sick for a week - head and chest crud that just doesn't want to go away. And I've been thinking I should go to the doctor, but as sweet as my doctor is, she is notorious for throwing an antibiotic at literally every ailment. You have a rash? Here, take an antibiotic. Oh, your hair is thinning? An antibiotic will cure that. Broken toenail, you say? Take this Z-pack, it'll fix you right up. Then it's diarrhea for two weeks and, if you'll pardon this dose of reality, a scorching yeast infection. No thanks. I am seriously trying to get over this one on my own. Anyway, the point I'm making is that I've had a lot of down-time over the past week, and I've watched a crap-ton of movies. Poltergeist, Knock Knock, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, to name a few (reviews on the latter two coming soon). I also watched - are you ready for this? - all four Jaws installments right in a row. For the first time in my entire 43 and a half years of life. It was so enlightening! As well as confusing... but I'll get to that. Here we go!

Let's start with Jaws, the first. Frankly, it's one of my favorite movies of all time, and to me it's just straight-up flawless. It really doesn't get any better than this. Sure, those deep-diving reviewers can find problems with it, and they just love to yap about the troubles on set. But I don't care about any of that. The movie is great! The characters are real, and relatable. Everyone knows a fearful but determined Chief Brody, everyone knows a neurotic, smart and irritatingly rich Hooper, and everyone knows a crotchety old crazy bastard like Quint, the asshole you can trust. I feel like all three of these people are somewhere in my personality (minus the rich part), and I can relate to them, which makes every scene of the film that much more enjoyable. Plus, a shark!

If you do not yet believe that I have a deep love for this film, 
I give you the following evidence:

Yes, friends. These are my cankles in my super-fancy, much-beloved Jaws topsiders. I had to have 'em! And when I live-tweeted Jaws with my Twitter pals a couple of weeks ago, I wore them proudly. 

I don't feel that I need to say anything more about Jaws. We've all seen it. I love it crazy-hard, it's amazingly good, and still holds up even in the age of CGI and ADD. I hate that Quint was eaten by his greatest fear and most tragic memory, but them's the breaks in horror films. So, I hereby dedicate this review to the memory of Quint, because he rocks.

Quint. All hail.

Also, this guy Harry rocks.
"That's some bad hat, Harry."

And, lastly, this guy Harbor Master Frank Silva rocks too.
I want Frank Silva's life. He just looks so happy with his pipe and crackers.

Now - off with the good, and on with the bad. This brings us to Jaws 2.

I can sit through some really boring movies (I liked Maggie, for Pete's sake!) but this one was just a snoozer. It starts off kind of cool, with two rich scuba jerks exploring the underwater wreckage of the Orca, Quint's boat from the first film, and taking stupid pictures. I was into it. Hey, look, there's the Orca! Neat! And then the rich guys get eaten, which was great. We were off to a good start. But then the actual story started, picking up with Brody and his wife and kids at some lame PR event, and it just landed onscreen like a wet fart. 

We have the much older Michael and Sean, Brody's boys, still disobeying their dad. Michael has clearly learned nothing from the first film. And apparently neither has the Amity mayor, who still refuses to close the beaches after a shark attack. It just feels silly and ridiculous. After the events of the first film, you'd think the mayor would hang on Brody's every word, but nope. 

The second set of deaths, a skiier and her boat driver, are kind of funny though, so at least we get a chuckle out of it. The skiier gets eaten, and then the boat driver, who easily could have just left the scene in her boat after she realized her skiier had become chum, decides to fight off the shark using a gas tank and a flare gun, which burns her alive (seriously, she's on water, can't she just jump off the boat and swim for it - she's only 20 yards from shore!). It's really the only time you see someone in a Jaws movie killed by their own ineptitude. At least the shark got a hot lunch. He also got a burned face from biting into the boat while it was on fire, and a bitchin' scar which I suppose was meant to make him look more menacing. But it doesn't. For some reason, this shark looks less realistic than the one from the first film, more foamy and less sharky. You'd think it'd be better, that they would work out any of the kinks from the first film, but nope. They weirdly get progressively worse and less realistic in each consecutive film. 

And Roy Scheider just phones it in - you can tell he doesn't want to be here doing this film. Also, there's no Dreyfuss at all this time, so that's balls. 

While Jaws 2 is generally considered the best of the Jaws sequels, I disagree. I put my money on Jaws 3-D as the best, if only for the corny effects and entertainment value. It's a laugh a minute. Plus, I like the background of the theme park, with it's zany cast of employees in colorful costumes, and it's nifty underwater tunnel. Plus, you get trained dolphins named Cindy and Sandy. What's not to love? 

A young Lea Thompson stars as one of the park's employees, who tries to seduce the now-adult Sean. And the adult Michael, played by Dennis Quaid, is now some kind of engineer, who works at the park, and is dating a sassy marine biologist played by Bess Armstrong, who you probably remember as the dorky mom in My So-Called Life. What?! And if that's not enough star power for ya, put Louis Gossett Jr. in your craw, because yep, he's in it too! 

Jaws 3-D also boasts what is easily the most ponderously terrible attack scene from any of the Jaws films. Behold for yourself in the following video clip - it's so bad it's good...

And now we've reached the final heaving rush of stinging diarrhea from the Jaws franchise, Jaws 4: The Revenge

The title implies that the shark is getting revenge on the remaining members of the Brody clan, which is really stupid because that original shark was blown to bits in the first film. Then the random Great White from the second film was electrocuted to bits. And the shark from the 3rd film, who was supposedly just getting back at the park employees for killing her baby, was killed. So, what the hell's the deal with this shark?! How could this shark possibly know that there are three Brodys left on earth to be eaten in an act of "personal" revenge. The premise just makes no goddamn sense on any level. And poor Sean, the youngest Brody, gets eaten right there in the first death scene. Sean has apparently taken over as Chief of the island, where his mom still lives. Why haven't they moved inland by now??! I mean, c'mon people. The beach is clearly not the place for you! 

Michael now has a family and is living in the Bahamas doing some kind of vague research on conch snails. Wasn't he like an engineer or something in the last movie?? So, he talks his grief-stricken mom, played once again by Lorraine Gary, into visiting his family and staying with them through the holidays. Fine, whatever. 

Lorraine Gary's look has really changed since the first film, to a disconcerting degree. She went from soft, sweet mom figure.. uber-angular 80s lady, complete with pointy haircut and sharp shoulder pads. Blech.

There's also some mild racism in this film, marking the only time you see a black character who actually fights the shark (and, naturally, dies). This one is so Bahamian he wears Dwayne-Wayne sunglasses, natty dreads, and a host of Bahama and Caribbean-themed shirts. It just kind of seems like overkill to me. I mean, look at this guy. "Look at 'im, mon!" I know I'm describing a Jamaican racist stereotype, and this character is from the Bahamas, and I realize it doesn't make sense. But talk to the director because this Bahamian acts Jamaican. It is sincerely beyond my understanding.

In the end, the shark gets killed and all of the white people swim happily home. Everything seems like it's going to be okay. But how could it be? We're technically on shark #5 in this movie. They just keep popping up! And they're apparently all born with the innate knowledge that there are specific people with the surname of Brody who just plain NEED to be eaten. So, how can everything be okay?? I'm telling you, it makes no effing sense at all. At the end of Jaws 4, the mom is smiling and laughing as she boards a plane to go back home. Back home, where her son was just eaten, where the sharks are clearly popping out of some magical shark-spawning cave. I don't get it. I just don't get it. Move to Oklahoma, dummies! 

But, if there's a Jaws 5, you better believe I'm gonna watch it. And I'm probably gonna need a bigger... no wait, smaller, brain. No problem - I drink a lot of coffee.

Until next time,
"Smile, you son of a bitch!"

September 2, 2016

Heir (2015)

Heir,  a Canadian-born short film from Fatal Pictures, funded via a Kickstarter campaign, was written and directed by Richard Powell, and produced by Zach Green. It's less than 14 minutes long, so I'm not going to go into great detail about the plot or post any spoilers. You'll just have to go check it out for yourself. It's still in post-production right now, but it will be available soon. In the meantime, you can go the Fatal Pictures website and check out some of their other short films. 

What I will say is that Heir does a good job of creating tension and curiosity for the viewer. The mix of ominous music and lighting, combined with some stellar practical effects, made for a gross-but-enjoyable little watch. It leaves you thinking about the film's metaphorical statement because there clearly is one. It isn't obvious at first glance, though. I had to read the director's statement to get the skinny on the subversive story's meaning. Go ahead and read it. It won't spoil the movie for you - in fact, I think it will make your viewing experience even more rife with tension, which is a good thing when you're watching spooky stuff.

Director's Statement: FATAL PICTURES' HEIR (2015),
Richard Powell
"HEIR is a monster movie unlike any other, it is a bleak and fantastical examination of one of societies darkest taboos that aims to stimulate the mind and wrench the gut with equal power. HEIR suggests that victimization through sexual abuse leads to mutation of the psyche, soul and in our film, flesh itself. As our film aims to examine the cycle of victimization it only makes sense to depict the various stages of victimization through a trio of characters; Father, Son and the Monster. Just as the Son represents the potential beginning of the cycle the monster reflects the dark and twisted ending and stuck between these two extremes is the father who is faced with a choice which may either break or continue the legacy he was unwillingly included in years ago in his own youth. HEIR is ultimately about the confrontation with that monster, literally and figuratively, which dwells in Gordon's mind and compels him to continue the chain of victimization. This film operates between the worlds of Drama and Horror and takes equally from both in terms of aesthetics, structure and style. As much as I'd like the audience to think about what they are seeing I want them to react viscerally to it as well and with that in mind we set out to create striking, often grotesque and extreme imagery which serves it's own purpose in addition to reinforcing the overall thesis of HEIR. I had originally intended to tell this story as a straight Drama with none of the fantastical Horror trappings. I thought a realistic version of this story would be more disturbing, truthful and effective but as I began to think about what this story really means I realized the metaphor I would end up employing tells a deeper truth despite the monster makeup and Argento-esque lighting. I realized the truest way to tackle the horrors of child abuse and victimization was to pull away the exterior of the human monsters who walk among us and expose the malignancy within. Any time I've been asked to describe HEIR I reply with a simple elevator pitch "They say that anyone who abuses a child is a monster, well what if they really were monsters?".

I also want to yawp a hearty "thank you" to Fatal Pictures for using practical effects (I've said it many times before and I'll say it again - CGI monsters are not scary!) and for hiring actors that are not only very good at what they do but also normal-looking people. I have a difficult time relating to way-too-beautiful-to-be-real actors and actresses in films, battling CGI monsters no less. I prefer characters that look like anyone I could know or meet on the street. It makes the whole thing feel more real and relatable. Are you listening, Hollyweird?!

This short film takes itself seriously and is well-done, yet also somehow manages to be fun. Keep your eyes out for a release date and give it a watch! Until then, here's a teaser trailer to keep you "hungry"...

June 24, 2016

Why Horror? (2014)

Why Horror? is a feature-length documentary by Tal Zimmerman, a lifelong horror fan who dares to ask why we all love horror films so much. (Are we sure we really want to know?) Are we crazy? Desperate for catharsis? Looking for a way to vicariously live out and watch our most violent fantasies via a movie screen? Turns out the answer, according to this documentary, is both none and all of these things. 

Through autobiographical interviews with Zimmerman's parents (who are quite charming), and home video footage of his childhood, he opens the doors to his obsessions, giving us a glimpse into the boyhood of a super horror fan. This really spoke to me, personally, because I was that kid too!

In addition to his own background, he provides interviews with industry royalty, such as George Romero and John Carpenter. The biggies! He also interviews myriad horror fans, directors, actors, collectors, convention visitors, and even a psychiatrist or two. And this guy goes deep, like way deep. He allows himself to be studied both in a research lab and in an MRI machine while watching horror clips. The results of both tests are somewhat underwhelming, but I do respect the effort.

My favorite part of the documentary was the 'Too Short History of Horror Films' montage he created. An animated Tal Zimmerman marches us from the silent films of the late 19th century to the Universal classics of the 50s, the Hammer films of the 60s, the slashers of the 70s and 80s, right up to today's horror hits and misses. He left out one of my favorite heroes in horror history, William Castle, but he did specify that his history montage was "too short" so I'm sure there were lots of greats that had to be cut to get to the point in a respectable amount of time. Vincent Price, anyone?

I also really, really love the respect he pays to women in the horror industry. For decades critics of horror have complained that it's too misogynistic, and I get where they're coming from. Looking at it from the outside in, one might think that women get the short end of the stick in all these films. But they're wrong! Isn't it always a woman who makes it to the end, the "final girl?" It's almost always a strong (though she rarely knows it), smart, crafty lady who kicks the bad guy in his crocuses and gets out alive. How's that for girl power? And I was shocked to learn from the documentary that 60% of horror viewers are women. So, there.

I hate to do it, but I have one criticism, and it's not a quality issue. It's just a personal preference. My least favorite thing about the film was the research into raucously depraved artwork from centuries past, like a painting of a dog getting an arrow rammed up it's butt. I get why he included this section, but to me this isn't horror, or even a precursor to it. This is something else entirely. Horror is entertaining, that was not. For lack of a better adjective, it's just icky.

Ultimately, what I took from this film was not an answer to the question, "Why horror?" but rather a renewed spirit for my love of horror, and an excitement to meet all of these kindred spirits who love weird, spooky movies as much as I do. It's all too easy to start feeling like an outcast and a freak when you are the only one in your peer group who likes these things. I'm a 43-year-old wife and mom, bibliophile and podcast junkie, who volunteers at church, and loves to cook. And I also happen to love horror films. Now I know I'm not so weird after all. Thanks, Tal!