Archive for October, 2008

28 Oct 2008

B-rate, cheesy horror flicks for Halloween night

No Comments Opinion, Published Work

“If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw!” That is what the TV ads keep telling me. Frankly, I stopped watching the Saw series after *Spoiler* the death of Mr. Jigsaw *Spoiler* in installment No. 3.

The truth is, I have stopped watching most new horror movies in general. Besides the random Stephen King adaptations, horror movies today have lost all sense of originality and rely solely on random things jumping out to provide scares.

That being said, I thought I would spend my Halloween with four movies from a genre that is proud to provide the most ridiculous and outrageous horror films today, the B-rate horror movie genre. Made with extremely low budgets and washed up Hollywood actors, the B-rate horror movie genre has been around for more than half a century offering a comical look at people stuck in outlandish yet horrifying situations.

To get a good idea of how the genre has evolved throughout the decades, I watched one film from the ’70s, one from the ’80s and two that have just been released this year. In knowing that B-rate horror movies are not made in the same way as regular Hollywood films, I decided it is best not to grade them in the same context. After much thought, I came to the conclusion that these films must be graded on three main categories: the level of cheesiness, the amount of gore/violence and finally, the quality of the “T and A.”

“The Car”(1977)

Plot: When a mysterious car with no driver starts to terrorize a small hick town, Officer Wade Parent (James Brolin) must figure out how to stop… The Car!

Cheesiness: Not only does “The Car”nudge cops off cliffs, but it also takes part in intense staring contests with the locals! (A)

Gore: Being a PG movie, there is sadly no gore, only cheesy off-screen deaths. (F)

T and A: Only a couple shots at Brolin’s hair covered six pack. (D-)

Overall: C. Even if the film is a bit lacking, you can make a great drinking game out of it by taking a shot every time The Car does its signature honk.

Trailer for “The Car”

“The Toxic Avenger”(1985)

Plot: When a group of preppy kids push the geeky gym cleaner, Melvin, out a window and into a barrel of toxic waste, Melvin transforms into the evil-hating, head-smashing hero called the Toxic Avenger.

Cheesiness: This is the film’s middle name! One example is the change in Melvin’s voice from a whiny tenor as a geek to a deep baritone purr as the Toxic Avenger. (A+)

Gore: Whether it’s crushing people’s skulls with gym equipment or blending a milkshake in a guy’s mouth, this movie makes the Saw movies look like episodes of Pee Wee’s Playhouse. (A+)

T and A: While boobs are plentiful, the crazy 80’s tan lines diminish the level of viewing pleasure. (B-)

Overall: A. “The Toxic Avenger”is the epitome of B-rate Horror Movies.

Trailer for “The Toxic Avenger”

“Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer”(2008)

Plot: After witnessing the brutal slaying of his parents by a monster when he was a child, a young plumber named Jack Brooks vows to take a stand and avenge his parents’ death when his science teacher suddenly turns into a monster-producing blob creature.

Cheesiness: While most of the film is spent uncovering the character’s history, the last 15 minutes has the best monster vs. plumber battle every captured on film. (B)

Gore: From a possessed uncle eating his nephew’s hand to exploding heads, this film has the goods. (A)

T and A: None, unless you count the blob creature’s uncovered buttocks. (F)

Overall: B-. Believe it or not, “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer”actually tries too hard to be a good movie.

Trailer for “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer”

“Zombie Strippers”(2008)

Plot: When a government experiment goes wrong, a virus that reanimates the dead is unleashed in an underground strip club. After the star stripper (Jenna Jameson) gets infected, things start to get nasty.

Cheesiness: You know you are watching the most outrageous horror movie ever when a zombified Jenna Jameson starts shooting pool balls out of her cooch. (A-)

Gore: Filled with crummy special effects, shots involving flying body parts, the penis-munching and jaw-ripping scenes really stand out. (B+)

T and A: As a disgruntled softcore porno, “Zombie Strippers”offers some of the best nudity around. That is, until the zombie effects start to decay certain womanly assets. (A)

Overall: A-. A surefire cult classic that will make any man more wary during his next outing to the nearest gentlemen’s club.

Trailer for “Zombie Strippers”

Jay Brissenden is a film critic for the Nevada Sagebrush. He can be reached at jbrissenden@nevadasagebrush.com.

28 Oct 2008

The Strangers

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The most terrifying part of “The Strangers”is not the people in creepy doll masks or the torture sequences: it is the fact that this one-and-a-half hour film is one hour too long.

Liv Tyler, bottom left, and Scott Speedman, bottom right, face the three masked stalkers/captors that plague the young couple throughout this psychological horror film.

Liv Tyler, bottom left, and Scott Speedman, bottom right, face the three masked stalkers/captors that plague the young couple throughout this psychological horror film.

Based on true events, “The Strangers”is the Hollywood version of what happened to James Hoyt (Scott Speedman, “Underworld: Evolution”) and Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler, “The Incredible Hulk”) at the secluded Hoyt family summer home. After returning from a wedding reception, the couple struggles to stay alive while three strangers in masks terrorize and torture them.

In one of the film’s special features, production designer John Krethschmer said, “This is more of a terror film, as opposed to a horror.”That statement is 100 percent correct. “The Strangers”is a truly terrifying and disturbing film in its first half hour.

When the intruders start appearing in random places, it is generally creepy. After the 20th time a masked person pops out of nowhere, it simply becomes silly. It’s not scary anymore and, it becomes quite annoying watching the poor couple scramble around hopelessly.

One of the main goals a serious horror film is making the audience care what happens to the victims. “The Strangers”fails miserably in that respect by purposely avoiding character development for random scares. While Tyler and Speedman do not create obnoxious characters, it just become hard to care for them when they start making idiotic mistakes.

One example in particular is when the couple realizes that the strangers have broken into the house. James decides it would be best to try and find a radio in the barn outside and tells Kristen to stay put inside. Scared stupid, Kristen listens and waits while James runs outside with the couple’s gun, their only source of defense.

Out of all the nonsense that occurs in this film, the worst part is the meaninglessness of it all. When Kristen asks one of the intruders, “Why are you doing this to us?”the blonde-haired girl with the big doll-eyed mask replies, “Because you were home.”

In similar fashion to this year’s other ‘when strangers attack’ film, “Funny Games,”it seems the villains terrorize these unsuspecting victims just for the hell of it. While director Bret Bertino might have been going for a creepy Manson family feel, the whole ordeal comes off as a lame attempt to generate clichéd thrills.

For the DVD’s special features, viewers are treated to two deleted scenes that actually would have been beneficial to add into the final cut. Believe it or not, the scenes actually included character development!

There is also a making-of featurette entitled “The Elements of Terror,”in which Tyler explains how surprised she was when she realized she could actually scream.

With Halloween just around the corner, most should find more terror in their local spook houses than in “The Strangers”pointless story.

‘The Strangers’
Release Date: Oct. 21
Director: Bryan Bertino
Starring: Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for violence/terror and language.
Grade: D

Jay Brissenden can be reached at jbrissenden@nevadasagebrush.com.

20 Oct 2008

Sex Drive

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Disguised as a patriotic version of “Eurotrip,”"Sex Drive”offers little new to the teenage sex comedy except a glimpse of Amish gone wild and an ingenious term for a Cleveland steamer.

Clark Duke, far left, and Josh Zuckerman, far right in the costume, play two teenagers travelling across the country on a national sexual conquest.

In typical 21st century, teenage sex-comedy fashion, “Sex Drive”is based around one virgin’s journey to get laid.  Josh Zuckerman (“Lions for Lambs”) stars as Ian, the virgin whose daily highlights include dressing up as a giant Mexican doughnut and having wet dreams about his online chat buddy, Ms. Tasty.

When Ms. Tasty suggests a meet and “greet,”Ian enlists the help of best friends Lance (Clark Duke, “Superbad”) and Felicia (Amanda Crew, “John Tucker Must Die”) to steal Ian’s brother, Rex’s (James Marsden, “27 Dresses”), car and take a road trip that will change all of their lives.

The persistence to continuously remake the “virgin-gets-laid”scenario is becoming extremely pathetic.  Just seven weeks ago, “College”opened the fall season with some of the worst reviews of the year and left theaters with less than $5 million in the bank.  With the premiere of “Sex Drive”this weekend, Hollywood continues its long-running streak of not being able to take a hint.

Viewers realize any chance at originality is lost when the film opens with a direct rip-off of the teenage sex comedy spoof, rightfully titled “Not Another Teen Movie.”  It’s almost painful to think that writers have slumped so low that they have begun to spoof the spoof genre.

It is now only a matter of time until writers and directors of classics such as “Meet the Spartans”and “Disaster Movie”start spoofing their own material.

With its outrageously predictable plot, “Sex Drive”relies on its characters being forced into awkward situations to bring the laughs.  While not quite as bluntly disgusting as “College,”the trio’s mishaps may invoke more than just giggles.  Such instances include Ian’s glory hole encounter at a pit stop restroom and Lance’s “Rolling Brown Out”redneck sex experience.

It is the much-hyped supporting cast’s job to bring the film to a higher comedic level.  James Marsden is, without a doubt, this film’s saving grace as the testosterone-overloaded older brother.  Proving his male dominance through his car and his ability to demolish garage doors, Marsden excels when he attempts to care for his brother.  When afraid of Ian becoming a homosexual, he proclaims, “No way is my brother taking it in the chili hole,”and helps him get to his date.

In a slim role, Seth Green (“Family Guy”) not only manages to insult the Amish community, but also finds a way to be a bigger smart-ass than Dr. Gregory House.  As the Amish renegade who can pimp any car or wagon, his onscreen shenanigans always give viewers an honest reason to laugh.

As one of the most forgettable films of the year, “Sex Drive”will be remembered for its disgusting lack of respect for the American moviegoer’s intelligence.

‘Sex Drive’
Release Date: Oct. 17
Director: Sean Anders
Starring: Josh Zuckerman, Amanda Crew, Clark Duke and James Marsden
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, language, some drug and alcohol use – all involving teens.
Grade: D+

Jay Brissenden is a film critic for the Nevada Sagebrush. He can be reached at jbrissenden@nevadasagebrush.com

14 Oct 2008

Body of Lies

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Filled with big explosions and enough deception to make the Bush administration look clean, “Body of Lies”is a very complicated yet somewhat meaningless high-profile thriller.

Based on Washington Post columnist David Ignatius’s 2007 novel, “Body of Lies”follows covert CIA operative Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio, “Blood Diamond”) in his hunt to capture a major terrorist operating in Jordan. With the help of his boss, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe, “American Gangster”) and the Chief of Jordanian Intelligence, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong, “Babylon A.D.”), Ferris tries to infiltrate the terrorist network in order to get closer to lead terrorist Al-Saleem. With very few allies, Ferris quickly learns that trust is something best earned in person.

In light of recent films, Hollywood has all but announced that its new favorite word is mediocrity. Sweeping the land at fast pace, mediocrity has hit even the most innovative of filmmakers. It is my sad duty to report to you today that “Body of Lies,”directed by three-time Academy Award nominee Ridley Scott, is riddled with the foul stench of, you guessed it, mediocrity.

Over the past few years, audiences have been subjected to dozens of terrorist-themed thrillers. While some have made a splash in the market through clever marketing (“Vantage Point”and “The Kingdom”), most have sunk to the bottom levels of the box office (“Rendition”and “United 93”) due to the American audience’s disdain for the subject matter.

“Body of Lies”finds itself somewhere in the middle of these two situations.

There is honestly little wrong with this film except the story, which is just not that exciting. Even the Academy Award winning screenwriter of “The Departed,”William Monahan was not able to pump a much-needed sense of originality into the screenplay.

With his famous high-tech style film, director Ridley Scott creates an extremely visually-appealing film. Using satellite imagery and dark tones, viewers get to experience what it would be like to spend a day in a CIA mission room. Along with the imagery, Scott pushes the film along at a quick pace, even if the two hour and fifteen minute runtime is a bit excessive.

As a real life Jason Bourne, DiCaprio is as solid as ever, without really bringing anything new to the table. Whether he is fighting off ravenous dogs or negotiating with Iranians in their native tongue, he creates a very believable and, most importantly, likeable character.

Crowe’s character on the other hand is the one that brings depth to the movie. Combine an overweight family man with a dash of Tommy Lee Jones, only more deceiving, and you have Crowe’s authoritative figure in the film. Neither the good guy nor the bad guy, Crowe action’s in the film keeps the audience guessing.

In a similar fashion as last week’s unsatisfying western “Appaloosa,”"Body of Lies”enters the market as an exciting idea filled with big stars, but ultimately disappoints by not living up to the cast’s illustrious resumes.

‘Body of Lies’
Release Date: Oct. 10
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rating: R for strong violence including some torture and for language throughout.
Grade: C+

Jay Brissenden can be reached at jbrissenden@nevadasagebrush.com

07 Oct 2008

Blindness

No Comments Reviews

For such an epic film that tries to capture the raw and brutal side of humanity, there is little light to be seen in “Blindness.”

“Blindness”gives a dark glimpse of what the world would be like if almost the entire population was to go suddenly blind.  The story focuses around the journey of a doctor (Mark Ruffalo, “Reservation Road”) and his wife (Julianne Moore, “I’m Not There”).  After examining the first man to experience this blindness, the doctor quickly becomes blinded as well, while the wife somehow remains unaffected.

When the doctor is shipped off to a quarantine zone, the wife lies about the fact that she is blind as well in order to go and support her husband.  In the quarantined facility, the doctor and his wife must deal with inhumane conditions as well as cohabitating with hundreds of others who are now blind.

In one of the darkest films of this decade, director Fernando Meirelles creates a terrifying film that quickly overstays its welcome.

The idea of people turning savage in times of crisis was perfectly exemplified in last year’s horror film “The Mist.”In “Blindness”the situation portrayed onscreen is so raw and disturbing, it sometimes becomes unbearable to watch.

Stylishly filmed, Meirelles brings an undeniable sense of reality to the film.  Through blindingly white shots, the viewer is able to experience what the characters onscreen are going through.  In short, the headache that comes from these shots makes for an even more unbearable moviegoing experience.

Since everyone is in such a depressed and deprived state, it is hard to pick a standout performance.  If there was one, it was Gael Garcia Bernal as the savage leader from ward three of the facility that tries to take advantage of the prison’s vulnerable inhabitants.

With no moral standards to speak of, it is Bernal who brings this movie to its ultimate level of grotesqueness.

In trying to be 2008’s most daring film, “Blindness”basically can be classified as an intriguing story lost in a repugnant mess.

‘Blindness’
Release Date: October 3
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gael Garcia Bernal
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: R for violence including sexual assaults, language and sexuality/nudity
Grade: D+