Sunday, March 9, 2014
While trying to impress his friends, and of course a girl, nerdy college student Casper Galloway (Devon Bostick) accidentally breaks an urn in his grandfather's (Christopher Lloyd) occult shop. The curse that's unleashed is of their own making. See, Casper freaks out causing much of the following, "Oh, sure. A curse. Like anyone we make eye contact with will commit suicide and then come back from the dead to kill you." So they mock, and the mocking becomes the parameters of the curse. Silly things, like if you French kiss one of the undead (they call them zemons...zombies created by a demon), it will become your slave. And not so silly things like if they don't somehow reverse the curse by dawn, it will become permanent. To reverse it, they must locate a number of items around campus scavenger hunt style. Their rolling HQ is an old Winnebago. Weapons vary from a crossbow to a rolling pin to a few grenades (don't ask me why they'd have grenades). The climax finds them in a cemetery where they must dig up Casper's great grandfather. They need his watch for the curse reversal. Or something. The cemetery scene is weird. OK...weirder. Do they succeed? Yep. Does any of it make a lick of sense? Nope.
A couple of things: Bostick seems to be channeling Zachary Levi when Levi played a reluctant CIA agent in the TV show Chuck. It's really quite spooky. Christopher Lloyd as Grandpa finds occasion to say "Great Scott!" Shameless? Yes, but it still works for him. One thing that didn't work so well was how they dealt with the death of Casper's loved ones. Pathos in a horror-comedy works about as well as slapstick in a Shakespeare tragedy. "To be, or not to be...nyuk, nyuk, nyuk." Yeah...no.
Acting: Bostick anchors the uneven performances which, if I'm honest, could have been worse. Surprisingly un-sucky. Although the screaming in terror every five minutes wears thin in a big damn hurry. Kids In the Hall alum Kevin McDonald is fun as Professor Duffy.
Story: While it is a mash up of subgenres, it manages to find its own voice.
Direction: Actress turned director April Mullen reins in the chaos competently and keeps the narrative pointed in the right direction. As this was shot in 3-D, there are the obligatory scenes with stuff flying at the camera but it's not overly distracting.
Production Values: I have no budget data, but the sets look real and the sound and lighting aren't crappy. That's all that matters.
Gore/FX: Nothing excessive beyond a bit of blood and brains. That is to say, you shouldn't puke. There's a bit of CGI, and what there is isn't awful.
Scares: They try a few "gotcha" jump scares. I didn't jump.
Ending: Ever seen a horror film where no one dies? Me either.
Verdict: Should you see Dead Before Dawn? It's harmless enough, maybe worth a look if you're into hor-coms. If you were a fan of Chuck, see it for Bostick and his uncanny, if not unintentional, impression of Levi.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 3:50 PM
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Father Billy (Steve Little), quite possibly the dorkiest man on the planet, is asked to take a break from his parish duties by the elder priest (Wally Dalton). Billy has lost focus, spends Bible study class relaying urban legends from the internet. For his imposed break, he convinces his sister's ex-boyfriend Robbie (Robert Longstreet) to accompany him on an afternoon canoe trip. Billy grew up idolizing him, thinks Robbie is on tour with his rock band, and can't accept the truth that he's just a spotlight operator.
On the river, they miss their turn and become lost as dusk descends. As they sit on the bank resolved to wait for morning, Billy and Robbie encounter another group of rafters, two young Asian women and hefty black guy who invite them to their campsite. The giggly and seemingly harmless women are dubbed Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (Koko Lanham and Ann Maddox) while the silent giant in the beige track suit is, of course, Jim (Rico A. Comic). A mysterious liquid is passed around in small cups (definitely not sake) and then the weirdness begins. The girls strap strange looking headphones on the men's heads, don strange looking gloves with wires leading from the fingertips to a set of strange looking glowing orbs, and then proceed to play some strange sounding music. They like it...at first. Then it starts to hurt. And then it starts to hurt a lot. Billy wakes up to a deserted campsite, goes a bit daffy, and then runs like hell for civilization. I can't tell you what happens with Robbie. Has to be seen to be believed, although you can probably guess.
So who were the Asian ladies, what was the contraption, and what was its purpose? It's a "beats the hell out of me" hat trick. To a lesser extent, what had Jim done that warranted a kneeling-in-pee confession and why did his eyes glow red, who sent Billy's Bible back in pristine condition after it was dropped in a diarrhea filled toilet and abandoned, and what did the elder priest want Billy to see over in the corner at the end? Rarely has a film left so many important questions unanswered. Or maybe I'm just thick. It's been known to happen. Was the whole episode another Father Billy urban legend? Or was it part reality and part delusion? If you're reading this and are in any way connected with the movie, let me know, will ya?
A few other things. The title is superfluous, but as this is at heart a dark comedy, it makes sense. The opening and closing credits are overwrought and illegible (see the movie poster). And finally, the music. There is song at the very end called "Hand of the Almighty" that in itself is worth sitting through the whole film. It is hilarious, but definitely not for anyone who takes religion too seriously.
Acting: Longstreet could be Jeffrey Dean Morgan's brother. Spooky. No performance is bad. Little is annoying as Billy, but that was the point.
Production Values: No budget data, but as the majority was filmed in the great outdoors, I'll wager it wasn't much. The few interior scenes (church, café, convenience store, and bathroom) show no tell-tale signs of cheapness.
Gore/FX: Only one spot of gore and it's a whopper. No CGI that I could see.
Scares: Not really that kind of movie.
Ending: There are essentially two. Both are a whole bunch of ???
Verdict: Should you see The Catechism Cataclysm? Oh, I don't know. It's weird, puzzling, and ultimately maddening. If that's what you're into, I say go for it. Remember to listen to the song.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 4:31 PM
Saturday, January 25, 2014
A construction crew breaks into a sealed, 17th century tomb despite the ominous warning inscribed on it by authority of King Charles II and unwittingly unleashes zombie hell. Meanwhile, brothers Terry and Andy (Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadaway) plan to rob a bank to save their grandfather's retirement home from the wrecking ball. They enlist the aid of their mouthy cousin Katy (Michelle Ryan), nerdy friend Tuppence (Jack Doolan), and psychotic gun-supplier Mickey (Ashley Thomas). The robbery doesn't go well. Pesky silent alarms. Mickey grabs two hostages Emma and Clive (Georgia King and Tony Gardner) but when they burst through the front door to face the police, they find zombie carnage. They make it back to their warehouse HQ with some difficulty where they lose a few of the group, and then commandeer an iconic double-decker bus for the trip to the retirement home to rescue Granddad (Alan Ford) and his mates. A second storyline follows Granddad's struggle against the undead interlopers and is hilarious. Especially the bit where Hamish (Richard Briers) attempts to outrun the zombie horde with his walker. By the way, Granddad is a WWII vet who's lost none of his piss and vinegar. Not one drop.
Almost forgot, Terry, Andy, and company stop off at Mickey's storage unit before heading to the retirement home. Mickey's got guns. Lots and lots of guns. And grenades. Post rescue finds the two generations on the run to a boat and hopefully safety. Standing in their way, however, are a few hundred zombies. And they're all a bit peckish.
I very much enjoyed seeing senior citizens blasting away with pistols, shotguns, and Uzis (they had to duct tape Hamish's Uzi to his walker, of course). It's a reminder of what the Greatest Generation accomplished 70 years ago and what, if necessary, they are still capable of. The are a number of great lines in this film but my favorite happens when they reach the retirement home. Emma's behind the wheel of the bus when Terry says, "Wait here, but if we're not back in ten minutes..." Katy breaks in and says, "Wait some more." Brilliant.
While this movie is very funny, it suffers from what I consider to be zom-com market saturation. Not to take away from the filmmakers' noble effort, but it's been done before and done better. Nevertheless, there are additional bits I liked. The famous (or infamous) Cockney rhyming is featured. I don't understand it, but I like it anyway. The crush Doreen (Georgina Hale) has on Andy is an absolute hoot. There are cougars and then there's Doreen. I also enjoyed Granddad's non-stop and colorful cussing. Having battled Nazis and now zombies, he's allowed.
Acting: Hardiker is too shrill while conversely, Treadaway is too subdued. Ryan as Katy and Doolan as Tuppence, however, get it just right. Thomas as Mickey and Ford as Graddad are all ham.
Story: Part Shaun of the Dead, part Cocoon.
Direction: It never achieves the cohesion that would have accentuated the positives. It also lacks a sense of apocalyptic urgency that would no doubt be present.
Production Values: No budget data, but it teeters on the brink of B-grade cheapie without going over the edge.
Gore/FX: Plenty of both. The majority of the really nasty zombie kills are too obviously CGI.
Scares: Not a priority.
Ending: Oddly low key. No twists or last second "gotchas."
Verdict: Should you watch Cockneys vs. Zombies? It's certainly worth 88 minutes of your life. A word of warning, though...a baby does get drop-kicked. But it had it coming.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 6:41 PM
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Author Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is a dedicated exposer of psychic charlatans in 1921 London. Her notoriety draws Robert Mallory (Dominic West) to her door. He requests she investigate claims of sightings of a ghost boy at his boarding school. Mallory explains that many years ago when the school was a private residence, a lad died under suspicious circumstances. Now, another boy has died under equally suspicious circumstances. She balks for roughly 30 seconds, then they're off to the countryside.
The school is a massive pile of dreary gray stone, isolated and foreboding. Creepy groundskeeper Edward Judd (Joseph Mawle) dodged service in WWI and skulks about toting a shotgun. Wounded vet Mallory justifiably loathes the man. Kindly headmistress Maud Hill (Imelda Staunton) keeps a copy of Florence's book "Seeing Through Ghosts" next to her Bible. Needless to say, she's a fan. Loner student Tom (Isaac Hempstead Wright) takes an interest in Florence and her array of spirit-detecting equipment which has a decidedly steampunk flavor. Within mere hours of arriving, Florence solves the recent murder (an instructor left the boy outside to teach him a lesson, but an asthma attack brought on by fear took ended his life) as well as the ghost sightings (on a dare, a boy pulled a pillow case over his head and slunk around the school). The next day begins a school break, so parents come and collect their children, leaving only Florence, Malloy, Maud, Judd, and Tom (the boy's parents are in India). As you may imagine, it's at this point when atheist and skeptic Florence starts experiencing the unexplainable, if not the impossible.
I can't in good conscience continue with the plot summary because what occurs next is simply too good to spoil. Admittedly, I was confused for a time, but then...oh, but then came that marvelous feeling one gets when all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and you finally understand. It's akin to the scene in The Usual Suspects when you realize who Kevin Spacey really is. I did not see it coming. Brilliant.
Acting: I decided that if Emma Thompson and Benedict Cumberbatch had a daughter, she would be exactly like Rebecca Hall, who gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the desperate and damaged Florence. West is equally outstanding, playing the guilt-ridden Mallory with subtlety and grace. Even the pre-adolescent Wright commands the screen in his scenes as the forlorn Tom.
Story: Beautifully layered in its composition, cathartic and heartbreaking in its execution. It deftly avoids the pitfalls and clichés that inevitably plague the 'haunted house' sub-genre.
Direction: Some may argue this film's pacing is too slow. These people are called morons. The narrative unfolds at a perfect rate of speed, building gradually at first and then frenetically towards what is ostensibly a surprise climax.
Production Values: Filmed mostly in Scotland for only three million euros. You will not find studio sets or green screen scenery here. It's all real and all stunning.
Gore/FX: There is a smidgen of blood but nothing super gross. Minimal CGI but used to great effect.
Scares: There is one you won't see coming that will most definitely elicit an underwear crisis.
Ending: Sorry. Spoilers.
Verdict: Should you see The Awakening? No question. Not only will it cause you to jump out of your skin, it will also make you cry. How many horror flicks can make that claim?
Rating: 5 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 5:10 PM
Saturday, January 11, 2014
When they were children, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) were abandoned in the woods by their father for their own safety. We learn later the townsfolk were gunning for their parents. The why is obvious. Lost and hungry, the kids stumble upon a cottage made of...wait for it...gingerbread. They're captured by a witch who's looking to make them her supper. Instead of becoming the entrée, Hansel and Gretel turn the tables on their ugly hostess and stuff her in the oven. During the fracas, they discover witch magic has no effect on them. Hmm.
Years later, the brother and sister travel the land as professional witch hunters. The mayor of Augsburg (Rainer Bock) hires them when eleven of the small village's children go missing and witchcraft is suspected. They soon discover that evil witch diva Muriel (Famke Janssen) is behind the kidnappings and that her plan is to sacrifice the kids during the Blood Moon (a rare and brief lunar phase...apparently) in order to cast a spell that will make all evil witches immune to fire. As for allies, H and G have teenage boy Ben (Thomas Mann) who's their biggest fan and groupie, and Mina (Pihla Viitala), a good witch who's crushing on Hansel. Oh, and Edward the Troll. He's what you'd get if the Hulk and Thing (from the Fantastic Four) had a child. Mina casts a spell on their steampunk weapons, which are as endless as they are insane, to make the evil witches vulnerable to them. The final battle is waged on a hilltop and is truly something to behold. I'll just say this: one of the insane weapons is a Gatling gun and there are dozens of evil witches in all shades of ugly.
A few things stand out. The level of gore, for one. They actually show a guy getting drawn and quartered. Granted, he's floating in mid-air and the ropes are bewitched, but still. Edward the Troll likes to smash heads, and they show it. Another guy simply explodes. And what's with all beheadings via shotgun? Also interesting is how often and completely Hansel and Gretel get their asses kicked. It borders on embarrassing at times. While there is humor, it would have been better served if they'd ramped that up. With Will Farrell producing, I'm very surprised they didn't. Now, the film is presumably set in Germany in what I'll guess is supposed to be the 17th century, although the Gatling gun and other assorted weaponry cast that into some doubt. Why, then, does Hansel have no accent whatsoever? I mean none. He could be from Nebraska or Ohio or something. Then again, no one else in the picture bothered either. To be fair, as you watch, the teenage boy inside your brain reduces your attention sp- Look! Boobies!
Acting: It's a B-action/horror flick and the actors adjusted their performances accordingly. Renner is oddly emotionless a great deal of the time.
Story: Nothing like retro-modernizing a classic fairy tale.
Direction: Tommy Wirkola, who also wrote it, is the Norwegian behind the most excellent horror flick Dead Snow (you know, the one with the Nazi zombies). His direction here frenetic and, at times, frenzied. You won't be bored.
Production Values: Shot in Germany for $50 million, it's as slick and pretty as any other big budget, Hollywood vehicle.
Gore/FX: Both dials are cranked to 11. I'll wager half the budget went to the CGI nerds. Money well spent.
Ending: Unlike most fairy tales penned by the Brothers Grimm, it's one that's happily ever after.
Verdict: Should you see Hansel and Gretel - Witch Hunters? If you're up for some ridiculous carnage and mindless mayhem, then you betcha. Just remember to channel your inner teenage boy or you will be sorry.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 5:57 PM