Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Pardon this reposting but ever since I saw Tucker & Dale vs. Evil at the first ActionFest, I’ve been waiting patiently for it to show up anywhere. Finally it is available on instant Netflix and you should watch it now.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010) – Rated R

Expecting to enjoy a relaxing vacation at their rundown mountain cabin, backwoods boys Tucker and Dale see their peaceful trip turn into a nightmare when college kids camping nearby accuse the duo of being psychotic killers.

Wow. I do not want to give away too many details about this movie but it is an absolutely hilarious reversal of standard slasher tropes.

Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson have written a masterpiece here. This is the first writing credit for Morgan and only the second for Eli (he also wrote the short The Tao of Pong). Most blurbs I have seen compare this movie to Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. In tone it is quite like Shaun, Tucker & Dale is a very good-hearted comedy.

In form though it comes across more like Scream. Tucker & Dale takes the standard hillbillies killing off wayward teens in the woods story and turns it on its ear.

The direction is also by Eli Craig and for a first-time feature film director, he does an excellent job. The stunts and (practical) special effects are quite good. He keeps the action hopping at a brisk pace – there are plenty of gory deaths and lots of laughs.

Part of the magic in the film is definitely the casting.

Tyler Labine, an underrated actor most known for playing “Sock” in the TV series Reaper, plays Dale one of the leads. He plays Dale to lovable perfection as a self-esteem challenged hillbilly.

Alan Tudyk is the other lead and is a wonderful actor. He is best known for playing “Wash” on the TV series Firefly and the movie Serenity. Both are currently available on instant Netflix so why have you not watched them? Here he plays the hapless Tucker who just wants to fix up his vacation home.

Katrina Bowden is our resident damsel in distress. She is also from a TV background, playing Cerie on 30 Rock. Besides being gorgeous (sorry I am still a boy lolz), she has a very nice touch with comedy.

There are so many scenes that I would love to discuss but I prefer to leave them as surprises for you.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil is currently playing the festival circuit looking for a distributor. I find it difficult to understand why no one has snatched up this wonderful comedy but you can put it in your Netflix queue right now and you should.

I highly recommend this film. I was laughing most of the way through the movie as were most of the audience members.

People Watch: Sasha Craig who briefly plays a reporter here is married to Eli Craig. Prior to getting married she was Sasha Williams and played Kelsey Winslow aka Yellow Lightspeed Ranger on the Power Rangers series.

I Love Carolina Cinemas

This is yet still another shoutout for my favorite theater, Carolina Cinemas of Asheville. They have a great cinema lounge upstairs with FREE showings. Every Thursday night is FREE horror movie night and every Tuesday is Asheville Film Society showings (also FREE). Ken Hanke and Justin Souther have dedicated January’s Tuesday showings to Ken Russell who passed away recently.

1/3 Isadora Duncan & Song of Summer (double feature)

1/10 Dante’s Inferno & Always on Sunday (also double feature)

1/17  The Boyfriend

1/24 Tommy

1/31 Lisztomania

Thursday Horror Picture Shows for January are:

1/5 Altered States (Ken Russell)

1/12 The Changeling

1/19 House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula (the double feature I’ve been waiting for woohoo!)

1/26 Scanners (David Cronenberg)

 

Black Death – Christopher Smith

 

Black Death (2010) – Rated R

“Sean Bean stars in this historically rooted horror-thriller as Ulric, a church-appointed knight in the age of the Bubonic Plague’s first wave who’s tasked with investigating rumors of a woman (Carice van Houten) who can bring the dead back to life. A young monk (Eddie Redmayne) named Osmund is aiding Ulric on his quest to root out the necromancer — and to determine whether or not she has ties to Satan.

“The fumes of the dead hung in the air like poison. The plague, more cruel and pitiless than war, descended upon us. A pestilence that would leave half our kingdom dead.”

I love the prologue to this movie. As it goes on about demons and witchcraft carrying the plague, you see a rat scurrying about – the true carrier of the plague. Okay it was actually fleas but that is a much harder visual to pull off.

I was lucky enough to catch Black Death in the theater at a promotional showing for Actionfest 2011. I had really been looking forward to it since every Christopher Smith film I’ve seen has been better than the last. He did the underground horror Creep, the horror comedy Severance, and the horror sci-fi Triangle – all of which I’ve enjoyed.

The only trepidation I had was that this was coming out at the same time as the extremely similarly themed Season of the Witch. Here is the Netflix description for Season – “In 14th-century Europe, a courageous knight leads a group of weary warriors across impossibly treacherous terrain in order to transport a suspected witch believed to be responsible for spreading the devastating Black Plague.

Now Hollywood often has sets of movies like that (Deep Impact, Armageddon) and often one is very good (Dangerous Liaisons) and the other not so much (Valmont). In fact next year we get no less than three Snow White adaptations, not counting the currently popular TV show Once Upon a Time.

Not only are both films about the possibility of a witch causing the Black Plague but both feature an action star as a knight (Sean Bean, Nicolas Cage) with an innocent religious sidekick. Both have former 70s horror stars as high level clergymen (David Warner, Christopher Lee). To be fair Black Death was done and released in the UK well before Season of the Witch but I think it got short shrift here in the States because of Season of the Witch. As before one is very good (Black Death), the other not so much (Season of the Witch).

I found the script to be excellent and a nice bit of a history lesson vis a vis early Christianity (though my wife thought the script beat you over the head with it – my head must be thicker). The one problem is that there is an unbelievably ridiculous plot twist that almost ruins the movie. It’s a case of Ulric’s party doing something they would never do simply because it says so in the script.

I loved a lot of the small touches. One of my favorites was how not everyone rode on horseback. The company is not comprised of a troop of knights but of a knight with a number of men-at-arms. The men are pretty rough and tumble with a fair number of scars and functional rather than pretty armor. Combat, like life, is nasty, brutish and short.

People Watch: Look for Black Adder comedian Tim McInnerny in a far more serious role as Hob. Also not only did Sean Bean go on to appear in Game of Thrones but so did Carice van Houten. In this she plays Langiva (no character name should have an anagram like that) and in Game of Thrones, she is Melisandre. Also Emun Elliott who is Swire here is Marillion in Game of Thrones.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and ActionFest 2012

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) – Rated PG-13

“Super-agent Ethan Hunt dangles from skyscrapers and otherwise takes daring to new heights on another operation from the Impossible Missions Force. Helping Hunt get the job done is droll fellow IMF agent Luther Stickel.” (Netflix’s fairly inaccurate description)

“Now remember – Blue is Glue” – “And red?” – “Dead”

Last night I went to see an early showing of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol at my favorite theater, Carolina Cinemas. The early showings included an ActionFest (the Film Festival with a Body Count) announcement. ActionFest 2012 will be held April 12-15 (Thursday through Sunday). This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award will go to stuntman Mickey Gilbert, whose career runs from Ben-Hur to Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and includes such iconic films as The Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Breakheart Pass, The Towering Inferno and The Last of the Mohicans.

Being first in line, I came away with some nice Mission Impossible swag.

I am not a big Tom Cruise fan. Generally he is a movie star and not an actor. He can act but I’ve only seen that in Interview with the Vampire. I also hate that he is so powerful that every movie of his is a Tom Cruise movie in spite of being directed by some of Hollywood’s biggest names (Brian DePalma, J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg, John Woo, etc.). That said he is a good bankable star and is certainly engaging here.

Director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) puts together an amazing action film here. It honestly is an action film on steroids. Instead of an action sequence on the side of a building, we have an Imax action sequence on the side of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Foot and car chases have been done to death in every conceivable locale so how about a foot and car chase in an amazing sandstorm. You’ve seen fights in parking garages before but have you seen one in an automated parking garage? Didn’t think so.

The film would be well worth recommending for any one of those three sequences. The film is also incredibly beautiful and very fast-paced. Simon Pegg offers a fair amount of comic relief without being overwhelming. Jeremy Renner shows his action movie chops as does Paula Patton – both hold their own against Cruise.

The drawbacks to the film are a maudlin backstory that you won’t care about, a convoluted plot that didn’t make sense when James Bond did it over and over again, characters you don’t really care about, and the worst sin for an action film – a bland, seldom-seen villain. However the action is so wonderful that you probably won’t notice any of the defects until after you leave the theater.

People Watch: Look for Lost’s Josh Holloway as a secret agent in the beginning of the film.

 

Mutants – French Horror

“With an unstoppable virus turning the populace into violent zombies, Sonia (Hélène de Fougerolles) and her husband, Marco (Francis Renaud), scramble for safety. When Marco becomes infected, Sonia stands by his side and desperately searches for a way to prevent his mutation. But as Marco slowly transforms into one of the mutants, Sonia begins to fear for her life — and for the future of their unborn child.”

“The first cases were declared in early summer. In a few months, the virus decimated the population.”

Okay I have to admit that I am a sucker for zombie films. It isn’t so much the zombies themselves that I love. I love siege films and I love apocalyptic scenarios and zombie films are almost always one or both of these, hence my love of zombie films (in spite of a ridiculous oversaturation in the market – at least they don’t sparkle in the  daylight and refuse to kill people).

As you can tell from the prologue above, this film begins after the apocalypse is well underway. A deserted mountain hospital in winter is the setting for much of the film. I love winter for horror movies. It is not only beautiful but easily conveys a sense of isolation and inherent danger.

The cast is pretty good. I don’t usually go into much detail on the casts of foreign films as I don’t follow non-English speaking actors. That said the woman playing Sonia, Helene de Fougerolles, is wonderful. She not only conveys toughness without being super-heroic but also professionalism as a paramedic, anguish at her choices and situation, fear and apprehension. This is necessary to the film as most of the running time is devoted to Sonia and Marco.

This is a very intimate zombie/infection film. Don’t go into this expecting a ravenous horde, bloodbaths, and a high body count. There is certainly gore but this is more of an introspective picture than an action horror. While most infected films use a lot of shorthand – “oh you’re infected – sucks to be you” *blam*, this one actually has a character actively trying to find a cure. Also these people are infected a la 28 Days Later and not true zombies. What do you do when the person you love goes insane? What if they are sometimes insane and sometimes lucid?

Unfortunately the third act starts off stupidly. How did any of these people survive the apocalypse without the ability to barricade or for that matter even lock a door? That glaring error aside this is an enjoyable little horror film.

Misery – More movies from the King

Misery (1990) – Rated R

“Former nurse Annie Wilkes saves her idol, romance novelist Paul Sheldon, after he crashes his car during a blizzard. But when she learns he plans to kill off her heroine in his next volume, Annie morphs from nurturing caregiver to sadistic jailer.”

“And don’t even think about anybody coming for you. Not the doctors, not your agent, not your family. Cause I never called them. Nobody knows you’re here. And you better hope nothing happens to me. Because if I die… you die. “

If you have not seen this, Kathy Bates is absolutely fantastic. How good is she? She played a psychopath so convincingly (and wincingly – you know the scene I mean) that she beat out Meryl Streep for an Oscar. Interestingly Anjelica Huston was originally offered the role but had to turn it down because she was working on The Grifters. Huston was nominated for an Oscar for her work in that film but lost to Bates.

This is not to say that the other performances are bad. It is wonderful to see Lauren Bacall in any movie even if this amounts to little more than a cameo. Richard Farnsworth and Frances Sternhagen do quite a bit with their limited roles and are always a pleasure. James Caan does quite well as Paul Sheldon, our Stephen King substitute. Caan is overshadowed by Bates in almost every scene but is great as a foil.

As with his previous adaptation of a Stephen King story (Stand by Me), director Rob Reiner shows that he knows that what makes King stories work are the characters. William Goldman, hot off his collaboration with Reiner on The Princess Bride, does an excellent job of adapting King’s novel.

If you have already seen this film then watch it again knowing that King wrote this as a metaphor for his battle with substance abuse. There is a key scene in the film that is toned down from the book and yet the toning down makes it seem all the more gruesome – much like not seeing Frankenstein’s monster toss the little girl in the lake is actually scarier.

People Watch: Look for Rob Reiner as a helicopter pilot and J.T. Walsh as State Trooper Sherman Douglas in uncredited cameos.

Stephen King’s The Stand

Stephen King’s The Stand (1994) – Not rated

“When a super-flu decimates most — but not all — of the human race, the lonely survivors divide into two civilizations which are destined to clash. Based on the best-selling novel by Stephen King.”

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” – Yeats but quoted by Ed Harris in the show

Stephen King’s The Stand runs for six hours and still feels a little rushed in the storytelling department. I have no idea how they originally planned to make it into just a movie. It is also currently being thought of for a reboot because apparently American memories were wiped during Y2K. That said be aware that this is a long haul (albeit with a good payoff).

Mick Garris has made a good living from Stephen King. He directed 1992’s trashy but fun Sleepwalkers and somehow became the go-to guy for Stephen King adaptations. Perhaps this is because he is one of the few directors to have actually read the books but that is just speculation on my part. After The Stand, Mick would go on to direct The Shining mini-series, Quicksilver Highway (which adapts King’s “Chattery Teeth”), Riding the Bullet, Desperation, and the just aired Bag of Bones. He also wrote the screenplays for Quicksilver Highway and Riding the Bullet.

Stephen King wrote the screenplay based on his own magnum opus so this is a pretty faithful adaptation of the novel. He does an excellent job of juggling a huge and disparate cast of characters. King can’t resist appearing in his films and here he plays Teddy Weizak in the last two episodes.

Gary Sinise is fantastic as Stu “Country don’t mean dumb” Redman. Also excellent are Ray Walston (Glen Bateman), Ossie Davis (Judge Farris) and Ruby Dee as Mother Abigail. They are ably backed by Molly Ringwald, Rob Lowe, Miguel Ferrer, Jamey Sheridan and a host of others. Regrettably a few of the actors are not so good, either too over-the-top (Matt Frewer as Trashcan Man, Rick Aviles as Rat Man) or just plain off the wall (Laura san Giacomo’s Nadine is not exactly a model of sanity so I suppose I should cut her some slack).

The episodes break down into fairly neat story arcs. The first episode is the best movie/TV depiction I’ve seen of an apocalyptic outbreak (until this year’s Contagion anyway). The second episode is all about the journeys of various characters after the apocalyptic events. The third episode is about community and the fourth is all about faith. It doesn’t break down perfectly but pretty close.

People Watch: Look for Ed Harris and Kathy Bates in uncredited cameos as a General and radio jock respectively. Yes that is former NBA superstar Kareem Abdul Jabbar as the doomsayer. The cane used by a character in the fourth episode is the same cane from Storm of the Century.

Apples, Rokus, Kindles and Netflix Oh My

I love my Roku box. The Xbox 360’s recent update for Netflix was wonderful but I still need my Roku for Amazon content – namely the current season of Walking Dead. Why oh why must I wait until February for new episodes? I also need the Roku for my weekly Revision 3 content (HD Nation, Film State, plus Epic Meal Time for my daughter). Roku also has hundreds of other channels to try if you get bored with Netflix and Hulu Plus.

Roku now has an app for your the iPhone, iPod, and iPad to use them as a remote. It can be used on all Roku boxes and even multiple Rokus if you are so inclined. You can use gesture control and add channels. For those of you with Android phones (or like me, have the new Kindle Fire), a version is coming soon (we are the redheaded stepchild).

Amazon has sold millions of the new Kindle Fire so I would expect big improvements shortly. This past week in addition to the daily freebie, they have been running daily 10 cent promotions on at least three different programs a day. I had to erase season 1 of The Walking Dead from my Fire just to fit all the games I’ve been trying. The downside is that Puzzle Quest 2 finally showed up on the Fire and I have a hard time justifying a $4.99 purchase when all my other games are $0.10 or free.

Netflix has also had a major update (2.0) for the iPad. This update is very similar to the one they just did on the Xbox 360 and is a nice little Christmas present for iPad owners.

 

The Horde

The Horde (2009) – Not rated but quite graphic in violence and language, drug use and minor nudity.

“When four corrupt policemen invade a gangster’s hideout near Paris to avenge the death of their colleague, they quickly find themselves outmanned, outgunned and trapped. That is, until a legion of vicious zombies swarms through the building. Now, the cops, the crooks and the undead are swept up in a bloody three-way rampage. Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher direct this gore-filled French thriller that stars Jo Prestia and Eriq Ebouaney.”

“You saw what they did to the Czech! They ate half his face off!”

For new and disturbing horror, lately the choices have been French or Scandinavian. Japanese horror was great when it first showed up but, as with anime, they didn’t really evolve and just kept cannibalizing their own movies. The French horror movies do require a bit of a strong stomach. They are often vicious and difficult to sit through. The Saw series has nothing on Martyrs for example.

The Horde is vicious enough to be edgy but not so much as to be unenjoyable. Martyrs and Audition are very strong horror films but I would never put them in the enjoyable category. As a side note – I do like how in French films, it is just assumed that the cops are corrupt.

The Horde is very fast paced, beginning with a cop discovering the body of one of their own in a landfill. It runs a scant 96 minutes including credits. By the time the credits have finished, four of the cops are on their way for some payback. The not terribly well thought vengeance plan goes poorly but just as the plan unravels, the zombie apocalypse starts.

The abandoned apartment block makes a great setting for a siege. The entire film is just the four cops trying to get into the building and then the cops and criminals trying to get out. In that respect it is a little reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13.

The acting is just fine for what is essentially an action movie with zombies. There are no particular standouts, good or bad although the racist veteran they encounter who still thinks he is in the war is a hoot and the female cop is incredibly tough.

Yes the zombie genre, much as I love it, is overdone. Still this film has very tough protagonists, cops and criminals trying to work together and failing, a horde of zombies, a machine gun, a cool two zombie, one criminal knife fight, and a good if somewhat obvious ending. Yes you will have to read subtitles but they aren’t difficult to follow.

Creepshow

Okay while normally I never miss cable, especially since I never run out of things to watch, this week I would have liked to have seen Mick Garris’ adaptation of Bag of Bones. Still it will be on Netflix eventually and Netflix does have plenty of Stephen King to go around.

Creepshow (1982) – Rated R

“Based on the E.C. comic books of the 1950s, this horror anthology includes radioactive meteorites, a creepy Father’s Day party, a monster in a crate and thousands of cockroaches. Venerable horror director George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) and screenwriter Stephen King are responsible for the creepfest, which features performances by Leslie Nielsen, Hal Holbrook, Ted Danson, Adrienne Barbeau, Ed Harris, E.G. Marshall and even King himself.”

“This is going to be extremely painful Mr. Verrill!”

I love portmanteau (anthology) films even if far too many of them have the same wraparound story (Omigosh they were all dead to begin with! I never would have guessed that!). Some of them are direct adaptations of EC Comics (Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror) but none of them captured the actual feel of those comics until Creepshow.

Obviously much of the credit has to go to the wonderful tongue-in-cheek screenplay from author Stephen King. He captures the spirit of the Tales from the Crypt comics much better than the Amicus films or the HBO TV series ever did. The stories are all fun with a good punchline that may have you groaning.

Unlike his brief cameos in other films, King actually carries one of the segments of the film (“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”). His acting is atrocious but fits in well with his segment. Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son, plays the young boy in the wraparound segments.

George Romero does an excellent job of directing here. He gets great over-the-top performances from a good cast of actors. Hal Holbrook and Leslie Nielsen are particularly good here. Much of the film is done as comic book panels with bright primary colors and backgrounds. Because of the nature of the portmanteau film, none of the stories overstays its welcome.

Romero regular Tom Savini handled the special makeup effects and this film features some of his best work. Savini also has a cameo as one of the garbagemen.

Two final notes: If you don’t enjoy tongue-in-cheek or campy material then you are unlikely to enjoy this film. If cockroaches bother you unduly then do not watch the last segment of this film – you have been warned! Even on repeat viewings, I often skip the last segment. It’s great but boy does it give me the heebie-jeebies.