Monday, October 28, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - 3 from Hell (2019)


Short Attention Span Review - 3 from Hell (2019)

3 from Hell is maybe the best we've seen from Rob Zombie yet. In many ways, it is a perfect representation of what he brings to the cinema. Dark, twisted, colorful, and fun in spite of vile forays into thoroughly unsettling territory, his vision is a crazy kaleidoscope of horrors and cheap thrills. Unabashedly devoted to centering his work upon the evilest denizens of his creative landscapes, he finds ways to both terrify us with these creations and make them endearing. The worst among us can be repulsive and charming in equal measures, and the same could be said for Zombie's audacious fiends. The director's love for grindhouse cinema is also something that could be seen as an amazing strength or glaring weakness. Many might decry this element of his approach as degenerative and uninspired. Others may find it to be wildly compelling, and may even argue that he conjures this sort of atmosphere as well as (if not better than) Robert Rodriguez and QT have been able to. All this aside, I will note that I'm a fan of his work. In particular, I found The Devil's Rejects to be a sinister opus that felt a bit like a horror film directed by Sam Peckinpah, and I view Lords of Salem as an intense and terrifying oddity that isn't easily forgotten.  His feature are shot well (even if the choppy editing can be problematic at times), his soundtracks are superb, and he gets wonderful performances from his talent.  I fully appreciate his catalog.  3 from Hell is another superior effort-- as I said at the onset, it may just be his best, though that is surely debatable. What isn't debatable is the sheer impact and the wicked buffet of awful delights that this one is guaranteed to provide for those willing to dip their toes in this ghastly pond. 

Final Grade: A

While Zombie gives Spaulding the best send-off he could under the circumstances, his presence is surely missed throughout an otherwise exemplary sample of the director's divisive fare.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - The Changeling (1980)


Short Attention Span Review - The Changeling (1980)

Everyone loves a good old-fashioned haunted house story, right?  Throw in a vengeful ghost and George C. Scott, and you have the makings of a classic.  The Changeling is highly regarded for a reason, and like The Haunting (which veteran director Peter Medak studied at close range long before crafting this 1980 chiller), it still works.  A spooky yarn is a spooky yarn, and the absence of CGI or other modern effects doesn't hinder this ghastly cult classic in the slightest.  I would argue that all of the gags in The Changeling work to perfection, though like the best films of this ilk, it relies more on what we hear and suspect than what we actually see.  A good script, a powerful score, top-notch cinematography, and several impeccable sets elevate this into the upper statosphere of fright flicks.  Scott dominates the proceedings--he's in damn near every scene, and he brings his trademark fire and gusto to the party.  He also handles the quiet moments surprisingly well, and this is essential; The Changeling is both thoughtful and clever in its construction.  The climax is certainly volatile, and I just can't lodge any complaints against this stirring essay in grief and terror.  At the end of the day, movies like this live or die based on whether or not they can send enough chills racing down your spine.  The Changeling is a damn good movie, and it is scary.

Note: Shudder subscribers should absolutely stream this one with Joe Bob.  Great stuff.  And if you dig horror and you haven't signed up for Shudder yet, you are missing out.  Shudder is the best streaming service out there.

Final Grade: A

Creepy and mesmerizing, The Changeling is a Grade A spookshow.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - The Brink (2017)


Short Attention Span Review - The Brink (2017)

The Brink is a curious film that doesn't seem to know just what it wants to be.  It works best when it's an ultra stylish and hyper-kinetic action smorgasboard a la John Wick.  This serves stars Jin Zhang and Shawn Yue best, and this was one of those riveting thrillers wherein I liked the bad guy (Yue) almost as much as I liked our hero (Zhang).  And that's saying something, because Zhang is way too cool in this movie, sporting a punk rock dye job and his standard graceful yet devastating martial arts talents.  The Brink also works surprisingly well as a zany spiritual journey where greed, vengence, and even love intersect, and fates are decided at the whims of a callous Sea Godess who may or may not exist--though without some sort of divine intervention, I'm not sure how anyone could have survived the waterlogged conclusion.  And then there are the melodramatic moments, which aren't nearly as overwrought as they can be in this breed of action movie, but still frequently crash and burn.  And while that awesome finale (a threeway showdown on the deck of a trawler being tossed around by a typhoon) is wild to look at, it does stretch the film's razor-thin sliver of plausibilty to its limits and beyond.  It remains an entertaing and flamboyant romp, with dazzling imagination and sizzling choreography to spare.  It's a bit silly here and there, and a bit sappy in parts as well, but that's easy enough to overlook when you have Jin Zhang kicking ass all over the place.  Oh, and Yue's bad guy had a wicked little weapon roughly the size of an ink pen that fired miniature silver harpoons.  Sounds ridiculous, but it was ill.

Final Grade: C+


When The Brink works, it works because stars Jin Zhang and Shawn Yue  really throw themselves into their parts.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Rambo: Last Blood (2019)


Short Attention Span Review - Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Rambo: Last Blood deftly combines the darkness and brutality of the last entry with the utter silliness of the second one.  Gorier than many horror movies, grim as hell, and slickly produced, this is a ferocious action flick that should satisfy fans of this iconic character.  Stallone could play this part in his sleep, and he never misses the mark in what will stand as an appropiate farewell for John J. Rambo--should Hollywood allow him to hang up his bow.  The story is simplistic, and while that is often seen as a slight, it becomes a strength in this lean mean killing machine of a motion picture.  Playing somewhat like a grimy 70s revenge yarn, it simmers for a while, then throttles up for a guns-blazing conclusion that is as thrilling as it is implausible.  I'm awarding bonus points for what may have been the best song placement in the history of the cinema.  Rambo: First Blood is incredibly dark, exceptionally violent, and it does showcase the depth and emotional heft that went AWOL to this franchise's detriment in the second and third installments.  It is a far cry from First Blood, a film I hold in the highest regard, and I didn't like it quite as much as I liked 2008's Rambo.  I did enjoy it a lot, though, and if this is indeed Rambo's parting shot, this movie served a character I treasure well.  Mission accomplished, Sly.

Final Grade: B+


Stallone shouldn't be able to do this at his age, but he can still get down and dirty with the best of them.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)


Short Attention Span Review - A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

Oye.  This movie had so much potential, but it just couldn't connect the dots.  While director Renny Harlin did manage to drop some cool imagery on us, and there were some rather solid action bits, a lack of character development and a jokey script undermined his efforts.  Robert Englund was surely invested in the material, and seemed to be having a ball with his part, but it was just a little too much.  I enjoyed some of Freddy's wisecracks, but I didn't really want to see him portrayed as a murderous clown.  And that was apparently the goal in The Dream Master, which also suffered from a number of cringeworthy gags that missed the mark entirely.  There were some zingers that landed, and some of the creativity that made Dream Warriors a winner made it onto the screen.  However, while it was servicable for this type of flick, the effects work wasn't quite as good as what we saw in the prior entry.  The script dispensed with several pivotal characters with minimal fanfare, and failed to develop their succesors enough to inspire me to root for them.  Aside from the roach kill and a rousing finale, I nearly lost interest.  To be fair, the roach kill was totally f'n gnarly, but by the time I got to that part. it was a genuine "too little, too late" scenario.  Then we got the parting shot, an obligatory "Freddy's still out there" gimmick--and it was really, really weak.  In fact, that would be an adequate summary of this late 80s slasher sequel: really, really weak.  If not for that one wild moment when The Dream Master totally bugged out, I would give this one an "F."

Final Grade: D-


Robert Englund has a great time with The Dream Master.  I did not.

Short Attention Span Review - Black Rain (1989)


Short Attention Span Review - Black Rain (1989)

Black Rain is a real mixed bag.  It has so much going for it, but it is also littered with glaring flaws.  The visuals are a treat, with director Ridley Scott making the most of every environment the film inhabits.  He also delivers some riveting action setpieces, and star Michael Douglas shines in one of his grittiest and most physical roles.  I liked that the movie wasn't shy about venturing into some grey areas, with our dogged hero admitting to being on the take in one of Black Rain's most powerful scenes.  I really dig Yusaku Matsuda in the the last part he would ever play (unbeknownst to Scott, Matsuda was in the latter stages of a battle with cancer, and would perish weeks after the film premiered) as the villainous Sato.  He really delivered in a huge way, snarling and sneering without overplaying his hand.  He doesn't steal scenes with his bravado, but ratchets up the excitement with every appearance.  That's a lot to enjoy, and I almost forgot to mention Andy Garcia having way too much fun as the clearly doomed sidekick with a big heart and a great smile.  The producers must have realized just how obvious his ultimate fate was--they featured his decapitation in the theatrical trailer. So what went wrong?  First off, the song (no, I'm not going to bother looking it up--better that it go unnamed herein) that plays over the opening and closing credits is an unforgivable offense.  Secondly, the script drops the ball repeatedly where logic is concerned.  I mean, there are maybe a dozen total fails on this front.  This happens so often that our hero begins to seem like a very intense and equally conflicted buffoon.  Dude would have lasted about ten minutes in Japan.  He basically veers from one situation to another that should have led to either the loss of his job or his life.  It would be safe to consider him rather fortunate, for while he emerges unscathed, his behavior does result in his Japanese cohort losing his job and his American partner losing his life.  Those are the breaks when you sign up to be a sidekick.  Thankfully, the former does salvage his career, and in the end, he and Douglas find honor and even receive medals for an unsanctioned sting operation that results in a catastrophic loss of property and life.  Yeah, Black Rain has its good points, but it is pretty damn dumb.

Final Grade: C

Douglas proves more than capable in the role of a rugged action hero.  Having said that,  a problematic script  nearly steals his thunder.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Powerful Pages - Old Bones by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child


Powerful Pages - Old Bones by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Old Bones is the latest novel from Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, two gifted authors who have made quite a name for themselves with their unique brand of fiction.  Combining mysteries a la Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with a flair for science and history that brings Michael Crichton to mind, they spin gripping yarns with morbid touches that would be perfectly at home in a horror novel.  It's a mixture that I and a great many others enjoy, though lately I have grown just a little fatigued with their Pendergast series.  This detour with two of their best heroines at the helm was like a breath of fresh air, and I had an absolute blast with it.  In Old Bones, an ill-fated attempt to dig up new insight into the woeful fate of the Donner Party is derailed by greed, deception, and cold-blooded murder.  A search for a rumored hidden treasure and a devious plot on a grand scale put Nora Kelly (a tough-as-nails archaeologist) and Corrie Swanson (a rebellious FBI agent working her first case) directly in the cross-hairs.  These strong women find themselves at odds from the word "Go," and a serious power struggle ensues. They'll have to iron things out quick, fast, and in a hurry if they want to survive, much less figure out why a bunch of old bones are worth killing for.  Given that the grim legacy of the Donner Party is a key element of the plot, Old Bones is a bit gruesome, and this dark vibe meshes nicely with a desolate setting and a difficult battle against the elements.  While the last act is thrilling and all of the various threads in a fairly intricate narrative are effectively tied off, I may have been hoping for a little more from the climax.  And I pegged the killer fairly early on, and for better or worse, that's something I tend to hold against whodunits.  Still, it's about the journey, and this one had me hooked.  It doesn't rank among this impressive duo's best works, but it is an intense addition to their catalog nonetheless.

Final Grade: B